You run Windows 10 on your own computer, but now you’re using another PC outfitted with an older operating system. If you prefer to use the newest version of Windows, though, there’s a way to run Windows 10 directly through a USB drive.
You’ll need a USB flash drive with at least 16GB of free space, but preferably 32GB. You’ll also need a license to activate Windows 10 on the USB drive. That means you have to either purchase one or use an existing one that is associated with your digital ID.
You can then use a Windows USB utility 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 Windows 10.
The major downside of booting from a USB drive is that Windows 10 will run slower than it does off your hard drive. But if you’re in a pinch you can at least work with the OS and access different apps this way.
Microsoft once offered its own tool called Windows to Go, which could generate a bootable Windows USB drive with the Enterprise and Education versions of Windows 10. However, the company has stopped development on that program and no longer updates it.
Instead, you can turn to two utility programs, WinToUSB and Rufus. These tools can create a bootable drive from any version of the operating system and on any type of USB drive.
Running Windows 10 From a USB Drive
If you want to run Windows from a USB, the first step is to sign into your current Windows 10 computer and create a Windows 10 ISO file that will be used to install the operating system onto the drive.
To do this, browse to the Download Windows 10 website. This site offers the latest edition of Windows 10, which at this point is the Windows 10 November 2019 Update, or Windows 10 version 1909.
Click the Download tool now button, then double-click the downloaded MediaCreationTool.exe file to install the program. At the first screen for Applicable notices and license terms, click the Access button. Then click the Create installation media (USB flash drive, DVD, or ISO file) for another PC button and hit Next.
At the Select language, architecture, and edition screen, confirm that all of the options are correct and then click Next.
You’ll then need to choose what media you want to use. Given the option between a USB flash drive and an ISO file, click ISO file. Then click Next.
Choose a location on your hard drive to store the Windows.iso file and click Save. Windows 10 will then generate the necessary ISO file. When the process is done, click Finish.
Next, it’s time to enlist the aid of a third-party Windows USB program. Let’s kick things off with WinToUSB. This program comes in three flavors: Free, Professional, and Enterprise.
Start with the free version to see if you like it, but be aware that the freebie poses certain limitations. Most notably, you can create an installation of Windows 10 Home but not Professional or Enterprise.
If you need either of these editions, the Professional version of WinToUSB costs $29.95, while the Enterprise option will run you $199.95. Download and install the WinToUSB software from the dedicated website.
Next, connect a blank USB flash drive to your computer. Launch WinToUSB from its Start menu shortcut. At the introductory screen, click the button to the right of the Image File field and choose the ISO file you created for Windows 10.
Select the version of Windows 10 you wish to clone onto the USB stick. If you’re using the free version, your only choice is one of the Windows 10 Home versions, so select that one and hit Next.
At the next screen, you’ll need to determine your destination disk. Open the drop-down menu and choose your USB drive. A message pops up asking you to select a partition scheme. Click the MBR for BIOS option and hit Yes.
At the next screen, click the option for Legacy to choose the Installation mode. Click Next and your Windows 10 USB drive will now be created.
When the installation process reaches 100 percent, indicating that it’s finished, close the WinToUSB program and remove the USB drive.
Now let’s check out Rufus. Download and install the Rufus program from its website, then launch the software. At the Drive Properties window, select your USB drive in the Device field, if it’s not already selected. Click the Select button next to the Boot selection field and select your Windows 10 ISO file.
Click the Image option field and change it to Windows to Go. You can leave the other options at their default values. If you wish, change the Volume label to something like Windows 10. Then click the Start button.
At the next screen, choose the version of Windows that you want to run on the USB drive, then click OK. A warning message flashes that all data on your USB drive will be destroyed. Click OK to continue.
Rufus will now copy the necessary files to the USB drive. After the USB drive has been set up, close the Rufus window.
Launch Windows 10 With USB
When you want to launch Windows 10 on a different computer, insert your USB drive into that PC. Press the appropriate key to launch your Boot menu and choose the option to boot up off the USB drive. The easiest way is to hold the Shift key and restart the computer.
The first time you run Windows 10 off the USB drive, you’ll need to go through the familiar Windows setup process. You’ll also need to activate Windows 10.
You can then install apps onto the USB drive and access any files or documents stored online, so the experience comes close to working on one of your own Windows 10 PCs.