Update: There is now an easier way to create Windows PE boot media and add your own rescue tools.

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.

In my last post, I explained how you can create a bootable USB drive with Windows PE 3.0. Today, I will show you how to add your own tools to your USB drive and launch them conveniently after you boot Windows PE.

Most descriptions on the web will recommend mounting the wim file with imageX and then copying your tools to the Windows PE installation before creating your boot media. Although this makes sense for a rescue DVD, I wouldn't recommend this procedure for a thumb drive. It is just too cumbersome to create your Windows PE installation from scratch whenever you want to add a new tool.

Windows PE PStart

Windows PE automatically mounts your USB drive. Therefore, you can simply copy all your tools to your thumb drive in a separate folder that is independent from Windows PE. Its advantage is that you can update your tools or add new ones without starting from scratch every time. However, with this procedure, you always have to find the drive letter of your USB stick first, and then navigate to the tool you want to launch on the command prompt. Real Windows geeks want more convenience.

In the following three steps, you will learn how to configure your bootable USB drive with your own rescue tools. Steps 1 and 2 have to be performed only once. Step 3 is for adding new tools to your USB drive and has to be followed every time you add new tools.

1. Install and configure PStart ^

Since Windows PE doesn't have a graphical user interface like Windows, you have to launch your tools from the command prompt, which is much too inconvenient for stressed admins. This is why I have created this simple solution so you can easily launch your tools from a GUI. For this purpose, I will use the free tool PStart which I reviewed a while back.

When the installation wizard of PStart asks you about the setup type, you should choose Portable Setup (see screenshot). Select your USB drive and tell the wizard to copy PStart to the root folder. Next, you can launch PStart from your USB drive with Windows Explorer.

PStart Setup

To try this procedure, you can copy the free file manager Q-Dir to your USB drive. I recommend creating a special folder for all of your tools. Then, navigate to the Q-Dir folder and drag Q-Dir's exe file to the PStart window. You should see now a new menu point (see screenshot). You can now exit PStart.

PStart

2. Launch PStart automatically when WinPE boots up ^

In the next step, we have to make sure that PStart will automatically launch when you boot up Windows PE. For this, you have to mount the wim file on your USB stick with imageX. ImageX belongs to WAIK, which you already downloaded and installed in our last session. Launch the Deployment Tools Command Prompt from the Windows Start Menu and type:

I assume here that your USB drive has the drive letter "F:". Now launch Notepad with admin privileges (right-click and select "Run as administrator") and then open:

The problem is that the drive letter for your USB drive won't always be the same because the number of drives in the computer may vary. The following batch script will automatically find your USB drive and launch PStart:

Add these lines to startnet.cmd after the wpeinit command (see screenshot). I am assuming here that you copied PStart in a folder named "\PStart" on your USB drive. Please note that PStart stores its configuration in an XML file in the same folder.

Windows-PE-Rescue-startnet.cmd

Save startnet.cmd and then issue this command to unmount boot.wim:

That's it. You can now boot Windows PE from your USB stick. PStart should be automatically launched and you can then run Q-Dir from PStart's GUI with just a mouse click.

3. Add your own rescue tools ^

If you want to add additional tools, you only have to copy them to the tools folder of your USB drive and add them to PStart by dragging their exe files to its GUI. You can do this on your Windows 7 machine like I described in my example with Q-Dir. Thus, adding a new tool to your rescue stick will only costs you a couple of seconds once your USB drive is bootable. That is, in the future only step 3 is required. No more messing with imageX.

Note that not every portable app works under Windows PE 3.0. Raw Copy and Bart's Stuff Test 5, which I reviewed this week, work fine. If you know of other good tools that work with Windows PE, please post a comment below or send me a note. I have created a new category in the 4sysops list of free administration tools for free Windows PE compatible tools.

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123 Comments
  1. Norris 7 years ago

    This article was a GREAT find! Brian Checkout this command script I created based on this article.

