Now that most desktops and laptops don’t ship with separate recovery media, like they did in the old days, and the cost of buying it afterwards is not insignificant, what happens if your hard drive completely fails thus taking with it the afore mentioned recovery media?
I kind of accidentally had this issue recently on a new laptop I was setting up so wondered if I could get the recovery media transferred from the hard disk to a bootable USB stick and then boot off this USB stick to perform the recovery to what was effectively a brand new hard drive. It was fortunately very easy to get this to work so here’s what you do:
- Get a blank USB stick/drive – for the recent HP laptop with Windows 8.1 I purchased, I used a 32GB stick although 16GB may just have worked.
- Format as NTFS – the main installation file is over 12GB but the maximum file size on FAT32 partitions is “only” 4GB so this is why FAT32 cannot be used.
- I’d taken an image of the laptop as it arrived, so before booting into Windows for the first time, so I mounted that on the system where I was preparing the bootable (not the destination laptop although you could use it). If your original recovery partition is still available you could use that instead.
- Copy all of the files/folders from the Recovery partition to the root of the USB stick. These are the folders you should see (note that they are hidden):
- On the USB stick, rename the file “\recovery\WindowsRE\winUCRD.wim” to “winre.wim” (this is the file that bcdedit shows as being the boot device in the \boot\BCD file)
- Make the USB stick bootable by running the following, obviously changing the drive letter as appropriate:
bootsect /nt60 e: /mbr
If it’s a Windows 8.x device then it may be configured for SecureBoot in which case you may need to enter the BIOS and disable this temporarily just whilst you are performing the recovery in order to get it to boot from USB. Don’t forget to change it back to the original settings once the restore is complete.
I’ll now keep this bootable around just in case the hard drive should fail or otherwise get hosed in such a way that the HP supplied recovery media will not work. At well under £10 currently for a USB 2.0 32GB USB stick, it’s a small price to pay.
Note that the recovery media is protected by a software mechanism that means that you cannot apply it to a different hardware model so this is not a means to clone illegal, activated, copies of Windows!