How to Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive and Why You Should

Are you worried about Windows 10’s system files becoming corrupted? From viruses to simple accidents, damage to the operating system can prevent a PC from booting into Windows 10 whatsoever. To help repair any damage that does occur, Windows comes with the ability to create a USB recovery drive. Then, if your operating system does become corrupted, you can plug in this recovery drive and boot into it. This will then give you a menu with several options you can use to help bring Windows back to life.

As such, a recovery drive is nice to have on-hand for when your PC runs into an issue. Unfortunately, it’s not immediately obvious how to make one, when you should, or what you need for it. This article will cover these three topics so you can create your own recovery drive easily within Windows 10.

Given its name, you’ve probably already guessed that a USB recovery drive requires a USB drive to run from. In order to make a recovery drive, Windows 10 will need to wipe a USB drive of its data, so you’ll need a memory stick that you’re not actively using. As far as how much memory the memory stick needs to have, it can vary from computer to computer. 32-bit drives will need less room than a 64-bit one, for instance. In general, if you own a memory stick that has 16GB of storage or more, that should be enough to create a recovery drive.

If you don’t own a memory stick and you’re considering purchasing one to create a dedicated recovery drive, don’t buy one just yet! You can follow the steps below, and Windows will tell you how much space you need to create a recovery drive for your computer. Then you can purchase a stick that fits what Windows is asking for.

There’s a very easy answer to this; the best time is right now!

There’s no disadvantage to creating a recovery disk ahead of time. As such, it’s always ideal to make it as soon as you possibly can. That way, if your computer does become corrupted, you’ll have a drive ready and waiting to deal with the problem.

What If My PC Is Running Fine?

You may find it a bit odd to create a recovery drive when your computer is currently working perfectly. Couldn’t you just make the drive after the PC has been corrupted instead?

Unfortunately, the easiest way to create a recovery drive is by using your own copy of Windows 10. In order to do this, you need to be able to boot into Windows 10 so you can tell it to create a drive. If you wait until your copy of Windows 10 becomes corrupt, you can’t boot into it in order to make the drive. Therefore, it’s best to create it before Windows 10 encounters any problems.

Are There Other Ways?

Sometimes you’ll have a corrupt OS and no recovery drive to fix it. While using your own OS to make a recovery drive is the easiest way, it’s definitely not the only one. For instance, you can reinstall Windows 10 using installation media which you can create using Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool. You can also use a different computer running Windows 10 to create a recovery drive, then use it on your own to repair it. Just make sure the computer you use to create the drive shares the same system type (32- or 64-bit) as your own.

If you want to create a recovery drive on a working copy of Windows 10, just follow these steps.

First, access Windows 10’s search feature. You can do this by right-clicking the Start button and clicking Search.

recovery-drive-win-10-search

In the search box type “Recovery Drive.” When an option called “Create a recovery drive” appears, click it.

recovery-drive-win-10-select

A window will pop up telling you that it’s about to set up a recovery drive.

recovery-drive-win-10-create

There’s a somewhat cryptic check-box on this page called “Back up system files to the recovery drive.” If you tick this box, it will allow you to reinstall Windows via the recovery drive if something goes wrong, which is highly useful. It’ll require more storage space to create a system backup, but it’s definitely worth doing if you can.

recovery-drive-win-10-size

When you click Next, Windows will take some time to calculate how much space is needed. When it’s finished, it will tell you the space needed to make the recovery drive. If you’re looking to purchase a memory stick as a recovery drive, use the information on this page to gauge how big a memory stick you’ll need to buy. If you have a drive on-hand that fits what Windows asks for, plug it in now.

Remember that creating a recovery drive wipes all data on the stick! Check your memory stick for any crucial files before creating a recovery drive.

Once you plug the memory stick in and click next, it’ll take some time to format your new drive. Once done, you can use it to boot into and access special reparative actions.

Making a recovery drive for Windows 10 is both simple to do and highly useful for future hiccups. Now you know how to make one, when you should, and what you need in order to create one.

Has a recovery drive ever saved a computer for you? Let us know below.

19 comments

  1. Is this recovery drive useful in case of hard disk defekt – bad sectors and limited access to it?

    • Hi Illyan,

      If you’re seeing bad sectors on your hard drive, it’s probably better to run Check Disk on your Windows machine than use a recovery drive. The recovery drive is more for repairing Windows if you’re unable to boot into it for some reason.

      If you want to learn about how to perform Check Disk to recover data from bad sectors, we wrote about it here at #1: https://www.maketecheasier.com/check-hard-disk-health-windows/

      Hope this helps!

  2. I’ve never read a clear explanation on how Microsoft allows one to recover from a backup drive. Assuming the PC that crashed is now a piece of useless junk, how does MS know and control the new PC you are recovering to is not violating their license? I would never do that, but am curious what is to prevent someone from making multiple copies to many PCs once the image copy is made?

