How To Make and Use a Bootable WinPE Drive

Creating and Managing the WinRE Image File

As it happens, WinRE capability is available from only two sources: the Windows Vista install media and as part of the Windows OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK), which is a toolset available only to registered Microsoft partners. This may also explain why Microsoft fails to document how to build a WinRE boot UFD and why Technet claims that the WinRE wim file must be named winre.wim and installed on a hard disk (it’s also the case that this is indeed the only way to failover to a WinRE boot image, which may have been more to Microsoft’s point here). But because so many people have Vista installation media and might prefer a speedy boot that takes fewer than two minutes with a UFD instead of  waiting for the install DVD to produce the recovery console, we show you how to grab the WinRE windows image file next and fly in the face of this contention.

  1. Mount the Windows Vista install DVD in your optical drive (I assume it uses drive letter E: ).
  2. Create a directory named c:\winre as the target for your WinRE image grab, then use imagex to grab the Windows RE image from the Vista-installation media. The secrets to this command are the number two argument, which tells imagex to grab the second Windows image file it finds and the title information in quotes, which eventually shows up on the display window at boot time. I also include a listing of that directory’s new contents, the winre.wim file at about 127 MB.
  3. Stick your UFD into a USB slot, then copy the winre.wim file into its \Sources\ directory. It will reside alongside boot.wim. Note: you’ll need a UFD of at least 512 MB to have sufficient room to follow this instruction.

When you want to use your UFD to boot to ordinary WinPE, leave this file structure along. When you want to use the Windows Recovery Environment, rename boot.wim to boot.orig, then rename winre.wim to boot.wim. Only then can you boot into the WinRE console as shown at the beginning of the story (you’ll need to rename boot.wim to winre.wim and boot.orig to boot.wim to revert to the original WinPE environment). If you don't see a file named winre.wim in the \sources directory, then you know it’s currently your boot tool, so it should be easy to keep track of. On the other hand, you could set up another directory on the UFD named \images, and keep boot.wim and winre.wim in there. Then you need to only copy boot.wim into the \sources directory to get back to plain-vanilla WinPE. Or you can copy winre.wim into the sources directory, delete boot.wim, then rename winre.wim to boot.wim to use WinRE instead. This way, you always have a backup version in the images directory should you mess up in the sources directory.

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  • What, no mention of BartPE or UBCD4Win (Ultimate Boot CD for Windows)? These are two projects that are vastly superior to Microsoft's method (both are built on WinPE but have expanded capabilities) and are far easier to use.
  • Nice guide. Never knew about it. Thanks.
  • when I saw this I thought it was going to be a review of Bart's PEBuilder... It's saved my a$$ many times. Far superior to WinPE...

    How about a comparison/companion article? or an article on tools gearheads & techies find indespensible?
  • Vista's PE is far more advanced than XP's. The BartPE project is based of XP's PE. Barts is amazingly useful and I can't wait till they move to from PE 1.1 to PE 2.0.

    Some "fairly new" systems will not boot from usb so always carry a cd version as a backup.
  • "I usually grab Imagex.exe and the Package Manager using the commands shown in the next screen capture."

    Hmmm... I don't see a 'next screen capture' showing the commands used to get imagex and Package Manager.
  • Good start to the guide until you get to the WinRE. In section 5, step 2, you describe using imagex and the secret is the number 2 argument however you do not give an example of the command. In the WinPE you use a 240 MB partition, then in WinRE you state you need at least 512 MB.
  • Show us howto "use imagex to grab the Windows RE image from the Vista-installation media." Thanks.
  • Yes please follow up on the last few comments, I am stuck in that spot.
  • Good article, but it makes a few omissions and goofs here and there.
    1. For using imagex to grab the WinRE image, check out this link:
    2. "x64" won't work when you're using copype.cmd - it has to be "AMD64". Just replace all instances of x64 with AMD64 in this procedure, and it'll work.
    3. For the image showing how to grab imagex and the package manager, click on the picture above the text to open up the gallery, then click one pic forward.
  • thanks suigi!
  • There's another option I've found to be a lifesaver for disaster recovery. I can't afford to lose access to my business laptop, but I also am lazy and tend not to back things up, so I do 3 things:

    1. I synchronize two laptops using Microsoft's free Windows Live Sync. This synchronizes specified folders, even through firewalls. I used to use FolderMatch or Syncback SE manually, but Live Sync is completely automated and works over the internet or home network. This makes sure I always have two copies of my data. It also protects against laptop hardware failures to some extent, although since I don't have all the exact applications on both computers, it's not a complete solution.

    2. To protect against outright disk failures and boot problems, I always clone my laptop drive. It's cheap insurance for $50 for a 120GB drive. Use DriveClone (drive must be the same size) or Acronis (can size partitions down or up) and make a clone of your "golden" image. Typically, this is a "virgin" install of all my apps, with updates. I keep the clone in a safe place, and if I ever have a disaster, I just pop the virgin drive in, and recover my data from my backup laptop.

    3. For email, which contains a lot of my critical data, I use our corporate Exchange server which automatically gets backed up. Because we have size limits, I keep my own archive instead of relying on Exchange. At the end of the year on New Years Eve, I take my entire Inbox, Sent Items, Calendar, and Contacts for the year and store them to a shared Live Sync folder. This keeps my .OST file down to a manageable size, and keeps my infrequently accessed archives in a safe place.
  • I may have to try this, just to see how it compares to the product I just purchased... Active@Boot Disk. It's basically the same idea, but a lot easier and it comes with some tools that look very handy, including a password changer, disk-clone, etc. I'm not advertising for them, I only just installed it yesterday. Typical Murphy's-law kind of thing, right after I buy something, I find a free version. I suspect the free version wouldn't eventually have given me what I wanted, but I'm wondering after reading some of your comments, how would I install an application to the PE version? I tried on one app and since there's no registry to change, I get an error. I recall reading somewhere about how to get around that, but don't remember where.

    Great article, can't wait to try it out. Always nice having multiple ways of doing a similar task. Often one tool won't work for some reason, where another one does just what you need it to.
  • Stupid people, Bart's is WinPE