Universal alternate Windows 11 install method


NavyLCDR

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I've seen multiple threads about installing Windows 11 on unsupported hardware and installing Windows 11 on an external USB drive. All kinds of different methods have been posted: use rufus to create a modified Windows 11 USB flash drive; use a VM to install Windows 11 to a vhdx file and then use Macrium to image the vhdx file, then restore the image to a physical drive; attach a physical drive to a VM to install Windows 11 to it.

None of that is needed. If you want to install Windows 11 and just the normal Windows setup method won't work, all you need is just the plain Windows 11 USB flash drive created with Microsoft's Media Creation tool. Nothing else. And this method works with Windows 10 too. In the below example, I'm going to show you how to install to an external USB drive (SSD). This would also work if you wanted to install Windows 11 to an internal drive on a computer that does not meet the requirements for Windows 11. To prove it, I booted the standard Windows 11 USB flash drive created directly with the Media Creation on my computer in legacy BIOS (CSM) mode with secure boot and TPM disabled.

I tried to bold the actual commands in the code windows below, but bold did not stick. So please read carefully what is in the code windows to pick out the actual commands from the prompts and results.

1. Boot the computer from the Windows 11 (or 10) installation USB flash drive. If you are going to install to an external USB drive, it should also be attached before booting as well.

2. When you get the first screen asking for language, time and currency, and keyboard, press Shift + F10. On some keyboards, especially laptops, you may need to press Shift+ Fn + F10. This should open a command prompt.

3. "diskpart", "list disk":
Rich (BB code):
Microsoft Windows [Version 10.0.22000.258]
(c) Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

X:\Sources>diskpart

Microsoft DiskPart version 10.0.22000.1

Copyright (C) Microsoft Corporation.
On computer: MINWINPC

DISKPART> list disk

  Disk ###  Status         Size     Free     Dyn  Gpt
  --------  -------------  -------  -------  ---  ---
  Disk 0    Online          476 GB  2048 KB        *
  Disk 1    Online          476 GB      0 B        *
  Disk 2    Online           28 GB      0 B
  Disk 3    Online          119 GB      0 B        *

Pick the disk you want to install Windows 11 (or 10) to. Mine is going to be Disk 3. Change the disk number in the next step to match the disk you want.

4. "select disk 3", "clean":
Rich (BB code):
DISKPART> select disk 3

Disk 3 is now the selected disk.

DISKPART> clean

DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.

NOTE: This will erase the selected disk! If you have a data partition that you want to keep on the disk, then you need to have it set up ahead of time. You need a minimum of 32 GB of unallocated space on your disk (unallocated means no partition there). 64 GB or greater unallocated is recommended. If you have unallocated space and a data partition, then skip the "clean" command and skip the "convert" command in the next steps - start with the first "create part" command.

Step 5 below is for GPT and UEFI booting. If you need to set up for MBR and legacy BIOS booting, go to Step 6 instead.

5. Convert to GPT and create partitions:
Rich (BB code):
DISKPART> convert gpt

DiskPart successfully converted the selected disk to GPT format.

DISKPART> create part EFI size=100

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> format fs=fat32 quick

  100 percent completed

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

DISKPART> assign letter=s

DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.

DISKPART> create part MSR size=16

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> create part pri

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> format fs=ntfs quick

  100 percent completed

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

DISKPART> assign letter=t

DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.

Skip to step 7.

6. Convert to MBR and create partitions:
Rich (BB code):
DISKPART> convert mbr

DiskPart successfully converted the selected disk to MBR format.

DISKPART> create part pri size=100

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> format fs=ntfs quick label="System Reserved"

  100 percent completed

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

DISKPART> assign letter=s

DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.

DISKPART> active

DiskPart marked the current partition as active.

DISKPART> create part pri

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition.

DISKPART> format fs=ntfs quick

  100 percent completed

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume.

DISKPART> assign letter=t

DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point.

7. Where is our install file (.wim or .esd)? "List volume":
Rich (BB code):
DISKPART> list volume

  Volume ###  Ltr  Label        Fs     Type        Size     Status     Info
  ----------  ---  -----------  -----  ----------  -------  ---------  --------
  Volume 0     C   Data         NTFS   Partition    461 GB  Healthy
  Volume 1     D   RECOVERY     FAT32  Partition     14 GB  Healthy
  Volume 2     E   20H2         NTFS   Partition    476 GB  Healthy
  Volume 3                      FAT32  Partition    100 MB  Healthy    Hidden
  Volume 4     F   ESD-USB      FAT32  Removable     28 GB  Healthy
* Volume 5     T                NTFS   Partition    119 GB  Healthy
  Volume 6     S                FAT32  Partition    100 MB  Healthy    Hidden

DISKPART> exit

Leaving DiskPart...

