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  1. #1
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    Booting Windows 8.1 from USB

    I keep clones on all my computers. The 10 year old desktop is still running XP. Maintaining and Booting the clone there is almost trivial. Syncback (SE & Pro) can scan Source & Destination (about 16.7GB, 75,000 files each), find the differences, and incrementally update the Destination in 2-4 minutes depending on how much changed that month. Copying anything/everything with Windows running using the VSS. The Drive Letter & Volume Label Assignments are then re-swapped between source & destination on the destination so when that drive is boot it's C: and the original is then the clone. It may sound scary but is really straightforward and easy with pre-prepared .reg files.

    Windows 7 complicates things a couple of degrees. Also it's on 2 older laptops that only have USB 2.0 and can't boot USB (directly). But the same basic scheme works with a couple of exceptions. The new(er) BCD boot scheme being not understood well/or at all at the time required a work-a-round. A Windows Installation disk (or thank goodness a Repair Disk that Windows 7 could write it's self) can Repair the Copy/Clone to boot in the computer, by repairing the BCD to refer to the specific Disk Signature. This BCD is then specific to that copy/disk and must be Excluded from future updates of the disk. If the disk signature was duplicated too the clone could replace the original with no changes, but Windows will not allow 2 disks with the same signature to be mounted. It places the duplicate Offline. The duplicate can be placed Online/mounted but Windows allows this by generating a new disk signature for it!

    OK, getting there now. Windows 8.1 must have figured out people were beginning to understand the above? And came up with this UEFI business. Now more than a couple of degrees of complication were introduced. I don't pretend to understand the GPT disk and EFI but am relating what I know so far. I can make a copy of the entire system disk (including the disk GUID), and if it was placed in the computer that would definitely boot. To mount the clone Windows changes the GUID. But diskpart could fix that. And the Recovery Disk (on USB) could most probably recover the Windows installation on the clone to that disk. I don't recognize the digital data in MountedDevices anymore, and can't even correlate a DOSDevice to a Volume assignment. Prior to Windows 8 the Disk Signature (in byte reversed format) was embedded in the DOSDevice digital data, seen also in the Volume assignment, and found in the MBR. This is replaced in Windows 8/8.1 with the GUID which doesn't appear anywhere I've found so far.

    Aside, a feature of Windows 8 is this Windows-To-Go, an installation of Windows on USB. In the Enterprise edition anyway. For your information, Windows-To-Go also requires the Retail installation ISO, the install.wmi file actually. But WinToUSB can use the ISO available via the Windows Media Creator Tool, which uses a setup.exe, just to keep us with OEM Product Keys out of the big time. OK, I have a WinToUSB installation, on a SSD in a USB 3.0 enclosure, it didn't much like my flash drives, even high performance ones. And it's MBR disk as GPT disk indicated experimental and not guaranteed. And it works like a champ, even originally on a USB 2.0 enclosure. That's another story, the SSD I bought was a "notebook kit" which included this enclosure which I figured would work well with the disk it came with right? And it did... but it turned out the enclosure was USB 2.0 and only got like 18Mb/s random read. Typically what they don't say is more important than what they do say. But I digress. The point is Windows 8.1 will definitely run on USB, boots fine, is supposed to be mobile to some degree at least, etc.

    I have managed to boot a Windows 7 clone from USB. It required disabling paging, and altering a ˝ dozen services to USB, the only know at the time. By loading the clone's system hive into the running registry, applying the changes from a pre-prepared .reg file as above, and unloading same back to from where it came from. Making the alterations totally reversible so the disk works either SATA or USB. The catch was Windows 7 on USB 2.0 performed so poorly it wasn't worth the trouble. And it's fairly easy to just swap disks between the laptops and enclosures. Not so in the Windows 8.1 Ultrabook.

    So... the loaded question is, then why can't I just boot the Clone there in another USB enclosure? A test boot if you like. The answer being not knowing how. Do you approach the EFI partition, the BCD store on the OS partition, the EFI BIOS, or all of the above? Frankly I just don't get it... yet? But when asking NeoSmart Technologies support about their Easy Recovery Essentials applying to USB disks the answer was "yes, but we can't guaranteed it"! Hummmm?

