Saturday, November 27, 2010

Windows: Create a Bootable Windows Disc; Mike Williams shows you how tobuild a disaster recovery disc with everything you need to get anunbootable PC working again.

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Startup Repair is one of Microsoft's best additions to Windows, fixing many common startup problems and restoring unbootable PCs. The system isn't perfect, though. In particular, it's designed for ease of use, rather than power. There's little control over what it's doing, and you can't customise the tools that Startup Repair offers: it's Microsoft's defaults or nothing at all.

Fortunately, there's another option. Startup Repair, and Windows DVDs in general, are built around something called the Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE). This isn't just for creating Windows setup discs - with a little help from a useful Microsoft application, you'll be able to build your own custom Windows PE environment, with many extra troubleshooting tools.


Microsoft intended Windows PE to be used by OEMs as a tool to create their own custom Windows installation discs, but other Windows users can use it too. Most of the work comes in downloading and installing the bulky Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows 7, a 1.66GB ISO file on the Microsoft site (

Grab a copy of the WAIK and install the version appropriate for your PC. Despite the Windows 7 designation, it'll run on Windows Vista SP1, as well as Server 2003 SP2 and Server 2008/2008 R2.

Now click 'Start > All Programs > Microsoft Windows AIK > Deployment Tools Command Prompt' to open the command window where you'll be doing most of your work.

To create the standard boot image, just type copype. cmd x86 C:\winpe and press Enter. The x86 assumes you're working on a 32-bit system, so use copype.cmd amd64 C:\winpe for AMD 64 PCs, or copype.cmd ia64 C:\winpe for 64-bit Intel-based systems. (If there's a 'C:\ Winpe' folder on your PC already, replace the reference with another folder name.)

The script you've just run will have created a bootable system image in Microsoft's WIM format, and you can view the file at 'C:\winpe\winpe.wim'. This may be customised, but for now we'll copy this image to its proper place in your image folder. Type:

copy C:\winpe\winpe.wim C:\winpe\ISO\sources\boot. wim

And press Enter. Now only the final step remains - you need to convert these files into an ISO image, ready for burning on to a CD. Microsoft has a command for that too. Type:

oscdimg -n -h -bc:\winpe\etfsboot. com c:\ winpe\iso c:\winpe\winpe. iso

And press [Enter]. There isn't a space between the -b switch (which tells the WAIK to make the ISO bootable) and c:\winpe path, so enter the command carefully.

Once you've created the ISO file, burn it to a CD, preferably a rewriteable disc, as this image is only a first attempt and you'll probably want to rewrite it later.

Now boot from the disc. You should see a 'Loading Windows' message, followed by the usual Windows 7 boot screen. This will disappear after a while, before a command line window pops up - now you're ready to go.

Right now, as this is only the standard base Windows PE installation, your problem-solving power is limited. For instance, you're able to access your PC's hard drive, look at partitioning problems with DiskPart and use troubleshooting tools such as BootSect, BCDEdit or Chkdsk. You might also be able to edit the Registry, but that's about it.

Even these command line options might be enough to get a broken PC running again, but you don't have to stop there. It's easy to extend the discs with additional programs that will provide powerful new functionality.


Windows PE is a stripped-down version of Windows that includes only its core essentials, which means you can't place just any program on your disc and expect it to work. Your tools also need to be cut down and simple, with no real dependencies - small, portable apps are a good place to start.

One good example of this is Microsoft's Malicious Software Removal Tool. It runs from a single file, makes minimal demands on your PC and is genuinely useful, detecting and removing a host of common threats. Your disc really should have something like this to detect and remove malware, and adding it is very straightforward.

Start by right-clicking 'Start > All Programs > Microsoft Windows AIK > Deployment Tools Command Prompt', running it as an Administrator, then enter copype.cmd x86 C:\ winpe2. As before, replace x86 with amd64 or ia64 if appropriate.

We've used a new folder here, 'C:\winpe2'. However, if you don't want to keep the base Windows PE installation then simply delete the 'C:\winpe' folder and use that again for these commands.