    Just edit startnet.cmd and add this line:

    REM Start menu
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\menu.cmd

    Then create a directory named utils and add these lines and save it to the root of the utils directory:

    ECHO OFF
    CLS
    :MENU
    ECHO.
    ECHO ...............................................
    ECHO ..Please select which image to deploy, or x to EXIT.
    ECHO ...............................................
    ECHO..
    ECHO 1 - Secure Erase hard drive
    ECHO 2 - Utility Apps Menu
    ECHO x - Exit and restart
    ECHO..
    ECHO..
    SET /P M=Type Make a selection then press ENTER:
    IF %M%==1 GOTO diskwipe
    IF %M%==2 GOTO utils
    IF %M%==x GOTO exit

    REM Start diskwipe
    :diskwipe
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\diskwipe\diskwipe.exe
    cls
    GOTO mainMenu

    REM Launch Utils Menu
    :utils
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\utils.cmd
    cls
    GOTO eof

    :mainmenu
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\menu.cmd
    cls
    GOTO eof

    :exit
    exit

    :eof
    [bullet]
    Next in the utils directory, create an file named utils.cmd[/bullet]
    [bullet]Open this file in Notepad and enter the following then save the file:[/bullet]
    [code]ECHO OFF
    CLS
    :MENU
    ECHO.
    ECHO ...............................................
    ECHO ..Please select which image to deploy, or 4 to EXIT.
    ECHO ..for any questions please send an email to
    ECHO ...............................................
    ECHO..
    ECHO 1 - ImageX for Network Deployment
    ECHO 2 - Command Prompt
    ECHO 3 - 7zip Archive Utility
    ECHO 4 - File Explorer
    ECHO 5 - Filezilla File Transfer Utility
    ECHO 6 - PuTTY
    ECHO 7 - Disk Utility
    ECHO 8 - Main Menu
    ECHO x - Exit and restart
    ECHO..
    ECHO..
    SET /P M=Type Make a selection then press ENTER:
    IF %M%==1 GOTO imageX
    IF %M%==2 GOTO cmd
    IF %M%==3 GOTO 7zip
    IF %M%==4 GOTO FileExplorer
    IF %M%==5 GOTO Filezilla
    IF %M%==6 GOTO puTTY
    IF %M%==7 GOTO DiskUtility
    IF %M%==8 GOTO MainMenu
    IF %M%==x GOTO exit

    REM Start ImageX
    :imagex
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\imageX\gimagex.exe
    cls
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    REM Command Prompt Portable
    :cmd
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\cmd\commandPromptPortable.exe
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :7zip
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\7zip\7-zipPortable.exe
    cls
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :FILEeXPLORER
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\FILEEXPLORER\Explorer++Portable.exe
    cls
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :Filezilla
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p
    %w%:\utils\Filezilla\filezillaPortable.exe
    cls
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :puTTY
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p

    %w%:\utils\Putty\PuTTYPortable.exe
    cls
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :DiskUtility
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p

    %w%:\utils\diskinfo\CrystalDiskInfoPortable.exe
    GOTO UtilsMENU

    :mainMenu
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p

    %w%:\utils\menu.cmd
    goto eof

    :utilsMenu
    @echo off
    for %%p in (c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z) do if exist %%p:\utils\ set w=%%p

    %w%:\utils\utils.cmd
    cls
    GOTO eof

    :exit
    exit

    :eof

    Then in the utils directory, create sud-directories based on the app names you see above. Next go to portable apps.com and download the corresponding apps and add them to the sub-directories.

    For diskwipe, use this URL http://www.diskwipe.org

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  2. Brian 7 years ago

    Norris,

    Thank you! I will give it a shot today

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  3. Brian 7 years ago

    Norris,

    Thank you again for sharing that. It works perfectly!

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  4. Norris 7 years ago

    Good to hear. Hope you and anyone else enjoy the tools I included 😀

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  5. roboteknix 7 years ago

    Thanks for the tutorial, I managed to create a customized WinPE with a MAC like toolbar.

    http://youtu.be/2269reWRGTM

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  6. samith 7 years ago

    Dear all,

    I see chinese they using a window PE in their USB flash drive, but we can't see any window PE file in that flash drive, so it is very easy for us to use for copying any file without effect to window PE file. Do you have the way to do this.

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  7. James 7 years ago

    Hey. I just started experimenting with this. When it first boots to Flash Drive, it gives an error msg something to the effect of no HDD found, insert HDD or cancel. Then it loads the Pstart file. Any suggestions?

