Banishing Windows to an External Drive

Since moving away from Windows, I have, on several occasions, had cause to boot into a Windows installation in order to use certain programs or play certain games. This includes some software needed for my Materials module on my course, and the Dishonored franchise.

Up until recently, I had my windows installation dual booted, sharing real estate with linux on Fearnley. This meant that Windows could use the luxury of my SSD when I wanted it, which meant nice and fast boot times etc. However, the frequency at which I was forced to boot Windows was so small that the partition lay unused for 99% of the time. This is what eventually lead to my root partition filling up within my Arch installation.

So when I installed Gentoo, I completely removed Windows from my drive. Good riddance, I say.

The only problem with this solution was that I could no longer boot Windows to use the programs I mentioned earlier.

My solution to this was simple: have a portable installation of Windows on an external hard drive. This meant that I would only ever need one instance, which I could then attach to any PC (assuming UEFI capability within BIOS) and boot from the external hard drive.

Now the fun begins…

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to install Windows to an external drive, but I’ll tell you now that it doesn’t like it.

I began by acquiring a disk image of Windows 10 (which I had to download an executable for (which I had to WINE to run on Fearnley), which in turn downloaded the .iso file. What is wrong with Microsoft??). I then made a bootable USB flash drive, and booted into the live environment with my destination external HDD plugged in.

Unfortunately, when I selected my destination drive, I received an error about Windows not being installable on MBR partition tables. Fair enough – I reformatted the drive and tried again.

Next error: “Windows cannot be installed on External Media.”


Time for some Googling….

After some research, it turns out that it IS possible to create portable installations of Windows. It’s known as Windows To Go. Unfortunately, it’s only available to Windows Enterprise users.

Not to worry – some developers at Hasleo Software have created a tool called WinToUSB which gets around the whole problem. They even provide handy guides to using their software on the website.

Success! I now have a Windows installation on a portable hard drive. As I write, it’s sat at home downloading a selection from my steam library that won’t run natively on Linux.


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