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Using a USB Flash Drive to Recover Windows Vista

Here is something that we have found extremely valuable during our Vista deployment—the ability to boot into the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) from a USB Flash Drive. This is especially helpful for our Home Office users at Penton. From there they can perform a variety of tasks, like running Startup Repair and restoring their PC using the Complete PC Restore Wizard.

Related: What is the Windows Recovery Environment (RE)?

Formatting and Partitioning the USB Flash Drive

Diskpart is used to format and partition the drive; you must run Diskpart from a Windows Vista machine.

Follow the steps below to partition and format the USB Flash Drive.

Please NOTE: If you have any other external USB or Internal Hard Drives, please make sure that you have the correct disk selected, if not you will clean the wrong disk and erase all the data. You can run the diskpart command "list disk" to display the disks attached to your computer.

1. Diskpart
2. Select disk 1 or USB Flash Drive Disk Number (Please make sure that you are on the correct disk and not another External Hard Drive, running the "clean" command will wipe out all of the data on the disk. Run "List Disk" to verify your drive configuration.)
3. clean
4. create partition primary
5. select partition 1
6. active
7. format fs=fat32
8. assign
9. exit

Once you have completed the format and assigned a Drive Letter to the Flash Drive, we need to create a WinPE image to boot from. In order to do this we need to install the Windows AIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit), you can download the Windows AIK from the Microsoft Download Center

Creating a WinRE Image

In this step we will create a WinPE Image for the USB Flash Drive. From the machine that you installed the Windows AIK go to the start menu and select "Windows PE Tools Command Prompt" from under the Windows AIK program folder.

1. Run Copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86 (This will create a directory called "winpe_x86)

Next we have to create a WinRE boot image to use with the USB Flash Drive. I created the Windows Recovery Environment image using the directions from the Windows RE Notes blog under the title "Creating Windows RE Using Windows AIK."

Please make sure that you are following all of the steps including adding the winpeshl.ini file to the WIM Image. This will allow the USB flash Drive to automatically boot into the recovery options.

Related: Vista Backup and Recovery Checklist

Also, make sure that you create the WinRE image from a Windows Vista Business, Enterprise or Ultimate DVD. This will allow you to use the Complete PC Restore function.

2. Once you have generated a WinRE image called "winre.wim" to the c:\winre_image directory, we need to copy it to the c:\winpe_x86\ISO\sources directory on your computer. You should have two files located in the C:\winpe_x86\ISO\Sources\ directory (boot.wim and winre.wim), delete the boot.wim file. Once the boot.wim is file deleted, rename the winre.wim file to boot.wim.

3. Next run the following command to copy the bootable image to the USB Flash Drive:

xcopy c:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /s /e /f e:\

(Change c: to reflect the drive your WinRE image files are on and e: to be your USB key)

Once the image is located on the USB Flash Drive, it now can be used to automatically boot into the Windows Recovery Environment.

Please note that the Complete PC Backup and Restore option is only available on certain Windows Vista installations. Also, read this great article on scheduling Complete PC Backup

-Chris Ripkey

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