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Question: How to run Boot Camp on External Hard Drive?

I use my mid-2012 11" MacBook Air for gaming and school work. My hard drive is filling up fast, and I was hoping I could use an external hard drive and Boot Camp to run Windows for my games, thus freeing up most of my hard drive.


My questions are:

1) Is this possible?

2) What equipment would I need to do it?

3) What would I be looking for in an external hard drive for this purpose?

4) If I did this, would I be able to unplug and replug my external hard drive without causing a problem?

5) What version of Windows should I use?

The program I will be using for my games is Steam.

MacBook Air, OS X Mountain Lion (10.8.5)

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Oct 4, 2014 11:26 AM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

Hi,


It's absolutely possible to run BootCamp from an External Drive (ie : windows installed on an USB drive)

The windows installation program refuses to install itself to an external USB Drive.


That's not a problem, there's a way to install windows installation files on an external USB drive, and once booted from it, Windows will finish to install itself from said drive.


I tested it with Windows 8.1 x64 and it work perfectly from external USB drive!!

here's how to do so :

You will need :

- your windows 8.1 ISO file (choose x64 because Apple Bootcamp tools are meant for x64)

- a running PC (on windows 7 or 8) real or virtualised

- a blank external drive (at least 16GB)

/!\ WHOLE DISK WILL BE ERASED, I cannot be responsible for data loss /!\

this software :

- Apple Bootcamp drivers (obtained from the BootCamp setup)

- Microsoft AIK tool : http://www.microsoft.com/en-US/download/details.aspx?id=5753

- Power Iso (create a virtual drive, unless you're using a Virtualised Window) : http://www.poweriso.com/

If you don't have Windows ISO, you can download a demo there : http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/evaluate-windows-8-1-enterprise

or try windows 10 : http://preview.windows.com/

On your existing PC Setup, do the following steps (each command will be in uppercase to increase readability, type them in lowercase, if there's a space between words, insert a space obviously) :

1 - install Windows AIK, once done navigate to this folder : C:\program files\Windows AIK\Tools\Amd64\

2 - in this folder, move the file imagex.exe to the root folder of your C:\ drive

3 - launch the CMD line tool (clic on the Start menu, in the search bar type CMD, then launch it from the menu)

4 - at the prompt, type DISKPART and hit Return Key

the command line will be like this DISKPART >

5 - type LIST DISK and hit Return Key

It will list each available drive on your PC with a Disk number (DISK 0 ; DISK 1; DISK # ; etc...)

6 - Choose the disk you want your windows 8.1 installed onto and type accordingly SELECT DISK # and hit Return Key

(# being the number of the disk you want to use (ie SELECT DISK 2) and hit Return Key (according to our example the prompt will state that disk 2 is now the selected disk). Just to be sure of what you did, you can type LIST DISK again, and you will see a * in front of the disk you will erase and prepare for the installation of windows. If you want to be absolutely sure that you selected the right disk, you can unplug the disk and type LIST DISK again and repeat the above steps.

7 - Type CLEAN and hit Return Key

DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk


8 - Type CREATE PARTITION 1 and hit Return Key

DiskPart succeeded in creating the specified partition


9 - Type SELECT PARTITION 1 and hit Return Key

Partition 1 is now the selected partition

10 - Type ACTIVE and hit Return Key

DiskPart marked the current partition as active

11 - Type FORMAT FS=NTFS QUICK and hit Return Key

DiskPart successfully formatted the volume

12 - Type ASSIGN and hit Return Key

DiskPart successfully assigned the drive letter or mount point


13 -Type EXIT and hit Return Key or close the window


Following 14 to 16 steps will allow you to have the window 8 ISO mounted as a drive. If you are doing this with Parallels Desktop or VMWare fusion, just mount the .iso file as a drive in the CD/DVD Drive section of the software and go to step 17

14 - Install PowerISO

15 - Clic on the "Mount button", and select "Set Number of Drives Menu", choose "1 Drive"

16 - Then clic on the "Mount button" again, then "Mount Image". Select your windows 8.1 ISO file and clic "Open"


Following steps are for everyone

Please note your drives letters before proceeding :

What is your Windows CD drive Letter ? My Windows Drive letter is E:

What is your external Hard drive letter ? My USB Drive letter is G:

So remember to change the letters for your system accordingly.

