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How to Make External Hard Drive Bootable in Windows 10/Windows 11

Updated by Gemma on May 07, 2022
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 through 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 OS2Go

Applies to: Windows 11/10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP (32-bit and 64-bit)

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The simplest and quickest way to make an external hard drive bootable is to use the Windows portable creator software - EaseUS OS2Go. It is recognized as the best Windows OS cloning software, Windows To Go USB alternative, bootable USB creation tool and portable Windows USB creator. 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 detailed steps below to make an external hard drive bootable in Windows 10 or other supportable OS.

 

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Detailed guide:

Step 1. Install EaseUS OS2Go on your Windows computer, it will display your system drive's used space. Plug in a USB drive that is larger than the system drive used space. Choose the target USB drive and click Next to continue.

how to use os2go step 1

Step 2. EaseUS OS2Go will notify you that the following operation would delete all data on your drive. Make sure that you have backed up all the important data. Click the Continue button to proceed.

how to use os2go step 2

Step 3. Adjust disk layout. The default disk layout on the target drive will be exactly the same as the resource drive. You could also edit the layout according to your needs. Tick the option there if you're using a Solid State Drive as the Windows bootable drive. Next, click Proceed.

how to use os2go step 3

Step 4. Then EaseUS OS2Go will start to create the portable USB drive. It usually takes a while depending on your OS and Network condition. When the progress reaches 100%, the USB drive should be bootable now.

how to use os2go step 4

Step 5. Insert the portable Windows USB and start your computer. Press the required key (F2, DEL, F10...) to access BIOS. Choose to boot from the USB disk.

Note: Please make sure that the boot mode (UEFI or Legacy) of the portable USB and your target computer are the same, otherwise you may not be able to boot.

In addition to being a bootable HDD/SSD/USB creator for Windows use, EaseUS OS2Go also enables Mac users to run particular Windows apps and games from the bootable external drive. Following are useful posts for Mac users:

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Method 2. Make an External Hard Drive Bootable with CMD

Applies To: Windows 10/8/7

Windows Command Prompt can also be useful method 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

diskpart
list disk
select disk X
clean
create partition primary
format fs=ntfs
assign
exit

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:

g:
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:

cd\
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 OS2Go 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.

Useful post: How to Create Windows To Go USB Without the Enterprise Edition

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 Gemma

Gemma is member of EaseUS team and has been committed to creating valuable content in fields about file recovery, partition management, and data backup etc for many years. She loves to help users solve various types of computer related issues.

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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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