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Windows To Go: Feature Overview

Published: February 29, 2012

Updated: June 30, 2014

Applies To: Windows 8, Windows 8.1

Windows To Go is an enterprise feature of Windows® 8and Windows 8.1 that enables the creation of a Windows To Go workspace that can be booted from a USB-connected external drive on PCs that meet the Windows 7 or later certification requirements, regardless of the operating system running on the PC. Windows To Go workspaces can use the same image enterprises use for their desktops and laptops and can be managed the same way. Windows To Go is not intended to replace desktops, laptops or supplant other mobility offerings. Rather, it provides support for efficient use of resources for alternative workplace scenarios. There are some additional considerations that you should keep in mind before you start to use Windows To Go:

noteNote
Windows To Go is not supported on Windows RT.

A Windows To Go image running Windows 8.1 is capable of booting from a drive that contains a built-in smart card.  These composite drives have both a mass storage drive and smart card together in one device.  This smart card can be enumerated when booting from the Windows To Go drive or by connecting the device to another host machine.  For more information about smart cards in Windows 8.1, see What's New in Smart Cards:

Windows To Go workspace operates just like any other installation of Windows with a few exceptions. These exceptions are:

  • Internal disks are offline. To ensure data isn’t accidentally disclosed, internal hard disks on the host computer are offline by default when booted into a Windows To Go workspace. Similarly if a Windows To Go drive is inserted into a running system, the Windows To Go drive will not be listed in Windows Explorer.

  • Trusted Platform Module (TPM) isn’t used. When using BitLocker Drive Encryption a pre-operating system boot password will be used for security rather than the TPM since the TPM is tied to a specific computer and Windows To Go drives will move between computers.

  • Hibernate is disabled by default. To ensure that the Windows To Go workspace is able to move between computers easily, hibernation is disabled by default. Hibernation can be re-enabled by using Group Policy settings.

  • Windows Recovery Environment isn’t available. In the rare case that you need to recover your Windows To Go drive, you should re-image it with a fresh image of Windows.

  • Refreshing or resetting a Windows To Go workspace is not supported. Resetting to the manufacturer’s standard for the computer doesn’t apply when running a Windows To Go workspace, so the feature was disabled.

  • Getting apps from Windows Store. For Windows To Go images that are running Windows 8.1, there is no difference in Store behavior between a standard Windows installation and a Windows To Go installation. Store apps can roam between multiple PC’s on a Windows To Go drive.

    For a Windows To Go image running Windows 8, the Windows Store is disabled by default. In Windows 8, apps licensed through the store are linked to hardware for licensing. Since Windows To Go is designed to roam to different host PCs access to the store is disabled when running Windows 8. You can enable the store if your Windows 8-based Windows To Go workspaces won’t be roaming to multiple PC hosts.

Windows To Go drives can be booted on multiple computers. When a Windows To Go workspace is first booted on a host computer it will detect all hardware on the computer and install any needed drivers. When the Windows To Go workspace is subsequently booted on that host computer it will be able to identify the host computer and load the correct set of drivers automatically.

The applications that you want to use from the Windows To Go workspace should be tested to make sure they also support roaming. Some applications bind to the computer hardware which will cause difficulties if the workspace is being used with multiple host computers.

Enterprises install Windows on a large group of computers either by using configuration management software (such as System Center Configuration Manager), or by using standard Windows deployment tools such as DiskPart, ImageX, and the Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) tool.

These same tools can be used to provision Windows To Go drive, just as you would if you were planning for provisioning a new class of mobile PCs. You can use the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit to review deployment tools available.

ImportantImportant
Make sure you use the versions of the deployment tools provided for the version of Windows you are deploying. There have been many enhancements made to support Windows To Go. Using versions of the deployment tools released for Windows 7 or earlier versions of Windows to provision a Windows To Go drive is not supported.

As you are deciding what to include in your Windows To Go image, be sure to consider the following questions:

  • Are there any drivers that you need to inject into the image?

  • How will data be stored and synchronized to appropriate locations from the USB device?

  • Are there any applications that are incompatible with Windows To Go roaming that should not be included in the image?

  • What should be the architecture of the image - 32bit/64bit?

  • What remote connectivity solution should be supported in the image if Windows To Go is used outside the corporate network?

For more information about designing and planning your Windows To Go deployment, see Prepare Your Organization for Windows To Go

For USB drives

The devices listed in this section have been specially optimized and certified for Windows To Go and meet the necessary requirements for booting and running a full version of Windows 8 from a USB drive. The optimizations for Windows To Go include the following:

  • Windows To Go certified USB drives are built for high random read/write speeds and support the thousands of random access I/O operations per second required for running normal Windows workloads smoothly.

  • Windows To Go certified USB drives have been tuned to ensure they boot and run on hardware certified for use with either Windows 7 or Windows 8.

  • Windows To Go certified USB drives are built to last. Certified USB drives are backed with manufacturer warranties and should continue operating under normal usage. Refer to the manufacturer websites for warranty details.

As of the date of publication, the following are the USB drives currently certified for use as Windows To Go drives; as more drives are certified for use with Windows To Go this list will be updated:

WarningWarning
Using a USB drive that has not been certified is not supported

For host computers

When assessing the use of a PC as a host for a Windows To Go workspace you should consider the following criteria:

  • Hardware that has been certified for use with either Windows 7 or Windows 8 operating systems will work well with Windows To Go.

  • Running a Windows To Go workspace from a computer that is running Windows RT is not a supported scenario.

  • Running a Windows To Go workspace on a Mac computer is not a supported scenario.

The following table details the characteristics that the host computer must have to be used with Windows To Go:

 

Item Requirement

Boot process

Capable of USB boot

Firmware

USB boot enabled. (PCs certified for use with Windows 7 or later can be configured to boot directly from USB, check with the hardware manufacturer if you are unsure of the ability of your PC to boot from USB)

Processor architecture

Must support the image on the Windows To Go drive

External USB Hubs

Not supported; connect the Windows To Go drive directly to the host machine.

Processor

1 Ghz or faster

RAM

2 GB or greater

Graphics

DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.2 or greater driver.

USB port

USB 2.0 port or greater

Checking for architectural compatibility between the host PC and the Windows To Go drive

In addition to the USB boot support in the BIOS, the Windows 8 image on your Windows To Go drive must be compatible with the processor architecture and the firmware of the host PC as shown in the table below.

 

Host PC Firmware Type Host PC Processor Architecture Compatible Windows To Go Image Architecture

Legacy BIOS

32-bit

32-bit only

Legacy BIOS

64-bit

32-bit and 64-bit

UEFI BIOS

32-bit

32-bit only

UEFI BIOS

64-bit

64-bit only

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