How To: Create Bootable USB, Windows 10

In this how-to guide we’ll run through how to create a bootable flash drive with Windows 10 installation files on it. This will allow you to perform a Windows installation on any computer using the created USB stick.

 

Why Is This Useful and When Would You Use It?

If your computer doesn’t have an optical drive, then installing programs from a flash drive USB stick is your main alternative.

When would you need to use this method? Whenever you want to install Windows 10 to a computer via a USB flash drive, particularly if you already have a licence key.

New Windows 10 licences can be purchased with the option of getting a USB stick shipped to you – which is essentially the same as the USB we’ll be creating in this tutorial.

If you haven’t yet got a Windows 10 licence, you may just want to purchase one that comes complete with a USB flash drive preloaded with the Windows 10 install files.

When building a new PC the hard drive you install will not include an installation of Windows. You’ll need to install Windows from a bootable DVD or USB flash drive before you can start using your newly built PC.

Since many new PCs don’t include an optical drive (DVD/Blu-ray) we’ll focus on the USB flash drive method here.

 

 

What You’ll Need

1. The “Windows 10 Media Creation Tool” from Microsoft (free)

This Windows 10 Installation Media Tool has been created by Microsoft to streamline the bootable USB flash drive creation process, which will allow you to install Windows 10 to any computer via a USB stick.

Windows10-installation-media-tool

The tool has a simple wizard interface and will download the Windows installation files and copy them onto a USB Flash device of your choice. As part of the process the tool will also make the USB flash drive “bootable” – this means that a computer with no operating system installed can use the USB flash drive as it’s boot disk to load the installation files.

In previous versions of Windows, this process was something that had to be done with a 3rd party program.

2. A USB Flash drive

You’ll need an empty USB flash drive to put the Windows 10 boot installation onto. This needs to be at least 3GB or larger in size to fit the Windows installation files on it.

USB sticks are very affordable these days if you don’t have one lying around; this 16GB stick can be had for under $10.

Make sure you’re willing to part with any files on the flash drive before you run the Media Creation Tool, as this will wipe any files on the drive so that it can be used as a dedicated drive purely for the Windows 10 boot installation.

You can always delete the Windows 10 installation files off the flash drive later though.

3. Access to a separate PC that already has Windows installed

To run the above “Media Creation Tool” and create your bootable Windows 10 flash drive, you’ll need access to a Windows PC.

If you’re just upgrading or reinstalling Windows you could follow this process on your own PC before upgrading to Windows 10. Otherwise, use a laptop or friend’s PC for this process.

4. A suitable internet connection

Part of the process involves downloading the Windows 10 installation files from Microsoft which is then installed on your selected USB flash drive. This is a fairly large download size of several Gigabytes so make sure your internet plan has enough download quota.

 

How to Steps

Step 1

Download the “Media Creation Tool” from Microsoft. 

Go to https://www.microsoft.com/en-au/software-download/windows10 and click the “Download tool now” button.

Windows-10-media-creation-tool-download

Alternatively, try this direct link to the tool:

http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=691209

Step 2

Choose the option to “Create installation media for another PC”.

Windows-10-media-creation 

Step 3

Select your language. 

This is the language of the installation media. I’ve had reports of the English (United Kingdom) option throwing errors during the media creation process with a generic “Something Happened” error. Try the English (United States) option if you see such errors.

Select the Edition of Windows for which you have a licence.

If you’re unsure choose “Windows 10 Home”. You’ll get a 60 day trial and can upgrade to Pro later if required.

Possible options here include:

  • Window 10 Home
  • Window 10 Home N
  • Window 10 Home Single Lang
  • Windows 10 Pro
  • Windows 10 Pro N

 

Select the architecture which you plan on using for your system.

The selection you make here will dictate which options you have when running the Windows installation later.

Possible options here include:

  • 32-bit (x86)
  • 64-bit (x64)
  • Both

You’ll almost always want x64. You could chose “Both” but your download size will be larger.

Windows-10-media-architecture-settings

Step 4

Choose “USB flash drive”. 

As stated by the tool, you could download an ISO file and burn it to a DVD if you like but that’s outside the scope of this guide.

Windows-10-media-creation-media-choice

Step 5

Select your flash drive. 

Warning: Be 100% sure to select the correct drive here. Make sure you check the drive letter from of your flash drive before making this chose. The chosen flash drive will have all of it’s existing data completely destroyed and overwritten. I recommend to have no other removal drives connected to the computer before selecting to be safe. Can’t see your drive? Check out our possible errors section below.

Windows-10-media-creation-usb-drive

Step 6

Wait!

The Media Creation Tool will now download the required installation files from Microsoft. The total size will be several Gigabytes and will depend on the options selected. Once the download completes the tool will prepare the USB flash drive as a bootable installation media for Windows 10. Make sure you don’t unplug the USB flash drive until the tool completes.

Windows-10-media-creation-downloading-Windows10

Step 7

Boot to the USB flash drive.

This actions in this step depend on the BIOS / UEFI on your motherboard. Some motherboards will try to boot from just about any device plugged in if it can’t find anything on the hard disks. Other motherboards will need their boot order changed to enable booting from a USB flash drive.

7A. Plug your newly created bootable USB flash drive into your new PC and turn it on. If it boots to a Windows 10 installation screen you’re ready to proceed with your Windows 10 installation! If not, next step.

