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How to Create a Bootable Windows Rescue CD

April 2, 2009

in data storage and recovery,Windows

by David Hakala

One fine day, it will happen to you: you will turn on your PC and nothing will happen. “Unable to load operating system” or something similar will appear on an otherwise dark, blank screen. The feeling engendered by this experience is somewhat akin to waking up in a hospital and finding one of your limbs gone. But fear not, it can probably be grown back!

Your data is probably safe on the hard drive, and your operating system may well be repairable. But you have to get access to them in order to fix things. At worst, if the disk must be reformatted and Windows re-installed, you need to get your data safely moved to a temporary home first. For that, you need a bootable Windows rescue CD.

A rescue CD allows you to boot from the CD drive instead your main hard drive (usually C: ). From there, you can do just about anything you could do after booting normally. There are several varieties of bootable rescue CDs, but a favorite is a stripped-down version of Windows called the Windows pre-installation environment (PE).

Bart’s PE is a popular tool for building PE CDs. You need your original Windows CD, technical knowhow, and some patience. There are also software packages that simplify the building of a rescue CD and add helpful utilities to the final product.

UBCD4Win is the Ultimate Bootable CD 4 Windows. One of the many valuable tools included is the free imaging program, DriveImageXML, which lets you create and restore images of your disk drives. This allows you to restore an image of the drive containing Windows even if your Windows system is not booting. However, you must have created an image before your system failed.

You can boot from a USB flash drive with a UBCD4Win rescue disk. Most recent computers will boot from a USB drive, however some vintage computers may lack this capability.

The UBCD4Win build kit can be downloaded for free, but it’s about 240 MB. Alternatively, you can order a copy on CD via snailmail for $7.95. Either way, make yourself a bootable Windows CD rescue disk. It’s almost certain that you will need it some day.

David Hakala has perpetrated technology tutorials since 1988 in addition to committing tech journalism, documentation, Web sites, marketing collateral, and profitable prose in general. His complete rap sheet can be seen at