Most methods of reinstalling Windows, Ubuntu or recovery software require you to boot your device from USB. Here’s how to do it safely.
Booting your PC or laptop from a USB device sounds dramatic, but this is a necessary process in some situations.
This includes installing Windows 10 or using a cloning utility that does not run natively within Windows. Before you begin, there are three things that you need to make this process successful:
- Bootable USB stick.
- The laptop or PC is set to boot from a USB device
- Software that will run from a USB drive
How do I make my USB device bootable?
A PC or laptop won’t be able to start from a USB drive unless it’s formatted correctly and has the appropriate files and software that allow it to boot.
A common mistake is to copy the ISO file (containing the operating system) to a USB drive and assume this is all that is needed to boot and install Windows, Ubuntu or other operating systems. You need to use software that can write files to the drive and also make it bootable.
Several utilities can do this, including Rufus (which supports many operating systems) and Microsoft Media Creation Tool that you can use to legally download Windows and place it on a USB stick.
With Rufus, you need to be a little careful about the settings you use, but for the most part, you can simply click on the CD drive icon, select the ISO file and make sure that the ‘Make bootable disk using’ check box is checked.
These tools will give you a color that you will delete everything from your USB drive, so make sure you have copied all the files that you don’t want to lose before starting. You also have to download any software that is planned to be booted, be it Windows, Linux or others.
How do I boot from USB in the BIOS?
Many PCs and laptops are set to check the USB drive first before trying to boot from a CD, DVD or internal hard drive. But not everything is configured this way. You might find that plugging in your flash drive before pressing your computer’s power button doesn’t work: it just boots into Windows as usual or doesn’t do anything if you haven’t installed the operating system.
In this case, you need to:
- Turn on your computer and press Delete, F2, F10 or F11
- The BIOS will appear
- Use the cursor keys to navigate
- Find the Boot menu
- Change the order so that USB is at the top of the list
If there are no functional keys that enter the BIOS, look for a message on your monitor after pressing the computer’s power button. The message is usually at the bottom of the screen and says something like ‘Press F11 for boot options’.
Some PCs and laptops don’t show this, so you should check your manufacturer’s website to find out which keys to press or even your motherboard’s manual.
After entering the BIOS, look for a menu or option that allows you to view and change the boot device or boot priority. This will vary from BIOS to BIOS, but it’s usually quite clear.
Make sure you change the first boot option (# 1), because whatever is set there will be a device that tries first.
A small number of old PCs might not have the ability to boot from USB, but anything in the past decade has to have a choice. If you are still experiencing problems, check that the USB port has not been disabled in the BIOS. Different BIOSes work in different ways, but use the information on the screen to find out how to make a USB drive as the first boot device.
Remember that USB sticks may need to be plugged into a USB port so they can appear in the boot options list.
After you set everything up correctly, use the ‘Save & Exit’ option in the BIOS to save your changes and reboot the system (often this is the F10 key). Then your PC or laptop must boot from the USB drive when it restarts.