Create a bootable Windows PE 3.0 USB drive with rescue tools – Part 1

Learn how to create a bootable Windows PE 3.0 USB drive. First you you create the bootable USB stick, then you copy the WinPE 3.0 files to the drive.
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Michael Pietroforte

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 IT management and system administration.
Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte

Update: There is now an easier way to create Windows PE boot media.

For Windows PE 1.0, the minimalist Windows based on Windows 2003/XP, you needed an SA (Software Assurance), OEM, or ISV license. When Windows Vista was released everyone had access to Windows PE 2.0. This also applies to the Windows 7-based edition, Windows PE 3.0. Windows PE (Preinstallation Environment) was originally designed to deploy Windows. However, it is also useful in creating your own customized rescue boot media. In this article, I will describe how you can create a bootable Windows PE 3.0 (WinPE) USB stick, and, in my next post, I will show how to add your own rescue tools and how to keep your rescue stick up-to-date without much hassle. You will see that the procedure described here is much more convenient than most solutions you’ll find on the web.

Create a bootable USB drive ^

Before you get started, you have to make your flash drive bootable. I have already described this procedure in my post about the Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool. For your convenience here is the command sequence, which you should run on a command prompt with admin rights:

  1. diskpart
  2. list disk
  3. select disk #
  4. clean
  5. create partition primary
  6. select partition 1
  7. active
  8. format quick fs=fat32
  9. assign
  10. exit

Replace ‘#’ with the drive number of your USB drive. Be careful to choose the right disk in 3 because this procedure will erase the whole drive!

Copy the WinPE 3.0 files to the USB drive ^

WinPE 3.0 is part of the Windows Automated Installation Kit (WAIK) for Windows 7, which you can download here. Once you have installed the WAIK, you’ll find a folder of the Windows AIK on the Windows Start Menu. Launch the Deployment Tools Command Prompt and enter this command:

  1. copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86
  2. Then, copy winpe.wim to the correct folder:
    copy c:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim
  3. Now, copy WinPE to your USB drive:
    xcopy C:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /e G:\

In this example, ‘G:’ is the drive letter of your flash drive.

Now you should be able to boot from your WinPE 3.0 USB drive. In my next post, I will outline the interesting part—that is, how to prepare your USB drive so that you can add new tools without starting again from scratch.

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63 Comments
  1. avatar
    Fred 6 years ago

    A quick post to thank you Michael for all your recent articles, I discovered your website a few weeks ago and now it is one of my firefox bookmarked start pages.

    I’m dying to read part2 of this Windows PE 3 related article 🙂

    (yet another sysadmin)

  2. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Fred, thanks!. The second part will probably come on Thursday. Have to make a few minor tweaks.

  3. avatar
    kosmito 6 years ago

    What is minimal size for usb stick?

  4. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    kosmito, I think Windows PE 3.0 requires not more than 250 MB.

  5. avatar
    Barbara Herrmann 6 years ago

    Are there special requirements for BIOS or graphics to boot win pe? My problem is, that I’m using a very thin client which is intended to be used for win 7 embedded, and booting stops at ‘Starting Windows’ where the flying bubbles should appear.

  6. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Barbara, there a no such requirements for normal PCs. However, its is possible that Windows PE lacks some device drivers that are required for your thin client.

  7. avatar
    Dave 6 years ago

    Got up to this section:

    Then, copy winpe.wim to the correct folder:

    copy c:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim

    Am I overwritting boot.win with winpe.wim? Or am I copying them to the usb drive?

  8. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Dave, yes, I think the name of the WIM file in the sources folder has to be boot.wim.

  9. avatar
    Dave 6 years ago

    Thanks, I did get it to work. I actually realized that I had a mistype in winpe.wi(n) instead of (m).

  10. avatar
    Chris Rock 6 years ago

    Thx for fast and clean guide on this Michael, but even after following it fully I couldnt get my UFD to boot – message I was getting was : ‘Disk Error bla bla bla’ , browsed some other forums and found out that it has to do with BIOS settings that do not ‘fully’ see your UFD thus making unable to boot from it. Some BIOSes have an option to emulate ur stick as a fdd/hdd drive which should fix the issue, however for those who do not have such option [including me] I recommend excellent utility called WinSetupFromUSB from:

    http://www.msfn.org/board/install-USB-WinSetupF-t120444.html

    Finally thanks to formatting option that adds a second, little partition to your USB [which will essentially redirect ntldr/bootldr/etc. boot request to your USB data partition], I was able to boot my WinPE from it. Hail forums, death to microsoft manuals!

  11. avatar
    RoninV 6 years ago

    For those ‘still’ using Vista, where is PE 2.0 located, and are the steps mentioned basically the same when creating a bootable Windows PE 2.0 USB drive?

