How to Create a Windows to Go USB Pendrive without using Enterprise

How to Create a Windows to Go USB Pendrive without using Enterprise

Creating your own Windows to Go Workspace on a USB pendrive means you can go roaming wherever you like, with the comfort of knowing if you have access to a PC that meets at a minimum the Windows 7 certification requirements, and whose BIOS allows you to boot from a USB device, you'll be able to run your own Windows 10 workspace, and save any work done to your pendrive, or Microsoft's OneDrive, for easy access when you return home.

Up until recently Microsoft were supporting this for people Using Windows 10 Enterprise, Windows 10 Education, and for Windows 10 Professional [ although the Professional edition meant you had to download the evaluation edition of Windows 10 Enterprise ].

That said, people have been able to create their own Windows to Go workspace for a long time. There are multiple free / pay applications online to help you do this. I'll be covering a couple of them here, but also be showing you how to do this without the need to use any third party applications at all.

There are some pros and cons for even considering doing this, which I'll cover briefly at the end of the article, and I welcome anyone else's thoughts in this area or their own experiences using a Windows to Go workspace.

Items you'll need before proceeding

Minimum hardware requirements for Computer you intend to run Windows To Go on
  • The computer used must be able to boot from a USB drive
  • The computer used requires USB ports (USB 2.0 at a minimum. USB 3.0 or better ideally)
  • The computer used must have a Processor that is 1Ghz or better
  • The computer used needs a minimum of 2GB ram
  • The computer used needs DirectX 9 with WDDM 1.2 or better

Create a Windows to Go USB pendrive Manually

Step 1 — Obtain the Install.esd or Install.wim file from our Windows 10 ISO file

We first want to mount our ISO file.
  • Right-click on the Windows.iso file and selecting Mount

    If your computer is using third party software that controls mounting, you may not see the option for Mount. If that is the case, simply select Open with then select Windows Explorer, which will likewise create a mounted image for you.

    Sample image


  • After selecting Mount, or taking the alternate route by selecting Open with... > Windows Explorer you will see your mounted file in its own assigned directory as illustrated below


  • Open the sources directory then scroll down the list of files to locate the file named install.esd

  • Right-click on install.esd and select Copy

    Some Windows 10 ISOs contain the same file as a Windows image instead. These are named install.wim — If you can't find the install.esd file, but instead see install.wim, simply copy that one instead.

    Sample image


  • Now select OS (C: ) then right-click in a blank area and select Paste, to copy the install.esd file to your root directory C:\

  • On the left panel select This PC to expand it, then right-click on the Mounted drive and select Eject to unmount it.

    Sample image

  • Mount4.png

Step 2 — Extract the Windows image from our ESD file

A typical Windows 10 ISO file contains multiple editions ( Home, Home N, Professional, etcetera ).

Each of these editions is assigned its own index number.

To be able to continue we need to take a peek inside the install.esd file, select the edition we want to use, and note its index number.

We'll also be wanting to convert our file to a Windows Image (.wim).

To achieve all of this, we need to do open an Elevated Command Prompt ( i.e. Run the command prompt as an Administrator ).

To do this, do the following:
  • Press your Windows key once to give focus to the Cortana Search box
  • In the Cortana Search box type cmd
  • Now Press Ctrl + Shift + Enter keys together simultaneously
  • You'll be prompted by the User Account Control. Click yes

    You should now see an elevated Command Prompt


  • At the command prompt type the following command:

    For the install.esd file use this command:
    Dism /Get-WimInfo /WimFile:C:\install.esd

    For the install.wim file use this command instead:
    Dism /Get-WimInfo /WimFile:C:\install.wim

    Press Enter key to execute.

    You'll now be able to see the editions available and their index number.

    Sample image


    In the example above, I've decided to make use of the Windows 10 Home edition. Note its index number is 1.

