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Can I install Windows7 onto an external USB hard drive?

    Question

  • Is it possible to install Windows7 onto an external USB hard drive and run it of the USB hard drive? If so what is the procedure to install. I would appreciate it if someone could give me complete instructions starting with what type of partition to create on the external drive.

    Thanks.
    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 7:45 PM

Answers

  • Q. Can I install Windows 7 on an external USB or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) hard drive?

    A. No. Windows 7 cannot be installed on any drive that Windows identifies as removable. Depending on how your system is configured you might be able to  install the OS on an eSATA drive, which appears to the operating system as an internal fixed drive.


    Carey Frisch
    Monday, April 27, 2009 9:16 PM
    Moderator
  • None of the Windows operating systems support installation on a USB or Firewire external drive. If you attempt to install Windows 7 (or Vista etc) onto a removable drive you will simply get a error message informing you that Windows cannot be installed on a USB/Firewire external drive. The only option you have then is to cancel the installation.

    Yes, like Newnerd, I too have seen instances on the Web were users have encompassed other means of installing to a removable drive but they are complex and, frankly, although it would be nice to be able to install to a USB/Firewire removable drive, I, for one, don't have the inclination to go through the rigamarole.

    I can well imagine that being able to install to a removable drive was probably one of the many features requested by users but, obviously, the request fell on deaf ears.
    John Barnett MVP: Windows XP Associate Expert: Windows Desktop Experience: Web: http://www.winuser.co.uk Web: http://xphelpandsupport.mvps.org Web: http://vistasupport.mvps.org
    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 12:16 AM
    Answerer

All replies

  • Hi Chiyuri:
        You would be far better off to install an internal drive  to install Windows7 on.   I don't believe Microsoft offers native support to install their operating systems on external hard drives.  I've read posts on Google searches of attempts to install to a USB hard drive using a Linux boot manager to enable the Windows O.S. to boot from an external drive but most people won't want to go thru the torturous route needed to get it done only to have a VERY slow operating system using the USB drive. 
       If you install an internal drive and install Win7 on that you can keep your existing operating system intact and when you're done with Win7 or it's done with us the end of August,  all you'll have to do is delete the partition containing Win7 in disk management and you'll revert to automatic booting from your present Vista O.S.  If you have XP you may have to use your original XP CD after deleting Win7 to do a "repair" of Windows start-up to permit your PC to start booting from XP automatically.  The PC will operate much faster with an internal hard drive in comparison to a USB drive.
    • Proposed as answer by Vlad0 Saturday, April 25, 2009 5:04 PM
    Tuesday, March 24, 2009 10:17 PM
  • None of the Windows operating systems support installation on a USB or Firewire external drive. If you attempt to install Windows 7 (or Vista etc) onto a removable drive you will simply get a error message informing you that Windows cannot be installed on a USB/Firewire external drive. The only option you have then is to cancel the installation.

    Yes, like Newnerd, I too have seen instances on the Web were users have encompassed other means of installing to a removable drive but they are complex and, frankly, although it would be nice to be able to install to a USB/Firewire removable drive, I, for one, don't have the inclination to go through the rigamarole.

    I can well imagine that being able to install to a removable drive was probably one of the many features requested by users but, obviously, the request fell on deaf ears.
    John Barnett MVP: Windows XP Associate Expert: Windows Desktop Experience: Web: http://www.winuser.co.uk Web: http://xphelpandsupport.mvps.org Web: http://vistasupport.mvps.org
    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 12:16 AM
    Answerer
  • The little I know about installing to a USB is better boot from it so it is a c: drive. Only heard of it succeeding on 3.1 or with linux don't know how successful. I tried a dozen ways to put MilleniumEdition on a usb. I think part of the problem is that windows sees windows as itself. even with no os on the hard disk i had a range of funny configurations and the install wrote half to usb and half to hard disk. I had it working for a little while once but it soon crashed, right where the interface meets the machine. (a kind of identity crisis) Native support is a good word for it. The natives don't like it when the same question gives conflicting answers.

