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Make External Hard Drive Bootable in Windows 10

Updated by Daisy on Feb 25, 2021
Written by Jean

"Hi, what's the best way to make an external hard drive bootable? You see. Like copying all the Windows boot files to it so that I can boot Windows 10 from the bootable drive. Please, an easier way is much more appreciated."

There are many significant reasons for creating a bootable HDD or USB drive that carries a user's customized Windows operating system. For example, when your PC unexpectedly shuts down and can be never turned on due to hard disk failure or system corruption, you can still easily start the computer from the bootable drive. A bootable external hard drive also does great help when a computer's dead or crashed. Besides, with a bootable external USB drive, you can use your own operating system wherever you go and whenever you like. To enjoy these advantages though creating a bootable external hard drive, you have three workable methods to choose from.

Method 1. How to Make an External Hard Drive Bootable with EaseUS Todo Backup

Applies to: Windows 10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP (32-bit and 64-bit)

The simplest and quickest way to make an external hard drive bootable is to use the Windows backup software - EaseUS Todo Backup. EaseUS Todo Backup is recognized as the best system backup software as well as disk/partition clone utility that includes a highlighted feature called "Create Portable Windows USB drive". It's available in the "System Clone" function. The software will clone all system files, boot files and other personalized data files to the target drive. Simply prepare your external hard drive in which you're going to make bootable, and follow the video tutorial or detailed steps below to make an external hard drive bootable in Windows 10 or other supportable OS.

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To successfully make an external hard drive bootable, you need to make sure its usable space is larger than the space taken by your system. What's more, you need to delete all the partitions on the hard drive. (Luckily, with this software, you can back up all the existing files on it in advance.) The last requirement for the USB drive is that it has the same partition style as the source disk.

Video tutorial:

Detailed guide:

Step 1. Connect the external hard drive to your computer and make Windows recognize the drive. Now launch EaseUS Todo Backup and click "System Clone".

choose system clone to clone windows 10 to ssd

Step 2. The software has chosen the entire Windows 10 system partition and boot partition by default, so you just choose the external hard drive as the destination drive.

In "Advanced options", there are three extra Windows 10 system clone features for you to choose from.

Optimize for SSD: tick this option if the destination hard disk is a Solid State Drive.

Sector by sector clone: tick this option if you wish to clone everything from the source disk including the blank space.

Create a portable Windows USB drive: tick this option so that the cloned external hard disk is able to boot normally.

choose the external hard drive as the destination disk

Step 3. Click "Proceed" to immediately clone Windows 10 to an external hard drive.

click proceed to start cloning windows 10 to external hard drive

You should now create your own bootable hard drive with EaseUS Todo Backup software. After it's done, you can boot a computer from the external hard drive:

  • Connect the external hard drive to the computer
  • Restart the computer and press "F2" or "Del" to enter BIOS settings
  • In the Boot option, select the external hard drive as the new boot drive and save all the changes.
  • Exit BIOS and restart the computer, you should be able to see Windows 10 running on your new disk without any problem

In addition to being a bootable HDD/SSD/USB creator, EaseUS Todo Backup also works well in backing up or cloning hard drives, SSD, and external storage devices. With it, you can do things like migrating Windows 10 to SSD, backing up and restoring your computer hard drive, partition, files, and Outlook emails. Since data loss happens on a daily basis, it's really a wise choice to equip your computer with such backup software.

  Free Download

Support Windows 10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP

Method 2. Make an External Hard Drive Bootable with CMD

Applies To: Windows 10/8/7

Windows Command Prompt can also be useful methods to create a bootable external hard drive in Windows 10, 8 or 7. But compared with method 1, this solution is more complex and is likely to cause a boot failure. Be cautious during this process.

1. Format the external hard drive

To format a drive using cmd via Command Prompt, follow the diskpart commands below carefully. Try your best to avoid any mistakes.

Step 1. Type cmd in the search box, you can get the best match called Command Prompt. Right-click on it and choose "Run as administrator".