Now head off to Microsoft and download the latest Malicious Software Removal Tool. It will have a lengthy name that you won't want to type later, so rename it MRT.EXE instead. Create a 'C:\winpe2\ISO\Tools' folder and copy MRT.EXE there.

Switch back to the WAIK command line window and you're ready for the final steps. Type copy C:\winpe2\winpe.wim C:\winpe2\ ISO\sources\boot.wim and press Enter to make sure the image takes its rightful place on your disc. Now type oscdimg -n -h -bc:\ winpe2\ c:\winpe2\iso c:\ winpe2\winpe.iso, press Enter, and your ISO image will be created.


Boot from your new disc and at first it won't look any different to the initial version. The first thing you'll notice is that the Malicious Software Removal Tool isn't visible in any of your system folders. So what's going on?

The answer is simple. When a Windows PE disc boots, it creates a drive in RAM, usually naming it something like 'X:', and this is what you see at the command prompt. If the WAIK had placed your additional programs there, though, this would have tied up memory and you could quickly run short. So, the Malicious Software Removal Tool - and anything else you add - is left on the Windows PE disc, and you'll need to access it from there.

To do this, you'll need its drive letter, which we can get with a little DOS trick. Type ECHO LIST VOLUME | DISKPART and press Enter. This will list all the available drives on your PC, with their reference letter in the 'Ltr' column, so picking out the Windows PE disc should be easy.

Assuming it's 'E', you would type the following commands, pressing Enter after each:


CD Tools


The Malicious Software Removal Tool will display a message saying it's unpacking files. A few seconds later, its graphical wizard will appear, which means you can forget all about command line tedium. Just click 'Next', choose a scan type and allow the program to give your PC a health check.


We've made a good start, but a major problem remains - the command line interface is rather inconvenient. The inclusion of a File Manager seems like a very good idea, and Q-Dir is the perfect candidate: it's powerful, easy to use and provides up to four windows in the same view. Despite all this, it doesn't require installation and is a tiny 376KB download. Grab it from, making sure you get the portable version.

Unzip the installation file, change to its folder, then run Q-Dir. Choose your language, accept the licence and close the program. Now take the contents of the Q-Dir folder - there should be a 'Q-Dir.exe' file, a similarly named INI file and so on - and copy them to C:\winpe2\iso\Tools.

As we're not going to make any changes to the bootable Windows PE image itself - the part that remains in RAM - there's no need to worry about the ImageX commands we worked through before. It's enough to build the ISO file by typing oscdimg -n -h -bc:\ winpe2\ c:\winpe2\iso c:\ winpe2\winpe.iso and pressing Enter. Anything we've placed in the ISO folder will transfer to the new disc image.

Now burn this to disc, boot from it and you'll then start with the usual command line. Enter e:\tools\q-dir (replacing 'e:' with the letter of the DVD drive on your PC). Q-Dir's Explorer-like window will appear, giving you a more friendly view. You'll be able to browse your files looking for damage, copy documents from one local drive to another, double-click extras like the Malicious Software Removal Tool to launch them, etc.


You don't have to live with the limitations of Windows Startup Repair. The Windows Automated Installation Kit will build your disaster recovery disc in just a few minutes, and then it's easy to extend this, adding malware detection, file management and any capabilities you like. Simply drag and drop the executable you need to the tools folder, re-burn your ISO file and you're upgraded.

All you have to do is decide what you want to include, and there are plenty of PE-compatible choices around. Sysinternals Autoruns ( will report on all your Windows startup programs, for instance; NTPWEDIT ( changes passwords, so if you've forgotten yours then you'll be able to log in again; and if you can't fix your system, Raw Copy ( will try to copy a raw image of your PC's drive directly to another.

For more tools and utilities that work in similar boot disc projects, see the 4sysops site (

The Ultimate Boot CD for Windows ( ultiboot) has a host of useful tools too, many of which are likely to run under Windows PE. Download a few, experiment and before long you'll have a recovery disc that can cope with just about any potential PC disaster.

Source Citation
"Windows: Create a Bootable Windows Disc; Mike Williams shows you how to build a disaster recovery disc with everything you need to get an unbootable PC working again." APC 17 Nov. 2010. General OneFile. Web. 27 Nov. 2010.
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