Best Time to Make a Windows 10 Recovery Drive?

Category: Windows-10

What is the best time to prepare for a data disaster? When everything's working just fine, of course. Unfortunately, many people don’t take the time to create a System Recovery Drive for their Windows 10 systems until AFTER they really need it. Here are the steps to make a bootable USB recovery drive; I hope you will follow them right now, if you have not done so already...

How to Create a Windows 10 System Recovery Drive

What causes a corrupted installation of Windows? Malware, a software glitch, human error, or maybe cosmic rays. (See Do Computers Get Tired?) The point is to be prepared, in case it does happen. Let's walk through the process of creating a System Recovery Drive that will help you get back to good if things go bad.

There are several pathways to Windows 10. You might have upgraded from Windows 7 or 8. You might have done a "clean install" on a formatted hard drive. Or you might have purchased a new PC with Windows 10 pre-installed. I mention this as a preamble to creating a Windows 10 system recovery drive, because if you ever need to re-install, there's a chance you'll need to enter a product key to (re)activate Windows.

Your Windows Product Key is a 25-character text string that used to appear on a holographic sticker attached to your setup CD, or the PC’s chassis. Windows 10 PCs don’t come with that Certificate of Authenticity. Instead, the Product Key is (usually) embedded in the computer’s BIOS. Every time you re-install Windows 10, the key is read from the BIOS and activation is automatic. But just in case, you should find your Product Key and store it in another, safe place.

Windows 10 Recovery Drive

FINDING YOUR PRODUCT KEY - Open PowerShell by entering “powershell” in the Start menu’s search box and clicking on the app that appears in the search results. When you see a command line prompt - typically PS C:\Users\(username)> - copy and paste the command below onto the PowerShell command line. (Copy it exactly, including all the parentheses and punctuation, then press Enter.)

(Get-WmiObject -query 'select * from SoftwareLicensingService').OA3xOriginalProductKey

When you see the 25-character key, highlight and copy it from Powershell to some safe storage place. I simply emailed mine to myself with the subject line, “Windows 10 Product Key.” If I ever need it, a quick search of my email will find it.

Some people have trouble with the Powershell method. You can also get your Windows product key with a free utility called ProduKey from Nirsoft. Note that ProduKey will show you both the Product Id and the Product Key for your Windows installation. For the purpose of this article, you want only the Product Key.


Booting from a recovery USB drive allows you to perform basic troubleshooting and repairs, and to use Windows’ automatic troubleshooter utility. If you include the Windows 10 system files on your recovery drive, you can boot from that drive and re-install Windows 10 if necessary.

A basic recovery drive needs only 512 MB of space, but if you plan to copy the system files to the recovery drive it should have at least 16 GB of total space. The USB drive will be formatted during creation of the recovery drive, so move any data you wish to preserve.

Enter Create a recovery drive in the Search box to find the shortcut that leads to the recovery media creator tool. When the tool starts, the option “Back up system files to the recovery drive” will be checked. Uncheck it if you want just a basic recovery drive. Then insert a USB drive in a port and click Next in the tool’s window. Follow the prompts and soon you will have a recovery drive. Label the flash drive and keep it in a safe place.

If you don't have an OEM (vendor-supplied) recovery partition, you can add Windows 10 installation files to the recovery drive by downloading the Windows 10 Media Creation tool, using it to create an ISO file, double-clicking to mount the ISO file in Explorer, and then dragging the complete contents of the mounted drive to your recovery drive.

You won’t miss your recovery drive until it’s desperately needed, and then it will be too late. So take the time to make one while you don’t need it. If your Windows 10 system somehow gets borked, insert your recovery drive, reboot your computer, and follow the prompts to recover.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Best Time to Make a Windows 10 Recovery Drive?"

(See all 28 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

Does the recovery drive need updating - such as when Windows 10 has periodic monthly updates?

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

Thanks Bob. the Powershell cmd didn't produce any info, but the ProduKey application worked.

For the users here complaining about their antivirus blocking ProduKey, the Nirsoft website states:

When running produkey.exe, some Antivirus programs display an alert and/or block you from running it.

If your Antivirus software shows a false alert, you can use the following article that explains how to send a report about a false positive issue to your Antivirus company:
How to Report Malware or False Positives to Multiple Antivirus Vendors

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

Go for Linux and avoid all this $*&@~#!

Posted by:

Bruce Foat
29 Mar 2021

Bob, your PS command did not work on my PC. Maybe because Win10 is an upgrade from Win7?

Posted by:

Bob S
29 Mar 2021

Hi Bob,
I got the same threat alert by Windows as did Jack Anderson, Gunnar, and others, namely "Trojan:Win32/Sehyioa.A!cl
Detected by Microsoft Defender Antivirus".
This was among other scary virus notifications. However, and I hope that I did not install a virus, I was able to install it by opening the download folder, then right clicking over the produkey_setup.exe file and click on "Run as administrator". Then I had to give a few virus detectors the okay. I wish I had done, and strongly recommend that you do, a restore first before executing this exe file.
Bob S.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

You can get your Product Key and your complete system and applications information with the free BELARC ADVISER.

