I was quite surprised when I checked the 4sysops list of free admin tools lately and found that BartPE is still not listed. BartPE's PE Builder allows you to create a bootable Windows PE CD that contains various useful repair tools (file manager, disk management, check disk, etc.). BartPE is a great utility if you have to repair a non-bootable Windows installation or if you want to get access to the operating system while it is offline.
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The BartPE download doesn't come with Windows PE. You will need a Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 CD to create BartPE. The PE Builder is a very simple tool: you only have to tell it the path to the Windows installation files, folders or files you want to include, and the output directory for the ISO file. It is also possible to burn the BartPE CD with the PE Builder.
The files you include will be in the root directory of the Windows PE CD. You can use this feature to add your favorite tools to your rescue CD. Most standalone tools also run under Windows PE. BartPE is delivered with some useful utilities that are added as plugins. There are quite a few third-party publishers that offer plugins for BartPE. Some of the plugins that come with BartPE are not enabled by default, but you can change that with the PE Builder before you create the CD. When you boot up BartPE, you will be asked if you would like to enable network support. Network access can be useful if you want to access additional tools or files from a network share.
Unfortunately, the project seems to be dead. The last update was released in February 2006. The PE Builder runs on Vista, but you can't create a Vista-based BartPE CD. I haven't used BartPE for quite some time now because I usually work with Microsoft's ERD Commander if I have to repair a non-bootable Windows installation.
It was interesting to see that the XP-based Windows PE has quite a few problems in a modern environment. Even though I used a Windows XP SP3 source to create the BartPE CD, Windows PE crashed with a bluescreen on my Dell Precision M6400 laptop. I guess I could have made it work by integrating the latest Dell drivers, but I think this case shows that it is more likely now to run into hardware compatibility issues with Windows XP than with Vista.