  12. avatar
    Hidayah 6 years ago

    Hi Micheal…
    i need some advise to reset my HP MINI 1000 window password. My son might change the password without me knowing and now he also did not know the password.
    ive read a lot regarding reseting password but the problem is hp mini dont have dvd drive. can u please advise me.

    Thanks for your time.

  13. avatar
    WimC 6 years ago

    Thanks Michael,

    For several month I’m trying to get Windows on a stick.
    I’ve tried several solutions that are presented on the net.
    So far, this is the only one that works for me.
    Quick and clean.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise,

    Wim Cranen

  14. avatar
    Chris Smith 6 years ago

    Is it possible to add extra fonts to the off-line image using a .inf installation file? I have written an .inf that is designed to copy the fonts to Windows\fonts, and update the registry using the DISM /Add-Drivers command, but although it runs without any errors, it fails to update the image. I have run the .inf when the image has booted and is “on-line”, and it works, so the problem seems to be with the off-line DISM routine.

  15. avatar
    nick 6 years ago

    mike,
    i am trying to reset a password on windows vista and for the life of me i cannot figure out how. other than paying best buy 37 bucks to do it. can u please break it down for me in terms i can understand

  16. avatar
    THI 5 years ago

    Dear Michael!
    i need some advice to reset my window vista password! i have fogoten my password and now i can’t log in.in order to reset password it require me to have “removable media such as a floppy disk or USB flash drive”.i don know where i can get or create these things.
    i try to read all of your recommendation for reset but i dont have any CD/or DVD.I was thinking about reinstall window vista but i dont know how can you please advise me or can you please give me some advice for reset pass without need CD/DVD.thank you so much

  17. avatar
    Daniel 5 years ago

    i followed step 1 to create a bootable usb drive
    however instead of selecting my usb as a disk i accidently selected my external as a disk. i realiezed until i got to the clean part of the step. now my computer can’t read the external hard drive… how do i get my hard drive back to normal? will i be able to obtain all my files again?

  18. avatar
    Ian 5 years ago

    I tried Windows PE 3.0 bootable USB drive on some brand-new Lenovo W510 laptops. After boot into Windows PE, and run List Disk in Diskpart, it only shows the build-in hard disk, not any USB drives plugged in so I can access images saved on USB drives. Also when List Partition/Volume in Diskpart, C: drive shows RAW and cannot dir it. However C: has working O.S. installed. Something I can do for this special type of laptop? Thanks.

  19. avatar
    Phil 5 years ago

    The link you posted is a download for a supplment .iso that does not have an installer (StartCD.exe).

    So what do I download to install WAIK?

  20. avatar
    Dan 5 years ago

    Hey, seriously, thank you! I’ve used this guide several times and it’s been great. Thank you!

  21. avatar
    michel 5 years ago

    hello my USB key does not work with diskpart…(list disk)
    I use windows XP and Microsoft Windows AIK

    do you Know an issue?

    Thanks
    Michel

  22. avatar
    ketan 5 years ago

    you are awesome buddy

  23. avatar
    Jason 5 years ago

    My computer is Windows Vista basic but I forgot the System Password to load anything past the log on screen and I was wondering if you can supply instructions for this type information for my version or does the 7 directions also apply to my case plus how much memory is required on the Flash drive to use this procedure? I tried to do something I found on the internet describing booting into safe mode to a command prompt and enter NET USER to access resetting options but this loading some files that stopped for a moment to only take me back to the Administrator sign in page. A Thumb drive is my only alternative because my only web connection is at a public library to download any of these programs and the machines there have limited permission.

  24. avatar
    Ed Neil 5 years ago

    (Sorry for all caps but I couldn’t express myself any better)
    YOU ARE THE MAN!
    THANK YOU SO MUCH!
    You have saved me so much anger and (potentially money) trying to fix my Windows 7 Slate PC.
    It won’t netboot and gPXE doesn’t work at all – thanks to the fancy way the LAN card is seen.
    All I can say is THANK YOU!
    I used 64 bit WinPE so I could run 64 bit Setup.exe which would not netboot (thanks to gPXE being 32 bit)

  25. avatar
    Cristian Gamboa 5 years ago

    Does not work for me

    disk part work
    winpe create the files
    but when I boot from the usb-key

    I get error
    in \boot\bcd 0xc000000e

  26. avatar
    georg 5 years ago

    i have lost my admins password!how am i soposted to do this if i have no acces…?

  27. avatar
    daniel 5 years ago

    I cannot create a password reset disk, nor can I reset my admin user account password. However, I can log in with my original admin password, half of the time. How do I reset my password for a windows 7, 64 bit platform?