I'm looking for the Windows installation USB flash drive in the list. Mine is letter F:. Yours will probably be different. Change drive letter F: in the below commands to your drive letter.

8. Do we have install.wim or install.esd?
Rich (BB code):
X:\Sources>f:

F:\>cd sources

F:\sources>dir install.*
 Volume in drive F is ESD-USB
 Volume Serial Number is D447-901C

 Directory of F:\sources

10/31/2021  09:13 AM     3,765,293,226 install.esd
               1 File(s)  3,765,293,226 bytes
               0 Dir(s)  26,498,646,016 bytes free

I have install.esd because I created my flash drive with the media creation tool. If you have install.wim, just change install.esd to install.wim in all the commands in the next two steps.

9. Which edition of Windows 11 (or 10) do I want?
Rich (BB code):
F:\sources>dism /get-wiminfo /wimfile:install.esd

Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool
Version: 10.0.22000.1

Details for image : install.esd

Index : 1
Name : Windows 11 Home
Description : Windows 11 Home
Size : 15,856,088,776 bytes

Index : 2
Name : Windows 11 Home N
Description : Windows 11 Home N
Size : 15,175,873,039 bytes

Index : 3
Name : Windows 11 Home Single Language
Description : Windows 11 Home Single Language
Size : 15,859,106,413 bytes

Index : 4
Name : Windows 11 Education
Description : Windows 11 Education
Size : 16,140,692,304 bytes

Index : 5
Name : Windows 11 Education N
Description : Windows 11 Education N
Size : 15,457,664,834 bytes

Index : 6
Name : Windows 11 Pro
Description : Windows 11 Pro
Size : 16,137,711,140 bytes

Index : 7
Name : Windows 11 Pro N
Description : Windows 11 Pro N
Size : 15,457,442,265 bytes

The operation completed successfully.

Note the number of the index for the edition you want to install. I want Windows 11 Pro so index 6. Change the index number in the next step to match what you want. Also don't forget to change to install.wim if you need to.

10. Let's apply the image!
Rich (BB code):
F:\sources>dism /apply-image /imagefile:install.esd /index:6 /applydir:T:

Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool
Version: 10.0.22000.1

Applying image
[==========================100.0%==========================]
The operation completed successfully.

10. Let's set up our boot files and shutdown the computer! NOTE: if you are setting up an MBR disk for legacy BIOS booting, then change UEFI in the below command to BIOS (your command would be "bcdboot T:\Windows /s S: /f BIOS")
Rich (BB code):
F:\sources>bcdboot T:\Windows /s S: /f UEFI
Boot files successfully created.

F:\sources>T:\Windows\System32\shutdown /s /t 00

11. Reboot the computer from your new installation! I know it looks like a lot, but if you know the commands, the whole process takes less than 5 minutes (depending on the speed of the disk you are installing to).
 
Windows Build/Version
Windows 11 RTM created with MCT.
Last edited:

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NavyLCDR

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Did a proof of above procedure. Install Windows 11 on MBR external USB SSD booted with legacy BIOS. No TPM. Everything booted up fine. All updates came through Windows update. I then ran mbr2gpt on it, and booted in UEFI mode once the drive was converted to GPT. Also, initially I booted the computer in legacy BIOS mode from a stock Windows 10 installation USB flash drive created with the Media Creation Tool.
 

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hsehestedt

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I have a question regarding the procedure provided. I follow all the steps right up to the very end where you are running "bcdboot". This is where my lack of knowledge on bcdboot and bcdedit is going to show...

When you run that bcdboot command, is that adding a boot entry to the current boot disk (for example, the internal disk on my system) or is that creating a bcd store on my external USB drive?

In other words, I'm trying to determine if this will affect my current boot process on my system in any way.
 

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Hazel123

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Rufus is easier though :)
 

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hsehestedt

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Okay, I'll answer my own question since I did some research now...

That procedure will create a boot store on the USB drive. When booting, you choose press whatever the hotkey is to allow you to select the boot device, choose the USB drive, and from there it loads the BCD from the USB drive.

This is interesting. I'm going to try this procedure on my laptop, then export all the drivers from my Desktop machine, import them into the copy of Windows on the USB drive and see if I can seamlessly move that USB drive between laptop and desktop with the proper drivers loading. No idea whether that will work or not, but it's worth a test.
 

