Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

How to Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

The drive to boot from when your machine won’t boot.

Recovery Drive in Search Results
Recovery Drive in Search Results (Screenshot: askleo.com)
A Windows 10 Recovery Drive can be used to restore Windows backups to your machine and more. I'll show you how to create one.
The Best of Ask Leo!

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 computer disaster.

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.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

TL;DR:

Creating a Recovery Drive

Search for and run the Recovery Drive app. Insert a USB thumb drive 8GB or larger. 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” (without the quotes). 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 sureBack 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.

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 needs to be.

If more than one is listed, click on the one you want to use and 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 are doing with your computer as the process proceeds.

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

Create Recovery Drive - Done

Backing Up In Windows 10

Backing Up in Windows 10

This article is excerpted from 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, as well as a free alternative.

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?

More for Patrons of Ask Leo!

Silver-level patrons have access to this related video from The Ask Leo! Video Library.

Creating a Recovery Drive   Creating a Recovery Drive

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

Podcast audio

Play

Video Narration

39 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. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
      • Unfortunately, not as it was, which is your reply.
        Since 2018, ACRONIS made update and it went up to version 2020 as well.
        The “Backup file” is named .TIBX and the older ones are called .TIB and if you restore to a Backup that will have the computer with 2018 version, it is no longer capable to update to 2019-20 and if you have to PAY it is to the current version which is actually “leased” not valid for more than its year. For example if you buy NOW 2021, it is useable ONLY during 2021.

        Reply
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. 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 Recovery Drive is indeed unique to the machine it was created on. You can’t even wipe the USB at a later date without having access to the machine that created it. I have experienced this problem myself – having changed my PC and trying to over-write my old recovery drive with the new machine’s information.

      Reply
      • If you can’t wipe the USB with the regular GUI tools you can certainly do it with DISKPART.EXE which comes with Windows.

        Reply
    • If you’d read the article more carefully, you would have seen that an 8 GB drive should work. A word to the wise. Read the article before asking questions and scan the article for your answer before asking.

      Reply
      • Had issues with this too. When Windows specifies it needs (for example) 8Gb, it MEANS 8Gb – not the 7.8Gb available once the drive has been formatted. You can’t even partition a larger drive to give Windows what it needs, as it re-formats the whole drive, not just the partition.

        Reply
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. I did this last week. Total size of the files was approx 16 gb. I assume I don’t get problems with reactivating windows? So far I didn’t need it.
    Thank you, Leo, for all the good work.
    I understand that microsoft has an opening in the management board?

    Reply
  13. Dear Leo
    Thank you SO much for your wonderful step by step guide to creating a recovery disc.
    As a complete novice to Windows 10 I found it invaluable.

    I did try to do a system image following your steps but got the same error message others have experienced about the usb drive not being suitable or something.

    Hope I will be ok with just this recovery disc. I used a 32gb usb and it only used about 6gb

    Reply
  14. When I attempt to create a Recovery Drive, I can locate and start the Recovery Drive App to its launch page, but when I click next Recovery Drive reports “We can’t create a recovery drive on this PC”, then in smaller print “Some required files are missing. To troubleshoot problems when your PC can’t start, use your Windows installation disk or media.”

    How do I learn which files are missing? Is there a log file I can check?

    Any help will be appreciated,
    Ernie

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.