How to Boot From a USB Drive or CD on Any Computer


Photo: flickr

Occasionally, if you’re troubleshooting your PC or installing a new operating system, you’ll have to “boot it from a disc” or USB flash drive. Here’s what that means, and how to do it.

When you press the power button on your computer, it boots up from its internal hard drive, where your operating system (usually Windows, OS X, or Linux) is stored. But sometimes, you need to boot into something different. Maybe you need to boot from your Windows installation disc to reinstall Windows, or perhaps you need to boot from a system rescue disc to solve a problem with your machine. When you’re told to boot from a CD or USB drive, here’s what you need to do.

On a Windows PC

Every Windows PC is different, but once you get into your system’s boot menu you should be able to find what you’re looking for. To boot from a CD or USB drive:

Restart your computer

Restart your computer and wait for that first screen to pop up. Often, it’ll say something like “Press F12 to Choose Boot Device” somewhere on the screen. Press that key now.

Wait a second

Give it a moment to continue booting, and you should see a menu pop up with a list of choices on it. Highlight your CD or USB drive and press Enter.

Alternatively, you can set your computer to always check for a bootable CD or USB drive. That way, when you have one inserted, it’ll boot from it automatically, and when you don’t, it’ll head into your regular operating system. To set this up, follow these instructions

Restart your computer and watch for the first screen that shows up when you boot. You should see something that says “Press DEL to enter setup,” or something similar. Press the noted key on your keyboard and wait for setup to start.

Select ‘Boot Device’

You should see a new screen pop up, called your BIOS. This is where you set a lot of low-level settings for your computer. Look through the options (being careful not to change anything) for a setting called “Boot Device,” “Boot Order,” or something similar. Select that option.

Choose the right drive

From the menu that pops up, choose your computer’s disc drive and press Enter. If you’re trying to boot from a USB drive, choose USB-HDD instead and press Enter. Depending on your BIOS, you may need to use the Page Up and Page Down keys to move your selection to the top of a list, instead.

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