    • Hi Dan,

      The kind of crashes a Windows Recovery Drive helps repair is an OS one, rather than a hardware one. You’re right that if something like the hard drive, processor, or motherboard faulted, the entire PC would be unusable. When Windows becomes corrupt, however, it’s more of a software fault. The hardware in the PC is still perfectly fine, but files vital for Windows to work properly have become damaged and needs repairing.

      If software on your PC becomes corrupted, you can re-install it to ‘refresh’ its data and make it usable again. If you imagine Windows as like a giant piece of software, you can make a corrupted copy of Windows work again by simply reinstalling it and repairing the files. That’s what the Recovery Drive aims to do — fix the files in Windows that were damaged so the PC can boot properly.

      As far as making multiple copies of Windows goes, you CAN install Windows on as many PCs as you like, but each copy of Windows will ask you for a license key. To validate the key you give it, Windows has to ‘talk’ to Microsoft, either over the internet or by you phoning Microsoft directly and telling them details Windows gives you. This means Microsoft keeps track of every attempt you make at validating a copy of Windows, so they can control it when someone tries to abuse a license by installing it on too many PCs.

      If you install Windows on PC A and validate it, you can use the image copy to install Windows to PC B — this is fine. PC B, however, will ask you for a key, and if you input the one you used for PC A, Microsoft will tell you the key is already being used by PC A, and that you need to buy a new one for PC B. This stops people from using a Windows license across as many PCs as they like.

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi Simon,
        Thanks for your detailed explanation to my recovery question.
        I am, however, still a bit unclear whether MS will prevent me from installing on dissimilar hardware; i.e., suppose my PC gets totally fried and I play by the rules and attempt to reinstall the OS (from the fried PC) on 1 and only 1 PC whose hardware configuration is totally different. I don’t see why MS should care since their license is not being abused, but I recently got a BSoD when I tried to do so. I’m not clear whether it was my restore software (Macrium Reflect) in error or MS preventing me from doing so. If so, am I supposed to telephone MS for fix ?!?
        Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
        Dan

        • Hi Dan,

          In your example where PC A is fried beyond repair and you remedy the situation by installing Windows on PC B, it’s a little complicated. Yes, you’re not abusing Microsoft’s license, as you’re only using it on one PC. However, Microsoft won’t know that PC A has died, so they’ll believe you’re potentially abusing the license. All they’ll see is an activation on PC A, then an attempt to activate the same license on PC B, to which they might have a problem with. If you contact Microsoft and let them know that PC A has died, they’ll remove the license from PC A (which is fine — it’s dead, anyway!) and allow you to attach it to PC B.

          Although, I’m not entirely sure that a licensing error will cause your computer to bluescreen. That’s usually due to bad system files, drivers, or hardware issues. When your computer crashes, you should see an error code and (sometimes) the file causing the crashes. You can use this information to contact Microsoft or search yourself online for to see what exactly is causing your BSoDs.

          • Hi Simon,
            Your explanation is consistent with what I’ve read in PC articles over the years – I was hoping that MS had come up with a more seamless way to get up and running, but apparently not. You wouldn’t happen to know the ‘phone number/email address’ for the appropriate department within the MS behemoth, would you?
            BTW, upon contacting Macrium Reflect they verified the BSoD displayed upon the restore was almost assuredly caused by missing drivers.
            Thanks again for your detailed followup!
            Dan

  3. What’s the difference between a recovery and a shadow copy.. Is the shadow a better choice where it makes a shadow copy of everything and what would be that process and space needed. Also I have a computer that I can’t access anything [except msn].. not any embedded programs or even my usb hubs [never tried the cd/dvd].. Should copying to a DVD be better if something like what I’m experiencing happens?

    • A Shadow Copy only works if your computer is working. It will backup multiple copies (depending on size) of what you tell it to. This is only good if you can get on the computer.

  4. Hi
    A great article, I will definitely be making a recovery drive as soon as possible.
    However, I have a question which you will no doubt consider simple. Can you explain how I actually use the USB to recover my system in the event of a crash?
    Thanks

    • Hi Steve,

      You know how your operating system is installed on your hard drive? When you start up your computer, it talks to the hard drive and gets all the boot files it needs to successfully boot into the operating system. When you create a USB recovery drive, it contains boot files that tell the computer that it should boot and load the recovery program. If your computer sees the USB recovery drive while starting up, it’ll boot into the recovery drive instead of the damaged copy of Windows — hence, how you can boot into the USB even though your copy of Windows is corrupted.

      To boot into a USB, you’ll need to access the computer’s boot menu. Accessing this menu varies from computer to computer, so you’ll need to look at your computer’s manual or enter your computer/motherboard model number into your favourite search engine to find out how to do that. Once you discover how to do it, you can use the boot menu to tell the computer to load from the USB drive rather than the hard drive while booting up. This will then load the recovery drive instead of the corrupted copy of Windows.