    I don't believe the request for usb portable OS fell on deaf ears but I do believe that carting your settings around will have to satisfy us for now (or will everybody be happy with huge loss of functionality to satisfy minor gain) Imagine how we would all feel if they dropped something of substance because nine out of ten housewives wanted flashier screensavers, or four out of five gamers wanted no more than a shell to play wardemons in?
    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 5:26 PM
  •  
    newnerd said:

    Hi Chiyuri:
        You would be far better off to install an internal drive  to install Windows7 on.  

    Chiuri has not asked, whether he would be better or worse installing Win7 on an internal drive.
    He asked whether it is possible to install onto an external USB hdd. The desire to install Win7
    on an external USB drive instead of internal is, may be, the only possibility for him (as for many others
    as well, me including) to test Win7 at all. Suppose that a man has a laptop with no free space
    on it to make a partition on which Win 7 can be installed. But he has an external hdd inside an enclosure.
    If he bought hdd and the enclosure separately, then there is no problem to insert temporarily the external
    hdd inside the laptop, to install Win 7 on it and return hdd inside the enclosure after all that.
    But in case where the external hdd was purchased together with the enclosure, the extraction of
    hdd from the enclosure can break the warranty, so would be highly undesirable. S o the only
    possiibility will remain the installation of Win 7 directly on an external drive. 

    This is forbidden by MS's official installator for some reasons.
    Though there are no technical reasons forbidding such an installation: changing the boot sector of
    the external drive, extracting .wim image to that drive and installing the adequate drivers
    for a given hardware can be done without problems. And the first 2 operations can even be done
    manually, with the appropriate progs present on the Win 7 installation disk.

    So the real question implicitly present in Chiuri's post is: how one can change the installation
    scenario of an original MS installer so that the changed version would permit the installation of Win7
    on external USB disks too?


    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 5:59 PM
  • Vlad0 said 
    "This is forbidden by MS's official installator for some reasons.
    Though there are no technical reasons forbidding such an installation: changing the boot sector of
    the external drive, extracting .wim image to that drive>>>"


    It is largely technical
    Read it all through again please, There are compelling technical reasons for it.
    Some of the windows is as old as the hills, some of it might be one language and some of it another all working together to cover a huge range of functions most of them inside the box.

    Please repect the hardworking motherboard. The Dozens of devices plugged into it. the dozens of thousands of circuits on numerous chips. The binary, the machine language, the early dos, the late dos, It isn't the work of a minute to get where it is now. It is sad that programming has it's limits and that programmers have their price but when people say "no technical reason" I want to ask what they would regard as a good technical reason. Really good programmer advice  "technology will push ahead to the level of it's own incompetance. " Stop short of too much and see if seven can do what it is designed to do. It isn't in beta testing so we can play with it, we offered to test it so we could steer production by finding where it goes good or bad.
    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 11:22 PM
  •   I do not see in Your answer nothing but a lot of vague demagogy.
    If one removes all rethorical decorations from what You said,
    one remains, if I understood correctly, the simple statement:
    "The modern PC and OS on it  are much too complicated, and their complexity
    is a general technical reason forbidding one
    to install Windows 7 on an external USB hard drive".

    Everybody understands that this is not a concrete answer to my
    concrete statement: "there are no technical reasons ..."
    (imo is presupposed, of course). My opinion may be wrong
    (I am not that into Windows 7 installer internals).
    But to show it is wrong or just to suggest it may be wrong
    one is to give at least one concrete and reasonable argument.
    Based on a solid intuition at least if not on a concrete knowledge.

    For example: "Windows 7 PE environment has at present no drivers, permitting
    one to communicate with USB storage devices". This seems to me not very
    plausible, because PE environment could, after all, to communicate with these devices
    via the functions integrated into the BIOS itself. Most modern BIOSes have such possibilities
    (otherwise the booting from external USB devices would be impossible at all).

    Otherwise the posts like Yours above will be just a meaningless "blah-blah-blah".
    Containing no useful info inside, but just attempting to provoke the flame stream.

