Laptop died? Pull that Windows 10 Pro SATA SSD, attach to another UEFI system using a USB 3.0/3.1 adapter, boots like Windows To Go!
I recently had to turn in an old laptop that I sometimes used with my bootable 2.5" Samsung 850 EVO 2TB SSD. Uh oh, now I have a few weeks to wait for a new system, meanwhile, how do I get stuff done? Sure I had my superfast SuperServer Workstation that I sometimes use this SSD in, booted passed through to a VM. But this time around, I needed to travel, and would have slow or no internet much of the time. Remotely controlling a temporary VM I'd restore a backup into (think personal cloud) wouldn't cut it. I needed a laptop, and I needed my big honkin' SSD, with no time or desire to rebuild from scratch.
So I took out my Lenovo Yoga 13 aka, yZilla. It's a 2012 vintage hand-me-down laptop, the only working system I had that might be suitable.
Like most new systems today, basically it's intended to be a sealed design, with no room inside for a 2.5" drive. Yeah, there's a little 128GB M.2 SSD in there, not nearly big enough for my 1.5TB of data. I really had no desire to backup/restore/clone that much data elsewhere, beyond the usual daily VEB daily scheduled backups.
So, how am I going to get my 2TB SSD booted with decent speeds, especially given the Yoga has only one USB 3.0 port? Yeah, I use a Bluetooth dongle for my mouse, and a 802.11ac WiFi dongle.
Note that the Yoga doesn't have one of those nifty USB 3.0/eSATA combo ports, because that would be too easy. The cool thing was that the laptop would "think" that attached SATA drives were internal. But unfortunately, it's yet another extinct connector type at this point.
- Inateck 2.5 Inch USB 3.0 Hard Drive Enclosure External Case for 9.5mm 7mm SATA/HDD/SSD with 3 Ports USB 3.0 Hub, UASP Supported, Tool-Free(FE2007)
To my surprise, I was able to completely solve my problem of a way to limp along at under $25 of cost. Didn't even need to use the option DC 5V input, that's really for higher power draw spinny drives.
You see, I was skeptical, because I knew Windows To Go had stringent requirements for USB speeds, and the types of drives you can use. I also knew it tended to require Windows 10 Enterprise just to work at all, knowing full well that my 2TB drive is Windows 10 Professional.
Slipped the drive into this tool free drive enclosure, added the mouse and WiFi dongles to those USB ports, hit the Yoga's power button, and waited to hit F12 at the right moment. Yes, that's the Lenovo ThinkPad's standard hotkey for alternate boot sequence, your vendor's button to press will vary. Here we go, the moment of truth. I chose the detected USB enclosed SSD drive...
Oh yeah, forgot to go into the BIOS to disable Secure Boot, just for this temporary external boot. Try again.
Admittedly, my SSD is now dangling somewhat precariously outside my Yoga 13 (don't REMOVE it while the OS is booted!), but quite workable for 2 weeks or so. A bit slower than normal, but again, not a permanent situation. What a very nice surprise that at some point, Microsoft quietly allowed easy Windows To Go-like functionality, even with just Windows 10 Professional. Perhaps this ability arrived with Windows Build 1607? Perhaps earlier? I'm really not sure.
Note that this type of temporary external booting is likely to be completely unsupported by Microsoft, as it may not meet the requirements outlined by Microsoft here. Proper licensing is up to you, detailed in the Disclaimer below.
Just today actually, I was listening to Paul Thurrott talking about Windows To Go's Enterprise requirements on his Thurrott (Premium) video, 17 minutes in:
- First Ring Daily EP 89: Halo To Go
and in his closely-related article
- Ask Paul: Is Windows To Go Coming to Windows 10 Pro?
The weeks went by, I got work done, albeit a bit slower than usual. Then along came my lovely new Dell Precision 5510 laptop, with that thin bezel 4K display, nice! But "only" 1TB of lovely M.2 NVMe storage inside. Turns out the big battery to offset all that pixel pushing takes up the internal 2.5" drive bay space by default. Darn.
Of course, I was highly motivated to solve that problem too. That solution story told recently here, but it required parts, and some more weeks of waiting. Meanwhile, I had another cross-country flight, and work to do. What to do? How was I going to use this daily-driver 2TB SSD?
