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How to create a Windows 10 recovery USB drive

You never know when you’ll need a Windows recovery drive in order to restore your system to a pristine state, so the time to make one is now—and it’s very easy to do. 

A recovery drive is similar to the media you’d receive if you bought a prebuilt system. Back in the day, PCs would ship with a CD or DVD that included an image of the system as it left the factory. If your PC’s OS went sideways, you could easily restore it to the way things were on day one (though you’d lose all of your subsequently created data and applications, obviously). Nowadays manufacturers usually just put an image of the system as it left the factory on a hidden partition of your main drive.

A Windows recovery disk builds on this idea. In addition to letting you reinstall Windows, it includes several troubleshooting tools, which can be lifesavers if your system won’t boot.

Some of these tools used to be part of the OS. If your PC failed to boot you were presented with a menu allowing you to try and boot into Safe Mode, or use “last known good configuration.” That’s no longer the case with Windows 10. Now you need these tools to reside on a separate, bootable USB drive, and every person running Windows should keep one in a safe place with the label “in case of emergency.”

Create the recovery drive

You can easily create a recovery drive using Windows 10’s built-in tool. 

Here’s how you create one and what it can do for you.

First, obtain an 8GB to 16GB USB drive and insert it into an open USB port on your PC. Next, go into Windows’ Control panel (right-clicking the Windows icon is the easiest way) and type create a recovery drive into the search bar. The manual method would be to go to System Security  Security Maintenance  Recovery.

windows 10 recovery drive create a recovery drive

You may need to enter your admin password to go further. In the resulting dialog box, check the box labeled Back up system files to the recovery drive.

With your recovery drive created, you’ll have to boot from it in order to use it. How your PC boots from USB varies according to your PC’s age and motherboard, but typically you can press one of the F-keys during boot to arrive at a boot selection window. From there you select the USB drive you’re using, and it should proceed to boot from the recovery drive.

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