Windows to Go takes your organizationally-managed computer to the Bleeding Edge

Randy Guthrie – Microsoft Technology Evangelist

One of the challenges facing faculty in higher education who want to start teaching Windows 8 app development, is the adoption lag between when software gets released by Microsoft and when their IT Department determines the time is right to upgrade labs, classrooms, and faculty computers.  Many university IT administrators prefer to wait 6 months or a year to upgrade software tools, and 1 to 2 years for operating systems in order for the “bugs” to be worked out and for drivers to be released by OEMs. While this attitude makes some sense from a “total cost of ownership” perspective, it often makes it difficult for faculty to teach leading edge technologies soon after they are publically released. With the availability of Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2012 in recent weeks on DreamSpark, STEM-D faculty and students now have access to the latest tools and platforms, but sadly the timing is probably too late for the bits to get put on university-managed computers in time for Fall instruction. Happily, a new feature in Windows 8 called “Windows to Go” provides a robust solution for teaching and using Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2012 without the need for an IT administrator to upgrade managed computers.

Stated simply, Windows to Go is a feature that creates a “portable” installation of Windows 8 on a small USB Solid State Drive that contains the full OS and any desired applications. With a small change to the BIOS setting that will look for a USB FDD before booting the default “C:/” drive, when the Windows to Go device is inserted in a USB port, the Windows to Go drive will boot up instead of the computer’s regular hard drive, and the Windows to Go installation will work just as if the computer had Windows 8 installed. Everything the user does is saved on the Windows to Go drive, making it totally portable. For example, a faculty member can simply plug his/her Windows to Go drive into any classroom computer and demo the latest programming techniques, and at the end of class power down and remove the drive and the class computer will be untouched. Likewise, a student can bring a Windows to Go installation to any school lab computer, even computers that do not have any programming software installed, insert the Windows to Go drive and be able to work on campus with a custom installation with all the necessary tools and saved project files.  You can even use printers, other USB storage keys, wireless mice and keyboards, etc.

In order to create a Windows to Go drive, there are three prerequisites:

1. You need to have a computer that has Windows 8 Enterprise edition installed. For tech students and faculty this is the version that is available on DreamSpark Premium web store. This is also the version available to MSDN subscribers.

2. You need to have a Windows 8 OS .iso file that will be used to install the OS on the Windows to Go drive. DreamSpark Premium allows students and faculty to have multiple copies of the software, but for economy the default quantity on the web store is set to 1. Your department DreamSpark administrator can change the available download quantity from 1 to 2 or more upon request. For faculty members, your DreamSpark administrator has access to volume-license copies of Windows 8 and Visual Studio 2012 that will support the creation of multiple Windows to Go drives using the same file.

3. You need to have a USB 3.0 Solid State Drive (often referred to as a “Flash Drive” with at least 25GB capacity, but larger is better the same as in a regular computer.  These are different than USB 3.0 storage drives in several aspects including speed, number of parallel I/O channels, caching, and the performance of the drive controller. Another difference that you will notice is the price.  USB 3.0 SSD prices range from approximately $75 for a 25GB drive to $300 for 100GB. At the time of this writing, there are four devices commercially-available that are “certified” Windows to Go compatible:

  • Kingston Technology 32GB Data Traveller Ultimate USB Flash Drive  Mfr # KW-U4132-1FA
  • SuperTalent 25GB USB 3.0 Express RC8 Flash Drive Mfr # ST3U25GR8S
  • SuperTalent 50GB USB 3.0 Express RC8 Flash Drive Mfr # ST3U50GR8S
  • SuperTalent 100GB USB 3.0 Express RC8 Flash Drive Mfr # ST3U100R8S

More information about Windows to Go certified hardware can be found in these excellent articles:

I highly recommend reviewing these before purchasing one or more of these drives. They are expensive and the info will be very interesting and useful.

I have been using the Super Talent 25GB USB 3.0 Express RC8 at workshops this month, and have had a lot of success with a variety of PC laptops that attendees have brought, some of which are three and four years old. We only had one very old Dell computer that did not support boot to USB FDD that didn’t work, nor could we figure out how to get a MacBook Pro to boot to USB, but this might have just been lack of knowledge on the part of the owner.



You’ll notice in the picture above the tell-tale “blue” insulator in the USB connector indicating it is a USB 3.0 drive.  Computers that support USB 3.0 have a similar blue insulator in the USB 3.0 port. Some computers have both USB 3.0 and 2.0 connectors. You don’t need to have USB 3.0 on the computer using the Windows to Go workspace, but the actual Windows to Go workspace drive does.

The Windows to Go wizard has a hyperlink in the first window that says “What are the hardware requirements”. If you follow it through several levels you end up at the Windows 7 Compatibility Center, which at the time of this writing doesn’t mention any Windows to Go compatible devices. I presume this link will be updated to point to the Windows 8 Compatibility Center before General Availability of Window 8 on October 26, 2012.

Once you have the prerequisites, creating the drive is simple and takes about ten minutes. Following is a detailed walkthrough of the process:

<<insert USB 3.0 Flash Drive>>

Step 1: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:10 PM) User right click on "Windows_8_Enterprise_VL_EN-US_x64.ISO (list item)" in "Program Manager"

step 1

Step 2: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:14 PM) User left click on "Mount (menu item)"

step 2

Step 3: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:18 PM) User left click on "Minimize (button)" in "DVD Drive (E:) HRM_CENA_X64FREV_EN-US_DV5"

step 3

Step 4: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:23 PM) User keyboard input [… Windows Key]

step 4

Step 5: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:26 PM) User keyboard input on "Start menu (pane)" in "Start menu" […]

step 5

Step 6: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:27 PM) User keyboard input on "Search (pane)" in "Search" […]

step 6

Step 7: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:31 PM) User left click on "Settings (text)" in "Search"

step 7

Step 8: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:33 PM) User left click on "Windows To Go (edit)" in "Settings Search"

step 8

Step 9: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:39 PM) User left click on "Next (button)" in "Create a Windows To Go workspace"

step 9

Step 10: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:42 PM) User left click on "Next (button)" in "Create a Windows To Go workspace"

step 10

Step 11: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:45 PM) User left click on "Skip (button)" in "Create a Windows To Go workspace"

step 11

Step 12: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:29:50 PM) User left click on "Create (button)" in "Create a Windows To Go workspace"

step 12

Step 13: (‎8/‎28/‎2012 7:48:46 PM) User left click on "Save and close (button)" in "Create a Windows To Go workspace"

step 13

Your Windows to Go workspace is now created.  I will explain how to set up a computer to use a Windows to Go workspace in my next blog post.



Comments (3)

  1. Joshua Grzybowski says:

    Thanks for your post! I've been trying to find a way to convince my school to include Windows 8 in their Mobile App development class.

    A couple questions:

    1. Would this flash drive work? It mentions something about an SSD in the Overview section, Bu I'm not sure if it'll work for Window-to-Go.…/Product.aspx

    2. You mention that Windows 8 Enterprise is included in Dreamspark Premium. However, when I go to my school's Dreamspark page, it only lists Windows 8 Pro. Is this because there are different subscription levels of Dreamspark? Or is it because my school's Dreamspark administrator didn't set that as downloadable for students?



  2. Hi Josh, if it doesn't say "certified for Windows to Go" it most likely won't work. At least I've never been successful in get a non-certified drive to work.  This is a link to the authoritative article on Windows to Go on Microsoft's TechNet:…/hh831833.aspx

  3. alam says:

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