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.

Michael Pietroforte

Michael Pietroforte is the founder and editor in chief of 4sysops. He has more than 35 years of experience in IT management and system administration.

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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65 Comments
  1. John 7 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!

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  2. Paul Chapman 7 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.

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  3. Steve 7 years ago

    Followed the directions But imagex.exe will not run

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  4. Ankur 7 years ago

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

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  5. shirley 7 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.

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  6. maxi 7 years ago

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

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  7. Charles 6 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

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  8. Vincent 6 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?

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  9. Michael Pietroforte 6 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.

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  10. Michael Pietroforte 5 years ago

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

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  11. Ari 4 years 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.

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  12. Kori 4 years ago

    HI All Service Leaders,

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

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  13. raj 3 years 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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  14. Bud 2 years ago

    Stuck right here:
    copy c:\winpe_x86\winpe.wim c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources\boot.wim

    gives me "the system cannot find the file specified"

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