How to Create a Windows 8 Recovery USB Flash Drive in 5 minutes

A recovery USB drive is the modern equivalent of a system repair disk.

If you mess up your Windows 8 installation then you need a means of getting back into the operating system; without a recovery drive your only option might be to completely restore the system from scratch; let’s hope you had everything backed up.

Windows 8 makes it really easy to create a USB recovery drive.  In fact, it’s so easy that I’m going to show you how to pull it off in less than five minutes.

Before we get started I need to make you aware of two things:

  1. The Recovery Wizard formats your USB Drive
  2. The USB Drive is bit specific

The USB Drive Gets Nuked

The entire USB drive is sacrificed for the boot specific files that the Recovery wizard puts on there.  Even though the recovery files consume less than 256MB of space, the recovery wizard has to reformat the drive.  All files on the USB stick will be irrevocably fried.

The USB Drive is bit Specific

If you create the recovery USB drive on a 64 bit Windows 8 system you can’t use it to boot to a 32 bit Windows 8 computer, or vice versa.  Usually, this isn’t a problem because most people will use the recovery drive to boot to the computer they created the drive from; however, you might not be able to use it with a friends PC.  It’s contingent on whether the user has a 32 bit or 64 bit system; fortunately, it’s really easy to find out the bit version of Windows 8.

Creating the USB Recovery Drive

1. On the Start Screen, press Windows Key + w, start typing “recovery drive” then press enter.

Launch Windows 8 Recovery Drive Wizard from the Start Screen

2. The USB recovery wizard appears.  Insert a USB drive with a capacity of at least 256MB.  Remember everything will be erased.  Click Next on the Recovery Wizard.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Wizard

3. The Wizard scans for USB drives.  Pick the one you want then click Next.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Wizard Select Drive

4. Windows warns you that your USB drive is about to get nuked.  Confirm you’re okay with that by clicking Create.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Wizard Create Drive

Wait for it…

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Wizard Creating Drive

5. You’re done!

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Wizard Finished

Booting with the USB Recovery Drive

Now in the event of an emergency all you have to do is stick the drive into your USB port and power up your computer.  The BIOS should automatically detect the USB drive and display a keyboard layout screen.  If your don’t see this screen then your BIOS probably isn’t recognizing the USB device.

Depending on your system, you may have to press F2, Del, or F12 to enter the BIOS and change the boot order.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Boot Screen
After you pick the layout language you’ll see the Boot Option screen.  From here, you can either continue on to Windows 8 normally, turn off your PC or if you have another OS on your computer, you can use that one.

The real power of this Boot Option screen stems from the mighty Troubleshoot button in the bottom left corner.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Boot Screen Options

Clicking Troubleshoot opens up a toolbox of help.

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Boot Screen Option Troubleshoot

You can Reset your PC, which is the same thing as reformatting and losing everything, or you can take the less drastic Refresh option which basically re-installs Windows 8 on top of itself.

If you have to start over, I highly recommend using Refresh over Reset.  Refresh works most of time; therefore, only in rare cases where you computer is completely flubbed should you use a Reset.

Let’s look at Advanced options

Windows 8 USB Recovery Drive Boot Screen Advanced Options

This is where all the magic happens.

System Restore

System Restore returns your PC to an earlier snapshot in time.

Windows periodically captures the state of your system so it can rollback in the event of failure.  It usually does this before applying major updates.  But this is the thing: in my experience System Restore doesn’t work very well, in fact, I’ve never successfully resolved a technical problem by using System Restore.  Besides, Microsoft wants people to use File History instead of System Restore so I wouldn’t really count on System Restore .

System Image Recovery

System Image Recovery only works if you have a system image.

Fine, I know that sounds like common sense but it wasn’t obvious to me.

A system image is an exact replica of your system including all files, settings, and preferences.  If your hard drive croaks and you brought a new one, you could boot to your USB drive, click System Image Recovery and Windows 8 will attempt to boot your computer using an existing image.  It’s great, but you need to create a system image before you can actually benefit from this tool.

To proactively create an image before calamity strikes you need to press Windows Key + w from the Start Screen and type create a system image.

Automatic Repair

Usually Automatic Repair launches by itself whenever it detects that the computer was shut down abruptly.  This is a good tool to use if you have corrupt drivers or system files.  It can also automatically fix corrupt registry keys, bad partition tables and failed updates.

Command Prompt

Sometimes all you need is the command line interface.

The Bottom Line

Create a recovery USB drive before disaster strikes.  It only takes a few minutes but will save you hours of frustration.  Booting to the recovery USB stick gives you access to numerous tools that will help get your system running again.


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