Bootable USB’s

Can you use an external drive to create a separate boot profile on a computer?  Can you use that drive on multiple computers?

This was the question that was put to me recently by a customer.  I’d like to break the question down a bit for simplification.

Can you boot from an external USB drive?

Yes.  But, you will need to the BIOS that the drive is available to boot from.  It’s not hard and here are the instructions to boot from and external device.

Can you install windows on an external drive and boot it?

Yes.  Anything that is bootable can have windows installed on it.  Windows however, is big, so check the Windows 8 system requirements and make sure you have enough space.  You will need 20GB for Windows 8 64 bit, but you should also have enough space for the programs you need in this installation and whatever documents you need to store on the device.  You can even use a USB flash drive stick, if it is big enough.

Will Windows work properly?

Yes.  But it may be a little slower to boot, start programs and read and write data.  This is because USB data speeds vary between devices and cables and are generally slower than the computers SATA hard drive speeds.

Can I take the USB drive to another computer?  Will windows still work?

Yes, but here may be issues with drivers the first time you use it on a new computer.  The instance of windows on your USB device probably doesn’t have all the drivers for all the devices connected to the other computer, so you will need to install these.  This may include the motherboard and graphics card drivers.  If the screen resolution is a lot less than it should be then download these.  You may find networking doesn’t work.  If this is the case you will need to download the motherboard drivers for this computer on a different computer with an internet connection and install them to the windows installation on the device.

Do you foresee any other problems?

Yes.  Don’t use an OEM version of windows.  Only use the full retail version.  The OEM will be linked to the first motherboard that you use it with, probably the one you use to install windows on to the device.  If you use an OEM, it probably will not work if you take it to another computer and Microsoft probably won’t let you transfer it.  Also, if you try to go to a very old computer, it may not be compatible with a newer version of windows, particularly if you have used the 64 bit version and the older computer only has 32 bit capability.  The may also be problems with RAM requirements.