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How to Run Windows 10 Directly From a USB Drive

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Perhaps you’re using a computer that is not your own and you miss Windows 10. What can you do? Create a USB drive that runs Windows 10 directly.

Windows 10 Bug ArtYou’ll need a USB flash drive or external hard drive with at least 16GB of free space, but preferably 32GB. You can then use a special utility called WinToUSB to set up the USB drive with Windows 10. Once you’re done, you’ll be able to boot up off the drive to launch Windows10.

Microsoft offers a tool called Windows to Go, which can generate a bootable Windows USB drive. But that program works only with the Enterprise version of Windows 10 and requires a certified Windows To Go drive. With WinToUSB, you can create the bootable drive from any version of the operating system and on any type of USB drive. The one disadvantage is that Windows 10 runs much more slowly off a USB flash drive than it does off your hard drive. But in a pinch, you can at least work with the OS and access different apps this way.

Running Windows 10 From a USB Drive

Sign into an existing Windows 10 computer to create a Windows 10 ISO file that will be used to clone Windows 10 onto the USB drive. To do this, download Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool from the Download Windows 10 website. Double-click the downloaded MediaCreationTool.exe file.

Run Windows 10 from a USB Drive
Run Windows 10 from a USB Drive

At the first screen for “Applicable notices and license terms,” click on the Access button. At the “What do you want to do?” screen, click on the option to “Create installation media for another PC.” Click Next. At the “Select language, architecture, and edition” screen, confirm that all of the options are correct and then click Next.

Run Windows 10 from a USB DriveAt the “Choose which media to use” screen, click on the option for ISO file. Click Next.

Run Windows 10 from a USB Drive

Choose a location on your hard drive to store the Windows.iso file. Click Save. Windows 10 now generates the necessary ISO file. When the process is done, click on Finish. Now insert your USB drive. Download and install the WinToUSB software from its dedicated website. You can use the free version to get started and then decide if you want to upgrade to the $29.95 Professional version to gain access to more features and use the software commercially.

Run Windows 10 from a USB DriveLaunch WinToUSB from its Start menu shortcut. At the introductory screen, click on the button to the right of the Image File field and choose the Windows.iso file that you just created. Then select the version of Windows 10 that you wish to clone onto the USB stick. Click Next.

Run Windows 10 from a USB DriveAt the next screen, click on the drop-down arrow next to the field to “Please select the destination disk” and choose your USB drive. A message pops up asking you to select a partition scheme. Click on the option for “MBR for BIOS” and then click Yes.

Run Windows 10 from a USB DriveAt the next screen, click on the option for Legacy to choose the Installation mode. Click Next. Your Windows10 USB stick will now be created.

Run Windows 10 from a USB DriveWhen the installation process reaches 100 percent, indicating that it’s finished, close the WinToUSB program and remove the USB drive.

When you want to launch Windows 10 on a different computer, insert your USB drive into that PC, turn it on, and call up the boot menu. How you do that depends on which PC you’re using; sometimes it’s F8 or Shift/F8, other times it’s F12. Once you do that, choose the option to boot up off the USB drive. Sign into Windows10.

The first time you use your Windows 10 drive on a different computer, you’ll need to establish the necessary Wi-Fi password and other settings. You’ll also need to activate Windows10 each time you use the USB drive on a different PC, so it’s best you log in with your Microsoft account, which is linked to your digital license. You can then install apps on the Windows 10 USB stick and access any files or documents stored online, so the experience comes close to working on one of your own Windows 10 PCs.