Last Updated: 15 Oct 2017

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Author: dordal

Building a Portable Windows USB Disk w/ Drive Diagnostic Software

Back in the old days, most drive diagnostic software ran under DOS. Fast forward to 2017, and the situation is different. Many drive vendors _only_ make their latest drive diagnostic software available under Windows.

Fortunately, Microsoft has recently introduced the Windows To Go (W2G) environment, which allows you to install Windows to a USB stick, and then boot it in any computer. Thus, you can make a modern drive diagnostic USB, using the Windows versions of all the diagnostic software. Here's the procedure.

1. You'll want Windows 10 for this. While W2G was introduced in Windows 8, it was significantly improved in Windows 10. You'll need to get an ISO image for Windows; I used Win 10 Professional, but any should do.

2. You'll need to get WinToUSB, which is third party software that lets you install the Windows To Go environment on your USB stick. Officially, Microsoft only allows W2G to be installed on Windows Enterprise, and only on certain 'approved' USB devices. The free version of WinToUSB should suffice, although you might want to pay the $29.95 if you're going to be creating a lot of USB installs.

3. A USB 3.0 drive. W2G works on both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0, but if you have the choice, get a 3.0 drive. It's significantly faster speeds will make W2G perform much better. I'd recommend at least a 32GB drive, or bigger if you're willing to spend the money.

4. And, of course, a Windows computer to do this on. Note that you _don't_ have to use a Windows 10 computer to make the image; I was able to do it with the WinToUSB software on Windows 7 Professional.

Procedure

1. To get started, get the ISO image and the WinToUSB software installed on your computer. Insert your USB drive, and make sure you've copied any needed files off it, as it will be formatted.

2. Open WinToUSB, and follow the instructions to select your ISO image and install it to your USB drive. Note the install will take a LONG time; on my machine it took upwards of 30 minutes, and that was with a USB3.0 device. It too several minutes to even move beyond 0%. It will ask you if you want to make an MBR for an older BIOS, or a GPT for the newer UEFI. The option to do both is only available if you pay.

3. Once your install is done, reboot onto the USB drive. Note that you may need to change the drive boot order in your BIOS first. Windows will stay at the 'Getting Ready' screen for quite some time. During this time it's detecting your hardware and installing drivers. Eventually, the box will reboot, and you'll be taken to a welcome screen. Fortunately, the second boot should be much quicker.

4. Go through the welcome process to set your initial settings. I generally _don't_ use Express Settings; instead I click 'Customize' and turn off all the options where Microsoft wants your machine to send it data. But your call; YMMW.

5. Windows will again take a while to get things setup, and eventually will reboot again.

6. Setup continues; say 'I own it' when Windows asks who owns the machine. It will then ask you to connect your Microsoft Account; I'd recommend selecting 'skip this step'. You probably want to disable Cortana as well.

7. Another reboot, and you're onto downloading a bunch of Windows updates to keep Windows 'safe and secure'. There's an option to 'Go to my desktop' while the updates download, but I wouldn't recommend it. You'll be facing a very slow computer.

8. Finally, you're there. Now, just install the drive diagnostic software package(s) of your choice!

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