How to Check Whether a USB Drive Is Bootable in Windows

Make sure your USB drive is really bootable in Windows.

How To Check Usb Drive Bootable Featured

If you have created a bootable USB drive, you may be wondering whether it will successfully initialize and boot. You don’t always have to restart your PC/laptop to find out. The following techniques can easily determine whether a USB drive is bootable in Windows 10/11. These include methods native to your Windows system as well as external recommended software.

How to Create a Bootable USB Drive

Here’s a quick primer that shows how to make a USB drive bootable and check the bootable status of such drives.

1. Using BalenaEtcher

For Windows systems, the fastest and most reliable way is to download and install BalenaEtcher. This software readily etches any ISO file on the USB drive.

  1. After installing, open the application and select your current USB drive as the source drive.
Windows Usb Bootable Select Source
  1. Many ISO files (the following example is for Raspberry Pi Desktop) can be huge. Fortunately, you don’t always need to first download the ISO separately.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Flash From Url
  1. Copy-paste the ISO download link, and it will etch much faster on your drive.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Image Url
  1. Once you can see both the source and destination drives, it’s time to click the “Flash” button.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Before Flash Screeen
  1. All the data on the drive will be erased while a bootable media is created. In some cases, the USB drive will decompress first, which may take a little while.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Decompressing
  1. Wait for the USB drive to start flashing. This stage is seen after decompression is completed or directly afterward.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Flashing Contd
  1. After flashing, BalenaEtcher will validate the bootable disk, which doesn’t take very long.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Validating Ongoing
  1. You’ll see a “Flash Complete” message once the USB drive is converted into a bootable disk.
Windows Usb Bootable Balenaetcher Flash Completed

2. With Rufus

Rufus is a commonly-used bootable disc/USB drive creator. As an open source application, it’s lightweight, and you have a choice not to install anything. Check this guide to learn how to use Rufus properly.

Here’s a quick summary of how to create a bootable drive with Rufus.

  1. Open the installed or portable Rufus application.
  2. Insert a USB drive in your computer. Rufus will automatically detect it as the source device.
  3. For the destination, click “Select” next to “Boot Selection” and choose your ISO installation file.
Windows Usb Bootable Rufus Select Open Bootable Iso
  1. You may set advanced drive property and format options. Make sure the partition scheme in Drive Properties is set as “MBR,” which stands for Master Boot Record.
Windows Usb Bootable Rufus Mbr Partition Scheme
  1. Click the “Volume Label” under “Format Options” and name it.
  2. Make sure the File system is set as “FAT32,” which is the default for bootable drives. Doing a “Quick format” will erase all existing files in removable media.
  3. You can also check the option to “Create extended label and icon files,” which generates an “autorun.inf” file. “Check the device for bad blocks” is optional as well.
Windows Usb Bootable Rufus Volume Label Name
  1. Once everything is done, click the “Start” button to proceed with creating a bootable USB device.
Windows Usb Bootable Rufus Making Bootable Cd

Check USB Drive Bootable Status From Disk Management

  1. Open a Search window on your PC and type in “disk manager.”
  2. Select the “Create and format hard disk partitions” entry.
Windows Usb Bootable Create Format Hard Disk Partitions
  1. Select the formatted drive (“disk 1” in our example) and right-click to go to “Properties.”
  2. Navigate to the “Volumes” tab and check the “Partition style.” You should see it marked with some kind of boot flag, such as Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table. Also, the removable media with bootable ISO will display a “Status” like “No Volume/No Media” or very little volume (just a few MB).
Windows Usb Bootable Nomedia Mbr
  1. If you don’t see the “No Media” status in the USB Device Properties, it means you cannot create a bootable device.

Check USB Drive Bootable Status From Command Prompt

Another way to check the external drive’s bootability is to run a few lines on the Command Line prompt.

  1. Open cmd from “Search” and make sure you run in Administrator mode.
Check Usb Bootable Commandprompt Admin
  1. Enter the following commands:
diskpart
list disk
  1. The formatted removable media with ISO will display “No Media/No Volume” or very little volume in MB.
Windows Usb Bootable Nomedia Command Prompt

Check USB Drive Bootable Status From Windows PowerShell

Even Windows’ PowerShell can give a quick overview of the drive’s bootability.

  1. Look for PowerShell using the “Search” functionality in Windows and run it as Administrator.
Windows Usb Bootable Open Powershell
  1. Enter get-disk to gather information about your USB drive.
  2. Check if the device health status is “Healthy” and whether it displays “No Media” operational status and 0 Bytes volume (or very low volume).
Windows Usb Bootable Powershell Get Disk

Check Whether USB Is Bootable Using MobaLiveCD

The easiest third-party software to check a drive’s bootable state is MobaLiveCD, a wrapped-for-the-Qemu-system emulation software. It will actually run a virtual machine (an ad-hoc one) and attempt to boot from your USB, so it’s a fairly robust way to check the drive’s bootable state.

  1. Download the “MobaLiveCD.exe” file from the developer’s website.
  2. After the download is complete, right-click on the downloaded .exe and choose “Run as Administrator.” If you don’t, you’ll get an error reading “Setup cannot copy the file kqemu.sys” and won’t be able to proceed past step five.
Windows Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Run As Admin
  1. Click on the button labeled “Run the LiveUSB” in the bottom half of the window.
Windows Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Run Liveusb
  1. Choose the USB drive you want to test from the drop-down menu. In this case we’ve selected the “F:/ drive.” If you’re not sure what the drive letter is, check an Explorer window and locate the drive in the sidebar.
Windows Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Choose Usb Drive
  1. When asked to create a hard disk for your virtual machine, click “No” next to the red “x” icon.
Windows Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Dont Create Hard Disk 1
  1. The Qemu emulator will boot the USB drive. You’ll also see a command prompt appear with a little boot-up text. This means the virtual machine is attempting to boot from the drive you selected in the previous step.
Check Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Booting From Hard Disk
  1. If you see a booting screen next, it means your drive is bootable! Depending on what you’re trying to boot, there may be multiple boot options as shown below. Press Enter to boot or Tab to edit a menu entry.
Check Usb Bootable Mobalivecd Boot Options

If you get a message that the USB drive is not bootable, it doesn’t always mean that’s the case, as counterintuitive as it may sound. There is one last method you can try below.

Windows Usb Bootable Mobalivecd No Bootable Device

Using Magic ISO Maker to Test Disk Images

You can also use the (admittedly very old) freeware Magic ISO Maker to see whether a disk image is bootable. This actually works best on images, but it’s a good way to ensure an image is bootable before you burn it to a USB.

  1. Download Magic ISO Maker.
  2. Open the software and chose “Open” from the “File” menu.
Windows Usb Bootable Magicisomaker Open
  1. Choose your ISO file from the menu.
Windows Usb Bootable Magicisomaker Import 1
  1. Look in the menu bar. If it says “Bootable,” that ISO will be bootable once it’s burned to a CD or USB drive. If it doesn’t say bootable, it obviously won’t work to create bootable media.
Windows Usb Bootable Magicisomaker Bootable

Frequently Asked Questions

What format does USB have to be to remain bootable?

For Windows 10/11, the USB drive should not be in NTFS format, as it can’t boot from a USB device. FAT32 format should be used. However, if you’re diagnosing USB capabilities, NTFS can be used with Windows systems.

Is there a way to know if an ISO is bootable?

Yes. A service like PowerISO helps you determine whether an ISO is bootable. If you want to start over, we can show you how to format USB drives on Windows and format drives in FAT32 specifically, if required.

Image credit: Kaboompics via Pexels All screenshots by Sayak Boral

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