  28. avatar
    Nathan Sann 5 years ago

    I am not sure why so many people think that this is about resetting your password when it is clearly instructions on how to get Windows to boot off a USB. Two totally different things… There are more than enough sites explaining how to remove passwords, but if you aren’t very computer literate then you will have to pay Best Buy the $37. There is a reason it’s difficult for a non technical person to be able to override the password…

  29. avatar
    SA-X 5 years ago

    For those that have lost passwords, try using ophcrack (I believe that is how it is spelled) it is a linux distro so you might be new to it. There are two versions one for xp and for vista/7 it finds my windows password when im in a panic. Also it may be able to run from usb stick (try googling linux livecd to usb) for you netbook users.

  30. avatar
    Ken Overly 5 years ago

    Can the same instructions be used if you are creating a 64-bit Win PE? Just replace the X86 string in the commands at the start of your article with AMD64?

    Thanks for very clear instructions! =)

  31. avatar
    vinpa 5 years ago

    Every time I attempt to run ‘format’ command, it returns the list of available commands, and ‘format’ is not one of them.

    I am running ‘DiskPart version 5.1.3565’.

    Thanks,

    vinpa.

  32. avatar
    Jim 5 years ago

    or you can just use wintobootic tool and do it with one click.

  33. avatar
    vinpa 5 years ago

    @Jim: I actually ended up using RMPrepUSB and found some great instructions on http://sites.google.com/site/rmprepusb/tutorials/how-to-image-a-system-using-a-bootable-winpe-ufd-and-imagex.

    After following those simple instructions I was able to create a working image (after 3 days of trial and error).

    Cheers,

    vinpa.

  34. avatar
    James 5 years ago

    Hi,

    I am trying to find your post that you mention in step 1. Is it this one:

    https://4sysops.com/archives/windows-7-usbdvd-download-tool-wudt-is-unable-to-copy-files/

    Thank you,

    James

  35. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 5 years ago

    James, yes this is the right post. I added the link now. Thanks!

  36. avatar
    Krish 5 years ago

    hi,
    Can you please tell me how to copy files from hard disk to USB in WIN PE pass while imaging?

  37. avatar
    Wray 5 years ago

    I have a Dell Studio 1558 running windows 7 with a clobbered boot record and am trying to create a bootable recovery disk from my old XP system. Should your procedure procedure work if I use a usb hard drive instead of the stick? I think I’ve followed everything correctly but I keep getting “operating system not found” when I try to boot from the usb HD.

  38. avatar
    Jery Levinson 5 years ago

    Although not actually stated, I assume this only works with Win7? I have a netbook with xp (and pe on a hidden partition) that came with no system CDs and would like to make a bootable USB backup for emergencies. Any thoughts on that?

  39. avatar
    Frank 4 years ago

    I tried to follow your procedure with the fat32 formatting and copying the win_pe files from the installed AIK. Unfortunately I always get only the message that the ntldr is missing when I boot from the USB stick. Which of the steps should copy these files on the stick ?

    Thank in advance

    Frank

  40. avatar
    Frank 4 years ago

    I tried it one more time, now everything is fine, most probable I was the reason 🙂 .

    Frank

  41. avatar
    Matthew Mcconaughey 4 years ago

    Thank you Michael for the useful information. I am trying to develop the WinPE 3.0 for testing purposes. I have a quick question that can i use some of my programs similar to portable applications on WinPE?

  42. avatar
    Joseph Schatz 4 years ago

    Michael

    I have 2 questions

    1. How do you add drivers to the USB

    2. I have the .wim for several tools…but not execuables…How can I add them to the USB drive

  43. avatar
    Ben 4 years ago

    Hi,

    Is there a reason we don’t edit copype.cmd to copy the boot.wim to the correct folder? It seems weird to have to manually do a task that is easy to automate.

  44. avatar
    Ching 4 years ago

    Hi,

    I followed all instruction and successfully boot into winpe but my winpe stuck on startup command prompt with command wpeinit only. what should i do ?

  45. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 4 years ago

    Sorry, I can’t answer all the questions. It appears to me that some of you have problems with creating a bootable USB stick. The corresponding section in this post was messed up because of a CMS update. I corrected this now. If you follow the instructions step-by-step it should work.

    Ching, Windows PE has no graphical user interface. So everything appears to be alright in your case.

  46. avatar
    Hassan 4 years ago

    dear micheal,

    i have setup a bootable usb using win98 dos system file through hp’s partition tool.

    i’ve also copied the backup.gho file i.e. the image of my pc and ghost32.bat on that usb.

    when i boot using that usb to restore the image on my pc, Dos run ok and ‘dir’ shows the contents as well but ghost32.bat doesn’t run there from which i could possibly load the image to my hard disk.

    please help. thank you

  47. avatar
    Alan Lau 4 years ago

    The instructions

    – Then, copy winpe.wim to the correct folder:

    Question: Which folder to which folder???

