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Win10 USB 3.0 Boot (or Not)

I’m still running two older Lenovo laptops, both with i7 2640M CPUs that date back to 2011. I purchased those machines in early 2012 to work on a book about Windows 8, especially because the X220 Tablet was one of the few compatible touch displays available at the time that was also fairly affordable. However, these devices are old enough to lack built-in support for USB 3.0. I remedied that lack by purchasing a 2-port USB 3.0 PCIe card. But it poses an interesting conundrum: while Windows 10 sees devices plugged into the card perfectly, it seems that the PC’s built-in UEFI environment does not. I can only imagine that’s because Windows recognizes the PCIe device and loads an appropriate device driver, where the basic boot-up run-time either cannot or simply does not do likewise. That’s where the (or Not) comes from in the title for this blog: Win10 USB 3.0 Boot (or Not). I’ve also read about others encountering similar problems on other laptops and desktops over at (Asus, Gigabyte H67A-UD3H-B3 mobo, Lenovo, and more).

With USB 3.0, more leads means more speed.
[Source: Tom’s Hardware]

Why Does Win10 USB 3.0 Boot Ability Matter?

Why indeed? The answer, simply put, is “Speed.” USB 3.0 runs two to three times faster than USB 2.0, so booting up and/or installing an OS from a USB Flash Drive (UFD) is much faster with devices that support the newer USB version. I observed this at work when trying to reinstall the OS, but being unable to access a USB 3.0 flash drive in these computers’ F12 boot selection menu. In fact, those devices don’t appear at all on either of my Lenovo machines, though they work fine on newer PCs, hybrid laptops (Dell Venue Pro 11 7139), and tablets (Surface Pro 3), with USB 3.0 support baked into the UEFI.

There are a couple of take-aways from these observations:

  1. If your Windows responsibilities include care and feeding of older PCs or laptops, though they may be perfectly capable of running Windows 10, they may not be able to recognize or boot from USB 3.0 flash drives.
  2. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep some USB 2.0 flash drives around, and to use them to create bootable install environments for Windows 10. They will come in handy for repair and recovery scenarios, as well as should a clean reinstall of Windows 10 ever be called for on such older gear.

So remember, if you find yourself in a situation where Win10 USB 3.0 Boot media are not working, the next thing to try is their USB 2.0 counterpart. More often than not, that will solve your boot problems.