Installing Win 7 on an external hard drive

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Dan Strassberg

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This morning's (Thurs, 7/23/09) wall St Journal carries a Walt Mossberg column on the difficulty of Win 7 upgrades to PCs that are running XP. I had read several articles about this subject before Mossberg's column appeared, but I suspect that the Microsoft-prescribed procedure of copying the complete contents of C: to an external backup drive, wiping C: clean, and installing Win 7 on C: is not only not the best method but, for many of us, not even a half-decent one.

There must be boot-manager programs that enable modern PCs to boot from an external hard drive. If so, it would appear much easier and safer to upgrade to Win 7 by doing the install on the external drive. There probably would be a speed penalty because the USB 2,0 high-speed mode--which is how most external drives, especially those for laptops--connect to the CPU--is slower than the bus used by most internal hard drives (is it IDE?). But many of us would gladly trade the lower speed for the angst of a wiping our hard drives clean. Moreover, if Win 7 were installed on an external drive, it would appear possible to easily switch back to XP simply by powering down the PC, disconnecting the external drive, and rebooting into the internal drive.

So what software should one buy to make it possible to boot a laptop from an external hard drive? And what cautions can you offer for someone trying to create a dual-boot setup of the type I have described above?
 

DaveA

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At this time what you want to do is NOT possible. There is NO third party manager that will do this.
 
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It's not the best idea under any circumstances. Which is why it is not a default option. Too slow for one thing. Where did MS "prescribe" backing up the C: drive to an external? I can't see that as a recommendation unless they were talking about an image, as in Vista's complete image backup, which is similar to other third-party imagers.

Disk imaging is the answer to this as well as many similar problems. And the best backup of everything on the drive, which can be restored to a new drive when your fails.

Free Disk Imaging Tools:

O&O DiskImage Express
Macrium Reflect
PING (Partimage Is Not Ghost) (Free alternative to Ghost with more features)
Paragon Drive Backup Express
Drive Image XML
G4U - Ghost For Unix (Platform-independent, floppy or CD)
DiscWizard (For Seagate or Maxtor drives - contains reduced version of Acronis)
 

Dan Strassberg

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I can already boot my laptop from a CD mounted in the built-in CD-/DVD-ROM drive. Certainly by booting in that manner, a USB driver could be installed that would recognize a hard drive connected to a USB port. It's hard to believe that no software is available that would enable loading the OS into memory from an external hard drive once the external hard drive had been recognized. The requirement to insert a disk into the internal CD-ROM drive is a little inconvenient but, all-in-all, wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me, and I imagine for many others.
 
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Drivers aren't the issue. Installation to externals is actively blocked by the Windows installer. No modern OS could even begin to fit "in memory".
 
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Yup. No booting from, or installing to, external devices using Windows. Not going to happen. However, I did install windows and all of my main software on my internal, then immediately copied the partition (cloned the drive) to an external. Mainly so I wouldn't have to do all the installing again. If my internal fails I can buy another drive, and using a special boot CD, I can copy the external back to the internal. I also regularly clone my internal as it is right now, to another external. So I have a freshly installed copy on one external, and a current copy of my HDD on another external. Probably overkill though, since I also use RAID 1 with 2 identical internal HDD's. The result is that there are two 500gb HDD's in my computer, each of them are identical in contents at any given time.

I know, I have redundant backups, and I know, this setup will not help you do what you're suggesting. I don't think it's possible to do what you're suggesting.
 

fairnooks

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So I have a freshly installed copy on one external, and a current copy of my HDD on another external. Probably overkill though, since I also use RAID 1 with 2 identical internal HDD's. The result is that there are two 500gb HDD's in my computer, each of them are identical in contents at any given time.
Good for everything except theft or "act of god" events.
 
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Yeah, I hear you. That's why the two externals are stored at my bothers house. Just one of them, I bring to my house about once a month, and make a copy of my internal, then send it back. Anyway, I'm pretty well covered I think. And if ALL was lost in spite of this, it's just stuff. Nothing I can't live without.
 
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has anyone considered another possibility: eSATA (external SATA).

to Windows, an eSATA drive should look exactly the same as an "internal" drive (under normal circumstances). eSATA performance is vastly better than USB hard drives.

for PCs that do not have an eSATA connector, affordable PCI add-in boards can be purchased.
 
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eSATA's are more than 6-times faster than USB 2.0 and an OS would run much better from it. But I doubt Windows would install there, either.

