Windows To Go is Microsoft’s name for a portable, flash-based implementation of Windows 8 on a USB Flash Drive (aka UFD, in MS-speak). Windows To Go works with BitLocker encryption to protect the contents of the traveling Windows image on the USB drive, and works on any Windows (or Windows-compatible) PC that can boot from the UFD.
What makes these UFDs special is that they typically integrate an SSD controller along with their flash chips so they behave (and perform) more like an SSD than a UFD in everyday use.
Inside shot of a 64 GB Kingston Datatraveler Workspace, courtesy of The SSD Review
Here’s a list of hardware requirements prospective Windows To Go hosts must meet:
1. USB boot must be enabled (because Windows To Go’s OS lives on a UFD, and that’s whence it boots)
2. The CPU must support the image that’s installed on the Windows To Go UFD
3. Does not work through an external USB hub: the Windows To Go UFD must be inserted into a socket on the host machine
4. CPU speed must be 1 GHz or faster
5. PC must include no less than 2 GB RAM
6. Graphics capabilities must support at least DirectX 9 graphics and WDDM 1.2 or higher
7. The USB port into which the Windows To Go UFD is inserted must be USB version 2.0 or higher; 3.0 is preferable for performance reasons
8. Only a limited number of drives are certified for use as Windows To Go devices (see the WTG Overview page for a complete list); currently certified models include the IronKey Workspace (no size info available), Kingston DataTraveler Workspace (32, 64, 128 GB models), Spyrus Portable Workspace (no size info available), SuperTalent USB Express RC4 and RC8 models (RC4: 32, 64, 128, and 256 GB models; RC8: 50 & 100 GB models), and Western Digital MyPassport Enterprise (conventional HD, 500 GB).
The minimum size of a Windows To Go UFD appears to be 32 GB, and the solid state models top out at 256 GB, with most available in a range from 32-128 GB in size. Prices can be high (the SuperTalent RC8 drives cost around $200 for the 50 GB model and $350 for the 100 GB model, here’s a note about RC4 pricing, and the 64 GB Kingston model goes for $130 – 170; Spyrus and IronKey models must generally be purchased directly from the vendor, often in concert with other software and services). Even considering the expense, the Windows To Go solution is a great way for people to take their normal working environments with them on the road, if only to use on personal notebook PCs, or on loaner units when they arrive at some temporary work location. And because WTG never stores any data on the local host, and isolates the entire contents of the WTG UFD cryptographically using BitLocker, you don’t need to worry about inadvertent disclosure of, or access to, a WTG UFD’s contents. Good stuff!