    DES

  2. #2
    Super Moderator bbearren's Avatar
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    FWIW, UEFI has been around for a few years, now.

    As for booting to USB, you should be able to select it through Boot Options during the initial power on.
    Create a fresh drive image before making system changes, in case you need to start over!

    "The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Savvy?"—Captain Jack Sparrow "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware.
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  3. #3
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    Yes, and I've been around for even a few years more, thanks! But that doesn't address the question. Pointing the computer at a USB device isn't the problem (that should be obvious from the WinToUSB and booting Windows 7 from USB capability), it's what it does once it gets there! UEFI may have been around for awhile but I don't hear any advice about how to modify the EFI and/or BCD boot data to actually boot Windows from USB? And booting it is one thing, running it from USB another (or was in Windows 7). Even examining the working WinToUSB example for input isn't progress as yet.

    DES

  4. #4
    Super Moderator bbearren's Avatar
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    In order to boot a USB device in UEFI, the boot files (bootmgr.efi on the root, BCD in a Boot folder, etc) must be located on the USB device, and the device selected under Boot Options upon power on. USB is not recognized as a bootable device unless there is a device plugged into a USB port with bootable media installed.

    Alternatively, one may boot USB in legacy emulation, by going into Setup (with a bootable USB device plugged in) upon power on, and selecting a legacy boot device.

    I don't use cloning, I use drive imaging instead, so I have no experience in setting up a clone for booting. I have restored a full drive image to a separate HDD, swapped it in and booted it without difficulty in UEFI.
    Create a fresh drive image before making system changes, in case you need to start over!

    "The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Savvy?"—Captain Jack Sparrow "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware.
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  5. #5
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    The clone's EFI partition & OS partition BCD are of course a copy of what's on the original internal disk. That won't boot from USB.

    The WinToUSB installation is MBR, your legacy route, which works. But the BCD here was written by the WinToUSB installation, so no big surprise. I have several USB Flash Drives with various installations; an AOMEI Backerupper, an AOMEI Partition Assistant, and a Windows Recovery Disk complete with the factory Asus Recovery partition, all of which boot & work. The first 2 the legacy route, and the last EFI I believe.

    I made an Image of the Windows 8.1 disk "once", which includes 3 partitions. (That recovery partition is soon to get absorbed into the OS, as restoring the machine to Original would be a last resort at even this point.) And subsequent efforts failed as Windows didn't like something on that Recovery partition, which hadn't been touched in between? Mentioned only as in my experience the built-in Windows capabilities generally leave more than something to be desired. This Windows 8.1 makes me wonder as there have been several different instances of things behaving very strangely, then getting right by themselves over time? But I digress...

    The major point with the clones are they represent a working backup; 2 of everything, online together, if you like. But not a mirror where the problem gets automatically propagated to both. A restore point of Everything, not what M$ decided defined one. The clone only gets updated when you choose. The clone can replace the original disk should it fail, though I've never experienced that. Generally it's a software problem for which if the clone boots and works OK. Then just clone the clone back over the original and everything is as it was. Usually I'm not smart enough to figure out what went wrong, and generally don't even want to know, though in the majority of cases Microsoft did it to me!

    DES

  6. #6
    Super Moderator bbearren's Avatar
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    I don't use the Windows imaging utility, I use Image for Windows from TeraByte Unlimited with byte-for-byte image validation. A full drive image amounts to a compressed clone, and when restored to the same or different drive, nothing is missing; it just works. I also use BootIt Bare Metal from TeraByte for partitioning, and it includes a BCD editing capability.

    To make your clone bootable in a USB environment would require editing the BCD store remotely. You would need to backup the existing BCD store (to turn it back into a clone), and then edit the BCD store to reflect the hardware environment that the clone is in, in order to make it bootable.
    Create a fresh drive image before making system changes, in case you need to start over!