17 - Verify that your Window installation drive is properly mounted : clic on the Start menu then Computer, then check the drives (in my case, my Virtual CD Drive is the letter E:)


18 - Open CMD tool again, but this time as an Administrator : clic on the Start menu, then in the search bar type CMD, then right-clic on it in the menu and select Run as Administrator


19 - Type C:\IMAGEX.EXE /APPLY E:\sources\install.wim 1 G:\and hit Return Key(remember to change the letters to fit your setup)

there's several spaces in the above command ligne.

You'll see the ImageX Tool for Windows running, with a percentage [ X% ] Applying progress. It'll take 8 to 12 minutes to complete.


20 - Now we'll make the USB Drive Bootable. Type BCDBOOT G:\WINDOWS /S G:

Boot files successfully created


You're Done !!


Now, plug the USB Drive to your Mac. Start it and hold the ALT Key, and choose the Windows USB Drive that you used all along.

Windows will boot, and then will reboot the computer. at the boot chime hold ALT key and again choose the Windows drive to boot from.

Once on the Windows desktop appears, plug your Apple Windows Drivers USB keydrive and install the Bootcamp drivers.

After a while, the installation will be done, you just have to reboot Windows, hold ALT again at startup to choose the Windows drive, and voilà !


You just completed the installation of Windows on an external drive, and you can boot it whenever you want. The best part of this is that you can use your Windows USB Drive only when you want to use Windows, and free all that space from your internal Hard drive.

You're Welcome

Question marked as Helpful

Oct 22, 2013 3:03 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

For the MacBook Pro Retina and Windows 8.1 the setup procedure was the following:


Step -1: Make sure your Thunderbot drive works, stable and reliable.


Step 0. Make sure you have a complete Time Machine backup of you Mac OS hard drive. Seriously. Very easy to mess things up completely.


Step 1. Get a Windows 8.1 64 bit iso. You might want to try it out first before committing money to it. For that you can download an official 90 day Windows 8.1 Enterprise evaluation from Microsoft. It's somewhat hidden from mainstream experience, but search engines help you there.


It is important to use 64 bit, as 32 bit will not work.


Step 2. Get a USB flash drive. 8 GB USB flash drive worked fine for me.


Step 3. On Window box or from virtualized Windows machine make a bootable setup USB. I have used Rufus for that. Make sure you have selected "GTP partition scheme for UEFI computer" and FAT32.


I've tried MBR partition scheme, but it hasn't worked for me.


Step 4. Once bootable setup USB is created, shutdown everything. Plugin your external thunderbolt drive and bootable setup USB flash drive. Hold ALT (Option key) to choose from what thing to boot.


Step 5. If you are lucky you will see yellow "EFI Boot". Yellow usually meens 'external'. That meens you are going to boot into setup from USB flash drive. Go for it.


Step 6. In 5-10 minutes you should get into Window setup. Whenever you are asked, always choose "Custom" or so, till you get to the hard drive selection screen. You should see list of many partitions coming from 2 drives - one internal and one external.


WARNING: Be super careful here!!!!!


Step 7. Convince Windows to install itself on the drive that is external. You might have to delete all of the partitions of the external drive and leave it completely unpartitioned. This will make Windows autoconvert it's partition scheme to GTP.


WARNING: Think twice before deleting any partitions; do not delete any partitions on your internal drive.


Step 8. Let Windows install itself. I recommend turning off windows autoupdate for now, especially drivers part of it, since Windows 8.1 autoudate seams to be pushing buggy drivers at the moment.


Step 9. If you are SUPER lucky after reboot (and holding ALT/Option) you should see gray "EFI boot" that will boot Windows from external drive.


Step 10. Download and install Apple latest bootcamp drivers, things should work normally once those drivers are installed.


Step 11. Enjoy!

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Oct 9, 2013 7:59 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

Generally Speaking, no, it is not possible.


Boot Camp does not support booting from an external drive in any system, especially not in a notebook. You could try to use a different EFI boot loader (like rEFIt, or rEFInd) but then you will run into the next major hurdle. Until very recently, Microsoft did not support booting any version of Windows from a removable media. Yes, you could build your own custom installers and make it work, but it was not supported. Now recently in WIndows 8 or 8.1, Microsoft has added some support for booting from external drives, but it is a difficult task to accomplish from what I understand.


