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.
Latest posts by Michael Pietroforte (see all)

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.

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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.

  1. Avatar
    Fred 14 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. Avatar

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

  3. Avatar
    kosmito 14 years ago

    What is minimal size for usb stick?

  4. Avatar

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

  5. Avatar
    Barbara Herrmann 14 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. Avatar

    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 14 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. Avatar

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

  9. Avatar
    Dave 14 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 13 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:


    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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 years ago

    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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 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 13 years ago

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

  21. Avatar
    michel 13 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?


  22. Avatar
    ketan 13 years ago

    you are awesome buddy

  23. Avatar
    Jason 13 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 13 years ago

    (Sorry for all caps but I couldn’t express myself any better)
    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 13 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

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