Enter the Plugable USB 3.1 adapter cable
- Plugable USB 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps USB-C to SATA Adapter Cable for 2016 MacBook Pro, Chromebook Pixel 2015, Thunderbolt 3 Port Compatible
What this was intended to give me was a way to boot my 2TB SSD while externally attached. At first, it didn't seem to work. I couldn't get the drive to be seen as something I could boot from. So I poked around the Dell Precision 5510's BIOS a little more, and found the settings buried in there about booting from Thunderbolt, described below.
That's it, it was that simple. Ran some ATTO benchmarks and found that my speeds were very near native/full speed, as if the drive was inside my SATA3 drive bay already. Nice, I'm loving this! But be careful out there, Windows will warn you to not detach the drive, see also the warnings below.
- Modern UEFI BIOS system, probably 2012 (like the Yoga 13 I tested) or newer, I have not tested extensively, hoping you leave your success (or failure) stories in the comments below, which will improve this article for everybody
- UEFI BIOS mode on (not Legacy mode) on the system where you installed Windows 10 initially, and on the system where you're trying to boot the same drive externally.
- GPT partitioning for your C: drive (usually true, if UEFI was on during the initial install).
- If the dead laptop is internal non-upgradeable M.2 NMVe, you can restore your daily backup to an external SSD to regain function while laptop is getting repaired.
- Read the required reading! Be sure you've read through both the Windows To Go drawbacks that are detailed below, AND the drawbacks of moving Windows 10 to another machine, also detailed below.
Assuming you're fully backed up, and all your work in Windows 10 is saved.
- if you're on a Dell, just press F2 after powering up to get into the System Setup
- if your Windows 10 is already booted, there's a more universal way to get into your BIOS without needing to know your power on hotkey during a very fast bootup, just press the Windows button on your keyboard, then just type
BIOS, and select Change advanced startup options
- under Advanced startup, select Reset now
- upon reboot, you'll have to Choose an option, select Troubleshoot
- select Advanced options
- select UEFI Firmware Settings
- when prompted to Restart to change UEFI firmware settings, click OK
- under the BIOS's Settings, System Configuration section, select USB/Thunderbolt Configuration and turn on the checkboxes for:
a. Enable USB Boot Support
b. Enable Thunderbolt Ports
c. Enable External USB Port
d. Enable Thunderbolt Boot Support
e. Enable Thunderbolt (and PCIe behind TBT) PRe-boot
- under the BIOS's Settings, General, Boot Sequence
- turn on the checkbox for your external bootable device
- click the Apply button, then reboot your laptop, and it should start right up from your external device
- DON'T dream of detaching the drive while the OS is booted (corruption risk, especially during writes)
- DON'T dream of doing this if the drive isn't backed up, and encrypted
- Your backup software may detect notice that Windows Device Manager sees this C: drive as USB instead of (internal) SATA, preventing normal daily backups from happening. See my Veeam Endpoint Backup / Veeam Agent for Windows 2.0 feature request here:
Put laptop's SSD into USB 3.0 encl & boot it, can't backup
- Other backups products might be happy with backing up Windows To Go drives that are on USB, such as AOMEI Backupper Standard (free), see also AOMEI offers Not-For-Resale (NFR) Licenses to Microsoft MVPs,
MCPs, MCTS and VMware Certified Professional for free!. I have not had a chance to test this.
- there are other considerations, listed by Microsoft here
Differences between Windows To Go and a typical installation of Windows
Windows To Go workspace operates just like any other installation of Windows with a few exceptions. These exceptions are:
Internal disks are offline. To ensure data isn’t accidentally disclosed, internal hard disks on the host computer are offline by default when booted into a Windows To Go workspace. Similarly if a Windows To Go drive is inserted into a running system, the Windows To Go drive will not be listed in Windows Explorer.
Trusted Platform Module (TPM) is not used. When using BitLocker Drive Encryption a pre-operating system boot password will be used for security rather than the TPM since the TPM is tied to a specific computer and Windows To Go drives will move between computers.
Hibernate is disabled by default. To ensure that the Windows To Go workspace is able to move between computers easily, hibernation is disabled by default. Hibernation can be re-enabled by using Group Policy settings.
Windows Recovery Environment is not available. In the rare case that you need to recover your Windows To Go drive, you should re-image it with a fresh image of Windows.
Refreshing or resetting a Windows To Go workspace is not supported. Resetting to the manufacturer’s standard for the computer doesn’t apply when running a Windows To Go workspace, so the feature was disabled.
Upgrading a Windows To Go workspace is not supported. Older Windows 8 or Windows 8.1 Windows To Go workspaces cannot be upgraded to Windows 10 workspaces, nor can Windows 10 Windows To Go workspaces be upgraded to future versions of Windows 10. For new versions, the workspace needs to be re-imaged with a fresh image of Windows.