About the best bet I can see for you would be to buy a Thunderbolt external drive like the Buffalo Ministation (available form Tiger Direct for under $200 USD for a 1TB drive with USB3 and Thunderbolt cables). I believe that you can easily install MacOS on one of those drives and boot/run your Mac from there. I don't think it would allow you to boot Windows from there, but you could still install your Windows programs on a partition on that drive and access them when booted from the internal drive.

Oct 9, 2013 7:59 PM

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Oct 11, 2013 7:16 AM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

My suggestion was that you run MacOS from the external drive, and run Windows from the internal drive, so you should not have any problems running Windows games (when you are running Windows).


Depending upon the games you want to play, you might be able to use virtualization and run Windows in a virtual machine while still running MacOS. If you do this, you could then store your virtual machines on the external drive.

Oct 11, 2013 7:16 AM

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Oct 22, 2013 2:01 PM in response to GeekBoy.from.Illinois In response to GeekBoy.from.Illinois

I can report two successes running Windows natively from external hard drives. So what you want is technically possible.


Success 1: I was able to configure Windows 7 to work from external thunderbolt drive (SSD) on MacBook Air mid 2011.


Success 2: I was able to configure Windows 8.1 to work from external thunderbolt drive (2 tb hdd) on MacBook Pro Retina.


In both cases no significant space was uses on the actual internal SSD.


Keep in mind though, MacOs Bootcamp Assistant application just does not implement the needed functionality, so you can't do it via it. If you (or somebody else) is interested in details, I can try to recall and write down the details of what I've done.

Oct 22, 2013 2:01 PM

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Oct 22, 2013 2:20 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

I can write down hardware that I have used since I remember it very well.


For thunderbolt drive I have used Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adapter with either Ocz Vertex 3 480 GB SSD or WD Green 2 tb 2.5 inch drive. Worked reliably and easy to assemble since adapter provides a standard SATA connector. The only catch is you might want some "duck tape" to lock the non-standard hdd in place. Or you can go for compatible Seagate 1 TB HDD drive.


Warning: I have tried Samsung 840 Pro with Seagate Thunderbolt Adapter, but it was unstable. Probably not enough electric power supplied via thunderbolt. Or may be because 6gbit SATA was too fast for adapter and it was unstable. I haven't bothered to investigate deeper - I've just used Samsung 840 Pro in a completely different machine as an internal drive.


As far as thunderbolt cables are concerned, both short and long ( 1.5 m) ones worked well.


I suspect Seagate Desktop Thunderbolt Adapter or any other thunderbolt drive will work equally well.

Oct 22, 2013 2:20 PM

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Question marked as Helpful

Oct 22, 2013 3:03 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

For the MacBook Pro Retina and Windows 8.1 the setup procedure was the following:


Step -1: Make sure your Thunderbot drive works, stable and reliable.


Step 0. Make sure you have a complete Time Machine backup of you Mac OS hard drive. Seriously. Very easy to mess things up completely.


Step 1. Get a Windows 8.1 64 bit iso. You might want to try it out first before committing money to it. For that you can download an official 90 day Windows 8.1 Enterprise evaluation from Microsoft. It's somewhat hidden from mainstream experience, but search engines help you there.


It is important to use 64 bit, as 32 bit will not work.


Step 2. Get a USB flash drive. 8 GB USB flash drive worked fine for me.


Step 3. On Window box or from virtualized Windows machine make a bootable setup USB. I have used Rufus for that. Make sure you have selected "GTP partition scheme for UEFI computer" and FAT32.


I've tried MBR partition scheme, but it hasn't worked for me.


Step 4. Once bootable setup USB is created, shutdown everything. Plugin your external thunderbolt drive and bootable setup USB flash drive. Hold ALT (Option key) to choose from what thing to boot.


Step 5. If you are lucky you will see yellow "EFI Boot". Yellow usually meens 'external'. That meens you are going to boot into setup from USB flash drive. Go for it.


Step 6. In 5-10 minutes you should get into Window setup. Whenever you are asked, always choose "Custom" or so, till you get to the hard drive selection screen. You should see list of many partitions coming from 2 drives - one internal and one external.


WARNING: Be super careful here!!!!!


Step 7. Convince Windows to install itself on the drive that is external. You might have to delete all of the partitions of the external drive and leave it completely unpartitioned. This will make Windows autoconvert it's partition scheme to GTP.


WARNING: Think twice before deleting any partitions; do not delete any partitions on your internal drive.


Step 8. Let Windows install itself. I recommend turning off windows autoupdate for now, especially drivers part of it, since Windows 8.1 autoudate seams to be pushing buggy drivers at the moment.