    PS OK, my own post shows that You almost succeeded in that enterprise :)
    In what follows I will not react at all on posts containing no relevant info.
    Thursday, March 26, 2009 5:37 PM
  • I don't do demagogy Vlad0 (not sure I know what it means)

    The operating system talks to itself in the wiring rather than just the written code. It is not complicated. Instructions to the cpu might be follow this path and put stuff here. Here is your hard disk. I guess if you want to SAY there is no technical reason, good luck to you. I got windows to run off a usb, what have you done? I explained what went wrong and maybe the programmers can at least try to get Win7 to format a usb to boot. 


    Vlad0 said to me
    "Otherwise the posts like Yours above will be just a meaningless "blah-blah-blah".
    Containing no useful info inside, but just attempting to provoke the flame stream."

    You can at  least try to understand even if you don't know me.
    • Proposed as answer by Vlad0 Saturday, April 18, 2009 4:53 PM
    Friday, March 27, 2009 2:56 AM
  • To llynne: I'm very sorry for being too rude. My mistake was
    that I failed to penetrate into the text of your post deeply enough
    to see that it is not the flood, but just a metaphorical way of speech.
    It seems You are inclined to see poetry inside things, where no other
    one will see even a hint of it. Like "hardworking motherboard".
    And even more hardworking CPU :). Sorry, once again.


    Now to the subj.
    It took me almost 1 month to google out all the necessary info
    permitting one to install Windows 7 onto external USB drive.
    Two days ago I've succeeded at last in this enterprise.
    The key ingredients of procedure permitting to do this
    turned out to be:
    a) The new MS technology, permitting one
    to install Windows 7 on a Virtual Hard Drive (VHD). With no
    virtual machine, as a real OS operating on the real hardware.
    This technology is described in many sites in internet
    (just google "Windows 7 boot VHD" or something of the sort)
    b) Tricks found in 2006 by Dietmar from
     http://www.911cd.net/forums//index.php?showtopic=14181
    to overcome obstructions to booting of XP from USB devices.
    Marv from http://www.911cd.net/forums//index.php?showtopic=22473&st=0
    has created a great program, based on Dietmar's ideas, which permits one
    booting of both XP and Vista from USB disks. And it turned out,
    that the same program (which is indeed a service) works as well
    on Windows 7 inside the VHD.

    My idea was the following.
    a) Free enough space on a partition of an internal hdd
    permitting one to create VHD on the free space and
    install Windows 7 on it;
    b) Boot from Windows 7 on internal hdd and
    run the Marv's prog "UsbBootWatcher.exe /install" (freely downloadable
    from the link above);
    c) Boot from Vista and copy VHD file from internal hdd
    to some partition on USB hdd.
    d) Add the entry to the boot menu for booting from USB disk.

    Now the detailed description of this procedure.

    1) I've freed 20G on internal hdd and defragmented the partition.
    In fact, it is enough to free 15G only and even less (the whole
    Windows 7 64 occupies about 10--11G after installation).

    2) Boot from Windows 7 installation DVD;

    3) When the menu "Install Windows" appears, press Shift+F10
    to switch the command prompt window on;

    4) Determine the letter assigned by Windows 7 Preinstallation Environment (WinPE) to the
    partition, where You wish to create the VHD file. This step is necessary,
    because this letter may be different from the letter assigned by OS
    (Vista or XP) to the same partition. For example, if You have a notebook
    with a hidden "recovery partition" with no letters assigned to it,
    and 2 visible partitions with letters,
    then You will see (say) partitions C: and D: under Vista and C:, D:, E:
    under Windows 7 installer. And it may turn out that D: under Vista becomes E:
    under Windows WinPE. One of the ways to determine the letter
    is to run from the command line the commands "C:", "dir", "D:", "dir:" until
    You will see the the root directory of the desired partition.
    Suppose further that the letter assigned to the partition is E.

    5) Run "Diskpart" from the command line;

    6) From within Diskpart command prompt run:
    "create vdisk file=E:\Win7.vhd type=FIXED maximum=20480".
    This will create the VHD file "Win7.vhd" with the fixed size 20M
    on the partition D: (as seen on Vista).

    7) Run:
    select vdisk file=E:\Win7.vhd
    attach vdisk
    exit
    exit
    (to close both Diskpart and cmd windows).

    8) Now install Windows 7 as usual, by choosing for installation the newly created
    virual partition with size 20M of "unallocated space".

