Monday, July 13, 2015

Making USB Sticks Work With Windows To Go

If you're having trouble making Windows To Go work on a USB Stick, it might be because it's presented to the OS as a removable disk, here's a way to change that.

There are a number of articles out there that make it sound like producing a bootable USB stick running Windows To Go is a piece of cake.  It probably can be that easy if you've got the right type of USB stick to do it with, or an external HDD.

What so many articles fail to mention is that you can only make a Windows To Go USB stick if the USB drive is detected as a fixed disk, not removable storage.  The difference is that you can't create the multiple partitions required to boot Windows on a removable drive, only a fixed disk.  External hard drives are detected as fixed, therefore they generally work, but from our testing, most USB sticks don't.  One of my colleagues found this out the hard way, when he bought a number of 32Gb USB sticks for testing which didn't work because they're detected as removable (which they should be, because they are).

The screenshot above shows two disks in Windows Disk Management
Disk 0, a fixed disk, and Disk 1, removable.
You need your USB drive to present like Disk 0, not Disk 1 for Windows To Go.

So, what then?  Do you have to fork our hundreds of dollars for one of the Windows To Go Certified USB Sticks?  We thought so, until some very thorough Googling turned up two pieces of information:

  1. The difference between a fixed and removable USB Mass Storage device is simply a matter of flipping a bit on the drive to show it to the OS as fixed or removable.  Some manufacturers make their own tool to do this, but that only works with their drives, and in our testing using a Kingston drive, only certain models.
  2. On a non-English website found many pages deep in a Google search, my colleague found a tool that in our testing was able to flip the removable/fixed bit on practically any USB stick.  There's nothing much to the application, but it seems to work.  It was the final piece of the puzzle for us to get Windows To Go to work, so we thought we'd share it here for you.

    online backup storage

    The tool is simple enough to use.  Just insert a USB stick and run it, then click "Get Status", if it finds your USB stick okay (it did with 9/10 of ours) then click the "Removable" or "Fixed Disk" buttons to change the stick accordingly.

    Please note - we did not create this tool, by using it you take full responsibility for any consequences, we had no problems but please do be careful.

And that's it, using this information we're now running Windows To Go happily on a number of cheap USB sticks.

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