How to Run Windows 10 from a USB Drive: A Complete Guide

June 25, 2024
Justin Lumiere

Running Windows 10 or 11 directly from a USB drive offers a flexible and portable way to experience the latest version of the operating system without performing a full system upgrade. This method is particularly useful for users with older systems, those requiring a portable setup, or when the internal hard drive cannot be modified. Below are the main requirements, steps, and considerations for this process.

Requirements

To get started, you will need:

  • A USB flash drive with at least 16GB of free space (preferably 32GB).
  • A valid Windows 10 or Windows 11 license for activation.
  • Third-party utility programs like WinToUSB, Rufus, or Ventoy to create the bootable drive, as Microsoft's Windows to Go is no longer supported.
black laptop computer keyboard in closeup photo

Downloading Windows ISO File

The first step involves downloading the Windows ISO file for the version you intend to run. You can obtain the ISO from the official Microsoft website.

Creating a Bootable USB Drive

Follow these steps to create the bootable USB drive:

  1. Download and install a third-party tool such as WinToUSB, Rufus, or Ventoy.
  2. Open the chosen tool and select the downloaded Windows ISO file.
  3. Choose your USB flash drive as the destination.
  4. Configure the partition scheme and installation mode. For example, select MBR for BIOS and Legacy mode if using WinToUSB.
  5. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process.

StepDescription
1Download and install a third-party tool such as WinToUSB, Rufus, or Ventoy.
2Open the chosen tool and select the downloaded Windows ISO file.
3Choose your USB flash drive as the destination.
4Configure the partition scheme and installation mode (e.g., MBR for BIOS and Legacy mode if using WinToUSB).
5Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the process.

Launching Windows From a USB Drive

To boot Windows from the USB drive, follow these steps:

  1. Insert the USB drive into your computer.
  2. Restart the computer and access the Boot menu by pressing a specific key (usually F2, F12, ESC, or DEL) during the boot process.
  3. Select the USB drive as the boot device.
  4. Complete the Windows setup process and activate the operating system to start using it from the USB drive.
An External Storage Drive on Wooden Table

Considerations

While running Windows from a USB drive is convenient, there are some drawbacks to consider:

  • Performance: The OS will run slower compared to an internal drive, especially if using a USB 2.0 port or a flash drive with lower read/write speeds.
  • Wear and Tear: Continuous use might wear out the USB drive faster than typical storage devices.
  • Storage Limitations: Limited storage space on the USB drive might restrict the number of installed apps and the amount of data you can store.

Despite these potential downsides, running Windows from a USB drive can significantly enhance flexibility and portability, making it an ideal solution for users with specific requirements or constraints. Whether you need to overcome restrictions of an internal hard drive, require a portable version of Windows for different machines, or just want to try out an updated OS version, this method is both practical and effective.

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