There are many reasons you may need to boot your PC from a USB, such as:
- Repair a Windows installation that freezes while booting
- Run a tool that will try to correct file system errors or recover some of your data
- Startup your PC using media that will allow you to troubleshoot your current operating system or install a new one
This guide shows you how to boot from USB on a PC running Windows 11.
After three failed attempts, modern versions of Windows stop trying to reach the desktop. They instead lead you to a recovery menu, where you will also find an option to boot your PC using a USB flash drive.
If your PC failed to reach your desktop during setup, restart your computer one or two more times, and you’ll eventually meet the Windows recovery menu.
Choose the option to Use a device (for booting), and then choose the device from which you want to boot your PC.
Boot from USB using Advanced startup
This option is suitable for users whose operating system is loading normally but want to boot from a USB device for other reasons. For example, to use a boot-time data recovery tool or to install another operating system in parallel with Windows.
- Go to the Start menu by pressing the Windows key. Search for and launch Settings.
- The Settings window will load up on the System options page. Scroll down to find Recovery among its entries, and click on it.
- On the Recovery page, you’ll find an Advanced startup entry under Recovery options. Click on the Restart now button on its right.
- Windows will restart. However, you’ll see the same recovery page in the previous section when it loads. As before, select Use a device to load from your USB.
Note: There’s a quicker way to restart your computer into Advanced Startup options. Open the Start menu by pressing the Windows key. Click on the power icon on the bottom left, then while holding Shift on your keyboard, click Restart.
BIOS/UEFI Boot Sequence
Older motherboards were equipped with a BIOS (Basic Input Output System) to manage everything connected to them. Newer ones use the more comprehensive and user-friendly UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) instead. Among their options, accessible from a boot menu, you can also choose the device from which to boot. So, you can swap your usual boot device for a USB device from there.
- The most common way to access the BIOS or UEFI menu is pressing the Delete key while the PC is booting. Note that there’s a specific time window for pressing this key: after you’ve powered on your PC, but before the actual operating system starts loading. You can repeatedly press Delete right after powering on your PC until you reach that menu. You can also read our comprehensive guide showing how to boot into BIOS on Windows.
- In your BIOS, search for any term similar to “Boot Manager”, “Boot Sequence”, or “Boot Order”. Depending on the BIOS or UEFI implementation, such a menu might be instantly accessible or appear as a submenu of a primary Storage or Devices top-level menu. Find the list of your storage devices there, and move the USB device from which you want to boot your PC to the first spot. Then, save your changes and exit. The next time your computer boots, it will first boot through the USB.
Motherboard Boot Menu
Most motherboards also come with a “quick boot” menu. This menu allows you to quickly choose an alternative device to boot your PC than the one defined in the BIOS/UEFI boot sequence.
The way to access this menu varies between motherboards. It’s accessible in the same time window as the main BIOS/UEFI menu. Thus, you should hit the correct key as soon as your PC starts up, but before the OS starts loading.
Although this key is usually mentioned on the screen, most PCs nowadays are so fast you won’t manage to read that useful piece of info before it disappears. Instead, check your motherboard’s manual to find it. It may be F2, F10, F11, F12, or Esc.
That’s the hard part. Next, you only have to choose the device from which to boot your PC from this menu.
Why can’t my PC boot from a USB device?
If you tried the methods above, but your PC is still not booting from a USB device, there can be several causes:
- Your USB device is not plugged in correctly.
- Your USB device isn’t flagged as bootable.
- It’s also possible, although rare that your USB device is corrupted and your PC can’t read it.
- The USB ports might be disabled through the BIOS/UEFI for security reasons. This might be the case if you’re trying to boot from USB on a work or school PC.
Back in 1966 when I was born, technology as we know it today was drastically different. In my lifetime, I witnessed the word of computing change from the giant ENIAC machine, to the supercomputers of today.
Since a young age, I have been obsessed with technology, and it was only natural that I continued my career path to study computer science. I graduated from NYU Computer Science in 1990.
I went on to work for IBM as a software engineer where our team pioneered a what would later become IBM Cloud. From 2001, I worked as an IT recruiter for one of the top tech firms.