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How to Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

In a previous article, I showed you how to create a backup image using Windows 10’s built-in backup program. Along the way, we were prompted to create what’s called a “Recovery Drive” to use in the event of a disaster from which you need to recover.

A recovery drive is a USB flash drive from which you boot your computer in order to restore a previously created image, as well as perform a number of other Windows recovery tasks — including reinstalling Windows from scratch.

You don’t have to be taking a backup image to create a recovery drive, and it’s convenient to have around; it can take the place of your original installation media, should that not be available. Here’s how to do it.

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Creating a recovery drive

Click on the Start menu (or type the Windows key on your keyboard) and begin typing “recovery drive” (without the quotes). The first search result should be “Create a recovery drive”. As soon as that appears, click on it.

Start Menu - Recovery Drive search
Recovery drive search.

After confirming UAC (not shown), you’ll be presented with the Recovery Drive wizard’s first screen.

Make sureBack up system files to the recovery drive” is checked. This may require a larger flash drive, but ensures that you’ll be able to reinstall your system from scratch using this drive should the need arise.

Click Next.

Create Recovery Drive - Step 1

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 should be.

If more than one is listed, click on the one you want to use and then click Next.

Create Recovery Drive - Step Two: Drive Selection

You’ll be given an important warning.

Create Recovery Drive - Warning

The drive you use for your recovery drive (in this case, my USB drive) will be completely erased.

Make sure there is no important data on the drive, and click Create to begin the process.

Creating a Recovery Drive

This can take a surprisingly long time — at least it did for me. The length of time depends on the speed of your machine, your flash drive, your USB interface, and what else you might be doing with your computer as the process proceeds.

When completed, the wizard displays a message that it’s done.

Create Recovery Drive - 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.

There’s more information on exactly what that means in my article How do I boot from CD/DVD/USB in Windows 8 & 10?

Podcast audio

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Backing Up In Windows 10

This article is included in my book, Backing Up In Windows 10, available now. Top-to-bottom, end-to-end, Backing Up In Windows 10 will walk you through all the steps you need to keep your data safe, using Windows 10’s built-in tools, plus a free alternative.

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Creating a Recovery Drive   Creating a Recovery Drive

Video Narration

35 comments on “How to Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive”

  1. Leo, First thank you for all that you do. When will the discussion on how to use the recovery drive be available? I followed your directions to create the drive, and struggled mightily to find the way to change the BIOS startup order. However, it does not load from the Flash Drive even though it now is ahead of the HD in the sequence. Opening the Flash Drive reveals that it does not have the files I expected.

    Reply
  2. Silly question: How do you store your USB once you’ve created it? Do you tape it to the desktop CPU? We have a laptop that we take into the field – I guess I could put the USB into an envelope, label it, and store it in the laptop case?

    Leo – Thanks for your help on these subjects – taking the pain out of the workflow!

    Reply
    • Thanks Mark – Your answer is very helpful – I was picturing a thumb drive, not an external hard drive. I do store the external hard drive backups in separate locations in case of a disaster.

      Reply
    • “The USB device you use should be an external hard drive.” – I could be mistaken, but can’t only flash or optical media be used?

      Reply
  3. Leo,
    I can’t remember how I stumbled on to your page for information, but have since signed up, and just wanted to say THANK YOU for being such a wonderfully helpful man! You are so very nice to take your time to post and publish all that you do, and even send to subscribers for free. The information you give is so very helpful for those of us that are not so savvy to know what to do to keep our machines and individual information safe and working smoothly. Just wanted to pass along my thanks. I’ll be looking through your books to purchase for additional information.
    Respectfully,
    Michelle

    Reply
  4. Question: DO I need to re-create the Recovery Drive after every major Windows 10 update, like Windows 10 “Creator’s Update” for example, or can I just make 1 Recovery Drive and never update it again? In other words, what’s really on the Recovery Drive. Bare-bones Windows 10 or an entire copy of the operating system?

    Thanks in advance for your help!

    Reply
      • Thanks Leo for your recommendation. That’s only logical when one considers all the CU (Cumulative Updates) Microsoft is throwing at us on a regular basis. Windows 10 has become an evolving OS.

        Reply
  5. Seven hours! Even for Microsoft, this is a new low.

    On the same laptop, Pendrive Linux makes a bootable flash drive in about 15 minutes.

    Reply
  6. Isn’t this the same process that one can do with Acronis True Image – backup to a USB hard drive and have a recovery CD available?

    Reply
    • Essentially, yes, this is how it’s done with many different backup tools. The deal is that these tools are already on your Windows 10 PC,and some are averse to gettign additional software.

      Reply
  7. I created Recovery drive and when I load it, it starts a question process by neither the mouse nor keyboard work. I cannot continue

    Reply
    • That’s an issue with your machine, then, I think. I’d talk to the computer manufacturer to see if they have one specifically for your machine.

      Reply
  8. It is amazing how your recents articles are on exactly the subjects I am interested in. I just bought a new Dell XPS to use as my backup computer for photo editing to replace my aging and underpowered old Dell Inspiron. I mostly use my iMac for photo editing but the Asus ProArt monitor I bought for the Dell is so color accurate I might use the Windows Computer a lot.

    It took a very long time to create the recovery drive on a USB thumb drive. It took so long I was wondering if I was doing something wrong. But it finally completed. Is some sort of super fast USB thumb drive required?

    Reply
  9. Leo – I assume each Recovery Drive is unique to the PC it was created on & won’t work for another PC. Is my assumption correct? Thx.

    Reply
    • I honestly don’t know in absolute terms, however particularly with OEM differences between various installations of Windows I would assume it is at least unique to the manufacturer, if not to the specific PC. Safest is to assume the later, of course.

      Reply
    • The screenshot says ‘at least 8GB’.
      With what I have on my machine that suggests I might want to play safe and use a 16GB drive to be absolutely sure.

      Reply
      • The rescue disk doesn’t depend on what’s on your computer. 8 GB should be sufficient. 16 GB would also work as there’s no maximum size.

        Reply
  10. Leo – Thanks very much for this.
    My HD is encrypted with BitLocker.
    Would I still be able to use this method and boot from a USB?

    Reply
  11. Hi Leo, I already made a Macrium Reflect Recovery Media disk. Should I also make the Windows Recovery Drive? Can you say what the difference is between the two? Thanks

    Reply
    • I recommend both.

      Macrium Reflect disk will let you restore Macrium Reflect created backups.

      The Windows Recovery Drive will let you run diagnostic tools, repair startup and more, refresh or even reinstall Windows from scratch. (It’ll also let you restore a Windows Backup created backup, but if you’re using Macrium you probably don’t need that.)

      Reply
  12. I tried to create the Windows Recovery Drive. I inserted a brand new ,formatted, 32G SanDisk Ultra flash drive into several USB ports on my desktop but always got the error “A problem occurred while creating the recovery drive”. I hope it is because the drive is too small, but that is the biggest I have. Sunday I should have a 128G flash drive to try.

    Do you think I may have some other problem? The USB ports I tried work OK with other devices.

    Reply
  13. I tried about every cure for this common problem that I have found on the internet, without success. A System File Checker scan revealed some corrupted files it could not fix.

    I have been running this computer for years now on the same Windows install, actually started with Windows 8. So maybe it’s time for a reinstall, even though it seems to be running OK (well a few unexplained restarts and a couple of blue screens of death).

    I do have two external drives, one for backing files every day, the other a complete image every week with incremental images the other 6 days – on both my internal drives. I should be OK except I expect I may not be able to reinstall some legacy software like Viseo 2000, a program I LOVE.

    Reply

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