    9) If the installation succeeds, boot into newly created default "Windows 7" entry
    in the boot menu. Download the file UsbBootWatcher.zip from the link:
    http://www.911cd.net/forums//index.php?act=attach&type=post&id=1147
    and unzip it somewhere (the preferred place for it is C:\Windows\system32,
    but You can create a separate folder for the purpose and unpack it there).
    Then run "UsbBootWatcher.exe /install" from inside the folder, where
    UsbBootWatcher.zip was unzipped.
    This operations made the current Windows 7 installation transferrable
    to both real partition on a USB hard drive or to VHD partition on that drive.
    I've decided to copy the installation to VHD instead of on the real partition.
    For the purpose:

    10) Boot into Your original Vista/XP and copy the file D:\Win7.vhd to the partition
    on USB disk (say H: for definiteness, as it was in my case). We could as well copy
    this file from within Windows 7 (placed inside the VHD file itself!), but it is a bit dangerous,
    because the VHD file itself would change many times during the copy operation, just because
    say, some of the programs would write something to the registry, etc.

    The last thing remaining to do is to add the VHD on the USB drive to the boot menu.
    The simplest way to do this is, imo, the next one:

    11) Boot again from the Windows 7 installation DVD and switch on the command line prompt
    as in step 3 (Shift+F10). Determine the letter assigned by WinRe to the USB drive partition H:
    (as in step 4). Suppose it is I:.

    12) Run from the command prompt:
    diskpart
    select vdisk file=I:\Win7.vhd
    attach vdisk
    exit
    In the MS guide
    http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dd638420.aspx
    (at the end of which is described, by the way, an alternative method
    to add VHD to the boot menu) it is recommended to run,
    after "attach vdisk", the command like
    "assign letter=v" to assign letter to the attached vdisk.
    But I discovered that this command does not work
    for some reasons. Nevertheless, some letter is already assigned
    to this vdisk by the operation "attach vdisk".
    To determine this letter experimentaly go again to step 4 or use a simple
    arithmetic (it will be the next letter after assigned to all other drives).

    13) Suppose that the letter assigned to the attached vdisk is J:
    Run the commands:
    J:
    cd Windows\System32
    bcdboot J:\Windows
    exit
    Now the Windows 7 on the USB VHD drive is added as the default entry
    with name "Windows 7" to the boot menu.

    14) Cancel the installation of Windows 7 and reboot.

    That's all.
    Now You will have 2 "Windows 7" entries in the boot menu, both named
    "Windows 7". One (default one) is on the USB VHD, another one -- on internal VHD.
    You can (with BCDEDIT tool of Windows 7) delete, if You wish, the internal VHD
    from the boot menu or just rename it. You can as well to extend the VHD file
    on the USB drive with DISKPART in case, where it will become too small after
    installation of some "heavy" programs, occupying several G of space.
    But You can as well install such programs outside the VHD, on real partitions.
    And the good thing is that many 3D games (like HL2, Fear, Doom3) installed under
    Vista or XP need no reinstallation at all under Windows 7: they will run OK
    from where they are.

    • Proposed as answer by Vlad0 Tuesday, April 28, 2009 6:04 PM
    Wednesday, April 22, 2009 6:42 PM
  • Thanks vlad0, so all I need is a 20 gig usb and a virtual cd program and dietmar and Marv's little program and then I need to edit the boot menu, find/assign the drive letter and install programs back to the hard disk. You have given a very clear description of what your research has found. What I need to know next is how well it is working for you and will it boot and run on another computer?

    Forgive the poetic, it is effort to summarise.
    Sunday, April 26, 2009 10:00 AM
  • What I need to know next is how well it is working for you and will it boot and run on another computer?

    Forgive the poetic, it is effort to summarise.
    I see no poetic here, the resume is very short and clear :)

    As to Your questions:

    1) It is working just great! I've observed no slow down
    of Win7 working on the first partition of USB drive compared to
    Vista 32 installed on the first partition of HDD.
    On the contrary: The boot time of Vista+the time of loading of all
    resident programs is about 130 secs, whereas this for Win7 on USB is 60 secs
    (the pure boot times are approximately the same:30--33 secs).
    Of course, my Vista is 1.5 years old and loads much more programs at startup
    than Win7 does. But Win7 loads, say, Everest in 7 secs, whereas Vista does it in 31 secs.
    I do not know why.
    One is to note as well, that the second copy of Win7, installed in the VHD
    at the end of the second partition of the internal HDD boots very slowly -- about
    2.5 times slower than that on the USB drive! Though the VHD file itself
    is defragmented.

