Case: Can I clone Windows 10 to USB drive?
I have a 32gb flash drive that I have used for various things. I noticed that windows 10 is only ~22 gb and many tablets running windows 10 are using 32 gb of data. I am curious if I can clone windows 10 to the flash drive.
- Question from tomshardware.com
USB drives contains flash drives and external hard drives connected via USB, and yes you can clone Windows to both of them as long as the capacity is sufficient. But is it a good idea to do this?
Well, if your internal hard drive is running out space or performing poorly, you may want to move OS to USB drive and boot from it to get better speed; Given the instability of Windows, it also seems a good idea to keep an intact copy as backup. Thus when hard drive fails or system errors arise, you can continue to work via the USB device.
Whichever case you are in, the prerequisite for these conveniences is to clone Windows to USB drive and make it bootable. Keep reading to learn how to do it successfully.
How to move installed Windows to USB drive
This really depends on your purpose to clone Windows to USB drive.
☛ If want to create a portable OS that can be accessed on multiple computers, and can be booted from a USB-connected external drive, there's a Windows To Go feature integrated in Windows 10 Enterprise and Education.
However, Windows To Go is removed since Windows 10 version 2004. It doesn’t support feature updates and also requires a specific type of USB that is no longer supported by many OEMs.
If you are running earlier versions of Windows 10, and still want to create a Windows To Go workspace, you can refer to this Microsoft tutorial.
☛ If you simply want to clone Windows to USB drive and use it on the single computer, I would recommend using specialized disk clone software, because it’s much easier and much less restrictive.
The software I will use here is AOMEI Backupper Standard, it has some significant advantages:
- It contains a free yet powerful Disk Clone feature to help you migrate data and OS between disks of different sizes. For instances, you can clone larger drive to smaller drive, or clone SSD to larger external hard drive.
- It supports any laptop or desktop running Windows 11/10/8.1/8/7/Vista/XP, and USB 1.0/2.0/3.0 devices. The operation is also very simple, you don’t need any expertise to operate it.
- If the target disk is an external solid state drive, you can use the SSD alignment feature to improve its reading & writing speed and prolong its life span.
- If you want to clone only operating system to USB drive and make other data partitions stay in the source disk, you can also upgrade to Professional edition to use the System Clone feature.
Preparations before cloning Windows 10/11
Install disk cloning software:
Download the software and install it on your PC for further operation.
Delete unwanted files and apps:
Before cloning, it’s recommended to clean up the source disk.
Connect the USB drive:
Make sure your USB flash drive or external hard drive has sufficient space and can be detected normally. Note the cloning will overwrite the USB, you can launch AOMEI Backupper and choose Backup > File Backup to back up any important files in advance.
Check the partition style:
The free Standard edition supports cloning system disk from MBR to MBR. If you want to clone Windows from GPT to GPT, GPT to MBR or MBR to GPT, you need either upgrade to Pro edition, or convert GPT to MBR in advance.
And you can check the disk partition style in Disk Management easily with the following steps:
- Press Win + R to open the Run window. Then, type diskmgmt.msc and hit OK to open disk management.
- Then, right-click the disk you want to clone and select Properties in the pop-up window.
- In the Properties window, select the Volume tab and confirm the partition style. It can be MBR (Master Boot Record) or GPT (GUID Partition Table).
- Similarly, check the disk partition tyle of the destination disk. If it is still MBR, you can clone hard drive to SSD for free.
Tutorial: Clone Windows 10/11 to USB drive and make it bootable
If your USB drive is large enough to save all the data in your current hard drive, you could use Disk Clone to copy the entire disk, and the operating system will be included. But if your USB drive has limited space, or you want to clone only operating system, please use System Clone instead.
Here I will show you how to clone Windows 10 disk as an example.
How to clone system disk to USB drive:
1. Launch the software, go to Clone tab and choose Disk Clone.
2. Select the source disk with Windows installed, and specify the connected USB drive as the destination. Click Next.
To clone Windows from a dynamic disk, please upgrade to Pro edition and use the System Clone feature.
3. Click Start Clone and wait for it to complete.
👉 Helpful features for cloning:
SSD Alignment: Accelerate the reading and writing speed or the target SSD.
Sector By Sector Clone: Copy all the sectors, including unused and bad sectors to a larger or equal-sized drive.
Edit Partition (advanced edition): Adjust partition size and drive letter, allocate unused space of the target disk.
👉 And it's suggested to use the last feature if you are in one of the following situations. It helps you resolve them completely.
#1: The cloned drive not show full capacity.
By default, all the cloning software makes an exact copy of source disk, as a result, the clone drive does not show full capacity after cloning. If the target disk is larger, please try the following 3 options in the Edit Partitions. And the last two options are available on the Professional version.
- Copy without resizing partitions: It will not resize the partition size.
- Add unused space to all partitions: It will reallocate the unallocated space to each partition of the target disk, appropriate for the disk size.
- Manually adjust partition size: It allows you to extend unallocated space to any partition on the destination disk you want.
#2: The cloned drive not bootable after cloning.
One of the biggest reason is the destination and source disk has different partition style and you don't convert them to the same before cloning. In this situation, you can simply check Convert the destination disk from MBR to GPT or vice versa, depending on the disk partition styles of them.
When the cloning is finished, restart the PC and press the specific button to enter BIOS. Set the USB drive as the first boot option, save the settings and exit. Thus the PC will boot from the USB drive.
- If you want to clone USB bootable drive to other locations, just select the source and target disk accordingly.
- There's also a Disk Wipe feature. You can use it to erase the hard drive or wipe the USB securely when needed.
It’s not difficult to clone Windows to USB drive and boot from it. You just need an effective disk clone software, and AOMEI Backupper is an example. It enables you to clone disk or only operating system to another internal/USB drive, and the operation is really simple.
In daily use, you can also use the software to schedule automatic backup and therefore protect important data or OS on regular basis. If you want to troubleshoot Windows errors even when the computer fails to start, you can create a bootable media, which can be used to boot PC into WinPE and restore system to an earlier state.