Make a Windows 10 Recovery Drive, NOW

Category: Windows-10

What is the best time to prepare for a disaster? When everything's going 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 Win 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 command line. (Copy it exactly, including all the parentheses and punctuation.)

(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.


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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This article was posted by on 26 Mar 2020

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Most recent comments on "Make a Windows 10 Recovery Drive, NOW"

(See all 40 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

26 Mar 2020

Like others have stated entering your line of instructions in Powershell will only get me back to a new prompt line.

Posted by:

Michael J Anderson
26 Mar 2020

I Used BELARC ADVISOR a free download Bob recommended, it seems years ago. It will give you your Windows Key and 4 pages of other indepth info on your computer.

Posted by:

Jim Scofield
26 Mar 2020

Here's a real basic question. I get three apps with Powershell. 1 is Windows Powershell ISE, 2 is Windows Powershell (x86) and 3 is Windows Powershell ISE (x86). Which one should I choose?

Posted by:

Steve Morehead
26 Mar 2020

I create a system image every week. Is that not sufficient?

Posted by:

Bill C.
26 Mar 2020


Will this work on a scandisk card as well?

Posted by:

26 Mar 2020

I made recovery disks for three computers long ago and still have them. (I should update them/put them on USB sticks/make recovery DRIVES, just in case, I know!) The problem is that one of them is of no use. When a Windows update zapped one of my computers, nothing, including using Troubleshoot, recovery disks, a backup on an external hard drive, and Microsoft "help" worked. I now have Linux on that computer. The thing is sometimes things just don't work. Period. Still, having some POSSIBLE recourse, workable or not, is worth the effort.

Posted by:

Brian B
26 Mar 2020

I just use Macrium Reflect. That covers all possibilities, data as well as system files, and I suspect it's much quicker than Windows reinstallation.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2020

You have to hit "enter" after pasting the string, then the Key comes up.

Posted by:

Wild Bill
27 Mar 2020

The following link is to a Microsoft page explaining a freeware key finder app available through the Store. I am not recommending downloading (and, likely, auto-installing) the app but I found the description a very interesting explanation of the different forms of Windows 10 licensing. Recommended reading. And concise, if confounding.

Posted by:

27 Mar 2020

That command to get the product key didn't work for me either but I found this freeware that does work: Nirsoft ProduKey

Posted by:

Richard Herman
27 Mar 2020

I have been meaning to do this for the longest time. Unfortunatly I currently have more that enough time as an isolating senior to do this. the instructions worked perfectly... Thanks for the push

Posted by:

John Niessen
27 Mar 2020

Right click and Paste the line in Power Shell then right click on the flashing cursor and then you should get the product key.

Posted by:

Dianne Moses
28 Mar 2020

Are there problems using the USB stick to boot the system? Do we need to change the boot order in the UEFI/BIOS?
Many thanks

Posted by:

28 Mar 2020

I am FAR from a Windows expert, but I believe there are THREE classes of Win 10 Product Keys:
1-Keys that are embedded in the UEFI (BIOS) by the computer manufacturer. This is a generic manufacturer specific key and is NOT the Product Key that a registered Windows 10 installation will be currently using.
2- Upgrade keys that Microsoft provides to computers that originally had a different, up-gradable version of Windows installed. A subset of these would be Product keys given to computers upgraded from Win 10 Home to Win 10 Pro.
3:Keys that are separately purchased and installed on a computer that does NOT have a Key inside the UEFI.

As far as I know, any method to obtain a product key ISSUED BY MICROSOFT will either return the generic key in the UEFI, absolutely nothing, or the product key of the original non-Win 10 installation, unless it was a clean install of Win 10.

Thus it is mostly useless as these keys are ALREADY known to Microsoft and computer will be activated with WIN 10 upon a reinstall. If I have missed something please let me know.

That said there is one sad issue that up graders run into if a key is stored in the UEFI; Computer will reinstall with the original, type of Win 10, usually Home, instead of the upgraded version. You can simply re-upgrade this new installation or follow this info given below.

Posted by:

29 Mar 2020

Thank you for this. The product key instructions worked, and I had no trouble making the recovery drive. I do want to point out that even on a new and fast computer the process takes quite a long time. But I am glad I have it, now. Just in case!

Posted by:

29 Mar 2020

I'm certainly not the sharpest knife in this drawer, but my advice would be: "Patience my children, Patience!" I pasted the command line, and nothing happened also... Then while re-reading the instructions again, Bingo! The Product Key for my HP Pavilion appeared!! Just took a bit of time for the CPU to swallow, and digest. And Bob, a MILLION thanks for all the tips, tricks, solutions, research, etc., you have provided for lo these many years. There oughta be an award. You'd get my vote in a New York Minute! Thanks, Bob!

Posted by:

Art F
29 Mar 2020

I just noticed that when I select "This PC" from the Start display and right click on that and select Properties, the last line contains a product key. I was thinking that seems a lot easier than the method you suggest, until I noticed that I get a DIFFERENT product key using the two methods. What gives?

Posted by:

29 Mar 2020

for those of you having problems -- Bob's highlighted text may make it appear that you enter (or reenter) the PS C:\Users\(username)>

please note that the string to enter is shown lower on the page & NOT in bolded text:

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

Hope that helps!

Posted by:

Lin Wallberg
30 Mar 2020

The PowerShell string did not work for me, so I typed Product key in the start menu search box, and up it popped-it showed up as Product ID.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Unfortunately that's not the number you are looking for. The Product KEY is a 25-digit string, in the form AAAAA-BBBBB-CCCCC-DDDDD-EEEEE

Posted by:

31 Mar 2020

I'm surprised that no one mentioned Nirsoft's ProduKey (freeware) as a tool to show your Windows Product Key. It also shows the BIOS OEM Key.

Concerning Windows recovery, I rely mostly on the image backup that I take every day (incremental and/or differential) using Macrium Reflect.

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