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Be Prepared: Create a Recovery Drive for Windows, Linux, Mac, or Chrome OS

recovery-usb-drive-and-cd

Computers don’t come with operating system installation CDs anymore. If your operating system won’t boot, you’ll need a bootable recovery drive to fix it. All operating systems allow you to create these.

These recovery drives provide access to the same recovery options your operating system includes. You can always create them later, although you may need access to a computer running the same operating system.

Windows 8.1 and 8

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Use the Recovery Media Creator to create a USB recovery drive on Windows 8.1 or 8. Tap the Windows key on your keyboard to access the Start screen, type Recovery drive, and press Enter to open the “Create a recovery drive” tool. Insert your USB drive and go through the wizard.

This tool also gives you the option to move your recovery drive to the USB drive, deleting it from your system drive. This can help free up disk space on devices with small amounts of storage, but you’ll need the USB drive to refresh or reset your PC in the future.

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Windows 7

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Windows 7 doesn’t allow you to create USB recovery media. You’ll have to create system repair disc on a CD or DVD. Press the Windows key to open your Start menu, type System Repair Disc, and press Enter to open it. A system repair discallows you top access tools like Startup Repair, which can fix problems that prevent your operating system from booting.

On Windows 8, you can press Windows Key + R, type recdisc.exe into the Run dialog, and press Enter to access this tool. It allows you to create a CD or DVD recovery disc for Windows 8. This hidden tool was removed in Windows 8.1, so you’ll have to create a USB recovery drive instead.

windows-7-system-repair-disc

Linux

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There’s no need to create separate, specialized recovery media on Linux. Just ensure you have a bootable USB drive, SD card, DVD, or CD with your Linux distribution’s live environment on it. If your Linux distribution ever becomes damaged and unbootable, insert your live CD and use the tools on the live CD to fix it.

Unlike on other operating systems, Linux distributions like Ubuntu don’t have specialized “repair installation” options that will attempt to repair an existing installation. But there are other ways you can attempt to repair your Linux system.

For example, you could reinstall your Linux distribution without formatting the drive, keeping your files. You could follow guides to fixing your operating system online and run the appropriate terminal commands. You can also use other tools — for example, we have instructions for using the Boot-Repair tool to fix a GRUB boot loader problems.

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Mac OS X

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OS X Recovery is built into your Mac. Modern Macs even support Internet Recovery, so they can download the OS X Recovery environment from Apple’s servers when necessary. This is all integrated into the Mac’s UEFI firmware, so it can download the recovery environment and use it even if your hard drive is completely wiped.

You can also create an OS X Recovery disk, which is useful on Macs without Internet Recovery or if you want to access recovery mode without an Internet connection.

Download the OS X Recovery Disk Assistant from Apple’s website. Run it, select an external drive to install the recovery environment to, and follow the instructions. You can then boot any Mac while holding the Option key, select the recovery drive, and access the recovery environment.

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Chrome OS

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You can create a Chrome OS recovery drive on any operating system — on Chrome OS itself, or on any Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X system with Chrome installed.

Install the Chromebook Recovery Utility from the Chrome Web Store, insert a 4 GB or larger USB drive or SD card, and select the model of your Chromebook. The utility will create a recovery drive with all of Chrome OS’s system files on it — the recovery drive allows you to reinstall the entire Chrome OS operating system if it ever becomes corrupted. For example, this may happen if you’re using developer mode for full access to the Chrome OS operating system.

Unlike the other recovery tools here, the drive you create is only good for the particular model of Chromebook you choose when you create it. You can’t re-use the recovery drive with multiple different models of Chromebooks, although you can quickly rewrite new Chrome OS recovery files to it.

chrome-os-recovery-drive


To boot the recovery media, just insert it into your computer and reboot. If the computer’s boot order is set up properly, it should boot straight to the recovery environment.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 08/13/14