A drive to boot from when your machine won’t boot.
A recovery drive is a USB flash drive from which you boot your computer in order to restore an image previously created with Windows’ now deprecated built-in backup as well as perform a number of other Windows recovery tasks — including reinstalling Windows from scratch.
It’s convenient to have around, as it can take the place of your original installation media, should that not be available. Here’s how to create one.
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Creating a Recovery Drive
Search for and run the Recovery Drive app. Insert a 16GB or larger USB thumb drive. This drive will be completely erased. Follow the instructions in the app to create the recovery drive, making sure “Back up system files to the recovery drive” is checked. Be sure to test your ability to boot from the recovery drive after it’s been created.
Creating a recovery drive
Click on the Start menu (or type the Windows key on your keyboard) and begin typing recovery drive. The first search result should be “Recovery Drive – App”, as shown above. As soon as that appears, click on it.
After confirming User Account Control (not shown), you’ll be presented with the Recovery Drive wizard’s first screen.
Make sure “Back up system files to the recovery drive” is checked. This may require a larger flash drive but ensures that should the need arise, you’ll be able to reinstall your system from scratch using this drive.
The wizard will scan your system for eligible USB flash drives. If you have not yet inserted a USB flash drive for this purpose, you can do so now, while it scans. The scan can take some time.
When complete, the wizard displays available drives as well as the minimum size the drive needs to be.
If more than one is listed, click on the one you want to use and click Next.
You’ll be given an important warning.
The drive you use for your recovery drive will be completely erased.
Make sure there is no important data on the drive, and click Create to begin the process.
This can take a surprisingly long time — at least it did for me1. The length of time depends on the speed of your machine, your flash drive, your USB interface, and what else you are doing with your computer as the process proceeds.
When completed, the wizard displays a message that it’s done.
Click Finish to exit the wizard.
Using your recovery drive
The most important thing to realize is that a recovery drive is something you boot from. By that, I mean you reboot your computer with the UEFI or BIOS configured to check for bootable USB media before booting normally from the hard disk.
You don’t have to do this now. You can create a recovery drive on a different machine when you need it — as long as the machine is running the same version of Windows. But it’s good practice to create one before you need it, and even make sure you can boot from it so you’re prepared when the time comes.
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Footnotes & References
1: Seriously. It took over an hour on my laptop. I’m not sure if I picked a particularly old/slow USB thumb drive or what.