    The comparison of WEI for Wista 32 and Win7 64
    (on Toshiba Satellite P200, CPU 1.8G overclocked to 2G,
    2G of RAM, mobile Radeon HD 2600 GPU (not overclocked)):

    Vista: CPU: 5.0, Memory: 4.8, Graphics: 5.3, Gaming Graphics: 5.0, Primary HDD: 4.9
    Win7: CPU: 4.9, Memory: 4.9, Graphics: 4.9(?), Gaming Graphics: 5.5(!), Primary HDD: 2.0

    3DMark05:
    Vista 5933, 
    Win7 6282

    3DMark06:
    Vista 2997
    Win7 3297

    Roughly speaking, there is about 10% real speed up of 3D games
    running under 64bit Win 7 compared to 32bit Vista. But this
    can be explained not by the better performance of Win7 as compared to Vista,
    but by the use of 64bit drivers for the graphics card instead of 32 bit ones.

    2) Without additional manipulations the USB VHD will not boot from
    another PC. At least 3 things are to be done for the purpose:
    a) copy the Win7 version of the file bootmgr to the primary partition
    of the USB disk;
    b) replace the boot sector of this partition, to make it "Win aware",
    running the command "bootsect /nt60 X:", where X: is the letter
    of the USB primary partition, assigned by Win7 or Vista to the primary partition
    of USB.
    c) To create on the USB primary partition the folder "Boot" with an adequate file
    "bcd" in this folder, containing the boot menu entry pointing to the corresponding
    VHD file. I have not thought about the corresponding procedure permitting one to
    create such an adequate file.

    In any case,  even if VHD will be made somehow bootable from the PC other than
    that on which it was created, there remains the following non-trivial problem:
    if the other PC differs from the original PC as hardware, then Win7 will discover
    this fact asking for the reactivation.



    • Edited by Vlad0 Sunday, April 26, 2009 5:40 PM
    Sunday, April 26, 2009 5:36 PM
  • Add on to my previous post.
    I forgot to mention about a much more serious obstruction
    for using the USB Win7 installation as "portable Win7":
    potential incompatibility of hardware on an outer PC
    with that on PC where Win7 was installed.

    For example, if it was installed on PC with nVidia video card
    and You'll try to boot it on PC with ATI/AMD video card,
    the result would probably be a BSOD. Just because the installed
    nVidia drivers are incompatible with those of ATI/AMD, so they
    are unable to talk with ATI/AMD card on the language
    the card understands. At best they will switch the card to
    the "VGA compatibility mode", talking with her on the standartized
    "sublanguage" all video cards are obliged to understand (low VGA
    resolution, 256 colors and no effects).
    Monday, April 27, 2009 3:19 PM
  • Q. Can I install Windows 7 on an external USB or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) hard drive?

    A. No. Windows 7 cannot be installed on any drive that Windows identifies as removable. Depending on how your system is configured you might be able to  install the OS on an eSATA drive, which appears to the operating system as an internal fixed drive.


