Booting your PC or laptop from a USB device sounds impressive, but it’s a necessary process in some cases.
These include installing Windows 10 or using a copy utility that doesn’t run in Windows. Before you get started, there are three things you need for the process to work:
- a bootable USB stick.
- laptop or PC set up to boot from a USB device
- The software will run from the USB drive
How do I make my USB device bootable?
A PC or laptop will not be able to boot from a USB drive unless it is properly formatted and has the appropriate files and software on it to allow it to boot.
A common mistake is to copy the ISO file (containing the operating system) onto a USB drive and assume that this is all it takes for it to boot and install Windows, Ubuntu, or another operating system. You need to use software that can write files to the drive and also boot it.
Several utilities can do this, including Rufus (supports multiple operating systems) and Microsoft’s own Media Creation Tool that you can use to legally download Windows and place it to the USB stick.
With Rufus, you need to be a bit careful about the settings you use, but for the most part, you just have to click the CD drive icon, select the ISO file, and make sure the ‘Create a bootable disc using’ box is selected.
These tools will warn you that they will erase everything from your USB drive, so make sure you have copied any files you don’t want to lose before you begin. You’ll also need to download whatever software you plan to boot from, be it Windows, Linux, or something else.
How do i boot from USB in BIOS?
Many PCs and laptops are set up to check a USB drive before attempting to boot from a CD, DVD, or internal hard drive. But not all are configured this way. You may find that plugging in the flash drive before pressing your computer’s power button doesn’t work: it just boots into Windows as usual, or doesn’t work at all if you don’t have the operating system installed.
In this case you need:
- Turn on your computer and press Delete, F2, F10 or F11
- BIOS will appear
- Use the cursor keys to navigate
- Find the Boot menu
- Change the order to USB at the top of the list
If none of those keys work to enter the BIOS, notice the message on your screen after pressing your 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 check the manufacturer’s website to find which keys to press or even your motherboard’s manual.
Once in the BIOS, look for a menu or an option that allows you to view and change the boot device or boot priority. This will vary between BIOSes, but it’s usually pretty obvious.
Make sure you change the boot option first (#1), as whatever is set up will have the device tested first.
A handful of older computers may not be able to boot from USB, but anything from the past decade should have this option. If you still have problems, check if the USB ports are disabled in the BIOS. Different BIOSes work in different ways, but use the information on the screen to figure out how to make the USB drive the first boot device.
Keep in mind that the USB stick may need to be plugged into a USB port for it to appear in the list of boot options.
Once you have everything set up correctly, use the ‘Save & Exit’ option in the BIOS to save your changes and reboot the system (usually this is the F10 key). Then your PC or laptop will boot from the USB drive when it reboots.
You may want to read our guide that explains how to build a PC
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