How to Run Windows 10 From a Live USB Flash Drive

There are several reasons why you may want to carry your own Windows and data right on your USB drive or external SSD and have it with you always ready for use. This can come in handy if you work with several computers and want to be able to test them out on the fly or check their specifications without having to install Windows on each and every one of them. Below are two possible ways to install and run Windows from a USB flash drive or some other USB storage medium like SSD or even traditional mechanical hard drive. This is different from making a bootable Windows USB installation medium. With this, you are able to actually install Windows on a USB device such that after the installation, you’re able to connect this USB device to a laptop or desktop and boot up a full running Windows off of such USB device. It doesn’t matter if such a computer has no hard drive or has no Windows installed to the hard drive. This is sometimes called live Windows USB flash drive or portable Windows.

METHOD 1: Using WinToUSB Application and a FAST USB Drive

Yes, you want to start optimizing for speed from the onset. Not all USB drives are able to handle this scheme, at least not within a reasonable performance level in terms of speed. To make this scheme feasible, you will need to invest in a fast USB flash drive. We advise using USB 3.0 or 3.1 flash drives that support at least 160Mbps. Below are a few suggestions:

You can also use any USB 3.0 if that’s what you already have, but a USB 2.0 might just be too slow for this process. Needless to say, the faster the better.

Alternatively, if portability in terms of size is not such an issue for you, then you should consider using an SSD for this process, a 32 or 64 GB SSD is more than enough for this. All you need in addition is a USB SATA adapter cable.

The second consideration is the USB port to connect to on the target computer, here I will say always use a USB 3.0 port whenever possible as this will improve the overall speed of the entire process significantly.

The USB 3.0 standard supports up to 640 Mbps transfer rate. This is at least 10 times more than the USB 2.0 standard which can handle just about 60 Mbps.

With that said, the first method will involve the use a third-party application and a Windows 10 ISO file, the most common and efficient third-party app for this is the WinToUSB To Go Creator from easyuefi.com This app has both the free and paid versions. The free version of the course has some limitations compared to the paid version. For instance, with the free version, you won’t be able to install Pro editions of Windows 10. You are only able to install the Home editions using the free version of this application. So here we’re going to be using the free version of this app and installing Windows 10 Home edition. If you are yet to make a Windows 10 ISO file, I have made a tutorial to help you with that.

With your ISO file already created and saved to a known location on your computer, download and install the WinToUSB application with the default options.

After the installation, attach your USB drive and launch the application, a page like this should pop up. Here simply click on this browse icon and then navigate to the location where you saved your Windows 10 ISO file, double-click on it.

Then you should have all the versions and architectures of Windows 10 that is contained in your ISO file. Again, remember that the free version doesn’t support Windows 10 Pro editions, so I will select the home edition here and hit next.

On the next Window, it asks you to select the destination disk, here select your USB stick.

It then asks for the partition scheme you want to use, here we can only choose between MBR for BIOS and GPT for UEFI. The third option is only available with the paid versions of this tool, so here I will select the MBR option. It also reminds you that the data on the USB will be lost, will you want to continue, here I will hit yes.

It then begins to format my USB stick. After that, you should have a page like this asking for the installation mode you wish to use, here I will select legacy mode and then hit next.

It then begins the installation process. This can take some really long time, longer than normal Windows installation and that’s because we’re using a USB here. If you have a faster USB, then you can expect this process to go faster for you. Now sometimes you’re going to have this stuck on 0% progress for a long time, this happens quite a lot, it doesn’t mean the process is not progressing, is just that for some reason the app is not able to show the progress in real time, I’ve seen this jump from 0 to 100% after a long delay, so just be patient and wait for the process to complete. Of course, you can keep working on your computer while that happens.

After the installation, you should have this page saying successful installation.

Also when you check your USB flash drive from the computer folder, you should have all these Windows files on it.

With that, your Windows live USB is ready for use. Now eject the USB and attach it to any computer you wish to run it on. Again, always use the USB 3.0 port whenever possible it always helps with speed. Now set the BIOS to boot from the USB or select the one-time boot device option to USB, and then wait for Windows to load accordingly.

METHOD 2: Using an SSD and a SATA to USB Adapter

The second method will be to use an SSD and a SATA to USB Adapter. Unlike traditional mechanical hard disks that tend to be heavy and fragile, SSDs are much lighter and can resist a lot more physical pressure than mechanical hard disks, not to mention the performance improvement in terms of speed. As such using an SSD to make a portable Windows for use over USBs could be much more efficient than using a USB drive. In addition, this method can be a lot faster in terms of the whole time needed for the process. It does not require any third-party application, it works with any version of Windows 10 ISO you might want to use, talking about the home or pro editions, later or older builds and is relatively easy to do.

  • First, you need to insert the SSD to the SATA connector of the PC we want to use for the process. 
  • Make a fresh Windows installation on it. 
  • Detach the SSD from the SATA connector and obtain a USB SATA adapter. With that, you’re good to go.

You now have a portable live Windows 10 that can be used over USB connectors across different computers. Remember to set the BIOS of the target PC to boot from the USB, this process will differ depending on your PC make and model, but in any case, try to get into your BIOS settings to change the boot priority order. You can also use the one-time boot device selection menu to boot from your USB stick and that should immediately load up your Windows.

 

Please share your comments, questions, and feedbacks in the comment section below. 

The following video demonstrates the solutions in this tutorial.

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