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hsehestedt

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NavyLCDR, thanks for your post. I've performed some testing and have it all working. In fact, took it a step further. I exported the drivers from both my laptop and my primary desktop system. Imported all of those into the Windows installation of the USB drive. I can now boot it seamlessly between the two systems. When I switch from one system to the other it does do a redetection of the drivers and gets the appropriate drivers for that one system ready, but other than a message or two and a little longer boot time, that process is otherwise completely transparent.

But I do have one more question. This is mainly an exercise in determining whether this can be done or not, it doesn't come from any real need that I have. Just for learning purposes.

Since the USB drive has its own boot store, I'm wondering if it would be possible to add another partition onto which I can simply place the Windows 11 install media for the purpose of doing just that - installing Windows.

To clarify, when you dual boot a system, you would get a menu from the boot store that might give options like this:

Windows 10
Windows 11

You select one, and it boots the correct OS.

I want to do the same thing from the USB drive, but my choices would look something like this:

Windows 11
Windows 11 Installation

I can handle the partitioning; I don't think I need any help with that. It seems obvious to me what I need to do in that regard. I'm just not sure how to handle adding such an entry to the boot store especially since what I want to do is not dual boot a second OS, but the installation media itself.

If you have any insight into this, I would appreciate your thoughts.
 

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SIW2

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Copy the contents of the installation image to a partition. Add the boot files.
There are several ways to do it.

I want to do the same thing from the USB drive, but my choices would look something like this:

Windows 11
Windows 11 Installation
You could add a pe entry pointing at sources\boot.wim

The /store switch can be used to select the bcd store.
 
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NavyLCDR

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I have not had time to research how to add a PE entry to the bcd store yet. I'm pretty sure EasyBCD will do it, but have not had time to figure out how to do it without third party software yet.
 

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SIW2

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You will want a boot.sdi file on the partition for ramdisk boot. It is usually in the [boot]\boot folder but you can put it somewhere else long as you tell bcd where it is.

If you add another partition, e.g. Z: for the installation media - you want the boot.sdi file on there somewhere.

Then you can point the bcdstore entry on S: to Z:\boot\boot.sdi

You want to add a pe/wim entry to the bcdstore on S: that points to z:\sources\boot.wim and z:\boot\boot.sdi
 
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SIW2

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There will be several bcd commands, so it is easier in a batch file. This is off the top of my head , something along these lines:

The first bit is to set up a new ramdisk entry:

Code:
@echo off
rem set up a new ramdisk
rem set paths and names and descriptions below as required

set bcdedit=%systemdrive%\windows\system32\bcdedit.exe
set storeefi=S:\efi\microsoft\boot\bcd
set partition=Z:
for /f "tokens=3" %%A in ('%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /create /device') do set ramdisk=%%A
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %ramdisk% ramdisksdidevice partition=%partition%
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %ramdisk% ramdisksdipath \boot\boot.sdi

rem the difference for bios boot is using the bios bcd store
rem set storebios=S:\boot\bcd

rem Next add the wim entry to the store:

set wimname=boot.wim
set mydescription="Windows 11 Setup"
for /f "Tokens=3" %%A in ('%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /create /application osloader') do set GUID=%%A
echo %GUID%
PAUSE
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %GUID% systemroot \Windows
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %GUID% detecthal Yes
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %GUID% winpe Yes
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %GUID% osdevice ramdisk=%partition%\sources\%wimname%,%ramdisk%
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /set %GUID% device ramdisk=%partition%\sources\%wimname%,%ramdisk%
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi%/set %GUID% description %mydescription%
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /displayorder %GUID% /addlast
%BCDEDIT% /store %storeefi% /timeout 10
 
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ThrashZone

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NavyLCDR

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That seems to have scared off the audience.
I was thinking about copying the EFI folder from the Windows installation partition to it's own EFI System Partition and then using bcdboot to add the Windows partition to it. Thank you very much for the bcdedit commands, lot's of studying to do now!
 

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SIW2

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I was thinking about copying the EFI folder from the Windows installation partition to it's own EFI System Partition and then using bcdboot to add the Windows partition to it.

Do you mean copy the efi folder from the installation media ? That does already include an entry for windows setup, but it is not expecting it to be on a two partition organization which I think hsestedt was asking for.
 
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NavyLCDR

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Do you mean copy the efi folder from the installation media ? That does already include an entry for windows setup, but it is not expecting it to be on a two partition organization which I think hsestedt was asking for.
Yeah, I wasn't sure if it would work or not, that's just what I was going to start experimenting with. Of course, the Windows 10 installation partition with it's own boot files already there would show up as a separate entry on a UEFI boot override screen anyway.

You could just delete the EFI system partition created on the drive in the OP, boot the drive into Windows setup in it's own partition, and then add the installed Windows installation to that boot menu. I know for a fact that can be done.
 