      Even better, some computers allow you to set a ‘boot order’ where your computer looks at different areas until it finds boot files to load. My PC is set up so that it always looks at the USB ports first, and if it finds nothing, it’ll use the hard drive instead. That way, if I want to boot via USB, all I have to do is plug the USB drive in and let the computer do the rest!

  5. Hi Brian,
    Thanks for your reply, I am now much clearer. Have just finished creating recovery drive with no problems.
    Again Thanks
    Steve

  6. I would have liked to create a recovery drive with system files, however, when I initially checked the amount of space needed it said 8 gigs and I ordered an 8 gig stick. When I attempted to copy the recovery and system info on the drive it said there was not enough space. When I unchecked the box saying copy system files, it worked. Wish I had known that before I ordered two sticks. Also, how do I determine how much space is needed on the stick, would hate to waste more money on one I do not need.

  7. Hello Simon,

    Does creating a restore drive, with system settings included, reflect the current Windows 10 build at the time it is created or the original W10 build installed on the system?

    I have a new Acer Aspire T preinstalled with W10, but Windows Update apparently automatically installed a new build overnight, without me knowing, and thus created the Windows.old and [hidden] $WINDOWS~BT folders (among other changes). I wanted to create a Recovery Drive from a fresh, out-of-the-box status, but now I feel as though it would be ‘dirtied’ and ‘bloated’ (Program Data has been hugely propagated with new folders now). I have read that things such as Windows Store Components, installed drivers, backups of preinstalled windows apps, provisioning packages containing customization under c:Recoverycustomizations (which has now apparently/possibly been moved to Windows.old and gutted (i.e. the Recovery folder there appears to be empty)), and also Push-button Reset configuration XML as well as scripts supposedly under c:recoveryOEM (which also does not exist as of now). However, I do have a [hidden] OEM folder and a file within named Recovery, both of which seem to be unaltered. Nevertheless, all of this info would lead me to believe that a Restore Drive would reflect the Windows build and other nuances at the time it was created and not the original configuration that the PC came with (including the original Intel integrated Graphic Driver that seems to have been updated as well… in a separate [hidden] Intel root folder on c:).

    To make this more complicated, I am unclear as to weather the Windows.old and [hidden] $WINDOWS~BT folder are necessary for the PC Reset to return everything to the OEM status and whether those folders will be overwritten upon subsequent Windows System updates, thus preventing me from returning, in the future, to the original condition of my new PC.

    Ultimately, I feel as though I am left with the solution option of Returning To An Earlier Build, and then creating a ‘clean’ Recovery Drive, and then reinstalling the Windows Build Update… all of which will take more time than I’d like… and makes me nervous. Or, which I am hoping and crossing my fingers for, you will explain to me that none of this will matter – that creating a Restore Drive now and that future Windows updates would not prevent PC Reset from returning to that pristine out-of-the-box status (hardware failures and personal data backups aside).

    Sorry for such a hefty question! I’ve done two days of research specifically on this and can’t quite get a straight answer. (Too bad I didn’t know Windows Updates were more or less mandatory now… sure could have avoided a lot of frustration and research time if I was able to create a Recovery Drive right off the bat.)

    Thank you so much in advance for any insights you could offer,

    KP

    • Hi Kristopher,

      That sounds like a real problem! The recovery drive only copies the system files on your system (it’s stated in the checkbox we tick before we start the recovery drive setup). As such, it’ll should act like a full factory reset should you decide to use it in the future, so the Windows Updates won’t carry over. This does mean that there’s a good chance you’ll lose the ability to revert the reset should you want to go back. It also means that drivers and software that came pre-installed might be lost in the reinstall. After you reset, Windows Updates will want to update the OS back to its newest build, which might prove to be an issue.

      If you’re worried about creating a bad recovery drive, you can easily do the above steps on another Windows 10 PC that shares the same system type as yours (32 or 64 bit). That way you can create a drive from a “cleaner” source. You can also use a Windows 10 installation disk if you have one, or use the Media Creation Tool linked in the article to make your own disk and use that.

      Hope this helps!

  8. It seems to take 3 hours on my laptop. It may be that you have to enable data to be sent to MS for it to go at a reasonable speed.

  9. Simon:
    Once the USB Recovery Drive is created, how can I know that it was created successfully and that it will actually work should I need it in the future? Is there a list of folders/files that should show in Explorer when the drive is open? I see folders with the following names: boot, efi, sources. Boot and efi have about 14 Mb each and sources is about 7.5 Gb.

    I ask this because I got error messages that Windows was unsuccessful in creating the recovery drive during my first three attempts. At the advice of a blogger online, I shut down, plugged in the USB stick and then started the computer fresh. This time it seemed to create the recovery drive successfully, but there was never a message at the end that said it was created successfully with a “finish” box like I am used to seeing with other similar Windows operations.

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