Posted by: kurtsh | August 23, 2012

HOWTO: Create a Windows-to-Go bootable USB stick with the Windows 8 Enterprise (RTM/Release)

imageIf you’re in IT or you’re at all a Windows geek, you need to check Windows-to-Go out. 

Windows-to-Go allows you to boot your complete Windows 8 Enterprise Edition environment off of a USB 3.0 flash drive (Windows-to-Go certified hardware) from basically any Intel computer.  (I understand that this even works on MacBooks even though it’s not supported)  The performance, because of the hardware requirements, is outstanding.  You really can’t tell that it’s just a USB stick you’re booting off of.

WHAT YOU NEED:

  • Windows 8 Enterprise (installed on a PC)
  • Windows 8 Enterprise .ISO image (via TechNet/MSDN or Volume Licensing downloads)
  • A Windows-to-Go certified USB 3.0 flash drive
    (Technically, any USB drive – even 2.0 drives – might work however they are not guaranteed to either work nor perform well.  If you’re going to do this, be prepared to just BUY a certified USB flash drive.  It’ll be about $80.  Trust me on this.)

Here’s some quick and dirty steps on how to build your first Windows-to-Go flash drive:

  1. Run “Windows-to-Go” from the Control Panel on a Windows 8 Enterprise PC.  (Remember that Windows-to-Go is only available to Enterprise Edition users)  WinKey-X will allow you to bring up the Control Panel easily.

    image

  2. Select an .WIM image.  If you have the Windows 8 Enterprise media in .ISO format, simply double click on the .ISO to mount it as a virtual DVD drive beforehand and navigate to \sources\install.wim for a base image.  The tool should automatically find this .WIM file if you had mounted the virtual DVD beforehand.

    image

  3. Enable BitLocker if desired.  This will encrypt all data on the drive and require that you enter a BitLocker password before every boot.

    image

That’s it.  The process of building the Windows-to-Go drive will commence.

WAIT… THAT’S EXPENSIVE!  WHY USB 3.0 CERTIFIED FLASH DRIVES ONLY?
Please refer to this post I wrote about the specifications required for Windows-to-Go but basically, there’s no guarantee that Windows-to-Go will work correctly with lesser flash drives. 

We have several expectations of latency & performance as well as long-term reliability & durability that we tuned the Windows 8 operating system for in the Windows-to-Go scenario and those expectations are only met by Windows-to-Go certified flash drives.

SO, WHAT SHOULD I NOTICE ONCE I BOOT TO IT?
Here’s a few key features of Windows-to-Go that’s sure to amaze & delight.

  1. Pre-OS Password Unlock
    If you install Windows-to-Go with BitLocker – an option during the installation procedure – you will need to type a PIN in order to decrypt & use the BitLocker-encrypted Windows-to-Go flash drive.  This ensures that if the device is ever lost, there’s no concern of data leakage:  BitLocker uses a phenomenal level of volume encryption for the data on the drive.
  2. imageInaccessible Local Hard Drive
    Notice that if you go to My Computer from the Desktop, the local hard drive of the host PC is not listed and is otherwise inaccessible.  This is to prevent data leakage from the WTG “Work” environment and also protect that environment from malware that may reside on the local storage.
  3. Accidental Drive Removal Resilient
    Try pulling out the drive:  You’ll find that the entire OS pauses.  This was a major innovation in Windows that was introduced in Windows 8 Windows-to-Go.  It freezes all system processing until the drive is returned to the USB port.  The user has 60 seconds to accomplish this and if they do plug it back in, they get a "don’t do that again" dialog on the screen.  If they DON’T return the USB drive to the port in 60 seconds, a hard shutdown takes place in order to ensure that the data on the desktop display doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.
  4. VPN out
    VPN is fully available from the Windows-to-Go environment if a network’s available.
  5. Windows Store is disabled by default
    By design the Windows Store is not available to ensure that the WTG environment is not modified unnecessarily.  This can be overridden by Group Policy if necessary.

And exception FAQ on Windows-to-Go is available below:


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