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How to Boot from a USB Drive on Windows 10 PCs
April 27, 2019
If you have an older PC, you might want to upgrade your operating system at some point. An upgraded OS can make your computing experience smoother so you can get your daily tasks done more quickly.
So, let’s say you are currently bogged down with a Windows 7 OS on your PC but you’d like to load and run Windows 10 using a USB device. How do you do that?
Luckily, the days of using discs to boot software are long gone. Today you have a much more convenient option: you can boot right from a USB drive. A Windows 10 USB boot isn’t as complicated as you might think.
We’ve broken down the steps in this user-friendly guide so you’ll be on your way to enjoying your new software in no time at all.
Before you get started
As you may already know, an operating system is crucial to keeping your computer systems running.
It helps to process and manage your PC’s memory as well as its software and hardware. It also allows you to communicate with the computer so you can carry out behind-the-scenes tasks. 
An older operating system won’t mean it’s the end of the road for your computer, but you’ll eventually stop getting security updates and receiving support. So, in most cases, it’s in your best interest to upgrade.
Before you boot from your USB drive, you’ll need to prepare with the right knowledge and materials, just like any other DIY project.
First, you’ll want to invest in a USB flash drive that has at least 16GB of space which should give you some breathing room in terms of storage. However, if you’re able to invest in a 32GB USB drive, that is an even more optimal amount of space for this project.
Next, you’ll want to obtain a license to run the Windows 10 operating system. You can either purchase a Windows license outright or simply use one you have under your account already. After doing so, utilize a Windows USB utility to configure the USB drive with Windows 10.
One drawback to booting Windows 10 from a USB device is that the operating system will be slower than it would be if it ran off your regular hard drive. With that said, it’s still a good option if you want a new OS.
Not sure how to configure your USB drive? Microsoft conveniently offers Windows to Go which can create a bootable Windows USB drive easily.
Unfortunately, Windows to Go is only compatible with Education and Enterprise versions of Windows 10 and needs an official Window to Go drive to work . There’s also another option you can use called WinToUSB which can make a bootable drive from any USB and any OS.
Now, you can move on to actually booting your Windows 10 operating system from your USB flash drive.
How to boot from USB Windows 10
1. Alter the BIOS sequence on your PC so your USB device is first
In most instances, the BIOS will usually not be automatically set to your device. If you skip this step, your computer will start regularly from your hard drive instead of getting boot information from your USB device.
Pro tip: The BIOS on many computers have the USB boot option as USB or Removable Devices but some also might list it as a Hard Drive choice. So, if you’re having issues finding your device, you may have to look around a little bit.
Another note: Trying to figure out how to boot from USB from BIOS? After you change the boot information on your BIOS list regarding sequence priority, your PC is going to check for new boot information each time you fire it up.
You can leave your computer configured to its new settings which shouldn’t result in any issues unless you’re planning to permanently leave the bootable USB device in your computer.
2. Install the USB device on any USB port on your PC
While it might seem like you should be able to simply copy files over to the drive and be done with it, that’s not quite the case. You will first have to burn an ISO file to a USB drive.
An ISO file or ISO image is basically a way to box up many files and folders into a single file . They’ll always end in the file extension: .ISO. ISO files are a convenient way to copy entire programs and software.
Note: Creating a bootable flash drive or learning how to configure an external hard drive to be bootable is another DIY task you might need some time to figure out.
3. Restart your PC
At this point in the process, you’re not changing anything from within the operating system. So this means the restart process is slightly different. Instead of the regular restart keys, BIOS should tell you what key to press.
It may be F10, for example, but follow your BIOS instructions so you can safely save your boot order alterations and then restart the PC.
4. Watch for a “Press any key to boot from external device” message on your display
Sometimes, USB drives might deliver a message to press a button before the PC will boot from your USB device. If this occurs and you don’t do anything in response, your PC will look to the next boot option in the sequence order of the BIOS. In most cases, the next option would be your hard drive.
Note: When you’re booting from a USB drive, there might not be any message to press a key. It is usually a self-starting process.
5. Your PC should boot from your USB drive
The next steps depend on what you’re using the bootable USB device for. If you’re trying to boot Windows 10 from your USB device, and you’ve taken all the proper steps, the OS will simply start up and you can begin using your device.
From start to finish, this process can be expected to take around 10 minutes. 
Troubleshooting your booting from the USB drive process
If the steps above didn’t work to boot Windows 10 from a USB flash drive, check out the guide below to troubleshoot any problems. 
1. If your new OS didn’t load from your USB device, the first step you should take is to check the sequence of the boot order in BIOS again. This is the most common issue you’ll experience. Check that the BIOS is configured properly before anything else.
2. If you can’t seem to find the “USB Device” in the BIOS sequence, it might be under a different name. One issue to note is that if your computer was made around 2001 or before, it may not be able to process the USB-drive-boot operation.
If your computer is on the newer side, however, it’s likely the USB device is called something different in the BIOS list such as Removable Devices, for example.
3. Take out your other USB storage devices. If you have other ports in your computer being taken up by USB devices like external displays or wireless mouse receivers, they could be interfering with your computer’s ability to process your USB device and boot your new operating system. Uninstall the other USB devices and try again.
Pro tip: If you are using multiple bootable devices that are plugged in simultaneously, your PC might have been booting the wrong drive. In this case, uninstall all of the USB devices unless you need one crucial to your computing.
4. Re-copy the files to your USB device. If you made a bootable flash drive, repeat the steps you took to generate it in the first place. You may have accidentally skipped a step or done something wrong which made the flash drive incompatible.
5. Use a different port on your PC. Sometimes, the BIOS on a motherboard will only check certain USB ports, so try another one and restart your PC if you’re having issues.
Installing a new OS doesn’t have to be difficult
With the right devices and information, you’ll be on your way to enjoying a Windows 10 operating system booted conveniently from your USB drive.
In some cases, you can also install an operating system via a disc but that’s generally considered an outdated method of installation. USB drives offer a convenient option for installing software because of their larger storage capacity.
One item to note, however, is that the USB device you decide to use should be free of any important files because once you burn an ISO file onto it, any existing files will disappear. Make sure that you save or back up any important files to the cloud or external hard drive before using it.
If you’re feeling nostalgic for an old operating system, you’re in luck. The iconic Windows 95 operating system is actually available as an app. 
Whether you’re trying to update your system or enjoy a throwback OS, a great operating system can make all the difference in your computing.
 GCFGlobal; What is an operating system?
 Microsoft; Windows to Go
 Lifewire; What is an ISO File?
 NeoSmart Technologies; Booting from a USB Drive
 LifeWire; How to Boot from a USB Device
About the Author: Michelle Wilson is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Michelle is a content creation specialist writing for a variety of industries, including tech trends and media news.