Step 2. On the Command Prompt black window, enter the following commands in the same order here: 

  • X is the number corresponding to your disk. You have to replace it with the corresponding letter from your own system.
  • Press "Enter", every time you enter your command

list disk
select disk X
create partition primary
format fs=fat32

If everything goes well, this is how your cmd screen will look like

formatted external hard drive

2. Copy the Windows 10 installer files

Step1. Insert your Windows DVD into the optical drive. To open "dism.exe" in CMD, open Command Prompt Admin (Windows + X), enter the command in the following:

cd boot
G:\bootbootsect /nt60 d:

  • "g" is your DVD drive letter
  • "d" is your external drive letter

Step 2. Copy all files from the Windows CD to the drive using xcopy by entering the command in the following:

G:\xcopy g:\*.* /s/h/f d:\

All those commands are used to make your external hard drive bootable. Select the bootable drive at the Windows startup, it will boot Windows immediately. If you receive a message says: "Could not open the BCD template store. Status = [c000000f]", try the following commands to repair console to rebuild BCD or, you can watch the video to fix your boot problems (BCD problems are included).

attrib c:\boot\bcd –h –r –s
del c:\boot\bcd
bootrec /rebuildbcd

Method 3. Install Windows 10/8 on External Hard Drive with Windows Built-in Feature

Applies To: Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise

In Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise, there is a built-in feature that enables you to create a Windows To Go workspace by creating an imaged version of Windows on Windows-compatible external hard drives. However, unlike EaseUS Todo Backup that is available for all Windows versions. This feature is only accessible for Windows 10 Enterprise/Education/Pro and Windows 8/8.1 Enterprise users and only certified USB drives can be made bootable.

Requirements for USB Drives:

  • Has high random read/write speeds and can run Windows workloads smoothly
  • Has been tuned to ensure they boot and run on hardware certified for use with Windows 7 and later
  • Is backed with manufacturer warranties and should continue operating under normal usage

If you are using the right Windows version and have a certified external hard drive, you can make the external hard drive bootable. (This process will format your external hard drive, back up your external hard drive in advance.)

Step 1. Download the related installation ISO file from Microsoft and connect the hard drive to your computer.

install windows 10 on USB/external hard drive -1

Step 2. Go to "Control Panel" and find "Windows To Go".

install windows 10 on USB/external hard drive -2

install windows 10 on USB/external hard drive -2-2

Step 3. Choose the external hard drive and click "Next".

install windows 10 on USB/external hard drive -3

Step 4. Click "Add search location" to search for the ISO file.

add search location

Step 5. Select the ISO file to make the external hard drive bootable.

Step 6. Choose whether to use BitLocker or not. If you do, be sure you won't forget the password.

choose to use bitlocker or not

Step 7. Click "Create" to confirm. (Windows will format your external hard drive during the process. If there is any data you want to recover, learn how to recover data from the external hard drive here.)

create and install windows 10 on the external hard drive

Step 8. Wait for the process to finish. When it's done, a bootable external hard drive is successfully created.

To Sum Up

Three methods have been used to make the external hard drive bootable, which offers you different choices. Method 1 clones the system to your external disk by means of system cloning. Method 2 copies the startup file on the CD to the external disk by means of the command line. Method 3 uses Windows 10 built-in features. But using Windows 10 built-in features not only has several limitations but also may cause data loss. So if you want a simple and safe solution, choose Method 1. If you have a good knowledge base, three methods are applicable. Br the way, if your drive fails to boot, you can always refer to the video in method 2 to fix the boot problem.

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Updated by Daisy

Daisy has been working as a technical writer for eight years. She specializes in making the complicated easy. She believes that technology should bring users satisfaction, not annoyance, so she writes a lot to help people overcome their tech troubles.

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Written by Jean

Author Jean has been writing tech articles since she was graduated from university. She has been part of the EaseUS team for over 5 years. Her special focuses are data recovery, disk partitioning, data space optimization, data backup and Mac OS. By the way, she's an aviation fan!

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