Booting from a USB stick is a common step in many recovery guides. This knowledgebase article covers the basics of troubleshooting the most common problems booting from a USB stick, a USB drive, or flash drive.

Troubleshooting Boot from USB

If you’re unable to get your PC to start from a correctly-created bootable USB, even after following our guide on booting from USB drives, it could be any one of many things. This guide will help you figure it out and start your PC from the external recovery media.

Make sure the USB really is bootable

The default for any USB drive is to not be bootable. Your PC is designed to automatically move on to a different boot device, so if your USB stick isn’t actually bootable, you will not get any warning or message when you plug it into your PC and try to start up from it.

It’s important to create the bootable USB. This is a very important point that bears repeating: simply copying a recovery ISO image or file to a USB does not work.

Bootable USBs are very different from the normal USB drives you use to save or transfer files from PC to PC. The normal method of creating a USB by dragging-and-dropping or copy-and-pasting files to a formatted USB drive is insufficient to create a bootable USB. If you did not obtain a physical copy of the bootable USB from a store or in the mail, you will likely need to convert an ISO file into a bootable USB by burning an ISO image of the data on to the drive, instead of the file/data itself.

Our knowledgebase contains guides on creating a bootable USB from an ISO image using free products like Easy USB Creator or via EasyBCD – the Easy USB Creator instructions are the most compatible and most recommended. (Easy USB Creator is 100% free for use with recovery software.) The instructions must be followed very closely, and it is essential that you do not open the ISO file (the file you likely downloaded containing the recovery program) directly — instead, download and install the USB burning software you plan to use (Easy USB Creator or EasyBCD) and use that application to browse for and open the ISO file you have downloaded.

[warn]Do not double-click or otherwise directly open the ISO file you downloaded, as that will not give you the results you are looking for![/warn]

Make sure the PC is set to boot from the USB Drive

Most laptops and PCs are not configured to attempt to boot from the USB drive by default. You must manually take action when your PC first powers up to have it start the system from the USB flash drive inserted into the PC. Refer to the instructions on setting up your PC to boot from USB.

Make sure the USB is formatted as FAT32 and not NTFS!

Many programs cannot be booted from USBs that are not formatted as FAT32, but about half of USBs are initially formatted as NTFS in our findings. Make sure that your USB is using FAT32, and format it to FAT32 in case it isn’t.

Are you on Windows 8/10 or an EFI/UEFI PC?

Newer Windows PCs and laptops use something called UEFI/EFI that can interfere with booting from recovery CDs and USBs. Have a look at the instructions on enabling Legacy Boot and disabling Secure Boot to make sure your PC or laptop is configured to support booting from recovery CDs, DVDs, and USB sticks.

Don’t unzip the ISO image!

If you download what appears to be a WinZip or WinRAR file, a folder, or a compressed archive of sorts do not extract or unzip the contents! The file you downloaded is an ISO image, and depending on how your PC is configured, it may appear like a ZIP file of sorts, but it most definitely is not. Follow the instructions on burning with Easy USB Creator instead, and instead of opening the download file directly by double-clicking on it, launch the USB Creator and use the “browse” feature to locate and select the ISO image you downloaded!

Don’t directly open the downloaded ISO image

Follow the instructions on burning with Easy USB Creator or with EasyBCD instead, and instead of opening the download file directly by double-clicking on it, launch the software and use the “browse” feature to locate and select the ISO image you downloaded!

Test the USB on another PC

The best way of checking if the problem is with your PC’s configuration or with the USB stick you’re trying to boot from is to try using the USB in another PC that has a clear and obvious “boot selection menu” button.

Test the PC with another USB

If you have any other guaranteed-bootable USBs lying around, such as the original Windows setup USB or your PC’s restore USB, try booting your PC from them. This will tell you if the problem is with your PC or with the USB you are trying to create.

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