Posted by:

Barry S
29 Mar 2021

My product keys on both my computers are only 20 characters, not 25 Bob.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

I just went through this a couple of weeks ago, and the USB drive that I thought I had made into a recovery drive didn't work. I couldn't boot off it. So I used a different computer to go to the Windows website and make the same flash drive into a recovery drive. It still didn't work. As a last resort, I tried using a different flash drive, and it worked just fine. The first flash drive was USB3 and the second one was USB2. Apparently, my computer wouldn't boot off the USB3 drive for some reason. That's probably hardware dependent, but the lesson learned is to make a recovery drive, then make sure you can boot off it, before you actually need it. You can boot off the recovery drive and then just abort the recovery without making any changes. That way, you know it works.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2021

I have never seen Bob reply to any questions posed in the comments section of any of his posts.
To those asking how to tell if their computers contain a "recovery partition." Type Disk Management in the start search bar. When the results show - "Create and Format hard disk partitions" click on that and open it full screen. This will show all your connected drives. If your computer contains a recovery partition it will be shown as such under one of the Disks. Mine shows as 995 MB Healthy (Recovery Partition)

Posted by:

Mike Burks
30 Mar 2021

If you download the Nirsoft program directly from their website you may be assured it has no virus. To run it anyway, try this: Start > Settings > Update and Security > Windows Security > App and Browser Control. Loosen the restrictions found in the settings there and try Nirsoft again. Be sure to put the restrictions back where you found them when you finish.

Posted by:

30 Mar 2021

Yeah, I got lost after the 2nd paragraph. Discouraged by all the commenters, I will resolve to take my machine to a nerd.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
30 Mar 2021

Here is a big Thank You! to Walt who reminded me that I can get my Windows10 Product Key in the Free Belarc Advisor!

On the Belarc Advisor Report Web Page, scroll down to the Licenses Section. I am running the Pro version so it is listed as "Microsoft - Windows 10 Professional (x64) #####-#####-#####-##### (Key: #####-#####-#####-#####-#####)". I have replaced the pertinent information with Hash-marks for obvious reasons :)

I hope this helps someone,


Posted by:

30 Mar 2021

I HAVE seen Bob reply to a single message several times, but it WAS a blue moon, and only when the answer was 'simple' -- less than perhaps a hundred words (five hundred is generally counted as a standard 12 point TNR double spaced page with the one-inch margins).

I have JUST gotten a win-10 (Home - sigh I HATE home editions!) - so haven't tried this yet - but know I'll have to, plus make an 'image' of my drive before I even begin to mess with it - the older I get the safer I have to be since when I don't do this stuff all the time, I forget how to do it - and that way lays madness.

I DO trust that Bob will re-think this, and post a revised version in the near future. He's not one to let his readers hang in limbo for long. But first he has to get THIS version out of his mind before he begins again, or he'll be stuck in the (this) paradigm and find it VERY hard to break-out in MY experience teaching, it takes awhile for that to happen for students and teaches - me included.

SOLUTION when you find your WIN-ID Number, (a lot of free software will show it to you (at least in XP-->7) copy it and mail it to yourself. I SUSPECT that if you go to the MS sight, it reads the Win-IDN from the computer you are using, not the one you are trying to get the ID number from).

Belarc (free home) worked on my Win-7pro. In fact Bob recommended it YEARS ago saying to print it out because it has ALL the data that any Tech would find VERY handy in figuring out what's going 'wrong' with you computer. I taped it to the inside base of my machine. Just in Case. I'd forgotten I even had that sitting there. But it's a good place for any tech to start work from if it is ever needed.

Posted by:

Rien snijder
31 Mar 2021

To Rod Zook

Mounting an iso file means double click the image (.iso) It is then assigned a drive letter and you can treat it like an external drive and you can access the content. That should work in win 10. Not sure about older systems. I remember before I needed a separate tool to do that.



Posted by:

Kenny D
31 Mar 2021

The powershell cmd worked perfect. Thanks

Posted by:

01 Apr 2021

To Rod Zook,
Thank you for pointing out that it was a helpful article until that paragraph about the recovery partition and ISO. Gibberish is right!!

Posted by:

David S Holt
03 Apr 2021

I, too, would like an explanation of the cryptic "Some required files are missing" notice. That effectively shut down my effort to build a recovery drive. Notice that there is a separate link to ask questions from the comments box many are asking questions in.

Posted by:

05 May 2021

Curiously when I use the powershell method I get the original OEM key (Win8.1) only, but I have since upgraded to Win 10 20H2. Belarc Advisor gives me both the old 8.1 and new 20H2 product keys.

Posted by:

05 May 2021

PS. to last post - rather than using a Recovery Disc I've found having a solid backup routine to be a better solution. Restoring the system drive (C:) from a good backup has saved my bacon several times (I split off and keep my data on a separate partition).
btw I use Macrium Reflect (free version) works great

Posted by:

17 Jun 2021

As Leon reminds. Keep it simple. Back up, back up, back up. Be a hero.

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