[Windows 10 Tip #10] - Make a System Recovery Drive, NOW

Category: Windows-10

When 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 haven’t 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. 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.

[See more helpful articles in my Windows 10 Tips series: Click Here.]

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.

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 "[Windows 10 Tip #10] - Make a System Recovery Drive, NOW"

(See all 31 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

11 Aug 2017

NIRsoft also has a free tool for Product keys, "Produkey." I like it as it shows the key in BIOS if your OEM put it there instead of a COA sticker. Free.

Posted by:

Marge Teilhaber
12 Aug 2017

Waiting for an answer to what to do when the suggested (Get-Wm etc etc etc) does not provide the product key. Is Belarc the answer and don't bother with anything else?

Posted by:

Greg C
12 Aug 2017

My clean install from a win 7 upgrade does NOT return anything using above method. Last year I used a few methods to try to retrieve #, including ones mentioned here. While a product key was returned, it turned out to be a very common generic code and thus useless. The simple answer is that upgrades and similar simply do NOT have a product key !! We have a digital licence, as out lined by this Microsoft page:


Posted by:

12 Aug 2017

For those people having trouble getting their windows product key, i read this alternative solution on the internet and it worked great for me:

Open Notepad. Type the following code:

Set WshShell = CreateObject("WScript.Shell")
MsgBox ConvertToKey(WshShell.RegRead("HKLM\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\DigitalProductId"))

Function ConvertToKey(Key)
Const KeyOffset = 52
i = 28
Cur = 0
x = 14
Cur = Cur * 256
Cur = Key(x + KeyOffset) + Cur
Key(x + KeyOffset) = (Cur \ 24) And 255
Cur = Cur Mod 24
x = x -1
Loop While x >= 0
i = i -1
KeyOutput = Mid(Chars, Cur + 1, 1) & KeyOutput
If (((29 - i) Mod 6) = 0) And (i > -1) Then
i = i -1
KeyOutput = "-" & KeyOutput
End If
Loop While i >= 0
ConvertToKey = KeyOutput
End Function

Go to File, Save As and name it WindowsProductKey.vbs. Under 'save as type' choose 'all files'. After it's saved, then double click that .vbs file and you'll get the product key.

Posted by:

12 Aug 2017

If the recovery files take up only part of the USB space, can the free space be used to store other (unrelated) files?

Posted by:

12 Aug 2017

Just for curiosity, I used the powershell and vbs methods. I got 2 different numbers. Machine shipped with Win 7 pro, but now has the latest Creators update Windows 10. Are they both valid?

Posted by:

Riccardo Capuano
12 Aug 2017

Like others on here, the PowerShell command returned nothing on my laptop.

I tried both Belarc Advisor and ProduKey from NirSoft as recommended by others on here, and they both worked and returned the same Windows 10 Product Key string.

Posted by:

Greg C
12 Aug 2017

( Further to my post above the VBS script )
Tried this vbs script and while it returned a product key = T49TD - 6VFBW ...
I googled the first string and determined this "key" is a common generic key: (thus useless)

The Microsoft url in my initial post provides vital info.
BTW, I would recommend that any key found, by ANY method, should be checked by googling the first string (only) to see if it is a common generic key that would subsequently prove useless.

Posted by:

Martin W.
12 Aug 2017

I got the product key using Powershell. My system will not let me copy it, however. (It just flicks off to the beginning.) If anyone else has this problem, please be very sure to write it down correctly.

Posted by:

Scott Nelson
12 Aug 2017

Microsoft says, if you were upgraded to Windows 10 for free from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1, you'll have a digital license instead of a product key. For more info about digital licenses in Windows 10, see Activation in Windows 10.
How does that effect a recovery drive?

Posted by:

Alan Miller
12 Aug 2017

I went to where you said to go (Powershell) entered in what you have above. THEN WHAT? I hit enter.... nothing. When i pasted it in, then what. I tried it a second time and it won't even let me paste or type anything in. You should give complete instructions.

Posted by:

13 Aug 2017

I want to create the recovery drive on an external hard drive. I need to partition the drive so it has a blank place to save the files.
I have a 1T HD and using Disk management, it says
Total size before shrink: 953836
Size of available shrink space 720022
Enter the amount of space to shrink: 720022
Total size after shrink: 233814

What should I put in the Enter the amount of space to shrink so that I have a reasonable size for the recovery and system files (you said at least 16 GB) without wasting a lot of space on the regular partition?

Posted by:

William Davis
14 Aug 2017

Bob , Please ! check this Web site and let me know if they are telling the Real Truth !! OK ??


Posted by:

William Davis
14 Aug 2017

Bob , Please ! check this Web site and let me know if they are telling the Real Truth !! OK ??


Posted by:

Byron M
15 Aug 2017

For those who live in Canada there is a storage site Sync.com where you can purchase storage space at a reasonable price per yr. I know that if my computer crashes or the hard drive fails I not only have the Win10 Recovery on USB but all of my important file, pics, music is stored in a safe place where I can access them. There is also a File Vault to keep really important files in. Secure from outside hackers. It is all encrypted and I am the only one who can access it with user name and password. Thank Bob for all the advice to keep info safe and backed up.

Posted by:

Lady Fitzgerald
16 Aug 2017

@Ruth Your Macrium Reflect recovery CD is basically your recovery drive. You use it to restore images you make to your computer drive. Certain versions of Macrium Reflect allow you to use a USB flash drive instead of a CD. The flash drive will usually run the recovery software faster. I recommend making more than one CD or flash drive (or one or more of each) so, if one should die, you will have a backup.

I recommend you make new images as frequently as is practical. Older ones can be deleted if space for them becomes a problem. You should also store your images on an external drive of some kind.

I also recommend you set Macrium Reflect to verify your images after it makes them. I've never had a verified image fail to restore but, every once in a very great while, one may fail to verify (every time, just rerunning Macrium Reflect again will result in a verified image).

Posted by:

25 Aug 2017

This will work but you need to read the instructions carefully.It didn't work for me first time so i re-read the instructions, hit enter at the end and my product key displayed.

Posted by:

Mr. Pedro D. Rodriguez Sr.
03 Sep 2017

I used Bob's method and it worked for me. To test the veracity I ran Belarc Advisor and it returned the same key. You just have to follow the instructions carefully and it works !!

Posted by:

06 Sep 2017

After copying and pasting the instruction into Powershell dont forget to press the enter key. That should then throw up the Windows 10 key. Highlight the key by dragging and holding the left mouse button then simply right click..that should copy automatically..paste the result into a notepad or similar. Worked for me ok.

Posted by:

22 Mar 2018

Thanks Ruth: your (post) key recovery method (from 2017) worked flawlessly

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