How to create the ultimate USB rescue kit

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How to create the ultimate USB rescue kit
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We reveal how to create a Windows Recovery Drive and the best free tools to include with it.

Windows comes on all sorts of different PCs – desktops, laptops, tablets and 2-in-1s – but they all share one thing in common: they can go badly wrong in lot of different ways, and identifying and fixing the problem can be tricky. Has your PC been hit by a malware infection, a hardware failure or have some important system files become corrupt? It's hard to know.

Fixing your own computer can be difficult enough, but if you're also expected to fix PCs belonging to colleagues, employees, friends or family, then your job suddenly becomes much harder. Here we show you how to create a portable USB rescue kit, packed with useful tools, that you can turn to in case of emergency.

What you'll need

The first thing you'll need for your rescue kit is a USB memory stick. You can, if you prefer, create a rescue CD or DVD, but modern PCs don't always come equipped with an optical drive. It's also easier to carry around a single memory stick than a data disc, and it's less likely to get damaged. Some USB flash drives even come with a keyring attachment, you can keep your rescue kit with your house keys, ready for when disaster strikes.

Almost any USB memory stick will suffice, but it makes sense to go for one which is at least USB 3 compatible, so you'll benefit from faster speeds that USB 3 ports provide. A 64GB drive should be large enough to hold all the rescue tools and any data you might need to recover from a troublesome PC.

The next step is to collate the tools you need to fix any PC problems you encounter.

There are plenty of dedicated rescue toolkits that fit the task, such as AOMEI PE Builder which can create a recovery disc based on Windows PE (Windows Pre-installation Environment), which is a cut-down version of Microsoft's operating system.

Alternatively, you can create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive (below), which doesn't have as many tools but is a useful quick option.

How to create a Windows Recovery Drive

1. Windows 10 lets you create a USB recovery drive that includes a selection of useful troubleshooting tools, and can even reinstall Windows if necessary.

To launch the tool, type 'recovery drive' into the Windows search box, then click on 'Create a recovery drive'. The wizard will open.

2. The first question you will be asked is whether you want to 'Back up system files to the recovery drive'.

This lets you use the drive to reinstall Windows, so say yes if that's something you want to be able to do. Click Next, and select the correct drive when prompted.

3. Click Create. If you see a message asking you to format the drive, ignore it. The creation process will take a while, especially if you're backing up system files.

When done, click Finish. When you boot into the drive, you'll be able to refresh or reset your PC, and access troubleshooting tools.

Next: Best free apps for your recovery toolkit

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