    – copy c:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim

    Question: Copy these 2 files to where???

    – Now, copy WinPE to your USB drive:

    Question: The entire folder in Program Files or the C:\winpe_x86 folder???

    I hope that the instructions can be as clear as water and not leaving out something for people to guess

  48. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 4 years ago

    Hasan, the instructions here are not for Windows 98.

    Alan, “copy” is a Windows command. The first parameter is the source folder and the second parameter is the destination folder. I changed the format of the instructions. Maybe it makes easier to understand. Note that the instructions on 4sysops are for IT professionals.

  49. avatar
    Kevin 4 years ago

    Thank you, I created by first bootable USB pendrive!!!

  50. avatar
    Brian 4 years ago

    Michael,

    Thanks for doing this. Great information and easy to follow.

  51. avatar
    John 4 years ago

    Yes, I echo the praise of the others here – THANK YOU for posting all of this. It’s very cool to have a bootable WinPE USB thumb drive. And, it’s so nice to have instructions that 1) actually work, 2) are clearly written, and 3) don’t have any omissions that prevent the successful completion of a task. Kudos!

  52. avatar
    Paul Chapman 4 years ago

    A note about accessing the boot media:

    In some cases (i.e. USB3 Drive on USB3 port) you may need to include the appropriate driver in the boot image. This can be particularly important if you are trying to access the boot media as described in the follow up article. Add the following steps to Michael’s procedure:

    2a) Create a Drivers folder in c:\winpe_x86
    2b) Copy the minimum driver set needed for your device to work into c:\winpe_x86\Drivers
    2c) Mount boot.wim using DISM
    Dism /Mount-Wim /WimFile:C:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim /index:1 /MountDir:C:\winpe_x86\mount
    2d) Inject the drivers
    Dism /Image:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Add-Drivers /Drivers:C:\winpe_x86\Drivers /Recurse /ForceUnsigned
    2e) Save the updated WIM
    Dism /UnMount-Wim /MountDir:C:\winpe_x86\mount /Commit

    Continue to step 3 at this point.

    In my particular case, I am using the external USB HDD to backup the OS partition using ImageX, so boot media access was necessary.

  53. avatar
    Steve 4 years ago

    Followed the directions But imagex.exe will not run

  54. avatar
    Ankur 4 years ago

    Is it possible to create a REFS secondary partition through WinPE 3.0??

  55. avatar
    shirley 4 years ago

    I got a new computer. It didn’t come with any disks. (ebay) It is an Acer aspire desktop. I set it up a couple of days ago. I didn’t think I entered any password because I didn’t want one. It restarted itself last night and now I can’t get in without a password and I have no idea what the password is. I have tried all the passwords that I use for anything and everything that I might have used for the computer even though I don’t remember typing a password. I tried “password unlocker” after downloading it to a usb drive but the computer said the OS was missing so it wouldn’t reboot. After reading your posts I now understand I don’t have a “rebootable usb drive”. I do have an empty 8 G drive. That is enough, right?

    You probably have the instructions that I should follow already posted but I don’t understand enough about computers to know which instructions to follow. Can you help? Thank you.

  56. avatar
    maxi 3 years ago

    i did it but it is stuck wen it has to boot to desktop

  57. avatar
    Charles 3 years ago

    Hello Michael:
    I have an HP Z820 64bit workstation that I would like to boot Windows 7 Professional from a USB harddrive rather than the internal SATA drive. I would also like to install and run other programs on the USB disk. Can this be accomplished with the WAIK. I read your instructions above and am not sure what I need to use for 64bit (ex. 1.copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86) What would be the 64bit command line.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

    Charles

  58. avatar
    Vincent 3 years ago

    Hey Michael,
    Having a huge problem. I get to 2. and the command prompt does not list my flashdrive as one of the existing disks on the list.
    Any idea how I could solve this problem?

  59. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte
    Michael Pietroforte 3 years ago

    Vincent, can you see the drive in Windows Explorer? If not, the flash drive is broken and you probably need a new one.

  60. Profile photo of Michael Pietroforte

    Check out this post for an easier way to create Windows PE boot media.

  61. avatar
    Ari 10 months ago

    Hi there, great article!

    I was wondering if it is possible to remove the USB media during an installation or does it have to remain plugged in until the installation is complete. I ask as we also have a HirenCD that boots to memory which allows us to remove it once bootup is complete.

  62. avatar
    Kori 8 months ago

    HI All Service Leaders,

    Does this win pe 3.0 include ghost 32 or True Acronis ?

  63. avatar
    raj 1 week ago

    Thank you! Using “AOMEI PE Builder 1.5” and RufusPortable (my usb flash drive couldn’t get identified by the first app) I created Windows PE on USB drive.

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