  • Now we need to extract the Windows 10 Home edition (Index number = 1 ) and in the process create a Windows Image (.wim file). To do this return to the Elevated Command Prompt and type the following command:

    If exporting from install.esd, use this command:
    Dism /Export-Image /SourceImageFile:C:\install.esd /SourceIndex:1 /DestinationImageFile:C:\install.wim /Compress:max /CheckIntegrity

    If exporting from install.wim file, use this command instead:
    Dism /Export-Image /SourceImageFile:C:\install.wim /SourceIndex:1 /DestinationImageFile:C:\install.wim /Compress:max /CheckIntegrity

    Press Enter key to execute the command

    Sample image


    This process will take a few minutes to complete so be patient. In the meantime let me explain the command used.

    Dism.exe is a tool provided inside the Windows OS by Microsoft. It's short for Deployment Image Servicing and Management. As it is built into Windows 10, we can call this executable by simply starting our command with Dism.

    /Export-Image is a flag that allows us to extract an image from the file we select and export it to the destination we choose.

    /SourceImageFile is the flag we use to provide the location and name of the file we intend to export an image from. You need to follow this flag with a colon ( : ) followed by the path to the file we are using and the files name. There are no spaces in this!

    /SourceIndex is the flag we use to instruct what index to seek the edition of Windows 10 we wish to export. This flag is also followed by a colon ( : ) then the index number of the Windows edition we are extracting. There are no spaces in this!

    /DestinationImageFile is the flag we use to provide the path and final file name for the edition of Windows we are extracting. This is where we get to instruct that the Windows 10 Home edition, located at index 1, is to be exported to C:\ as a Windows Image file, thus we name it install.wim. Again, we start with a colon ( : ) after the flag, then provide the path and final file name. You can name it whatever you like to, but make sure you give it the .wim extension. Again, there are no spaces in this!

    /Compress:max is a flag to determine how we compress our extracted file. Like the other flags we follow with a colon ( : ) then the type of compression we want, remembering there are no spaces! Max will give you the best compression of the files, but it does take a little longer as a result to extract and export. You could also choose fast (/Compress:fast), which is quicker but the files inside our extracted image file will be larger as a result. If you do not want to compress it at all then use none (/Compress:none).

    /CheckIntegrity is optional, but highly recommended! This flag instructs the DISM to verify each and every file inside our exported image to confirm it has not been corrupted in the process. If it detects corruption it will automatically halt the export of our file. If that happened then you'd need to start over obviously, and it would be wise in that scenario to get yourself a new ISO file!

Step 3 — Prepare the USB pendrive for Windows image to be applied

It's time to grab that USB pendrive and plug it into your computer.

Note: If there are any important files on your pendrive, now is the time to back them up elsewhere as we're about to format the pendrive in order to be able to apply our image to it.

With the pendrive plugged into your computer, we now need to return to the Elevated Command Prompt:
  • At the command prompt type the following commands, pressing Enter key after each command:


    list disk

    Sample image


    Here you see the result of starting Diskpart, then using the List Disk command. What we are looking for here is the Disk number that is associated with our USB pendrive. In my example I'm using a 32 GB USB pendrive, but as is typical when using the List Disk command the Size column does not necessarily display the full capacity of the USB drive. You can see though that Disk 6 has a Size of 29 GB, and is clearly the disk we want to be using. So now we need to enter the following command to select Disk 6.

    select disk 6

    Press Enter key to execute the command.

    Warning: Make certain you select the correct disk number because we are about to format the Selected disk!

    Next type the following command:


    Press Enter key to execute the command. The clean command is marking all files on the USB pendrive as if they are deleted.

    Sample image


    As it confirms it has succeeded in cleaning, you will likely see a Notification balloon inviting you to decide what to do with X drive just detected. Ignore that balloon notification!

    Next we need to enter a couple of commands to prepare two partitions on our USB pendrive:

    create partition primary size=350

    Press Enter key to execute

    create partition primary

    Press Enter key to execute

    Sample image


    What we've done here is to create two primary partitions. The first partition is 350 MB in size, the second partition takes up all of the remaining space on the USB pendrive. The first partition will be where we set up the boot instruction for our Windows image, whilst the second (much larger) partition will contains our Windows image plus space to save our data in when we are using our Windows to Go workspace.

