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In my view, the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (MSDaRT or DaRT) is one of the best tools when it comes to repairing a non-bootable Windows installation, or when you have to perform repair tasks which can’t be done on a running system. The toolset comes with an ISO file which contains the ERD Commander. You have to burn it on CD and then boot into Windows PE. You will have the following tools available:
- ERD Registry editor: edit Windows registry
- Locksmith: reset a password (without knowing the administrator’s password)
- Crash Analyzer: analyze crash dumps
- File Restore: Restore deleted files
- Disk Commander: Repair volumes, MBR, partitions
- Disk Wipe: Erase data from hard disk
- Computer Management: System Information, Autoruns (configure autostarting applications), Event Viewer, Disk Management (format, manage partitions, etc.), Services and Drivers (enable, disable, etc.)
- Explorer: Browse the hard drive
- Solution Wizard : Choose the proper repair tool
- TCP/IP Config: Display and set TCP/IP configuration
- Hotfix Uninstall: uninstall hotfixes
- SFC Scan: System file repair
- Search: Search disk for files
- Standalone System Sweeper: Scan your system for malware, rootkits, and potentially unwanted software
The TCP/IP configuration is not for repairing the host system, but for setting up networking on Windows PE. This allows you to access other utilities on the network. You can also start tools from the hard drive using the Explorer. Of course, not all Windows programs will work on Windows PE.
Additionally, MSDaRT 6.0 has the following recovery options, which you might already know from the Windows Vista recovery disc:
- Startup Repair: Automatically fix problems that are preventing Windows from starting
- System Restore: Restore Windows to an earlier point in time
- Windows Complete PC Restore: Restore your entire computer from a backup
- Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool: Check your computer for memory hardware errors
- Command Prompt: Open a command prompt window
Unfortunately, DaRT is not free. What’s even worse is that not everyone can buy it. It is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP), which is only available for volume-licensed customers (and for Technet/MSDN subscribers). However, anyone can download the 30-day evaluation version of MSDaRT 5.0. I am not sure what happens after 30 days. I’ve never tried it, but I somehow think that it will still work after that period. Note that MSDaRT 5.0 only works for Windows XP, and MSDaRT 6.0 only on Vista. Both versions come with the same tools, though. MSDaRT 6.0 is part of MDOP 2008 R2. I was unable to find a public download of MDOP or MSDaRT 6.0.
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In my opinion, bundling MSDaRT with MDOP is not really a good idea. These tools are not only of interest to enterprise customers; even home users could use them sometimes. The worst thing that can happen to any Windows user is that the system is no longer bootable. These are the most frustrating moments. Therefore, I think that MSDaRT belongs with the Sysinternals suite and should be free for everyone. This would certainly be helpful in moments when the customer experience reaches the lowest possible level.