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Your PC’s operating system crashed, and the only chance of recovery is an ISO file flashed to a USB stick.
But if you don’t have a spare PC to create installation media with, don’t worry. Android has you covered. Here’s how to recover your PC using your phone or tablet.
Your PC Is Toast: What Now?
We’ve all been there: your PC won’t load. Perhaps the operating system was compromised by a virus, or the hard disk is failing and needs replaced. There’s data you need to recover, but you have no way to burn a recovery disk.
You may think your PC is the only device you have that is capable of downloading and burning ISO files (disk images saved as a single file). Or is it?
If you have an Android phone or tablet on hand running Android 3.1 or later, the device probably has USB On-The-Go (OTG) support. This means you can attach USB devices to your phone or tablet. That includes a mouse, a keyboard, or even a USB storage device.
This is the path you can use to recover your PC. Download the recovery disk ISO file, connect the USB device to your tablet or phone, and burn the ISO file using a dedicated app.
You’ve probably noticed that the USB port on your Android device is smaller than the connector on your USB drive. We’ll deal with that in due course.
Using Android Like a PC
If you have an Android phone or tablet nearby, as long as it has OTG support, there’s a good chance you can use it to fix your PC.
But wait: have you diagnosed the problem? Before proceeding with recovery, use a search engine to check what the boot issue might be. Think about the symptoms, what your PC did before it crashed, and how long you’ve had the problem. Taking this approach will help you to decide what path to take later when burning an ISO.
For instance, you might require a dedicated recovery disk, or simply a fresh version of your preferred operating system. However, if you’re not sure, opt for the recovery disk. As long as your Android device has enough storage space, find a suitable disk image ISO file and download it. If you’re low on space, try a tiny Linux distro.
Be sure to use your home network for this, rather than mobile internet. Downloading an operating system will use several gigabytes of data, which could eat up your entire mobile allowance.
Create Bootable ISO Media With an App
Once you’ve downloaded the ISO you want, you’ll need a tool to burn it with. Several are available, but one of the most consistent is ISO 2 USB.
To use this, however, you’ll also need an OTG adapter. This is an affordable cable that you can purchase from mobile phone retailers or online.
Once connected to your phone, the OTG adapter cable will enable you to connect a USB flash drive. You can write your downloaded ISO to this destination.
Begin by connecting the USB drive via the OTG cable, then tapping the first Pick button. Choose your USB drive, then proceed to the second Pick button to choose the ISO file. Be sure to accept Android’s permissions requests throughout; you’ll be asked to allow access to your media files, as well as the USB drive.
With both selected, you can then tap Start to begin writing the data. It shouldn’t take long to complete; once done, remove the USB device, insert it in your PC, and begin recovery. Remember to change the boot order in your computer’s BIOS to enable booting from USB.
Turning a Phone Into a Bootable Linux Environment
If you don’t have a USB flash drive or a USB to OTG cable, but do have a rooted Android device, you can try an alternative approach.
DriveDroid is a useful utility that lets you boot your PC directly over a USB cable using any ISO or IMG file stored on your phone. You just need your Android smartphone or tablet and a suitable cable—no flash drives required.
It’s important to note that this is only an option for rooted devices. Even then, some phones may not work as intended due to kernel peculiarities.
Note also that this solution requires support for USB Mass Storage on your device. While modern versions of Android don’t support USB Mass Storage, DriveDroid’s website notes that “DriveDroid has various methods of enabling Mass Storage.”
How to Recover a PC Using DriveDroid
After installing DriveDroid, head to a desktop computer and download the ISO that you plan to use for recovery.
Run DriveDroid and Grant root permissions. Next, click the Download button, and select an OS to download to your phone. A massive selection is available, from Ubuntu to ZorinOS, Tiny Linux, Gentoo, Arch Linux, and other top Linux distros.
However, if you’re trying to recover your PC, the best options are boot-repair-disk, or CloneZilla if you need to clone the contents of your dying HDD.
Note that when you select an OS, you’re given a version to select. This is typically a recent build, in 32-bit or 64-bit flavors. Be sure to select the OS that suits the build of the PC you’re attempting to recover.
With the OS selection made, wait while it downloads to your Android device. The ISO file will save in the Downloads folder, but will also appear in the main DriveDroid screen. Select the ISO, then wait while the options are displayed. Choose standard USB storage, read-only USB storage, or CD-ROM. This will determine how the ISO behaves when you reboot your computer.
You can then connect the Android device to your PC, and reboot. As long as your computer’s boot selection screen is configured to default to USB devices, the downloaded operating system will boot from your phone. You can then use this to recover your PC, or even install a brand-new OS.
Two Options to Recover Your PC With Android
If your PC is out of action, you can install a new operating system or run a recovery environment thanks to Android. Two solid options are available:
- ISO 2 USB: Lets you burn an ISO file directly to a USB flash drive over USB-OTG.
- DriveDroid: Enables you to store bootable ISO files on Android.
By now you should have either a USB stick with a disk image installed, or an Android device with one or more ISOs ready to boot your PC.
Still having trouble? Try another recovery option. If you end up gaining access to a second PC, follow our guide to backing up your data when your computer won’t boot.