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VHD Booting and Windows to Go

Sunday, June 26, 2016 in Technical Articles (Views: 2033)
For those who haven't used it yet, there are 2 really great alternate booting features of Windows: VHD Booting and Windows to Go.

What are they quickly?
VHD Booting is a feature introduced in Windows 7 that allows you to create a virtual disk and boot off of it, rather than off a traditional hard disk drive. Although the file can be moved between systems, it's meant to boot multiple operating systems on the same system.

Windows to Go is a feature introduced in Windows 8 that allows a Windows "workspace" to be created on a USB stick or removable HDD. This can then be taken anywhere and used.

There are pros and cons to both, and will probably mix both technologies from this point on. But, both technologies have their place, depending on the situation.

Windows To Go is a feature of the Enterprise (volume licensed) copy of Windows. Although this can be created manually with a Professional edition, only the Enterprise version officially supports it. The listing of "officially supported" devices is pretty short for Windows To Go, and are quite expensive compared to your standard flash drives.

You can create a "non-supported" Windows to Go drive, say a USB 3.0/SSD combination, but you may find it to be painfully slow and lacking. It is portable, but in the time it took you to plug in the drive and boot Windows, you probably could have installed Windows yourself. There is a reason these other drives like the IronKey cost a lot more money, they will make the Windows to Go experience tolerable.

VHD booting isn't so portable, but can be, if you move these files around between systens. Unlike Windows to Go, virtual disks can get out of sync quickly as you aren't dealing with a single disk on multiple systems, but multiple disks on multiple systems. Windows to Go isn't really meant to be driver rich, it'e meant to be a small and light workspace environment, whereas mounting a VHD for boot isn't your typical "VM" scenario. You can have full access to your drivers, and aren't limited to the typical hypervisor as you may think.

For multiple environments, VHD booting is definitely king, but moving it between systems, it can be more difficult. It also doesn't require Windows Enterprise to run. It also can run multiple operating systems on the same system well, so if you carry the same laptop or use the same desktop, you can load multiple enviornment very easily. Each environment can be protected by Bitlocker, can have full access to hardware, and can easily isolate each environment with easy backups. That is, if you can copy a VHD(x) file.

More information on the "how's" in another blog, but in conclusion, if you are on a single system and looking for speedy and robust options, definitely VHD booting - if you want to move between systems, you may want to look into a supported Windows to Go option. While it may be expensive, it can be very handy in a pinch. Of course, you need to find hardware to plug it into to which leads me back to why you would never be without your own system.


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