A few days ago, I blogged about BartPE, a well known tool for creating a Windows PE based rescue boot CD. Some readers recommended checking out UBCD4Win, which is an offspring of BartPE. The main difference between the two is that the UBCD4Win project is still alive while BartPE seems to have been discontinued. There is also no doubt that UBCD4Win is the far more advanced tool. The number of rescue utilities is impressive. And best of all - its Windows PE installation didn't crash on my Dell Precision laptop, unlike BartPE.
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The Windows PE builder looks pretty much the same as the one from BartPE. You also need a Windows XP or Windows 2003 installation CD. Vista is not yet supported as a source. Benjamin Burrows, the author of this project, writes that "dramatic changes" have prevented him so far from adapting the PE builder to create a Vista-based Windows PE boot CD. You can run the PE builder on Vista though. It is also possible to repair a Vista installation with a UBCD4Win rescue disk. However, you must not use a Windows Server 2003 CD as source for creating Windows PE. Read the FAQ for more information on this issue.
By the way, just in case you are worried if it is legal to create a Windows PE installation with UBCD4Win, then you should check out Benjamin's notes about this topic. It appears that this project has Microsoft's blessings.
UBCD4Win comes with quite a few plug-ins from third parties. Most of them are enabled by default. So if you want to create a slim Windows PE installation, you can disable a few. I suppose one file explorer is enough. UBCD4Win includes six by default. The number of available tools is impressive. You will find everything from anti-malware, to cloning, to recovery.
When you start up UBCD4Win, a DOS-based boot menu is loaded first. There are a few other systems you can boot from here. For example, there is FreeDOS, Windows Recovery Console, and an offline NT Password & Registry tool. The latter is useful if you have to reset the administrator password on a machine where you can't log on anymore.
Booting up the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows takes quite some time. This is certainly a downside of the tool. If you are anxious to get an unbootable Windows installation working again, then every second counts. Sometimes your first attempt to repair a machine will fail, then you have to boot UBCD4Win again. Furthermore, I definitely prefer a Vista-based Windows PE. Considering that Windows 7 will be released soon, there will probably never be a Vista-based UBCD4Win version.
Thus, Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (MSDaRT) is still my first choice whenever I have to repair a non-bootable system. However, it is not free and not available to everyone. Moreover, MSDaRT is no match for UBCD4Win when it comes to the available rescue tools. I think UBCD4Win belongs in every Windows administrator's toolbox.
Update: I just saw that this tool was already submitted a year ago. I copied all ratings to this new post.