How to Create Recovery Discs or USB Keys in Windows 8


Anytime you have a new Windows system, one of the first things to do is create a bootable repair disc or flash drive. Windows 8 has two approaches to creating emergency recovery media, one new and one left over from Windows 7. They are not obvious but here is how to find and use them. First, I’ll show the new way.

Create recovery disc

Creating recovery media with the new Windows 8 feature

  1. Enter the keyboard shortcut Winkey+W to open the Start screen Settings search.
  2. Type “recovery” (without quotes).
  3. Click “Create a recovery drive”. Example shown by clicking the first thumbnail.
  4. You will be switched to the desktop. Click “Yes” in the UAC challenge.
  5. Click “Next” in the dialog that opens. Depending on your system, there may be an option to include the PC’s recovery partition. An example of the dialog can be seen by clicking the second thumbnail.
  6. A list of available drives will be shown. Or insert a blank USB key with at least 256 MB capacity. Of course, if you are copying the PC’s recovery partition, you will need a lot more than 256 MB. If no USB drives are found and you have an optical drive, the option to use a blank CD or DVD will be shown as well.
  7. Click “Next”. You will be warned that anything already on the drive will be deleted.
  8. Click “Create”.
  9. Click “Finish” when the job is done.

As the size of 256 MB in step 6 indicates, a recovery disc or drive by itself is not a backup. Its function is to provide tools for trying to fix a system that won't boot.

Using the legacy Windows 7 method

It is somewhat confusing but the restore feature that was in Windows 7 is also available in Windows 8.0. However, it is deprecated and is gone from the preview version of Windows 8.1. This feature does have the ability to create a system image, something not present in Windows 8 otherwise. Here is the way to access it.Legacy restore disc creation in Windows 8

  1. Enter the keyboard shortcut Winkey+W to open the Start screen Settings  search
  2. Type “recovery” (without quotes).
  3. Click “Windows 7 File Recovery”.
  4. You will be switched to the desktop and the dialog shown by clicking the third thumbnail will open. The dialog is labeled Windows 7 even though you are working in Windows 8.
  5. You have the option of creating a system image or a system repair disc.

A quicker way to open the legacy Windows 7 File Recovery is this alternative route:

  1. Open the Run line with the keyboard shortcut Winkey+R
  2. Enter “sdclt”

The details  of using the Windows 7 feature are at this link.

System image backup in Windows 8.1

For whatever reason, Microsoft changed things again in Windows 8.1. There is a feature called "File History" which Microsoft wants you to use for backups. Making a system disk is deprecated but it is still present, only now it has a different name and is hard to find. Details of how to use Windows 8.1 system image backup can be found at this link.

And there you have it – make a recovery disc or flash drive and rest a little easier. Put the drive or disc someplace safe and hope you never have to use it,

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This tips section is maintained by Vic Laurie. Vic runs several websites with Windows how-to's, guides, and tutorials, including a site for learning about Windows and the Internet and another with Windows 7 tips.

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I know this article was written for Windows 8, but in Windows 8.1 the option to use a CD/DVD to create Recovery media has been removed.

Actually,there is still something called "System image backup" but it has been moved to a location different from Windows 8. What with travel and the holidays, I haven't gotten around to updating the article.
A section on Windows 8.1 has now been added.

Thank you for adding the section Vic, but it wasn't what I was referring to. I'm referring to creating a RECOVERY DRIVE like in the FIRST SECTION of this article.

In Windows 8.1 you can still create a recovery drive to repair Windows. The only difference now is Microsoft (for whatever insane reason) doesn't allow you to burn it to a CD/DVD. It's use a flash drive or nothing.

According to my investigations the inability to burn a disk is due to the removal of recdisc.exe in Windows 8.1.

The recovery option still works. But yes, the system image option is now found under File History.

I realize this article is now getting dated, but I have one question.
When using a USB drive, the article states that anything already on the drive will be deleted. Does the USB need to be formatted or is it set up correctly as is? Thanks for this excellent article.

The USB drive gets formatted during the process. First, the drive is formatted when you start the process, and then, after that the necessary files are written on it.

Excellent article. Should be printed and pasted on the outside of every PC sold with Win7 and 8