by on January 7, 2020, in

Windows Setup USB Flash Drive Not Showing Up in BIOS List of Boot Devices

There are countless articles on how to install Windows 10 from a USB flash drive. Most of them, however, fail to mention a common problem: the USB flash drive does not show up in the BIOS’ list of boot devices. Here is a simple solution that often works.

Penguin USB by Lucius Kwok under CC

Why Install Windows From Scratch?

PC or Laptop vendors do not ship “clean” Windows installations on their devices. Instead, they make any number of changes to the preinstalled OS that may introduce bloat and security issues. Getting rid of all the unwanted modifications is a powerful motivation to install Windows from scratch, specifically on new devices.

Clean Install of Windows: How the Process Should Work

The basic principle is simple:

  • Create a bootable Windows Setup USB flash drive, either with Windows 10 Media Creation Tool or with Rufus.
  • Connect the USB flash drive to the PC or laptop.
  • Power on the device.
  • During the BIOS initialization phase, press ESC/F12 to bring up the list of boot devices (here is a handy list of hotkeys covering most vendors).
  • Select the USB flash drive from the list.
  • Windows setup starts and takes you through the installation.

Problem: USB Flash Drive Does Not Show Up

The process outlined above is simple and painless. Sometimes, however, it breaks at a crucial step: the USB flash drive does not show up in the list of bootable devices. When that happens, a common cause is USB 3.x and the solution is simple: use a USB 2 flash drive. If in doubt: USB 2 flash drives are cheaper and slower, USB 3.x drives are bulkier.

Why is USB 3.x an Issue?

The sad news is that, even in 2020, BIOS support for USB 3.x can be buggy or simply be missing. The problem is not new. Personally, I encountered it as early as 2013 with a Sony Vaio laptop. It took me several hours to identify USB 3 as the root cause. The experience was so frustrating that I used the same “proven” old USB flash drive ever since. Recently though, I got cocky (and also could not find that known good drive): I tried a modern USB 3.x flash drive on a brand-new Dell XPS 15, only to fail miserably. No combination of BIOS settings made the flash drive appear in the list of boot devices. Having exhausted all options (including replacing Media Creation Tool with Rufus) I tried with a dead cheap drive I found on my wife’s desk. It worked instantly. That was when I decided to write this article.

Other Potential Causes

If the USB flash drive does not show up in the BIOS even after switching to a USB 2 device, try the following.

BIOS Settings

Make sure USB boot support is enabled in the BIOS by checking settings like the following (existence and naming depend on your BIOS):

  1. USB support: full initialization (also sometimes called Fastboot: thorough).
  2. USB ports: enabled.
  3. Enable USB boot support: checked.

Other tips

If your USB flash drive still does not show up in the list of boot devices give the following a go.

  1. Reset the BIOS settings to the factory defaults.
  2. Prepare the USB flash drive with Rufus instead of Windows Media Creation Tool.

Miscellaneous

Various tips not directly related to USB flash drives not showing up in the list of boot devices.

  1. Always choose UEFI mode in BIOS. There should not be any reason to switch to legacy BIOS mode.
  2. Select AHCI as SATA mode, not RAID or legacy.
  3. Secure Boot should be enabled. It is not necessary to disable it to boot from USB flash drives.

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