How to boot from USB: create a bootable flash drive
A USB device is useful for a lot of scenarios, but booting a PC or laptop from it? It looks like a step too far.
However, this is actually a necessary step in many situations. Whether you’re reinstalling Windows 11 or 10, or using hard drive cloning software, this is the easiest way.
Before you get started, there are three things you will need to make the process work:
- bootable flash drive.
- laptop or PC configured to boot from USB devices
- Software that will run from a USB stick
How to make a USB device bootable
A PC or laptop will not be able to start from a USB drive unless it is properly formatted and has the proper files and software that allow it to boot.
A common mistake is copying the ISO file (containing the operating system) to a USB stick and assuming that’s all it takes to download and install Windows or any other operating system. First, you need to use software that can write files to disk and make it bootable.
Several utilities can do this, including Rufus (which supports many operating systems) and Microsoft’s own Media Creation Tool, which you can use to legally download Windows 10 or Windows 11 and place it on a USB drive.
With Rufus, you need to be a little careful with the settings you use, but for the most part, you just click on the CD drive icon, select the ISO file, and make sure “Create a bootable disk using” is checked.
These tools will warn you that they will delete everything from your USB drive, so make sure you back up any files you don’t want to lose before running them. You also need to download whatever software you plan on booting from, be it Windows, Linux, or whatever.
How boot from usb in bios?
Many PCs and laptops are set up to check for the presence of a USB drive before attempting to boot from a CD, DVD, or internal hard drive. But not everyone is set up this way. You may find that plugging in a flash drive before pressing the computer’s power button doesn’t work: it just loads Windows normally, or does nothing if you don’t already have an operating system installed.
In this case, you need:
- Turn on your computer and click Delete, F2, F10 or F11 (it depends on the device) to enter the BIOS
- Use the arrow keys to find the “Download” menu or something similar
- Change the order so that USB is at the top of the list as boot priority number one.
If none of these keys work to enter the BIOS, look for a message on the monitor after you press 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’ll have to visit the manufacturer’s website to find out which key to press, or even the motherboard manual.
Once in the BIOS, look for a menu or option that allows you to see and change boot devices or boot priority. This will vary from BIOS to BIOS, but it’s usually fairly obvious.
Make sure you change the first (#1) boot option, as whatever is set there will be the device that will be tried first.
A small number of older PCs may not have USB boot capability, but anything released in the last decade or so should have that capability. If you’re still having issues, make sure the USB ports aren’t disabled in the BIOS. Different BIOSes work differently, but it should be easy enough to figure out how to make a USB stick the first boot device.
Be aware that a USB drive may need to be inserted into a USB port in order for it to appear in the list of boot options.
Once you have everything set up correctly, use the “Save and Exit” option in the BIOS to save the changes and reboot the system (often the F10 key). Your PC or laptop should then boot from the USB drive on reboot.