Booting your computer from USB
Now that we have created a Windows 8 or 10 recovery drive, we will need some way of starting the computer and “booting” from this drive. When people talk about booting a computer, they don’t mean kicking it. Booting is the name given to the process of loading the first program on your computer after you turn it on. The name is something of a pun, invented by early computer engineers. As you’re probably aware, you start most programs on your computer by using another program. For instance, you use Windows itself to run Microsoft Word or Solitaire. How can you run a program if there’s no other program running with which to start it? One engineer likened it to trying to “pull yourself up using your boot straps” and this was eventually shortened to “Booting”.
Normally when you start or boot your computer, it loads Windows from the computers hard drive or internal storage device. If you want to reinstall Windows, we need to re-direct the computer to start from USB (or optical media) instead. If you have an older PC (typically from around 2010 or earlier) you may need to follow this tutorial, which explains how you can re-configure your computers BIOS. For those of us on more recent machines however, there’s an easier option.
Booting with the boot menu
The easiest way to make your computer boot from a USB device rather than the internal hard disk is to use the boot menu. Accessing this menu is usually as easy as pressing the correct key at startup. If you’re lucky, the computer should tell you which key to press, on many machines it is F12. For example, the Dell PC in the screenshot below displays F12 as the boot menu key. You can see this in the top right hand corner of the image (click on the image to enlarge it).
Not all Dell computers use F12 though, on some machines it is F11, like on this Dell PowerEdge (click on the picture to enlarge it and look in the top right corner).
Some computers (particularly those manufactured by HP), use the Escape key instead.
Not every machine will tell you which key to press either. If it does not, you might just need to experiment. If that doesn’t help, try contacting your manufacturer or, if your PC was custom built, checking the documentation for your computers motherboard.
What if your PC doesn’t have a keyboard? You may find that one of the buttons on the device activates the boot menu. For example, on our Dell Venue tablet PC, pressing the volume up button at boot time made the boot menu appear. Since most tablets have at least one USB port, you may need to connect a USB keyboard to access the boot menu. If you only have one USB port and need to connect both a USB drive and a keyboard, then you must purchase a USB hub from your favourite computer retailer. These devices will let you connect several USB devices to the same USB port.
Once you have figured out which key to press to access the boot menu, then it is simply a matter of selecting your USB device from the menu that then appears. The picture below shows the boot menu on our Dell tablet (click on the picture to enlarge it).
If you click on the picture you should be able to make out that the attached USB device has been selected for booting. We don’t have a keyboard attached to the tablet, but on this particular model you can cycle through options on the boot menu using the volume down button and select an option using the volume up button.
Once you select your USB stick it should start and you can proceed to reinstall or repair Windows. If your computer will not start from USB, go back to the previous tutorial and check that you carried out the media creation procedure correctly. If your PC still won’t boot, you may then need to contact your manufacturer or an IT professional in order to troubleshoot the problem.
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