We've rounded up the six programs we think are best for helping you create that failsafe emergency boot disc.
Vista Recovery Disc
It looked like Microsoft was finally going to do the right thing. Beta versions of Vista SP1 came with a modern equivalent of the old Windows Boot Floppy - a Start menu option called 'Create a Recovery Disc' that burned a Windows PE-based emergency CD.
Alas, Microsoft removed that feature before SP1 shipped, but not, fortunately, before NeoSmart turned the disc into an .iso file and made it available on its site.
Running on the Vista version of Windows PE, the Recovery Disc is basically a Vista installation disc minus the install files. It even has an 'Install now' button that asks for a Product Key before failing. You're better off clicking the Repair your computer button. Among its Vista-only options are a tool for diagnosing and fixing startup problems, a version of System Restore that uses restore points on the hard drive, the restore portions of Vista's backup program, and a memory diagnostic tool.
Ultimate Boot CD for Windows
This BartPE-based boot disc comes with a huge selection of tools to access your data and get your PC booting properly again. Some of them are even useful.
Ultimate Boot CD for Window (UBCD) takes a long time to load and asks you some odd questions before it's finally up. But once it's there, you can edit the Windows Registry (yes, the one on the hard drive) in RegEdit, recover deleted files, and even run benchmarks. There are several malware scanners, four defraggers, and eight diagnostic programs (including HD Tune and Windows' own chkdsk).
This boot CD also includes backup utilities to help you salvage your files. There's a driver backup and a system profile backup whose web-based documentation no longer comes up. And four separate image backup programs. One of those programs, DriveImage XML, we considered recommending in past articles but didn't because restoring from it requires a second Windows installation, something the program gets with UBCD.
The experience of setting up UBCD is identical to creating a BartPE disc, with the same possibility of failure. But when it works, you get a lot more.
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