There are some annoyances, especially since it's likely your Windows 10 was installed elsewhere, with that vendor's utilities, and was already activated.
- If you plan on using the drive externally on another machine for more than a 3-4 days, you probably need to activate it on this new system if nagged. This may require buying a license if that system hadn't had Windows 10 activated on it before.
- If you use Office 365, it will ask to be re-activated over the internet, say yes, it takes just seconds, but does deplete your available systems to activate on by one.
- As long as the systems are both UEFI, and your BIOS is in AHCI mode rather than RAID mode (most likely the case), then it will likely boot right up, and find a bunch of new hardware to install drivers for on that first slower-than-normal boot. Once done with this temporary system, you can go into Device Manager, and turn on Show hidden Devices, and right-click on all the hardware that you no longer have, select Uninstall, and if prompted to remove the drivers, say yes.
- If you wind up keeping your SSD in a different system than where what it was intially preloaded or installed on, you'll want to use Task Manager startup tab to ensure you don't have things autostarting that don't need to, and uninstall applications (Lenovo, HP, etc.) that don't belong on your new system, including removal of not any errors in Device Manager related to hardware that is no longer present.
Once I was able to mount the 2.5" SSD inside my Dell laptop, that meant normal daily backups resumed, and my lone USB-C port was freed up. Excellent, finally I can get decent video output straight to my 27" 2560x1440 monitor, while waiting for my proper USB-C/ThunderBolt 3 docking station. Yep, only cost around $20 to solve this temporary problem, and it'll be handy to have in my travel bag anyway:
- Cable Matters USB 3.1 Type C (USB-C & Thunderbolt 3 Port Compatible) to DisplayPort 4K 60Hz UHD Adapter in Black
I'd say my first experiences with USB-C have been pretty darn good. If or when they'll show up in the datacenter/Xeon is a big unknown.
For my laptop needs where I'm constantly using VMware Workstation 12.5, I'd much rather have everything on one 2TB M.2 NVMe internal drive, for far better queue depths/concurrent I/O handling. But currently, the Samsung 960 PRO 2TB is the biggest M.2 made, and is rather pricey because of that, and currently a bit problematic too. See Samsung 960 PRO/EVO/SM961 M.2 NVMe SSD disappearance workaround is to power cycle, boot from NVMe problems also reported, firmware 2B7QCXE7 appears to fix EVO, reported first right at TinkerTry.
Excellent comment left below, noting that I do plan to do some more basic speed testing when time permits.
It's never been more clear that it's high time I update this article:
Another amazingly helpful and detailed comment below by Plugable Support's Jordan, love this!
Jordan Welch • 3 hours ago
Great writeup Paul!
To clarify for any readers, the USB 3.1 standard comes in two generations right now, Gen 1 and Gen 2.
USB 3.1 Gen 1 is limited to USB 3.0 speed at 5Gbps
USB 3.1 Gen 2 operates at 10Gbps
SATAIII is sandwiched in between at 6Gbps
Until Gen 2, the USB standard has always been the bottleneck for SATA transfers over USB. We mention the 10Gbps standard of the USBC-SATA24 so users know that they can fully saturate a SATAIII connection with a USB 3.1 Gen 2 host. In other words, for the first time the SATAIII connection is the bottleneck instead of the USB connection.
For now that means your real world performance tops out at SATAIII speeds of 6Gbps - not quite 10Gbps but still a 20% increase over USB 3.0 speeds. For some of our users with IOPS intensive tasks, or that require the fastest transfer speeds available, that extra gig of throughput means a lot.
We're waiting to see where the SATA standard goes next and we'll update our product line to follow the latest tech. It looks like M.2 is the heir to the SATA throne, while SATA Express may go the way of the dodo and the HD-DVD.
P.S. It's really fun to bench a Samsung 850 Pro over an external USB-C adapter and pull higher transfer speeds than Samsung's official published maxes : )
Jordan @ Plugable
- My experience with the Samsung 850 EVO 2TB SSD, and how it fits into my hybrid home lab strategy
Jul 28 2015
Functional USB-C Ethernet Adapter for ESXi 5.5, 6.0 & 6.5
Jan 22 2017 by William Lam
- Windows To Go: feature overview
Sep 01 2016 by Michael Niehaus
I actually met Brett!
- Lenovo Launches New ThinkPad Accessories: Docking And Displays
Dec 28 2016 by Brett Howse at AnandTech