How do you create a USB Windows 10 recovery drive?

When Windows 10 crashes because of a faulty update or when it doesn’t boot correctly, you can try fixing it with a USB recovery drive. Creating a recovery drive involves plugging a USB memory stick into a working Windows 10 computer and running the Recovery Media Creator wizard. Here’s how it all works and how to create a Windows 10 recovery USB drive that works both on your PC and on others:

Important things to know about creating a USB Windows 10 recovery drive

You can create a recovery drive on the same computer on which you intend to use it or on a different PC. Furthermore, you can use both a USB memory stick or a USB external hard drive. In our tests, the procedure worked well on both types of devices.

Some sites on the internet tell you that you can use the USB recovery drive only on the Windows 10 PC where you created it. That is not true. The recovery drive works on all Windows 10 PCs, as long as they use the same architecture (64-bit or 32-bit) and the same version of Windows 10, or at least a relatively close version to the one used to create the recovery drive. If you don’t know these details about your Windows 10, here’s how to check the Windows 10 version, OS build, edition, or type.

Even if the computer you want to repair doesn’t use the exact same version of Windows 10 as the PC on which you created the recovery drive, you can still boot from the USB recovery drive and use most of the recovery options available on it. However, you might be unable to use all the recovery tools. Some may not work, like the option to reinstall Windows 10, because the USB recovery drive has the system files for a different Windows 10 version than the one found on the PC you want to recover. This is especially true when you use a USB recovery drive created on an older Windows 10 version to repair a PC with a much newer Windows 10 version.

You can use any USB memory stick, as long as it has 16 GB of free space. This is the amount of space recommended by Microsoft. However, in our testing, the recovery drive had a total size of 12.4 GB. Therefore, a USB drive with 13 GB of free space should be enough.

You can create a recovery drive on any kind of USB stick

One aspect to keep in mind is that USB 2.0 memory sticks are much slower than USB 3.0 ones. Therefore, if you don’t want this procedure to take forever, try and find a faster USB stick.

TIP: If you want to know more about USB drives, and the difference between USB 3.0 and USB 2.0, read this article: What is USB (Universal Serial Bus)?.

How to start the Recovery Media Creator in Windows 10

There are many ways to start the Recovery Media Creator wizard you use to create a USB recovery drive for Windows 10. One way is to open the Start Menu and scroll down to the Windows Administrative Tools folder. Click or tap on this folder to open it.

Open the Start Menu and then the Windows Administrative Tools folder

You then see a long list of Windows 10 system tools. Scroll down again until you see Recovery Drive, and then click or tap on this shortcut.

Click or tap on the Recovery Drive shortcut from the Start Menu

Before the Recovery Media Creator opens, you see a UAC prompt asking you to allow this app to make changes to your device. Press Yes to continue.

In the UAC prompt, click Yes to run the Recovery Media Creator

NOTE: If you are using a non-administrator user account to start this app, you must enter the password for the administrator account in the UAC window.

Another way to open the wizard for creating a recovery drive is to use search. Type the words “recovery drive” in the Windows 10 search bar, and then click or tap on the Recovery Drive search result or the Open option shown on the right.

Use search to find Recovery Drive

TIP: You don’t have a search bar in Windows 10, like in our screenshot above? Read this guide: Is the Windows 10 Search bar missing? 6 ways to show it.

Another way is to open File Explorer and navigate to the “C:\Windows\System32\” folder, where you find the RecoveryDrive.exe file that runs the Recovery Media Creator.

The path to the RecoveryDrive.exe file

IMPORTANT: Before you go ahead and use the Recovery Media Creator, plug a USB memory stick into your Windows 10 computer, which ideally has 16 GB of free space, and make sure that Windows correctly detects it.

How to create a USB recovery drive for Windows 10

In the Recovery Drive window, you first see a description of the recovery drive’s usefulness and a checkmark that says: “Back up system files to the recovery drive.” When you check this option, the recovery drive is created to include Windows 10 system files that allow you to reinstall Windows on a PC with problems. It is a good idea to leave it checked and press Next. However, keep in mind that this option also increases the free space required on the USB stick. Therefore, if your USB memory stick has limited free space, you may want to uncheck this option.

Create a Windows 10 recovery drive

The Recovery Drive wizard spends some time detecting all the USB drives connected to your computer and then lists them. Select the USB flash drive you want to use for recovery by clicking or tapping on its drive letter and pressing Next.

Select the USB flash drive you want to use

You are warned that everything on the drive is going to be deleted. If you have any data that matters to you, back it up before the next step. When you’re ready to create the USB recovery drive, press Create.

Start the process to create the recovery drive

The Recovery Drive wizard is then going to format the USB drive you chose and copy the required Windows 10 recovery utilities and system files. This process may take a long time, especially if you have an old USB 2.0 memory stick, so give it between 30 and 60 minutes to finish. Even with USB 3.0 flash drives, the process can take a while, although the wait will be less frustrating because these drives are faster.

Creating the recovery drive takes a long time

When the Windows 10 USB recovery drive is ready, you are informed, and all that is left to do is press Finish.

Click Finish when the recovery drive is ready

You can then use the recovery USB stick (or hard drive) to troubleshoot your Windows 10 PC when you encounter a problem or on other Windows 10 devices that don’t work as they should.

How to use the USB Windows 10 recovery drive

There are many things you can do with the recovery USB drive for Windows 10:

  • Reset Windows 10
  • Restore Windows 10 to a previous functioning state
  • Go back to a previous version of Windows 10 by uninstalling troublesome updates
  • Recover Windows 10 using a system image
  • Repair the Windows 10 system startup
  • Start the Command Prompt to run all kinds of troubleshooting commands
  • Access the BIOS

Troubleshooting options on a Windows 10 recovery drive

We covered all these options in detail in a separate article: How to use a Windows 10 recovery USB drive. Follow it to repair your malfunctioning Windows 10 laptop, tablet, or PC.

If the USB recovery drive doesn’t work, and your Windows 10 PC or laptop can read DVDs, you can create a system repair disc and boot from it. If that option isn’t available, you can also create a USB stick with the Windows 10 setup on it, which includes the necessary troubleshooting tool. Read this guide on How to get and use Media Creation Tool to create Windows 10 installation media (USB stick or ISO).

If you didn’t manage to repair Windows 10 with the installation media, one last resort is to reinstall Windows 10 from scratch. This guide will help: How to install Windows 10 from DVD, USB, or ISO file.

Did you manage to create a bootable USB recovery drive for Windows 10?

This guide should have helped you create a Windows 10 recovery USB drive that also works on another PC, not just yours. Before you close this article, tell us if you have any questions and if everything went well for you. Comment below, and let’s discuss.

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