We've rounded up the six programs we think are best for helping you create that failsafe emergency boot disc.
Trinity Rescue Kit
This is the only Linux Live CD variant we've ever encountered that is intended specifically for rescuing Windows computers. As such, it's no surprise that it's a powerful and versatile repair environment.
But it's really not designed for Windows users. Trinity Rescue Kit's command line interface could humble anyone but the most devoted Linux geek.
If you take the time to read the 46-page documentation and learn the program, you'll be rewarded next time disaster strikes. Among the tools that will be at your disposal are a script that runs four different malware scanners, a tool for resetting passwords, a Registry editor, a program that clones an NTFS partition to another PC over a network, a mass undeleter that tries to recover every deleted file on the drive, several tools for recovering data off a formatted or dying disk, two tools for fixing master boot record repair programs, and hardware diagnostics.
Activ e@ Boot Disk
Finally, we come to a boot disc that offers useful tools, is easy to use, and can be created from virtually any XP or Vista computer. The catch? At $80 (£40), it costs more than the other five options put together.
Based on Windows PE, LSoft Technologies' Active@ Boot Disk offers a well-chosen collection of utilities, including image backup and recovery, a CD/DVD-based data backup program (Windows PE and Active@ load entirely into RAM, making the disc drive available for other uses), and a tool for recovering deleted partitions and files. You can change Windows passwords, wipe your hard drive, and choose between three partition managers. A Windows Explorer clone lets you copy files off of the hard drive.
You can even bring up Windows' Task Manager, although we're not sure why you'd want to. And if you're feeling really geeky, there's even a HEX editor.
Price: $80 (£40) (ten-day free trial period)