7B. You may need to change the boot order of your motherboard. The exact steps here depend on your motherboard model. Generally speaking, you can temporarily change the boot order for a single boot cycle by pressing the F12 (sometimes Esc) key right after turning the computer on. Repeatedly press the F12 key until you get a boot order screen. Choose the USB drive from the list and continue – you should boot into the Windows 10 installation. This F12 method is temporary and will need to be repeated each time you’d like to boot from USB. If you’re having trouble finding how to change the boot order of your motherboard, refer to your motherboards manual or post a comment below – we’ll help where we can!

Once you’ve managed to boot into the Windows 10 Installation wizard you can follow the on-screen steps to install Windows 10 on your PC!

Possible Errors

“Something Happened” 

This is an annoyingly generic error with no helpful information. As mentioned above this is sometimes caused by the language chosen. Try selecting the English (United States) option if you haven’t already.

“We can’t find a USB flash drive”

If you’re sure you have your flash drive connected and that it actually works, then this error is usually caused by an USB flash drive which is not compatible with the Media Creation Tool.

The tool only searches for a particular type of flash drive – if the drive doesn’t appear in Windows in a particular way, the Media Creation Tool won’t find it. You’ll have to try a different brand / model of flash drive.

In particular, users have reported issues with Sandisk Cruzer branded USB sticks, so if you are using one of these try a different branded USB stick if possible.

Windows-10-media-creation-flashdrive

 

If you’ve tried multiple USB drives and you keep getting the “We can’t find a USB flash drive.” error, you might have to try a 3rd party tool using the following method.

In the Windows Media Creation Tool, choose the “ISO file” option (Step 4 above). This will download the Windows 10 disk image as an ISO file type. Once you have this file, you can use a 3rd party tools such as Rufus (http://rufus.akeo.ie/) to create a bootable USB flash drive from the ISO. The Rufus tool has much better compatibility than the Windows 10 Media Creation tool.

 

 

9 Comments

  1. Same issue with USB not working. With all the older comments / issues you would have thought Microsoft would have fixed this.

    Man, Microsoft sucks!

  2. the reason why the usb sticks arent working is the drivers make them seem like a portable drive instead of a usb stick. you can see in the drive menu they have the drive icon instead of stick icon.

    microsoft in its stupidity doesnt allow it to be recognized. this is the single reason why most usb sticks arent working. it is 1oo% the fault of the microsoft media creation tool.

  3. you’ve got to be f**cking kidding me? i went out and bought a brand new Sony USB and it won’t recognize it! that’s 4 so far… WTF? you people are nothing but a bunch of hacks, can’t even clear up a simple compatibility issue. I guess I’m going to have to trash my laptop because I can’t reinstall Win 10 any other way, thanks a lot HACKS!!!

    • Hi Richard,

      I definitely can understand your anger here. Trust me, I’ve gone through a few USBs with this problem too. I’m not sure why the Microsoft tool is so picky with their drives…

      To get around the problem you can use a 3rd party tool called Rufus. Have you tried the instructions we left in a previous comment for David? I might update the main article to make this 3rd party method more visible.

      • I have been working with Microsoft for more than a decade and I have many war stories about their foolish pickiness. what I am most upset by is that you have clear evidence that this is the hardest part of the install, with plenty of user cases backing up the issue. Yet YOU chose to gloss over this critical detail with “you could download an ISO file and burn it to a DVD if you like but that’s outside the scope of this guide.”
        Then to add insult to injury, when you do acknowledge that the readers may have a snag you refer them to a guide at the bottom of the page (no link) that simply blames their choice of flash device and does not offer any examples of compatible models..
        Very bad form.. D-
        I have been using you for many years, but this was the first time that I have felt that I have ever had to say something about the declining effort put into your articles.
        PLEASE BRING BACK THE NERDIST ANGLE that made you such a reliable resource for those of us in the industry and the home gamer alike.

  4. I tried with a 32GB Sandisk and 32GB Kingston and I got the “We can’t find a USB flash drive” error.

    My PC will not recover any other way, it’s stuck looping on the windows blue icon.

    • Hi David,

      It’s annoying when the tool won’t recognise the flash drive… It seems to be very picky.

      Have you tried booting your computer into Safe Mode? You might be able to resolve the boot loop without reinstalling Windows.

      A few things to try regarding the USB flash drive error:

      1. Check that the USB flash drive actually shows up in Windows. Check in “Computer” to see if it shows up as a usable drive.

      2. Re-format the drive first. If the drive shows up in “Computer”, you can right click -> format but make 100% sure you chose the correct drive. This will erase ALL data on the selected disk. Choose FAT32 and give it a name. This isn’t normally required but will remove any software that comes preloaded on the drive and may help with compatibility.

      3. In the Windows Media Creation Tool, choose the “ISO file” option. This will download the Windows 10 disk image as an ISO file type. Once you have this file, you can use a 3rd party tools such as Rufus (http://rufus.akeo.ie/) to create a bootable USB flash drive from the ISO. The Rufus tool has much better compatibility than the Windows 10 Media Creation tool.

      4. Try yet another USB flash drive. Try to find a smaller, older drive. These seem to be more compatible than the newer, larger drives.

      Let us know how you go. It may help out some other readers.

    • Hi Luka,
      Sorry to hear you are having trouble with this! If you can give us a little more information about where you are getting stuck (or what error message you are getting, for example), we’ll do our best to help.

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