How to recover a non-bootable Windows installation – The Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset

The Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (MSDaRT or DaRT) is tool set to recover Windows which is only available for Volume license customers.

Michael PietroforteMVP By Michael Pietroforte - Wed, October 29, 2008 - 22 comments google+ icon

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor of 4sysops. He is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) with more than 30 years of experience in system administration.

MSDART60 In my view, the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (MSDaRT or DaRT) is one of the best tools when it comes to repairing a non-bootable Windows installation, or when you have to perform repair tasks which can’t be done on a running system. The toolset comes with an ISO file which contains the ERD Commander. You have to burn it on CD and then boot into Windows PE. You will have the following tools available:

  • ERD Registry editor: edit Windows registry
  • Locksmith: reset a password (without knowing the administrator’s password)
  • Crash Analyzer: analyze crash dumps
  • File Restore: Restore deleted files
  • Disk Commander: Repair volumes, MBR, partitions
  • Disk Wipe: Erase data from hard disk
  • Computer Management: System Information, Autoruns (configure autostarting applications), Event Viewer, Disk Management (format, manage partitions, etc.), Services and Drivers (enable, disable, etc.)
  • Explorer: Browse the hard drive
  • Solution Wizard : Choose the proper repair tool
  • TCP/IP Config: Display and set TCP/IP configuration
  • Hotfix Uninstall: uninstall hotfixes
  • SFC Scan: System file repair
  • Search: Search disk for files
  • Standalone System Sweeper: Scan your system for malware, rootkits, and potentially unwanted software

The TCP/IP configuration is not for repairing the host system, but for setting up networking on Windows PE. This allows you to access other utilities on the network. You can also start tools from the hard drive using the Explorer. Of course, not all Windows programs will work on Windows PE.

MSDART60-recovery Additionally, MSDaRT 6.0 has the following recovery options, which you might already know from the Windows Vista recovery disc:

  • Startup Repair: Automatically fix problems that are preventing Windows from starting
  • System Restore: Restore Windows to an earlier point in time
  • Windows Complete PC Restore: Restore your entire computer from a backup
  • Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Check your computer for memory hardware errors
  • Command Prompt: Open a command prompt window

MSDART50 Unfortunately, DaRT is not free. What’s even worse is that not everyone can buy it. It is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which is only available for volume-licensed customers (and for Technet/MSDN subscribers). However, anyone can download the 30-day evaluation version of MSDaRT 5.0. I am not sure what happens after 30 days. I’ve never tried it, but I somehow think that it will still work after that period. Note that MSDaRT 5.0 only works for Windows XP, and MSDaRT 6.0 only on Vista. Both versions come with the same tools, though. MSDaRT 6.0 is part of MDOP 2008 R2. I was unable to find a public download of MDOP or MSDaRT 6.0.

In my opinion, bundling MSDaRT with MDOP is not really a good idea. These tools are not only of interest to enterprise customers; even home users could use them sometimes. The worst thing that can happen to any Windows user is that the system is no longer bootable. These are the most frustrating moments. Therefore, I think that MSDaRT belongs with the Sysinternals suite and should be free for everyone. This would certainly be helpful in moments when the customer experience reaches the lowest possible level.

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22 Comments- Leave a Reply

  1. > I am not sure what happens after 30 days. I’ve never tried it, but I somehow think that it will still work after that period.

    The expiration date is stored in I386/system32/winpeshl.ini on the CD image. So, if you set the system date to some date far in the future before you run the .msi file, which prepares the .iso image, the resulting CD will work for long enough to really try it. Say, 20 years.

  2. Szabcsi says:

    Unfortunately MSDaRT 5.0 is not working with Windows XP SP3.

  3. Michael says:

    Man, what a find! Thanks for shedding light on this very useful tool. Keep up the good work.

  4. Christoph says:

    There are tons of better solutions to fix nonworking MS OS out there, e.g. make a BartPE CD or USB stick and add all the tools and drivers you need. Or if you are too lazy and a bit Linux savvy get a current Knoppix DVD.
    They shouldn’t have killed the old ERD concept after usurping the sysinternals crew imho.

  5. Casey says:

    Your article states that Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) is available for Technet subscribers, but I’ve yet to locate it. Can anyone point me in the right direction?

  6. Michael says:

    Casey, if you login to MSDN and go to downloads it’s located under Servers>desktop Optimization Pack.

  7. Michael Pietroforte Michael says:

    Dmitri, thanks for the tip!
    Szabcsi, that is really odd. I only tried it with SP2.

    Michael, thanks!

    Christoph, I think the problem with other solutions is that it costs you usually quite some time to get them working. I really don’t want to search for drivers just to reset an admin password. The good thing with MSDaRT that already comes with everything you need. All you to have to do, is to boot it up.

    Casey, you will also find it on Technet under Servers.

  8. It seems that the trick I wrote about doesn’t always work. I don’t know what’s the problem, but if it doesn’t, you can always mount the image and edit one line in I386/system32/Winpeshl.ini. The EOT parameter defines the expiration date. Replace it with something like EOT=fffffffffffffff, et voila!

  9. dev101 says:

    It appears there is no server 2003 64-bit version, my oversight or Microsoft’s….?

  10. Ken says:

    Much thanks for this. I can’t update my bios
    because it’s asks me for a Admin pass and I don’t remember it :( ,so hopefully this will help!

  11. WPC says:

    Ken: as you’ve probably found out by now, this won’t help in that situation. You won’t be able to reset BIOS passwords with this tool – they are independent of the operating system.

  12. Saf says:

    Guys I think the reason the MS toolkit is not available to the public, is if people knew there was a easy way to rest a password and keep the files on that laptop intact, a lot more stolen laptops would begin to flood the market disguised as a legitimate laptop etc (not to mention laptop crime would probly jump up a bit).

    But your info has been helpful in resetting my xp password :S, I would prefer not to have to download all my videos again rofl.

  13. Ken says:

    Yea it didn’t help, had to remove some pin and the battery in order for it to allow me to update the bios haha

  14. asd says:

    Most computers have a manual BIOS reset…It is on the mother board, and involves switching a jumper. Google “jumper reset Bios password” Then take your box apart and follow the directions.

  15. Trevor says:

    It looks like the MSDaRT trial download link is no longer working. Is it still available somewhere?

  16. Jalen says:

    How am i supposed to download anything without the admin password?

  17. Adam says:

    trying to reset or recover Windows password (Vista 32-bit)
    downloaded the Windows Diagnostic and Recovery program but it only contained an .iso file – where is the actual program itself?

  18. Trevor says:

    An .iso file is a CD or DVD image. You can either mount it as a virtual CD/DVD (MagicISO is a free program for that) or burn it to a disc to get to the files inside.

    My question is, where did you find the .iso file to download? :)

  19. mark mcgary says:

    Your article was excellent and superb.

    Many will visit…as I did. I am troubled by a
    win 7 password on an end user machine….

    arriving with a problem to my hands. Thanks for the helep and useful tool solution.

    Mark.

  20. wabbit says:

    Thanks for the useful info, have it downloading now. *cough* p2p *cough*. Have a customer’s Vista box that they seem to have no idea what the PW is. But I’m pretty sure it’s legit, has the customer’s pic on the logon screen.

  21. dasap says:

    i already have installed windows server 2008 R2 on my new PC.If I install windows 7 on the same PC [ for a dual boot} on another parition , will it make any problem in the boot menu ? I mean will it disable showing windows server 2008 in the boot menu ? If so how can i fix it ?

    Thanks in advance
    Dasappa

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