Create and use a Windows 11 Recovery USB drive

If Windows 11 boot problems prevent you from starting your PC, a recovery USB can be the difference between getting it to work properly or not.

Read on to learn how to create a Windows 11 recovery USB drive and what to do if you must use it. The instructions below also apply to older versions of the operating system, such as Windows 10.

What is a Windows 11 recovery USB drive?

Like its predecessors, Windows 11 is prone to startup errors that prevent it from loading. With a recovery USB, you can fix them by giving you access to the system recovery options in WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment)† If the disc contains your PC’s system data, you can also reinstall Windows 11 if your troubleshooting attempts fail.

A Windows 11 recovery USB drive does not contain personal files and apps. To be able to recover all data on your PC in the event of an operating system reinstallation, you must: activate File History or make regular backups of system images† You can also use dedicated . to use third-party backup software

If you want to go ahead and install a recovery USB drive, you’ll need a flash drive of adequate size: 16-32 GB if you want system files or 1 GB if you don’t. Your recovery USB drive is also attached to your computer, so make sure to create it before your computer is experiencing problems.

Create a Windows 11 recovery USB drive

To create a USB recovery drive, you need to use a built-in utility of Windows 11, the Recovery Drive Creator. It walks you through every step of the process and automatically copies the required files at the end. You will lose any existing data on the USB flash drive you want to use, so copy everything on it to your PC before you begin.

Remark: If you are backing up the system data on your PC to the recovery USB, a flash drive with at least 16 GB of storage should suffice. However, some Windows 11 systems may require a 32 GB drive. You can see the exact size in step five.

1. Select the To search button on the taskbar, type recovery disk in the search box and press Enter

2. Select Yes on the User account control dialogue.

3. Check the box next to Back up system files to the recovery drive if you want to include system files on the recovery drive. Then select Next one

4. Wait for the Recovery Drive Creator to finish preparing for the task ahead.

5. Select your flash drive under the Available drive(s) section. Make sure your flash drive has the available space. If you have multiple external drives connected, pay close attention while selecting to avoid accidental data loss.

6. Select To create to start the recovery drive creation process.

7. Wait for the Recovery Drive Creator to finish creating the recovery drive. If you set up the drive to record system data, the process can take up to an hour. In the meantime, feel free to keep working on your PC.

8. Select Finish once the recovery drive is ready.

9. Unplug the bootable USB drive from your PC. Keep it in a safe place for quick access in the event of an operating system failure.

Using a Windows 11 Recovery USB Drive

If Windows 11 repeatedly fails to load, your computer will automatically boot to the recovery partition. Compared to a recovery drive, the recovery partition offers additional troubleshooting options, such as the ability to boot Windows 11 in safe mode and reset the operating system while keeping your data intact.

Only use the recovery USB drive if the recovery partition is inaccessible or if the options do not work. In this case, connect the USB drive and perform a system reboot. Enter the one-time boot menu—press esc or F12 during the boot process and specify that you want to boot from removable media instead of the hard drive or SSD. Or change the boot order via BIOS or UEFI.

Once your PC boots to the recovery drive, you will need to choose a keyboard layout, eg. U.S-continue. You will then see a screen with options to Recover from a disk (only available if the disc contains your system data) and Resolving problems your computer.

Before recovering from the drive (which reinstalls Windows 11), you must select: Resolving problems and use the available system recovery tools to repair the operating system. Here’s what each advanced option does in short:

If none of the solutions work, go back to the previous screen and select Recover from a disk on the main screen to reinstall Windows 11.

Warning: If you reinstall Windows 11 now, you will lose all personal data on your PC unless you have a backup.

It pays to be safe

While you may never need your recovery USB drive, it pays to be safe. File corruption, disk errors, bugged operating system updates and other potential issues can always compromise the operating system.

For best results, copy your system files so that you can quickly reinstall the operating system if necessary. That way you avoid having to download Windows again or create installation media from scratch. Also, be sure to back up personal files regularly so you can restore them when things get ugly.

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