Step by Step Guide to Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview To Go on a USB

Note: These instructions apply to the Consumer Preview of Windows 8 and technically isn’t actually Windows To Go, it is just Windows 8 running from a USB stick (which is slightly different).  From my discussions with Microsoft at TechEd Europe 2012 Windows To Go is only available with Windows 8 Enterprise Edition and only on the final release (the Consumer Preview wasn’t an Enterprise Edition).

Also worth noting that when creating a Windows To Go on USB then the USB drive is best to be one that is certified by Microsoft for that usage as that will ensure it is capable of handling the type of read/write access required for this type of usage from both speed and longevity perspectives.  Check out the Hardware Considerations on Wiki for more details.

If you are still wanting to give it a go knowing this then by all means go ahead but still bear in mind the hardware suggestions.

Following the hype surrounding Windows To Go (which allows you to run an instance of Windows 8 from a USB drive on any Windows 7 capable hardware, even on a Mac, without affecting any installation on that machine) I was surprised to see how little information there is on how to go about getting it installed (various descriptions for the Developer Preview) for the newly available Consumer Preview.  Also it was interesting to see a response on TechNet from a Microsoft employee that “The capability to build Windows To Go drive is not available widely in this Consumer Preview release, we are working on options to possibly make this available in the future. Thanks very much for your interest”.

Well, it turns out it is actually fairly easy (albeit time consuming) to do and very similar to the Developer Preview. Instructions on the flip…

UPDATE: some stats on boot time comparisons included at the end.

Prerequisites

  • A Windows 7 machine (or Windows 8 )
  • A 32GB (or larger) USB Flash drive.  I believe you can also use an external HDD instead but I’ve not tried that.

Downloads

  1. Start downloading the Windows 8 Consumer Preview ISO image of your choice as at 3.3 GB for the 64-bit download it might take a while.  Note: if you intend to run your Windows To Go on hardware that doesn’t support 64 bit then you’ll need the 32-bit ISO file.
  2. If you don’t already have it then start downloading The Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK) for Windows 7 ISO file. You actually only seem to need a single file from this install (imagex.exe) but unfortunately this 1.7 GB download is the only official way to get it.
  3. You’ll also need some software to mount these ISO files unless you want to burn them to DVD (if you can remember what those things are).  I’ve used Virtual CloneDrive.  UPDATE: or you can use winzip or 7-zip (thanks to Gary P in comments)

It doesn’t matter in which order you do the following 3 sections, just do whichever you can based on download times.

Set up your USB

Almost the same as this description from tweaks.com but with a small tweak mentioned by ed810 in the aforementioned TechNet thread. See those links for more detailed explanation if necessary. Hit ENTER key after each typing step.

  1. Plug in USB drive.
  2. Open administrative level command prompt.
  3. Type “diskpart”.
  4. Type “list disk”.
  5. Type “select disk #” replacing # with the number shown for your USB drive.
  6. Type “clean”.
  7. Type “create partition primary”.
  8. Type “format fs=ntfs quick”.
  9. Type “active”.
  10. Type “assign”.
  11. Type “exit”.

Get imagex.exe from Windows AIK

  1. Mount your Windows AIK ISO file (or use your ZIP utility).
  2. If Autorun doesn’t want to work for you (as it didn’t for me) run “StartCD.exe”.
  3. Install the kit.
  4. In Windows Explorer navigate to “C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\amd64″ and copy the file “imagex.exe”.
  5. If you haven’t already done so in the steps for getting the “install.wim” below, create a handy, local folder and paste the “imagex.exe” file into it.

Get install.wim from Windows 8 ISO

  1. Mount your Windows 8 ISO file (or use your ZIP utility).
  2. In windows explorer open the “sources” folder and copy the “install.wim” file (2.9GB).
  3. If you haven’t already done so in the steps for getting the “imagex.exe” above, create a handy local folder and paste the “install.wim” file into it.

Note: If you can’t find the “install.wim” file, just an “install.esd” file then chances are you’ve installed the Consumer Preview from the main “Download Windows 8 Consumer Preview” link on the main Windows 8 Download page rather than just downloading the ISO file (the link to which is in small text below that main link, but just use the one above).  To get the “install.wim” file you won’t have to install Windows 8 anywhere beforehand, just get the ISO file and follow the above instructions.

And Finally – Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview on your USB

So you should now have both the “imagex.exe file and “install.wim” file sitting next to each other in a new directory somewhere.

Make sure your USB drive is still plugged in and where you see # in the following steps replace it with your drive letter and press ENTER after each typing step.

  1. Open administrative level command prompt or if it’s still open use the one from before.
  2. Navigate to your new folder containing both the “imagex.exe” and “install.wim” files.
  3. Type “imagex.exe /apply install.wim 1 #:\”.
  4. Wait a long time.
  5. If using a Windows 7 machine type “bcdboot.exe #:\windows /s #:”, if Windows 8 then type “bcdboot.exe #:\windows /s #: /f ALL”.

Step 3 can take a fair bit of time so make sure you aren’t planning on shutting your machine down for the next few hours!

The first time you boot from the USB drive you’ll need to go through the initial set up process and each time you boot using different hardware then it may have to download/install any necessary drivers.

Hands on Statistics

Using my old Dell Latitude D630 which has the Windows 8 Consumer Preview installed as its only OS we get the following timings (all taken from pressing the power button which includes 7 seconds of initial BIOS time):

  • Time to login screen: 14 seconds.
  • Time to Desktop (via Metro Start Menu): 31 seconds.
  • Time to shut down: 11 seconds.

On the same machine booting from my USB2 Windows To Go:

  • Time to login screen: 1 minute 20 seconds.
  • Time to Desktop (via Metro Start Menu): 2 minutes 16 seconds.
  • Time to shut down: 2 minutes 10 seconds.

The start up time is a little misleading as despite being able to get into the operating system fairly quickly (relatively speaking), everything feels rather sluggish for a good few more minutes.  More of a worry is that the Metro apps more often than not fail to load: splash screen for app displays and then after between 1 and 15 seconds it flicks back to the start screen with no error.  Maybe this is why Microsoft aren’t wanting many people trying it out at this stage?

Potentially this is down to the read/write speed from/to the USB drive but I can’t confirm that.  If I’m feeling brave I’ll install Visual Studio 2011 on there and debug some test apps and see if they suffer from the same thing.

I will also try and get hold of a USB3 drive and track down a device that can actually support it and see what difference that makes to the timings and the reliability of the Metro Apps.

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