  • Now we need to format our partitions, mark Partition 1 as active, and assign each partition its own Letter. Here you can use the command list partition to identify the number assigned to a particular partition you may want to work on, but in this case it is not necessary, as we all ready know Partition 1 is for our boot instructions, and Partition 2 is for the Windows image and personal data files.

    To be able to format the partitions, we need to select them first, then enter the commands for formatting.

    Thus, type the following four commands, pressing Enter key after each command to prepare partition 1:

    select partition 1

    format fs=fat32 quick


    assign letter=y

    Next, type the following three commands, pressing Enter key after each command to prepare partition 2:

    select partition 2

    format fs=ntfs quick

    assign letter=z

    Sample image


    Note: As you perform these commands the Notification center is likely going to throw those balloon messages for your USB pendrive. Ignore them!

    You can see I chose to assign Letter Y to partition 1 (the boot sector) and Letter Z to the second partition (the Windows image and personal data area). You can choose whatever letter you want for your partitions, so long as its not already assigned to another device.

  • As we are now done with Diskpart we need to exit it. Type the following command:


    Press Enter key to execute the command and thus exit Diskpart. This will return you to the elevated command prompt which is where we want to be for the next Step.

Step 4 — Apply Windows image to USB pendrive and prepare Boot sector

With our USB pendrive formatted and ready for use, we now need to return to DISM so we can apply our Windows 10 Home image to Partition Z on our USB pendrive, then prepare the boot sector on partition Y.
  • To do that type the following command at the elevated command prompt:

    Dism /Apply-Image /ImageFile:C:\install.wim /index:1 /ApplyDir:Z:\ /CheckIntegrity

    Press your Enter key to execute the command.

    Sample image


    Patience is now needed. This process can take anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes, depending on your Computers hardware. If you're using a USB 2.0 pendrive and a USB 2.0 port then it'll take a lot longer than if you have a USB 3.0 pendrive and a USB 3.0 capable port. If you end up using the third party tools I'll be showing later in this Article to do this the times are still going to be about the same, although Rufus is slightly faster by about 10 minutes.

    While we wait let's take a look at the command itself:

    Dism is calling the Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool again.

    /Apply-Image is the flag we use to Apply or clone the selected Windows image contents to our USB pendrive.

    /ImageFile is the flag we use to identify the path and name of file we are applying to the USB pendrive. In this example the path is C:\ and the file is install.wim and like before the flag and path|filename are separated by a colon ( : ) with no spaces!

    /index is the flag to identify the index number of the Windows 10 edition we are Applying/Cloning to our USB pendrive. If you recall, earlier we Exported Windows 10 Home which was located at Index 1 of our original install.esd file, to create the new install.wim file. This new file only contains one edition of Windows 10, thus it's index number will of course be 1 again. Hence we type the colon ( : ) after the flag , then 1 without putting any spaces inbetween!

    Note too
    , that the /index flag is not optional. You must include it in the command, even when you know there is only one indexed Windows image to apply.

    is the flag we use to instruct where to apply our Windows image to, i.e. it's path. Earlier we created two partitions on our USB pendrive, and its the second partition (which we assigned Letter Z to), that we want to apply the Windows image to. Again we separate the flag and path with a colon ( : ) without using spaces. ( e.g. /ApplyDir:Z:\ ) Make sure you select the correct partition and use its assigned Letter here!

    /CheckIntegrity is the flag used to verify each file in our image is non corrupted. If a file is corrupted the process will automatically end. Using this flag slightly lengthens the amount of time to Apply our Windows image, and while using this flag is optional, I recommend using this flag, because if you're investing 60+ minutes of your time into this, you want a working Windows image.

