Every Windows user should have access to at least one Windows system rescue CD. A Windows system rescue CD is a bootable recovery environment. There are usually a number of useful tools in the recovery environment that you can use to repair Windows, or at least diagnose the problem.
Many Windows rescue disks use a Linux environment. However, there are recovery media that use the Windows Pre-Installation Environment (PE) instead. A Windows PE rescue disk has a familiar environment, great hardware support, and the software you need to repair your system.
What is Windows PE
Windows PE is a lightweight version of the Windows 10 operating system. You can use Windows PE to install, test, and repair a full installation of Windows 10. A Windows PE recovery CD works with all versions of Windows 10: Home, Pro, Education, Enterprise, etc.
The basic version of Windows PE supports all Windows applications, drivers, network tools, disk partitioning and management, computer management tools, Hyper-V and much more. The Windows PE-based recovery disks extend this functionality and add tons of free, open-source tools that you can use to restore, restore, and analyze your ailing Windows 10 installation.
Download: Windows pre-installation environment (free)
While Windows PE is a fully functional version of Windows 10, you can't use it as your daily operating system. Microsoft prevents the use of Windows PE as a regular operating system with an automatic restart after 72 hours of uninterrupted use. In addition, "this period is not configurable." When a Windows PE recovery environment is reset, all work or programs are permanently destroyed.
Hiren's BootCD is a legendary Windows rescue CD. It's an all-in-one bootable rescue disk with a variety of tools to help you troubleshoot drive errors, malware, password recovery, account management, and more.
Hiren's original BootCD was a Linux environment. The receipt of updates ceased in 2012. However, Hiren's BootCD was revived as a Windows PE rescue disc in 2018. It offers a variety of open source and free recovery tools in a familiar Windows 10 environment. The full list of tools can be found here.
Download: Hirens BootCD PE for Windows (Free)
The modified Win10PEx64 rescue disk from Bob.Omb is a modified Windows pre-installation environment. It has a long list of recovery and analysis tools including Malwarebytes Antimalware, EaseUS Data Recovery, FileZilla, Rufus, and more.
Unlike some other Windows 10 PE rescue disks, Bob.Omb also includes several ransomware decryptors. The ransomware decrypters can scan your system for ransomware, remove it and restore your encrypted files. However, they only work with certain types of ransomware. So don't try to use them on old types of ransomware. They could make the infection worse or increase the ransom.
If you are struggling with malware, check out MakeUseOf's complete malware removal guide.
Download: Bob.Ombs Win10PEx64 for Windows (Free)
Kyhi's recovery drive, also known by the awkward name of Windows 10 Recovery Tools – Bootable PE Rescue Disk, is a custom Windows 10 PE environment. In this case, TenForum user Kyhi designed a Windows 10 PE environment filled with system recovery and recovery tools.
The Kyhi recovery drive has a significant number of tools for removing malware, partitioning and repairing disks, management tools, VNC tools, backup and restore, and much more.
Developer Kyhi has stopped issuing pre-made ISOs for recovery discs. However, you can download the original 2017 version below.
Download: Kyhi's Recovery Drive for Windows (Free)
The official build name is "Gandalfs Windows 10PE x64 Redstone 5 Build 17763 Version 04-30-2019". Gandalf's Windows 10PE Recovery CD contains hundreds of tools to help you rescue your system in time of need.
As for Windows PE based recovery disks, Gandalf is certainly the best 200 tools.
These programs include disk recovery tools, network analysis apps, hardware and software diagnostic tools, backup programs, malware and firewall apps, and much more. Gandalf's recovery CD is also updated every few months, so most recovery apps and tools are running their latest versions.
Download: Gandalfs Windows 10PE x64 for Windows (Free)
Sergei Streclec's WinPE is a Windows PE-based rescue disk developed in Russia. WinPE offers a good selection of recovery tools, network analysis apps, backup programs, archiving tools, password managers and much more.
A nice touch in WinPE by Sergei Streclec is the organization. All tools are divided into convenient categories so you can find what you're looking for right away.
Download: WinPE for Windows (free)
Note: Please note that the archive password is strelec. You need the password to unlock the recovery tools!
How to create a bootable Windows recovery CD
The name of the recovery CD is a slight misnomer. Originally, recovery discs were just that: bootable LiveCDs. Today, most Windows recovery disks can be booted from a USB flash drive. You can boot any of the Windows recovery media on this list from a USB flash drive.
Check out the list of ten bootable USB tools below. My tool of choice is this Rufus. After downloading the tool, follow the instructions in the tool to burn the ISO to your USB flash drive.
To run your Windows PE based recovery CD, shut down your computer, insert the USB flash drive, and boot your system from the USB drive.
How to start your system from a USB stick.
What's the Best Windows PE-Based Recovery CD?
As always, the best Windows Rescue CD is the one with the tool that fixes your problem. The Windows PE-based recovery media cover a similar set of recovery and analysis tools here. If you need a specific tool, download the appropriate recovery CD.
In most cases, it is better to have a Windows PE-based recovery CD already copied to a USB flash drive. That way, when a problem arises, you'll be ready to fight. Remember, you don't have to stick to one.
How to create a bootable multiboot USB for Windows and Linux
Installation from a USB stick has become fashionable. I haven't used a CD for an installation in a long time. I didn't even buy an optical drive for the last PC I built, three years now …
About the author
(603 articles published)
Gavin is the junior editor for Windows and Technology Explained, contributing regularly to the Really Useful Podcast, and was the editor for MakeUseOf's crypto-focused sister site Blocks Decoded. He has a BA (Hons) in Contemporary Writing Using Digital Art Practices Looted from the Devon Hills, as well as over a decade of writing experience. He enjoys plenty of tea, board games, and soccer.
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