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hsehestedt

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That seems to have scared off the audience.
LOL. Not at all. I got tied up with other things and just coming back to this now. I may simply not have an opportunity to try this for a day or two but I'll look over the info you provided and see how far I can get.

I'm a little bit confused by the thought of having to setup the RAM disk myself. Normally, when you boot from Windows install media, Windows setup configures that RAM drive on its own. My hope was that I could effectively simply have a menu item from the BCD store that will kick off the Windows installation on another partition and allow it to run just as if I had booted from it directly with the only difference being a menu that pops up first and then choosing that option.

Regardless, I do thank you for the info and I will experiment with it. It's simply a matter of setting aside time to do this. But I assure you, I have not been scared off. I'm going to keep after this :)
 

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NavyLCDR

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I'm a little bit confused by the thought of having to setup the RAM disk myself. Normally, when you boot from Windows install media, Windows setup configures that RAM drive on its own. My hope was that I could effectively simply have a menu item from the BCD store that will kick off the Windows installation on another partition and allow it to run just as if I had booted from it directly with the only difference being a menu that pops up first and then choosing that option.
The same ramdrive information is contained in the BCD that is in the Windows 11 installation ISO file. All SIW2's script is doing is recreating that same BCD entry.
 

My Computers

System One System Two

  • OS
    Windows 11
    Computer type
    PC/Desktop
    Manufacturer/Model
    Homebuilt
    CPU
    AMD Ryzen 7 3800XT
    Motherboard
    ASUS ROG Crosshair VII Hero (WiFi)
    Memory
    32GB
    Graphics Card(s)
    EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
  • Operating System
    Windows 11 Education
    Computer type
    Laptop
    Manufacturer/Model
    Dell Inspiron 7773
    CPU
    Intel i7-8550U
    Memory
    32GB
    Graphics card(s)
    Nvidia Geforce MX150
    Sound Card
    Realtek
    Monitor(s) Displays
    17"
    Screen Resolution
    1920 x 1080
    Hard Drives
    Toshiba 512GB NVMe SSD
    SK Hynix 512GB SATA SSD
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hsehestedt

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Ah! Okay, that makes sense. Eager to try this out. Will let you know how things go.
 

My Computers

System One System Two

  • OS
    Windows 11 21H2
    Computer type
    PC/Desktop
    Manufacturer/Model
    Home Built
    CPU
    Intel i7-11700K
    Motherboard
    ASUS Prime Z590-A
    Memory
    128GB Crucial Ballistix 3200MHz DRAM
    Graphics Card(s)
    No GPU - CPU graphics only (for now)
    Sound Card
    Realtek (on motherboard)
    Monitor(s) Displays
    HP Envy 32
    Screen Resolution
    2560 x 1440
    Hard Drives
    1 x 1TB NVMe Gen 4 x 4 SSD
    1 x 2TB NVMe Gen 3 x 4 SSD
    2 x 512GB 2.5" SSDs
    2 x 8TB HD
    PSU
    Corsair HX850i
    Case
    Corsair iCue 5000X RGB
    Cooling
    Noctua NH-D15 chromax.black cooler + 10 case fans
    Keyboard
    CODE backlit mechanical keyboard
    Mouse
    Logitech MX Master 3
    Internet Speed
    300Mb down / 20Mb up
    Browser
    Chromium Edge
    Antivirus
    Windows Defender
    Other Info
    Additional options installed:
    WiFi 6E PCIe adapter
    ASUS ThunderboltEX 4 PCIe adapter
  • Operating System
    Windows 11 21H2
    Computer type
    Laptop
    Manufacturer/Model
    HP Spectre x360 15-BL012DX
    CPU
    Intel i7-7500U
    Memory
    32GB
    Graphics card(s)
    Dual Intel HD 620 and Nvidia GeForce 940MX
    Sound Card
    Built-in Realtek HD Audio
    Monitor(s) Displays
    4k 15-inch
    Screen Resolution
    4k (3840 x 2160)
    Hard Drives
    1TB Seagate FireCuda 510 NVMe SSD
    Internet Speed
    300Mb down / 20Mb up
    Browser
    Chromium Edge
    Antivirus
    Windows Defender
    Other Info
    RAM Upgraded from 16GB to 32GB WiFi Upgraded from WiFi 5 to WiFi 6 SSD upgraded from 512GB NVMe SSD to 1TB Seagate FireCuda 510 NVMe SSD

SIW2

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The commands were to add the bcd entries for booting a wim file from a separate partition to the plan in the original post.

It seems you are now doing something different.
 
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