    Assuming all goes well, you'll see this inside your elevated command prompt:


  • One last command to type to complete the task. In the elevated command prompt type the following command:

    z:\Windows\system32\bcdboot z:\Windows /f ALL /s y:

    Press Enter key to execute

    Sample image


    The image is self-explanatory really, but to explain, the last command used the command-line tool Microsoft supplies in their OS called bcdboot. Using this tool, contained in the second partition on our USB pendrive, i.e. the Z partition, we've configured the boot files necessary to run our Windows to Go image, and saved those configurations into our Active Partition 1, the Y partition, on our USB pendrive. You need this so you can boot from the USB pendrive.

    Now all you need to do is type exit, then press Enter key to close the elevated command prompt, then click the carat ( ^ ) on your System Tray and select the USB icon so as to safely remove your new Windows to Go USB pendrive.

    If you are finished with the ISO file, the install.esd and the install.wim files, you can safely delete these to save space on your computers hard drive.

Create a Windows to Go USB pendrive using Third Party tools

I'm not really a fan of using third party tools for anything — especially when Microsoft has already provided the necessary tools to accomplish a task. However, I'm well aware that plenty of people love to grab that special tool to do certain things. With that in mind, I decided to test a couple of free tools, and demonstrate how to create a Windows to Go workspace using them.

The two tools I'll use are WinToUSB, and Rufus.

WinToUSB can be downloaded from their official site here:

Rufus can be downloaded from their official site here:

Both tools proved adequate for the task at hand, but it should be noted the Free version of WinToUSB has some limitations. If you are wanting to create a MBR for BIOS and UEFI supported Windows to Go workspace using WinToUSB, then you'll need to upgrade and pay some money.

Rufus on the other hand allows you to achieve this for free.

Another point to note, is you need to install WinToUSB which is a 5.4 MB download to start with, in order to use it, whereas, Rufus is a 1.1 MB executable, and needs no installation. As soon as you download it, you can use it, because it's making use of the tools Microsoft provides built it to the Windows OS. Another plus with Rufus, is you can get it to download the ISO for you. I'm not going into how to do that using Rufus in this article, but its a point worth noting.

In terms of time, WinToUSB will take between 60 and 110 minutes to complete the creation of a Windows To Go USB pendrive, where as Rufus is approximately 10 minutes quicker, but it's quicker to do it yourself manually.

Using WinToUSB to create a Windows to Go USB pendrive
  • Open the WinToUSB application
  • The User Account Control will prompt you. Click yes to allow the application to run.

    Upon running you are greeted with this


  • To the right of the Image File textbox is a Folder icon. Click this icon to navigate to your Windows 10 ISO file, or if you have already exported the install.wim file you wanted, you can select that instead. I'll use the ISO file for this demonstration.

    After selecting the Windows 10 ISO you'll see this


    Select the Windows 10 edition you want to use, then click the Next button

  • You'll now need to select the Destination for your Windows image to be applied to. That of course will be your USB pendrive. To do this click the drop arrow situated to the right of the Please select the destination disk textbox.

    Sample image of screen


    After clicking the drop arrow and selecting your USB pendrive you'll see the following screen overlaying the above screen.


    Select the option you want. In this example I've chosen MBR for BIOS.

    Note: The third option, MBR for BIOS and UEFI is not available using the Free version of WinToUSB.

    When you've selected the option you want, click Yes

    Clicking yes means you are about to format your USB pendrive. Make certain that is the device you selected in previous step, and if there are any files on it you wanted to keep, then back them up first!

  • The formatting will take a couple of minutes. When it is done you'll see the following screen.


    The System partition is automatically selected for you. You'll also likely see the Installation mode is VHDX. Unfortunately, the Free version of WinToUSB does not allow you to use VHDX mode, so if you want that you'll need to upgrade to the paid version.

    In this example though I'm going to select Legacy mode which is fine for my purposes, but if you'd rather use VHD mode that too will work in the Free edition.

    Important note: If you want to select VHD mode read my tip at end of article before preceeding.

    When you've selected the option you want, click the Next button

  • After clicking the next button you'll be greeted by the final screen.


    Sit back and relax for the next 60 - 110 minutes, depending on your USB and USB port, i.e. whether they are 2.0 or 3.0

    When it's finished the lower right corner will display a Home button. You can click that if you want to or just close the Window.

