Quick Guide | Clone Windows 10/11 to USB Drive (Bootable)
Can you clone Windows 11/10 to USB drive and make it bootable? The answer is yes. You just need a USB hard drive or flash drive with sufficient space, and a handy disk clone tool.
User 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 USB drive as long as the capacity is sufficient. But is it a good idea to do this?
- If your internal hard drive is running out space or performing poorly, you may 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, you can clone Windows 11/10 to USB drive for the convenience. 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 you 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/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. For newer OS such as Windows 11, please check this Windows To Go Creator.
▶▶ If you simply want to clone Windows to USB drive as an intact copy for backup, or want to use it on a single computer, I would recommend using specialized disk clone software, because it’s much easier and much less restrictive (all Windows OS are supported).
You can also choose to clone the entire disk, or only operating system to the USB.
Preparations before cloning Windows 10/11 to USB
- Install disk cloning software
The software I will use here is AOMEI Backupper Professional, it has some significant advantages:
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.
- Compatibility issue
AOMEI Backupper supports cloning both MBR and GPT partition styles, you can clone MBR to MBR/MBR to GPT or GPT to GPT/GPT to MBR. Just make sure the boot mode of the computer is compatible with the patition style of the USB (Legacy BIOS for MBR and UEFI for GPT).
As for operating system, this software works with all Windows Client OS, including Windows 11, 10, 8.1/8, 7, Vista, XP. If you are running Windows Server, you can turn to the specialized Server edition.
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 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 Partitions: 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 "Edit Partitions":
- Copy without resizing partitions: It will not resize the partition size.
- Add unused space to all partitions: Reallocate unused space to each partition of the target disk appropriately.
- Manually adjust partition size: 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 for this problem is that the boot mode is not compatible with your cloned drive. Please note that you should boot MBR disk in legacy MBR mode and GPT drive in UEFI. So if you cloned MBR to GPT, or GPT to MBR, you should switch the boot mode as well.
If you don't want to change the boot mode, you can change the partition style of your target drive in advance. Click "Edit Partitions" and check Convert the destination disk from... option. This can make the partition style of your target disk to be the same as your source drive.
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.