If you have created a bootable USB drive, you might be wondering whether it will successfully initialize and boot. You don’t always have to restart your PC/laptop to find out. The following techniques can easily determine whether a USB drive is bootable or not in Windows 10. These include methods native to your Windows system as well as external recommended software.
How to Make Any USB Drive Bootable
Here’s a quick primer on how to make a USB drive bootable. For Windows 10 systems, the fastest and most reliable way is to download and install BalenaEtcher. This software readily etches any ISO file on the USB drive. (You can also use Rufus to create a bootable USB drive.)
Many ISO files (the following example is for Raspberry Pi Desktop) can be huge in size. You don’t always need to download the ISO separately first. Just copy-paste the ISO download link, and it will etch much faster on your drive. All the data on the drive will be erased while a bootable media is created.
After flashing, Balena will validate the bootable disk, which doesn’t take very long.
You’ll see a “Flash Complete” message once the USB drive is converted into a bootable disk.
Check USB Drive Bootable Status from Disk Management
Open your Start menu search and type in “disk manager.” Select the “Create and format hard disk partitions” entry.
Select the formatted drive (disk 1 in this example) and right-click to go to “Properties.” Navigate to the “Volumes” tab and check the “Partition style.” You should see it marked with some kind of boot flag, such as Master Boot Record (MBR) or GUID Partition Table. Also, the removable media with bootable ISO will display a status like “no volume” or very little volume (just a few MB).
Check USB Drive Bootable Status from Command Prompt
Another way to check the external drive’s bootability is to run a few lines on the command-line prompt. Open
cmd from Start menu in Administrator mode.
Enter the following commands:
The formatted removable media with ISO will display “no volume” or very little volume in MB.
Check USB Drive Bootable Status from Windows PowerShell
Even Windows PowerShell can give a quick overview of the drive’s bootability. Run it as an administrator from Start menu search.
get-disk to gather information about your USB drive. Check if the device health status is “healthy” and whether it displays no media operational status and 0 Bytes volume (or very low volume).
Check Whether USB Is Bootable Using MobaLiveCD
The easiest third-party software to check a drive’s bootable state is MobaLiveCD, a wrapped-for-the-Qemu-system emulation software. It will actually run an ad-hoc virtual machine and attempt to boot from your USB, so it’s a fairly robust way to check the drive’s bootable state.
1. Download the MobaLiveCD .exe file from the developer’s website.
2. After the download is complete, right-click on the downloaded EXE and choose “Run as Administrator.” If you don’t, you’ll get an error reading “Setup cannot copy the file kqemu.sys” and won’t be able to proceed past step five.
3. Click on the button labeled “Run the LiveUSB” in the bottom half of the window.
4. Chose the USB drive you want to test from the drop-down menu. In this case I’ve selected the F:/ drive. If you’re not sure what the drive letter is, check an Explorer window and locate the drive in the sidebar.
5. When asked to create a hard disk for your virtual machine, click “No” next to the red X.
6. The Qemu emulator will boot the USB drive. You’ll also see a command prompt appear with a little boot-up text. This means the virtual machine is attempting to boot from the drive you selected in the previous step.
7. If you see a booting screen next, this means your drive is bootable! Depending on what you’re trying to boot, there may be multiple boot options as shown below. Press Enter to boot or TAB to edit a menu entry.
Using Magic ISO Maker to Test Disk Images
You can also use the (admittedly very old) freeware Magic ISO Maker to see if a disk image is bootable. This actually works best on images themselves, but it’s a good way to ensure an image is bootable before you burn it to a USB.
1. Download Magic ISO Maker. Once the installation is finished, open the software and chose “Open … ” from the “File” menu.
3. Choose your ISO file from the menu.
4. Look in the menu bar. If it says “Bootable,” that ISO will be bootable once it’s burned to a CD or USB drive. If it doesn’t say bootable, it obviously won’t work to create bootable media.
The best way to test if a USB drive is bootable is to actually try booting your computer from your drive, but that’s not always feasible. The above methods will allow you to find out whether your USB drive is bootable. If you want to start over, we can show you how to format USB drives on Windows, and also how to format drives in FAT32 specifically, if required.