There are ways of getting it to run from an external, just not "install" there with the official installer.
 
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thanks for the feedback.

dunno if it will work, or not.

I'm in the process of getting ready to try it on my home computer, a refurb dell optiplex 755, which has an eSATA port (SATA #05) on the motherboard. I have a Seagate SATA drive hooked up to the 755 via the eSATA port connected to an external Vantec NexStar "hard drive dock".

fwiw: the 755 is currently booting Win XP Pro, from the SATA#0 port on the motherboard (C: drive is a Western Digital, came with the Dell).

(to make things even more bizarro, I'm trying to install Win7RC from a USB 8GB DataTraveler100 drive.)

If I can't get Win7 to install on the Seagate drive via eSATA, I'll just install it inside the PC case as a standard SATA drive, and then try to install Win7RC on it as a dual boot.
 
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has anyone considered another possibility: eSATA (external SATA).

to Windows, an eSATA drive should look exactly the same as an "internal" drive (under normal circumstances). eSATA performance is vastly better than USB hard drives.

for PCs that do not have an eSATA connector, affordable PCI add-in boards can be purchased.
Both of my 500gb externals use eSATA (onboard) when they are connected. eSATA is great if you want to keep an external connected all the time, and if you are regularly accessing the data.

Still doesn't "fool" the Windows installer, and you still can't boot from it, even if the external is an exact copy of a bootable internal HDD.

@ epierce-sacto I'm not saying you shouldn't try just for the learning experience, but I must tell you, it won't work. Everything else you can possibly think of has already been tried as well. You're wasting your time. If you want to boot to windows without an internal drive, boot from optical using an original windows CD or other bootable CD. Windows will not install to an external, or even if it's installed and then copied or cloned to an external, it still won't boot from it as long as it's still external, the interface method doesn't make any difference.
 
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eSata works fine for me. On my first attempt with Win7 install ex DVD to the external HD, it saw that I already had Vista on my Internal HD, so it put in dual-boot automatically on the Vista Internal HD. However, I could not boot from the external Win7 if the Internal HD was offline.

So for attempt 2, I disconnected the Internal HD, re- installed Win7 ex DVD to the eSata external - and now use Bios priority (or F12) to select the desired system, rather than the Win7 dual boot menu on Internal Vista HD.

Works great for me. . . . both systems can now run Standalone - or share each other.
 
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@davebee:

My only experience with trying such a thing is that XP won't do it, ME wouldn't do it, 2000/NT wouldn't do it, by design. I assume that Vista and 7 would be the same.

As for your "attempt 2" installing windows to an external, even eSATA would never work with XP and as far as I know, it wouldn't work with Vista either. Remember that you're using a "release candidate". It will expire. I obtained XP when it was still "codename whistler" and only available to developers. I even still have the disks, and I even have the source code for whister (XP) and SDK's on DVD.

Big deal. That copy of whistler (actually several beta's and release candidates, and source code disks) would do as you describe, in fact, it would do many things that a full release would not do.
Just wait, your copy will become useless very soon, and won't install or boot from an external or work at all. It's working now, perhaps for testing purposes. It needs to flexible for that purpose. After testing is over, you're out of luck. What you have done is a fleeting "success" I believe.
 
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To IMiteNable2 help ( love your handle ! ),

My Win-7 install to my eSata Drive (simply a 40GB 2.5" ex a Laptop) is RTM-16385 (ie. final code) - so far only on 30 day's trial, awaiting my official key on 6-August. So I dont expect it to become "useless".

Note1: I have set my eSata as Chan-0, with an Internal caddy on Chan-1 and Internal HD on Chan-2 , DVD on Chan-3. They all seem to work OK. These are on the Intel Sata connections (Giga-965P-ds3), but I yet to get the Giga Sata ports Ch-4, Ch-5 to be bootable. Apparently all that is needed is a Bios setting change . .

Note2: This Mobo doesn't officially have eSata. I added an Sata/eSata adapter, with 2 cables that simply plug into the MoBo Sata, that then provides 2 eSata connections on the Back Plate . . . very simple, with no obvious brand/manufacturer/source labelling (a $15 addon, purchased OnLine).

Note3: The external "caddy" is one with it's own PS and has both USB and eSata connections. It then allows either a 2.5" or a 3.5" HD to be directly plugged into it. Very handy for testing nw OSs, taking BackUp data offsite (I drop in a 1TB drive, image back up everything, then send that 1TB drive offsite)
 
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