    Your Windows to Go USB pendrive will now be ready for use.

Using Rufus to create a Windows to Go USB pendrive
  • Open Rufus
  • The User Account Control will prompt you. Click yes to allow Rufus to run.

    You'll be greeted by this opening screen


  • The Device box will automatically display your USB pendrive, but make sure it is the correct device.
  • In the Boot selection field you will see the message: Disk or ISO image (Please select). To the right of this click Select and navigate to your Windows 10 ISO file. Select the ISO and click Open. This will automatically make Windows.iso appear inside the Boot Select field.
  • Next click the Image Option field and select Windows to Go
  • Next, click the Partition Scheme field and select either MBR or GPT. I've chosen MBR in this example.
  • Depending on the Partition Scheme you choose, you'll then need to click the Target System field to select the option you want. In this example because I chose the MBR scheme, the only option available for the Target System is Bios or UEFI.
  • Under Volume Label enter the name you want for your label. The default volume label is ESD-ISO.
  • Select the File system you want. The default is NTFS.
  • Beneath this check the options you want. The default is to have the top two options checked, and the third option, to check device for bad blocks by default is unchecked. I did not bother checking this, but its probably not a bad idea to allow this option.
  • Select the number of passes. The default is 1 pass and to be honest that is quite adequate.

    Important note: If you want to select VHD mode read my tip at end of article before preceeding.

    After doing these steps your screen will appear like so


  • If you are happy with your settings click the Start button

    After clicking the Start button you'll see this:


  • Select the Windows 10 edition you want then click OK. In this example I've chosen Windows 10 Home edition.

    After clicking OK you'll see this


    Click the OK button to continue and format that USB pendrive.

    Once the format is complete, Rufus will automatically create the Windows to Go on your USB pendrive.

    Depending on whether you are using USB 2.0 ports and devices or USB 3.0 ports and devices, this process will take around 60 to 90 minutes; faster than WinToUSB, but not faster than doing it yourself manually — unless you are a slow typer.

    When it's done you can close Rufus.

Well there you go, three ways you can create your own Windows to Go USB pendrive, without needing Window 10 Education or Enterprise editions. It's up to you whether or not you prefer to manually create your Windows to Go device, or whether you'd rather let a third party tool do the work for you. Rufus and WinToUSB both do the job, as do many other third party tools, or you can really get into some serious downloading, and visit Microsoft's site to download a 1 GB package named Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit ( Windows ADK). That can be found here:

I have not included the Windows ADK in this article, because in short, you do not need it to do the task at hand, and I'm assuming most of our Forum members will not be wanting to take up 1 GB of their hard disk space, when they can use no space at all to manually create a Windows to Go workspace, or use one of the third party tools; WinToUSB (5.4 MB + Install), or Rufus (1.1 MB and no install needed).

The Pros and Cons for creating and using a Windows to Go USB pendrive

There is a lot of things to consider when choosing to create a Windows to Go workspace, and if you are familiar with using a Linux Distros in a similar manner you will notice some major differences.

Before I go into some pros and cons, let's take a look at the fundamental differences between running a Windows to Go workspace, versus running a standard Windows 10 OS on your computer:

  • Internal disks are offline. To ensure data isn’t accidentally disclosed, internal hard disks on the host computer are offline by default when booted into a Windows To Go workspace. Similarly if a Windows To Go drive is inserted into a running system, the Windows To Go drive will not be listed in Windows Explorer.
  • Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is not used. When using BitLocker Drive Encryption a pre-operating system boot password will be used for security rather than the TPM since the TPM is tied to a specific computer and Windows To Go drives will move between computers.
  • Hibernate is disabled by default. To ensure that the Windows To Go workspace is able to move between computers easily, hibernation is disabled by default. Hibernation can be re-enabled by using Group Policy settings.
  • Windows Recovery Environment is not available. In the rare case that you need to recover your Windows To Go drive, you should re-image it with a fresh image of Windows.
  • Refreshing or resetting a Windows To Go workspace is not supported. Resetting to the manufacturer’s standard for the computer doesn’t apply when running a Windows To Go workspace, so the feature was disabled.
  • Upgrading a Windows To Go workspace is not supported. Older Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Windows To Go workspaces cannot be upgraded to Windows 10 workspaces, nor can Windows 10 Windows To Go workspaces be upgraded to future versions of Windows 10. For new versions, the workspace needs to be re-imaged with a fresh image of Windows.

