How to create a bootable rescue CD

Sooner or later it will happen to you. One day you’ll turn on your PC and it won’t boot. No matter how many times you desperately retry, Windows simply won’t start up. All the time you will be thinking "why didn’t I backup my data."

The good news is your data is probably OK; it’s just that you can’t get to it. Unless of course your hard drive has died. In that case maybe you really should have backed up your data :>)

Assuming your hard drive is OK, you can access your data and copy it onto removable media or another PC using a bootable rescue CD. With a bit of luck you may even be able to use the rescue CD to fix the problem with your PC and get Windows to boot again.

A rescue CD works by allowing you to launch an operating system directly from the CD so you don’t need Windows to be running on your PC. From that CD-based operating system you can then access your hard drive and all your files.
There are lots of rescue CDs available based on different disk-based operating systems. Some use DOS or a DOS clone such as FreeDOS. Others use Linux, but my favorites CDs make use of a cut down version of Windows called the Windows pre-installation environment, the best known of which is Bart’s PE [1].

Of the half dozen or so rescue CDs I have in my tool kit, the one I use most frequently is UBCD4Win [2]. It’s a Windows-based CD that uses Bart’s PE Builder to create the operating system. What I like about it is the huge range of tools included. Yes, you can set up a Bart’s PE disk yourself with the same tools or even more, but it’s not a simple process, while UBCD4Win comes ready to go.

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All Windows Secrets articles posted on 2008-01-24: