Windows Recovery Environment

I’ve got some time on my hands (I’m at home not feeling too well) and decided that I’d spend a bit of time setting up the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) on my laptop.  I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, as I want to enable BitLocker (and be able to recover my data if my laptop ever decides to not work’).  It’s worth pointing out that, because of my role, I don’t run the Microsoft corporate image of Windows Vista Enterprise (I run Ultimate).

WinRE is just WinPE (Windows Pre-Installation Environment) with a bunch of recovery tools.  This is what you’ll end up with:

Very ‘handy’ – just a bit ‘fiddly’ to get installed (especially as an afterthought).

There’s loads of great info available (just use your favorite search engine) but even with this I needed to do more.

You can create a bootable CD/DVD with WinRE on it, but ideally you have it available as a boot option.  You actually end up with your PC booting into it automatically if Windows won’t load for any reason.

If you’re building your PC from scratch, you need to create a separate partition on your drive to hold WinRE.  The best way to do this, is to follow these instructions.

If you’ve already installed Vista, and you’re running Ultimate, you can use the Windows BitLocker Drive Preparation Tool – it comes as part of the ‘BitLocker and EFS enhancements’ optional extra on Windows Update.  Failing that it’s WinPE and DiskPart.exe or a third party tool.

Either way, you now have a 1.5Gb boot/system partition at the beginning of your disk, holding the boot block and enough information for Windows to boot from the second partition.

Now onto WinRE itself.  To do this properly, you’ll need the Windows Automated Installation Kit (well you only need imagex.exe and SetAutoFailover.cmd really) – you can get WAIK here.

Then you just follow the instructions here to create WinRE and here to enable it as an option at boot time.

One last ‘gotcha’ – When you boot into WinRE, it gets you to logon as a Local User from your Windows installation (preferably an admin).  My laptop is a member of the Microsoft domain and doesn’t have any local user accounts (well it does have Guest and Administrator, but they’re both disabled).  I simply enabled the local Administrator account (after giving it a password that meets the Microsoft password policy – the Group Policies on our network force strong passwords).

Hopefully I’ll never need to boot into WinRE, so I’ve probably wasted the last hour or two – but I ‘might’…


Comments (7)

  1. mikenchi says:

    Hi Dave,

    I want to set up WinRE or WinPE via PXE so that I can recover data from hard drives and copy the data to a network location if Windows fails to boot. I’m in the planning stages for setting this up, and just this week discovered WinRE. My company has a LOT of XP machines still, so XP compatibility is a must. Is WinRE suitable for my situation?



  2. Carlos says:

    System Recovery Solution with OEM Factory Restore image.

    Creating a Windows Vista Hard Disk and DVD Recovery Solution (Image Based)

    If you don’t have access send me an email

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  5. Chris Quirke says:

    In addition to WinPE 2.0 (WAIK) and WinRE, look also at Bart PE Builder, especially for XP.  My site link in this post is to a slideshow of a 2005 Bart maintenance session, using my own Bart project (Bart itself is more like an "empty bootable disk").

    WinPE 2.0 is nicer, because:

     – you can eject the CDR after boot

     – easier to make bootable USB sticks

     – has firewall built in

     – may be easier to keep patched

     – is based on Vista code base

    Bart PE is nicer, because:

     – runs in 64M RAM (WinPE needs 512M)

     – far smaller download than WAIK

     – has rich plugin developer community

     – more tools run from it than WinPE

     – GUI-based, with CLI

     – is based on the XP/2003 code base

    A Bart plugin called RunScanner provides transparent registry redirection for Win2000, XP and 2003 OSs, so that you can run registry-aware tools (e.g. HiJackThis, product key retrieval utilities) relative to the inactive registry hives on the HD.  

    In practice, you’d want both, especially if using Botlocker on Vista.  You’d also want WinRE’s "quick tricks" to fix certain Vista bootability problems more easily, just as ye olde Recovery Console can do for XP.

    Useful tools that plug nicely into Bart include DriveImage XML, HD Tune hard drive diagnostics, various GUI shells to make file management easier, Agent Ransack, Nirsoft’s tools, Spybot, Trend SysClean, etc.