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7 things you can do with a Windows 10 USB recovery flash drive

We encourage you to create a recovery drive as soon as you install Windows 10 on a new PC. It can be a lifesaver when Windows 10 stops working and you cannot use your apps or access your files. What exactly can you do with it? How can it help you in your hour of need? It gives you tools and options to reset, restore or tinker with Windows 10 to bring it back to life. Here are the seven things you can do with a Windows 10 recovery drive:

How to start the recovery USB drive for Windows 10

To take advantage of the recovery USB drive, you first have to boot your system from the drive that you created. Insert the recovery USB drive into your PC and make sure that it boots from it during the next restart. When loaded, the recovery drive first shows the options for keyboard layout that you want to use. Find the language that you want to use for typing in the recovery environment, and click or tap on its name. If your keyboard layout is not shown on this first screen, go "See more keyboard layouts." For most people, the "US" layout works well, even if they are not English speakers.

Choose the keyboard layout used by the Windows 10 recovery drive

On the next screen select "Troubleshoot" to access all the recovery options.

Troubleshoot using the Windows 10 recovery drive

The tool is started, and we are ready to recover Windows 10. Next, let's see all the things you can do the recovery drive:

1. Use the recovery USB drive to reset Windows 10

The reset of Windows 10 deletes all your personal files and settings from the computer. There are two reasons to run the reset:

  • You want to get rid of all your files and changes to the settings in Windows 10. This is recommended as a drastic way to start fresh. It can improve the performance of Windows 10 if you have accumulated many system changes and your computer got slower.
  • You want to give your computer to someone else, and you want to protect your privacy. When performing the reset, your personal data and settings are not made available together with the PC.

On the Troubleshoot screen, choose "Recover from a drive."

Recovering Windows 10 from a drive

You are given two reset options:

  • "Just remove my files" - personal files are deleted, and the Windows 10 settings are reset to their defaults. However, your personal files can still be restored using a data recovery tool.
  • "Fully clean the drive" - makes sure that your data and settings are not available after you are done. The data is thoroughly deleted, and the common recovery tools are not able to restore it any longer. This is the best option to choose when you want complete privacy. However, the process takes a lot longer to perform.

Select the option that fits your needs.

Resetting Windows 10 from the recovery drive

Windows 10 runs a bit of preparation, and when it is ready, it presents you with the final confirmation of the resetting process. Click or tap "Recover" to start.

Resetting Windows 10 from the recovery drive

2. Use the recovery USB drive to restore Windows 10 to a previous state

Windows 10 creates restore points that allow you to roll back changes that make your system to malfunction. It is a good idea to create restore points on a regular basis and especially before any major hardware or software upgrades. When everything seems lost, a system restore can be a lifesaver and allows you to go back and restore from a bad driver, a botched Windows 10 update, or a nasty app. For more details, see What is System Restore and how to create a restore point in Windows.

On the Troubleshoot screen, select "Advanced options."

The Advanced options offered by the Windows 10 recovery drive

On the "Advanced options" screen, choose the "System Restore" option.

Accessing System Restore from the Windows 10 recovery drive

For the full procedure of working with system restore from a recovery drive, see Start System Restore when you cannot log into Windows.

3. Use the recovery USB drive to go back to a previous version of Windows 10

The downgrade of Windows 10 or, as Microsoft calls it, going back to a previous version, is available from the "Advanced options" screen. Click or tap "Go back to the previous version."

Going back to a previous Windows 10 version

The next screen asks you to confirm the operating system that you want to roll back. In our case, we have only Windows 10 installed, so we chose it.

Going back to an older version of Windows 10

On the next screen, you get a warning that you lose the apps and settings installed or modified since your last upgrade. Click or tap "Go back to the previous version" to start the process.

Going back to an older version of Windows 10

4. Use the recovery USB drive to replace Windows 10 and your data with a system image

Windows 10 can create an image of the entire partition where it is installed together with all the apps and personal files stored there. The system image is a full copy of the system partition and, in the backup file, there is no differentiation between the system and personal data. When you use the recovery drive to recover Windows 10 with a system image, all system and personal data are replaced with what was available at the moment of the backup. Any changes made since this backup are lost.

The system image recovery is accessed from the "Advanced options" screen, by clicking or taping "System Image Recovery."

Using System Image Recovery from a Windows 10 recovery drive

On the following screen, select the operating system that you want to be restored. This launches the system image restoration app where you complete the recovery.

5. Use the recovery USB drive to repair your Windows 10 startup

When Windows 10 has problems starting up, you can fix them from the recovery drive. To repair the startup, in the "Advanced options" screen of the recovery drive, choose "Startup Repair."

Startup Repair using the Windows 10 recovery drive

In the following screen, select the operating system that you want to be restored. The troubleshooting program of Windows 10 runs for a few minutes showing the Diagnosing screen below.

Diagnosing your PC using the Windows 10 recovery drive

When it is done, it presents you with the repair options identified for your system. If it is not able to identify problems and fixes, it offers you the option to go back to the recovery tool.

6. Use the recovery USB drive to launch the Command Prompt

The launch of the Command Prompt from the recovery drive, in the "Advanced options" screen, click or tap "Command Prompt."

Starting the Command Prompt from the Windows 10 recovery drive

The Command Prompt window shows up, and you can start typing commands. When you are done, type the command "Exit" to go back to the Recovery tool.

The Command Prompt from the Windows 10 recovery drive

7. Use the recovery USB drive to access the BIOS or UEFI firmware settings

Making changes in the UEFI firmware or the BIOS of your Windows 10 PC or device can be necessary to make the system usable again. The recovery drive offers a way to access the UEFI or BIOS. In the "Advanced options" screen, click or tap "UEFI Firmware Settings."

Accessing the UEFI Firmware Settings using the Windows 10 recovery drive

Next, click or tap Restart to start the process.

Restart to change UEFI Firmware settings using the Windows 10 recovery drive

After the restart, your PC or device loads the BIOS or UEFI settings where you can make changes.

Did you fix your problems with Windows 10?

The Windows 10 recovery drive is an essential tool for the troubleshooting of a system with crashes and problems. When Windows 10 fails to start or work correctly, the recovery drive gives you options to fix your problems. Try it out, see how it works, and let us know about your experience with the Windows 10 recovery drive. Did it manage to help you fix your problems with Windows 10?