Make a rescue disk with WinPE and you can have a really cool system recovery environment at just under 200MB in size. A rescue disk is a simple, cut-down OS from which you can troubleshoot a system – if your main system won’t boot up, then booting into a rescue disk will give you a basic OS from which you can run diags and fixes.

Your Windows install disc can do this as well – you can boot up with your Windows install DVD and choose “repair” instead of “install” to gain access to some basic recovery options, but they are pretty limited. A well-made rescue disk can do so much more.

Windows PE is a great recovery toolkit. PE stands for Preinstallation Environment. It comes in at just under 200MB so will easily fit on a USB, CD or DVD, and is completely free.

To begin, download the Windows Assessment & Deployment Toolkit – https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/confirmation.aspx?id=30652. This is a great toolkit with LOTS of cool features (you can test your system for conflicts before you upgrade to Win 8 or Win 10, for example) and WinPE is included.

  • Install the toolkit, then find Deployment & Imaging Tools in your list of programs
  • Right-click the icon and choose “run as administrator”
  • Then type copype x86 C:\WinPE_x86. This will make a copy of WinPE to your C:\winpe1
  • Insert your USB drive (beware, it will be formatted!) and type MakeWinPEMedia /UFD C:\WinPE_x86 R:  (where R: is letter of your USB drive).winpe2
  • This will copy all the WinPE files to your USB disk and make it bootable. Hit Y and it will start the process.winpe3
  • If you want to make a DVD or CD then type MakeWinPEMedia /ISO C:\WinPE_x86 C:\WinPE_x86\WinPE_x86.iso.winpe4
  • That will create a .iso file in the same WinPE folder on your C:\, and you can then use a tool like Nero, Starburn or Power ISO to burn it. Windows also has a free bootable USB/DVD maker tool here – http://wudt.codeplex.com/ – although sometimes this doesn’t burn properly.

Once you have made your media, test it by rebooting and selecting it from the boot menu.