Booting an IBM ThinkPad off of an external HDD

Can it be done? We cannot afford a new machine for my wife and her HDD is making…bad sounds. Can we get a nice SSD and put everything onto it?

How would I go about telling her machine to default to an external? Can that even be done? Lacking that, back in the day one could copy everything on the internal to another drive. Everything, including the Windows system. Can I buy a SSD and put it into a case, copy all over and then install it INTO her laptop?

This is how I would handle it, after assuring myself that the new SSD has the same shape, mounting, and interface as the hard disk you’re replacing. (Depending on how old the laptop is, these things may not be safely assumed.)

There is software available online to clone the contents of your current bootable drive to a new one (such as the SSD in this scenario) such that you can do a drop-in replacement and just carry on.

I think the boot menu is F12. To change the default boot order, go into the BIOS setup (F2).

I agree with @gnoitall that if the original drive is dead, there is no point leaving it in there, just clone it (if it’s not too dead for that) onto a nice SSD and install that internally instead.

I think I’ve tried to boot windows from a USB drive before and it didn’t work. You can boot the installer, but actual Windows needs to be connected to a faster interface than USB. I think it has to do with Windows needing a certain speed for drive that holds the swap data. Maybe a port like USB3.0, Thunderbolt, or ESATA would work, but my ThinkPad at the time didn’t have those ports, so I’m not sure.

If your ThinkPad has a DVD caddy, you may be able to get a SATA caddy and put it in the DVD slot:

This would allow your ThinkPad to have both drives as internal drives and you could run Windows from either one.