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  8. Oskar 7 years ago

    Hi Michael,

    Everything works fine for me with the install and configuration of Pstart and Q-Dir. But when i boot from the USB-stick the PStart comes up but, when i try to run Q-Dir from PStart it just gives me the following error code: "F:\Q-Dir\Q-Dir.exe could not be executed" any ideas what the issue may be?

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  9. Michael Pietroforte 7 years ago

    Oskar, I guess something is wrong with the drive letter. Try to launch Q-Dir from the command prompt and see if that works.

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  10. Kyle 7 years ago

    When I do this with WIN PE 3.1 amd64 (as majority of my machines are 64 bit) I get the following error code any time I run a .exe including Pstart

    "The subsystem needed to support the image type is not present"

    I am decently proficient in mounting and adding packages to an image so if you know what to add to the PE I would be able to do it. I am able to get GimageX to work as long as it is in the system32 folder of the image.

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  11. Stanislav 6 years ago

    I have created launcher startPstart.exe and use it in wpeshl.ini, see previous comment 74:

    [LaunchApps]
    %windir%\system32\netstart.exe,-prompt
    %windir%\system32\startPstart.exe

    I use PowerBasic Console Compiler, code is VERY simple:
    '-----------------------------------------------------
    #CONSOLE OFF
    #COMPILE EXE
    #DIM ALL

    FUNCTION PBMAIN () AS LONG
    LOCAL strApp, strDir, strPath AS STRING
    LOCAL cDrive AS STRING * 1
    LOCAL i AS INTEGER

    strApp = "PStart.exe"
    strDir = "PStart"
    strPath = ":\" + strDir + "\"

    FOR i = ASC("A") TO ASC ("Z")
    IF ISFOLDER(CHR$(i) + strPath) THEN
    SHELL (CHR$(i) + strPath + strApp)
    EXIT FOR
    END IF
    NEXT i
    END FUNCTION
    '-----------------------------------------------------

    You can download it from my web:
    http://itlog.cz/dwn/startPstart.zip

    Enjoy!

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  12. Gary Davis 6 years ago

    I know this is a very old "stream", but it is very useful for what I need to do. I have successfully built the usb and pStart starts like it is supposed to.... however, instead of my few tools, there is a long list of tools (some of which aren't active). Is there a way to limit the list to my tool set - or did I screw up the install?
    Also, is there a way to remove icons that are currently on the desktop? Thanks for the great write-up and any assistance you can provide.

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  13. Chris 6 years ago

    Sorry to bother you on such an old post but im stuck on step 2, i type the command into my prompt and keep getting error "the system cannot find the file specified." i have noticed that i do not have a program named imagex but i do have one called windows system image manager. Using windows 8 if it matters.

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  14. Michael Pietroforte 6 years ago

    Chirs, if you are using Windows 8, you need the Windows ADK. It contains the imagex tool.

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  15. Mel Ortiz 6 years ago

    I keep getting an error: The subsystem needed to support the image type is not present.

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  16. Marc 5 years ago

    Sorry to activate an old thread. This is amazing guide. I just one.. rather dumb question that's confounding me. Once I get everything loaded on my test machine.. How do I get my adds like tdsskiller etc to scan the PCs primary partition? It keeps scanning the X partition.

    Thanks

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  17. Dustin 5 years ago

    I am here to get to the bottom of what is wrong with the script for startnet.cmd I took the hidden space out, made sure there was a folder named PStart with the proper PStart files inside. I rewrote the script ten ways from sunday and still it doesn't auto start PStart.exe please update the tutorial thanks.

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  18. Michael Pietroforte 5 years ago

    Dustin, thanks for the hint. I have a new plugin for code and it seems it messed some of the code in the article. I hope it is okay now. And you are right, the folder PStart has to exist.

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  19. Roland 5 years ago

    This is an excellent tutorial! Thank you, sir!

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  20. Michael Pietroforte 5 years ago

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

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  21. Alex 4 years ago

    Hi, Michael! After implementation of the instruction of startnet.cmd the message is issued: wpeinit isn't internal or external team... What to do? Thanks.

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  22. Tom 4 years ago

    Michael, sometimes pstart loses the xml config and i have to readd all my programs sometimes. Know any resolution to preventing this?

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  23. Michael Pietroforte 4 years ago

    Tom, I never had this problem, but I don't use Windows PE anymore for this purpose. Did you consider working with Windows To Go instead?

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