    "The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Savvy?"—Captain Jack Sparrow "When you're troubleshooting, start with the simple and proceed to the complex."—M.O. Johns "Experience is what you get when you're looking for something else."—Sir Thomas Robert Deware.
    Unleash Windows

  7. #7
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    I will most certainly investigate your imaging utility, believing that more than one way to get there is better.

    And agree 100% with paragraph 2. The catch is how or what "reflects the hardware environment that the clone is in". I've tried examples using BCDboot to transfer EFI & BCD (All) boot files to the clone with no effect. Examining the various BCD's via loading the remote Hive is intentionally difficult. I'm not far away, but am missing one critical point of understanding in this newer boot scheme!

    DES

  8. #8
    WS Lounge VIP Coochin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bbearren View Post
    ...I also use BootIt Bare Metal from TeraByte for partitioning, and it includes a BCD editing capability...
    I also use BootItBM, but use ImageForDOS within BootItBM for imaging (I often need to image customers' HDDs). Never had a failure with BootItBM, or previous BootItNG (Next Generation, Terabyte renamed BootItNG to BootItBM late 2009). Before BootItNG (<> 2008) I used PowerQuest Partition Magic and DriveImage, but PowerQuest was taken over by Symantec Corp. about 2006/7 and everything went downhill after that.
    Computer Consultant/Technician since 1998 (first PC was Atari 1040STE in 1988).
    Most common computing error is EBKAC: Error Between Keyboard And Chairback
    AMD FX8120 (8-core @ 3.1GHz) CPU, Gigabyte GA-990FXA-D3 motherboard, 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3 1866MHz RAM, ATI-AMD Radeon HD6770 PCI-E VGA, 480GB Kingston SSD, 2TB Seagate SATA3.0 HDD, ASUS DVD/RW.

  9. #9
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    What I know about it so far

    Quote Originally Posted by verachen View Post
    I don't use win 8 built-in tool to do this task. I used AOMEI Partition Assistant, by its windows to go creator to create a win 8 to go USB drive to boot win 8 anywhere on any computer, this feature is ok. But it is only supported in Windows 8/8.1. And if you want to create a bootable media(USB, CD/DVD, ISO file), its Make Bootable Media feature is ok in any computer system. Hope this can give you a little help.
    I tried the AOMEI Partition Assistant first and found it will only work with the retail Windows installation ISO, apparently it wants the "install.wmi" file there. The Windows Media Creator Tool downloads an installation ISO using a "setup.exe" (clever move by Microsoft?) which WinToUSB can use. And for which the installation will accept an OEM Product Key. You can't get the retail ISO with an OEM Product Key, or any of the "generic" keys I could find. I refused to buy a copy of Windows 8.1 just to try a Windows on USB installation when technically I already own a copy. Just another example of a M$ tool specifically designed to prevent me going where I wanted to go. I get really upset when there's Directories on My computer I don't have Permission to see, I mean who the hell's computer is it anyway! That's definitely fixed.

    A clone of the original installation, a sector by sector copy, included the disk signature. If this was placed "in" the computer, in place of the original, it will certainly boot. But if connected along with the original creates a disk signature conflict and is placed offline, so can't be used, i.e. for further updates etc. Placing it Online causes Windows to change the disk signature. The BCD's (both EFI and MBR I assume) reflect the original disk signature and are broken. And Windows 8.1 now uses the disk GUID, not the previous 4 byte value found in the MBR, DOSDevice, & \\??\\Volume{GUID} values. Right now I don't know how these values correlate in Windows 8.1. I can't find the relationship?

    For Windows to Repair the boot files to the clone's new disk signature the clone disk needs to be installed in the computer. I haven't seen how to get Repair to operate on a remote disk? In the case of this Asus UX303LA Ultrabook, swapping in another disk is an "only if you have too", or last resort, business!

