Every Windows user should have access to at least one Windows system rescue disc. A Windows system rescue disc is a bootable recovery environment. The recovery environment usually has a bunch of handy tools you can use to fix Windows, or at least diagnose the issue.
Lots of Windows rescue discs use a Linux environment. But there are also recovery discs that use the Windows Preinstallation Environment (PE) instead. A Windows PE rescue disc has a familiar working environment, excellent hardware support, and the software you need to fix 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 disc will work with all Windows 10 versions: Home, Pro, Education, Enterprise, and so on.
The base Windows PE version supports all Windows applications, drivers, networking tools, disk partitioning and management, Computer Management tools, Hyper-V, and much more. The Windows PE-based recovery discs step this functionality up, adding in tons of free and open source tools you can use to recover, restore, and analyze your ailing Windows 10 installation.
Download: Windows Preinstallation Environment (Free)
Hiren’s BootCD is a legendary Windows rescue disc. It is an all-in-one bootable rescue disc, packed with tools to help you recover from drive failures, malware, password recovery, account management, and much more.
The original Hiren’s BootCD was a Linux environment. But it stopped receiving updates in 2012. However, Hiren’s BootCD was revitalized as a Windows PE rescue disc in 2018. It features loads of open source and free recovery tools, all within a familiar Windows 10 environment. You can check out the full list of tools here.
Download: Hiren’s BootCD PE for Windows (Free)
Bob.Omb’s Modified Win10PEx64 rescue disc is a modified Windows Preinstallation Environment. It has a lengthy list of recovery and analysis tools, including Malwarebytes Antimalware, EaseUS Data Recovery, FileZilla, Rufus, and more.
Unlike some other Windows 10 PE rescue discs, Bob.Omb’s also includes several ransomware decryptors. The ransomware decryptors can scan your system for ransomware, remove it, and restore your encrypted files. However, they only work with specific ransomware types, so don’t attempt to use them on any old type of ransomware—you could make the infection worse or increase the ransom.
If you’re struggling with malware, check out the MakeUseOf complete malware removal guide.
Download: Bob.Ombs Win10PEx64 for Windows (Free)
Kyhi’s Recovery Drive, also known with the cumbersome name of Windows 10 Recovery Tools—Bootable PE Rescue Disk, is a custom Windows 10 PE environment. In this case, TenForum’s user, Kyhi, has developed a Windows 10 PE environment filled with system restore and recovery tools.
Kyhi’s recovery drive has a substantial number of tools for malware removal, disk partitioning and repairing, administration tools, VNC tools, backup and recovery, and much more.
Developer, Kyhi, has stopped issuing pre-made recovery disc ISOs. But you can download the original 2017 release below.
Download: Kyhi’s Recovery Drive for Windows (Free)
The official build name is “Gandalf’s Windows 10PE x64 Redstone 5 Build 17763 Version 04-30-2019.” Gandalf’s Windows 10PE recovery disc features hundreds of tools you can use to rescue your system in times of need.
As far as Windows PE-based recovery discs go, Gandalf’s certainly packs the most in, coming with around 200 tools.
Amongst those programs are disk recovery tools, network analysis apps, hardware and software diagnostic tools, backup programs, malware and firewall apps, and so much more. Gandalf’s recovery disc receives an update every few months, too, meaning most of the recovery apps and tools are running their latest versions.
Download: Gandalf’s Windows 10PE x64 for Windows (Free)
Sergei Streclec’s WinPE is Russian-developed Windows PE-based rescue disc. WinPE has a decent range of recovery tools, network analysis apps, backup utilities, archive tools, password managers, and more.
One nice touch in Sergei Streclec’s WinPE is the organization. All the tools are organized into handy categories, meaning you’ll find what you are looking for straight away.
Download: WinPE for Windows (Free)
Note: Please note the archive password is strelec. You need the password to unlock the recovery tools!
Create a Bootable Windows Recovery Disc
The recovery disc name is a slight misnomer. Originally, recovery discs were exactly that: bootable LiveCDs. Nowadays, you can boot most Windows recovery discs from a USB flash drive. You can boot all the Windows recovery discs on this list from a USB flash drive.
Check out the following list of ten bootable USB tools. My tool of choice is Rufus. Once you download the tool, follow the in-tool instructions to burn the ISO to your USB flash drive.
When you want to run your Windows PE-based recovery disc, shut down the computer, pop the USB flash drive in, and boot your system from the USB drive.
Here’s how you boot your system from a USB flash drive.
What Is the Best Windows PE-Based Recovery Disc?
As ever the best Windows rescue disc is the one that has the tool that fixes your problem. The Windows PE-based recovery discs here cover a similar range of recovery and analysis tools. If there is a specific tool you need, download the relevant recovery disc.
Most of the time, it is better to have a Windows PE-based recovery disc already copied to a USB flash drive. That way, when an issue does appear, you are ready to do battle. Remember, you don’t have to stick to one. Check out how to create a multiboot recovery disc USB for Windows and Linux.