    Carey Frisch
    Monday, April 27, 2009 9:16 PM
    Moderator
  • Hi Carey Frisch:
       I am still unsure about the possibility of installing Windows to an e-Sata drive.  You mention that an e-Sata drive appears to the operating system as an internal fixed drive.  I have an e-Sata drive attached to a Win7 system and if I turn on the e-Sata drive prior to booting the PC, when I go into the bios during the boot process the e-Sata drive appears in the bios list of hard drives but when I go to the bios page for boot devices the e-Sata drive does not appear among the bootable hard drives listed.  One of the options in my Intel board bios is to enable removeable devices as bootable.  I do have that enabled but still have no available option to boot from the e-Sata drive. 
       Therefore if the bios of the motherboard don't see the e-Sata drive as a bootable device I would think installing an operating system on that drive wouldn't be feasible.  Perhaps you could check on your PC with an e-Sata drive and see if your e-Sata drive is listed among the available boot drives in your bios and see if my configuration differs from other PCs? 
      (It probably doesn't make any difference because the original poster probably isn't monitoring this thread anymore,  but I'm curious to see if other motherboards have capabilities to boot from e-sata drives.)
    Monday, April 27, 2009 10:15 PM
  • Carey Frish's post indicates " you might be able to  install the OS on an eSATA drive".
    Yes, that's what I am doing. If your machine does not have eSATA interface then eSATA card either for notebook PC or desktop PC is available. I use a dock with eSATA interface so that I can replace SATA drive easily.
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 12:42 AM
  • Vlad0 I am impressed by your industriousness. It seems there are a few obstacles to the portable system which I was hoping to find. I think I had better stick to my laptop.
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 5:16 AM

  •  I'm curious to see if other motherboards have capabilities to boot from e-sata drives.
    My two different motherboards which I got 6 years ago did not have eSATA port but I added eSATA adaptor bracket and two of the internal SATA ports were connected to internal side of the bracked thus creating eSATA capability.  This worked fine.  Then, I added a eSATA PCI cards which come with two eSATA ports.  One of the mobos worked without any issue but another one did not boot from the built in SATA card on the mobo if a HDD is connected to the eSATA card.  Once Windows is up then HDD could be connected to the eSATA and it was detected automatically.  Subsequently I got one more card and now using only eSATA  for one of the machine. BTW; The eSATA card comes with internal SATA ports to which HDD installed in the machine can be connected.
    My suggestion for possible solution of your problem is to check availability of the BIOS updates. If a newer  BIOS version is available,  then try reflashing by carefully following instructions which comes with the update file.
    • Edited by churin Tuesday, April 28, 2009 2:42 PM
    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 1:42 PM
  • Q. Can I install Windows 7 on an external USB or IEEE 1394 (FireWire) hard drive?

    A. No. Windows 7 cannot be installed on any drive that Windows identifies as removable. Depending on how your system is configured you might be able to  install the OS on an eSATA drive, which appears to the operating system as an internal fixed drive.


    Carey Frisch

    I wonder, how the wrong statement can be marked as an answer!
    It seems that neither Carey Frisch nor Ronnie Vernon have read my lengthy
    post above (dated 22 april), where I gave the detailed instruction
    of how one can install Windows 7 on an external USB hard drive.
    And I have checked experimentally, that this procedure really works.

    The "answer" of C.F. is, in fact, an answer to the more specific question:
    whether it is possible to install Windows 7 on an external USB hard drive
    by the standard installation procedure, with no tricks. The detailed answer
    to this question was already given by John_Barnett at the beginning of the thread,
    but it was not marked as an answer.

    But the original question was: "Is it possible to install Windows7 onto an external USB
    hard drive and run it of the USB hard drive? If so what is the procedure to install."
    The true answer to this question is: Yes. And the procedure (one of the possible ones)
    was described in my post above.

    PS. I wonder as well how it became possible that the first post of newnerd
    became "Proposed As Answer" by me  3 days ago? On the contrary,
    I have criticized this post and
    would newer propose it as an answer!
    Strange things happen here sometimes...
    Eh, well, there is a possible rational explanation as well: I've clicked the mouse
    on "Propose as answer" field in the fit of "momentary lapse of reason" :)


    Tuesday, April 28, 2009 6:02 PM
  • Great great posts, i have been wondering for several months about the possibility of installing win7 on a usb, as i dont wish to replace my current install of vist business with the rcw7 and then have to un-install or install vista/win7 again. As a pretty low tech guy when it comes to programing there are a few areas of your post Vlad0 that i don't follow :( is there as simpler way of doing the installation for a novice?? I run win vista business 32 on a laptop with oem install so hidden partition, 250gbhd with around 200gb free so plenty of free space, i have a 8gb usb key formated to NTFS available. I dont have any prevoius experience of dual boot, but am keen to try out both dual boot and win7 from usb.
    Friday, September 18, 2009 10:30 PM