    There's a couple of possibilities left yet. Assigning a drive letter to the clone's EFI partition, loading the BCD there into the running registry as a false key and manually editing it is one. Only the OS Loader entry needs pointing in the right direction... I think! And EasyBCD has a Deploy option, but what does it deploy, if you follow? But perhaps you can see why I'm not in any rush to do these things? Also there's no guarantee that even if it boots that copy of Windows will then run from USB? It took some other serious mods in Windows 7 to get a copy running on USB. That's what the WinToUSB example is for.

    I detailed what I'm trying to do to NeoSmart, the authors of Easy Recovery Essentials, and the reply was "no guarantee as no one there has ever tried it?. You'd think at least they'd know one way or the other?

    DES

  10. #10
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    From Windows 7 to 8 there were some serious changes to all this boot business. GPT disks apparently have 2 separate set of boot files. One on the EFI partition and one on the OS partition, same a MBR disks. I grasp the relationships for MBR disks. And have bootable clones connected/mounted alongside there OS originals. As mentioned in the reply above, the disk signature has changed to GUID in Windows 8/8.1 and I haven't found how it keys into drive letter and volume assignment... yet!

    I'll check into these imaging tools, but anything prior to Windows 8 is probably going to be a bust. Even current stuff hasn't figured it out yet!

    DES

  11. #11
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    I'm just going to copy what I posted over at the EasyUEFI Forum on this subject to save writing it again:

    Nothing like Replying to your own question, but here's what has work(ed) once so far.

    The Source & Clone are EFI boot. To get the Clone disk to Start, the EFI BCD had to be modified to reflect the Clone Disk Signature. Don't mess with BCDBoot & BCDEdit, you could wind up with some very unexpected results. Diskpart will reveal the Disk Signature\GPT Partition GUID\uniqueid, but it's encoded (the first 8 bytes anyway), on the physical disk at offset 0238. Find & Replace occurrences of the Source Disk signature in the Destination Disk/Clone EFI BCD with That disk's signature.

    In the Registry of the Clone, I Swap the Source (C:) and Destination (D:) DOSDevice assignments. (This may not be necessary on Windows 8.1 but is a carry over from my Windows 7 cases where the clone disk only physically replaces the source.) At HKLM\System\MountedDevices\. Export the MountedDevices key. I pre-prepare a couple of .reg files edited down to only the specific entries, to load to a False Key name, i.e. HKLM\{False Key}\MountedDevices\ with the 2 DOSDevice assignments binary data swapped between C: & D:. On Windows 7 the Volume assignments were swapped as well to keep the Volume Labels straight but Windows 8.1 doesn't seem to need this. Then at:

    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\HardwareConfig\{c8677789-89e9-dc43-8a35-a3e9963e870f}]
    "BootDriverFlags"=dword:00000000 // for SATA 00000014 for USB

    Under HKLM Load the System file\Hive of the clone into the running registry under a False Key name. Merge the pre-prepared .reg file(s). And Unload the False Key hive which writes the modified hive back from were it came. Shut Down, Start, and I get the Boot Possibilities by holding Down ESC on Start (Asus). Point the computer to the EFI possibility on the USB Enclosure.

    This didn't work on the first go around? Windows would begin to load and then stop, complaining of Configuration Errors. Unrelated to this work I then Borked the Windows installation screwing around with things "you're not meant to play with". After Recovering the entire internal disk from an AOMEI Backupper Image made a couple days before, I had lost the Clone Boot work and had to remake that. Then as a parting gesture I tried to boot the exact same setup again on the what you might call a fresh build? It stuttered a bit and then took off and worked! After the troubled first start everything has been completely normal on a 100% copy of the original Windows 8.1 installation running from USB.

    Windows is a Very Dynamic thing. Now I want to know Why first it wouldn't, and then it would? As this may affect the ability to Switch the clone back to SATA? But what an achievement, a bootable on USB backup. Not to mention an Easy WinToUSB installation. Just make a copy of what you've got, change three things, and boot it up!

    DES
    Last edited by RetiredGeek; 2015-01-25 at 11:42. Reason: Added noparse tags to kill smilies

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