It should also be noted to run Windows to Go you need to have a Microsoft Account to sign-in with, otherwise you'll have to create one during the initial setup that occurs during your first booting of your Windows to Go USB pendrive.

  • Windows to Go USB pendrives can be booted on multiple PCs that meet the minimum Windows 7 certification standard.
  • As it boots Windows to Go automatically determines drivers necessary to operate with the connected Host PC's hardware and installs those for you to ensure optimal performance
  • You can easily connect to the outside world, run your programs, and save data to your pendrive, or if you prefer to your OneDrive account, or to any other online storage you have. As a result, when you return home, you can boot your computer up, plug the pendrive in, and via File Explorer access any data you'd like to transfer to your main computer.
  • Despite Microsoft recommending some very specific ( and expensive ) USB devices, you can literally use any USB device you have at hand. However, be warned that not all USB devices are equal, thus in terms of performance, and life expectancy for the pendrive, choose wisely.
  • The lack of support for upgrading your Windows to Go image is a little disappointing, however, its easy enough to download the latest ISO and apply a new image to your pendrive, so I guess its not a big deal.
  • Having the Host computer disks offline is good, but also a pain, if you were wanting to do something more specific with the Host computer. There are ways around this, that I have not covered in this article — I may follow this article up with a more advanced version at a later date if there is enough interest.
  • Not all applications are equal! You need to consider the Host machine you intend to run your Windows to Go workspace on. Some applications bind themselves to the Hosts hardware, so if you are intending to use your Windows to Go on multiple Hosts, expect some issues. Ideally, you will create more than one Windows to Go pendrive, to allow for this.
  • If your Host only has USB 2.0 ports then expect some serious lag for opening a window, and even typing in text. It will work, but you will need to put on your Patient as a Saint face!
  • You can use any USB pendrive you want to, but the older ones, and cheaper ones, tend to have slow Read/Writes, and that makes a huge difference to performance.
  • Remember, the USB device is acting as a hard drive in effect, so the lesser quality ones are prone to literally dying because of the extensive read/writes. A dead device means you will potentially lose important data, if you have only saved it to the device, and not chosen an alternate backup option like OneDrive. The certified USB devices that are more expensive are backed by Warranties, and are unlikely to die on you, but still can (hence the warranty). For more information on the Certified USB pendrives refer to the Microsoft site mentioned in the previous quote.
  • Windows to Go is technically not supposed to work with non-fixed drives. That is not quite true though as you can easily get around this using either the third party tools, or doing it manually.

I do have a few other thoughts in mind, but I think the above is enough to give you an idea.

One tip to consider, if you choose to use WinToUSB, Rufus, or some other third party tool, and are wanting to install using VHD mode.

Before you start installing a Virtual Hard drive VHD mode onto your Windows to Go USB pendrive, make the following registry modification on your computer.

Via an elevated command prompt enter the following command:

reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\FsDepends\Parameters" /v VirtualDiskExpandOnMount /t REG_DWORD /d 4

Press Enter key to execute

This command sets a parameter to allow the necessary expansion for your VHD device.

If you don't do this, then when you come to use your Windows to Go device, on some Host computers you will see this BSOD error message as it loads:

VHD Boot Host Volume Not Enough Space


The default data value for the value VirtualDiskExpandOnMount is 1.

If you later want to reverse the modification made to your Registry to ensure a working VHD mode is created, simply open an elevated command prompt and type the following command:

reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\FsDepends\Parameters" /v VirtualDiskExpandOnMount /t REG_DWORD /d 1

Well that's it. Good luck with your Window to Go creating.


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