Step 9. If you are SUPER lucky after reboot (and holding ALT/Option) you should see gray "EFI boot" that will boot Windows from external drive.


Step 10. Download and install Apple latest bootcamp drivers, things should work normally once those drivers are installed.


Step 11. Enjoy!

Oct 22, 2013 3:03 PM

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Oct 22, 2013 3:31 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

For the external Windows 7 bootcamp on MacBook Air 2011 I've followed a convoluted road, as ot was a result of a gradual migration. I suspect a shorter road will work.


First, I've installed a second SSD drive on MacBook Pro 2012 early. This involved moving original Apple SSD to dvdvrom bay and MacOs installation with it. And inserting Samsung 840 Pro in the original HDD location.


Second, I've used a combination of Bootcamp assistant and Winclone to get Windows installed on that Samsung 840 Pro and occupy the whole drive. So I had 1 MacOs and 1 windows drive.


Third, I've cloned that dedicated windows drive into external OCZ Vertex 3 drive.


Forth, I've place OCZ Vertex 3 drive into the Seagate Thunderbolt Adaper, connected MacBook Air to it, booted it using ALT and luckily for me things worked!


Fifth, reinstalled Apple Bootcamp drivers to solve the device differences.


Unfortunately my memory is somewhat fuzzy, as it was a long time ago, so sorry for many missing details.


SUMMARY


I believe the key experimental finding there is that if you are using Thunderbolt drive, you can do it (once way or another). But you need to have time and dedication to get the partitioning scheme right. And have some luck (as different Apple hardware models seam to have slightly different boot preferences).


I've never had success in running Windows from external USB drive (once got very close to actually booting it, but it was blue-screening in disk.sys).

Oct 22, 2013 3:31 PM

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Jul 11, 2014 3:03 PM in response to GeekBoy.from.Illinois In response to GeekBoy.from.Illinois

Your advice is ...well....not good. First off, no games will play in a virtual machine unless it's solitaire. Second, you can boot Windows from a Thunderbolt drive or even some USB 3.0 drives assuming they're the correct chipset. The catch with most USB 3.0 drives is that they tax the CPU when running on OS from them. You'll want a high quality SSD either way, but do research before proceeding. I have installed Windows on intel macs natively, with 0 bootcamp assistance whatsoever. You just need the bootcamp driver iso from Apple and you're set. Please stop posting incorrect information, sir.

Jul 11, 2014 3:03 PM

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Jul 11, 2014 3:08 PM in response to Storm Mage In response to Storm Mage

In case you are still trying to do this, yes it's very possible, I've done it myself.

Get a Seagate Backup Plus external thunderbolt sled adapter ($95 or so on Amazon).

Get a good SSD from Samsung or Sandisk ($95-105 for a 256GB on Amazon).

Get a thunderbolt cable ($30 give or take).

Windows will boot from thunderbolt and run incredibly fast, and yes you can run dx11 games at full resolution with settings maxed out. I've had 0 issues on my 2013 27" iMac i5 with the Gtx 775m 2gb GPU 🙂

Jul 11, 2014 3:08 PM

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Jul 11, 2014 3:10 PM in response to CrankTurner In response to CrankTurner

CrankTurner wrote:


Your advice is ...well....not good. First off, no games will play in a virtual machine unless it's solitaire.

Sure they will, just not well in many cases.

CrankTurner wrote:


Second, you can boot Windows from a Thunderbolt drive or even some USB 3.0 drives assuming they're the correct chipset.

How do you get Boot Camp to create the partition on an external drive?

Jul 11, 2014 3:10 PM

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Jul 11, 2014 3:22 PM in response to Csound1 In response to Csound1

Just not very well, indeed! 😟


Honestly I never use Bootcamp, I have always just used the Bootcamp driver package for whichever particular Mac I'm installing Windows on, after the Windows install completes.


I just boot from a Windows 7 image that I installed on an 8GB USB flash drive (hold down the option key after you power on the mac), and install it on a partition I already created on the SSD from the disk utility in Mac OS. You can create it in exFAT format or just FAT, and then tell the Windows installer to reformat in NTFS when you're doing the install. After Windows is installed, it will come up as bootable option in the boot menu when you hold down the option key while powering up.

Jul 11, 2014 3:22 PM

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User profile for user: Storm Mage

Question: How to run Boot Camp on External Hard Drive?