How To Make and Use a Bootable WinPE Drive

USB Flash Drives

Vista has crashed and your PC will no longer even boot up into the operating system—what to do? It turns out that your USB thumb drive can save the day. You can use what Microsoft calls UFD (for a USB flash drive) with a Windows image file (.wim) for Windows Preinstallation Environment that offers a quick-start way to access the System Recovery Options. But besides saving your skin when your PC will not boot up, this bootable drive can also do lots of other interesting things. In the pages that follow, we describe exactly how to build such a device and explore some of the useful tasks that it can accomplish.

Every copy of Windows Vista comes with installation disks or files that include a special pared-down version of the operating system, which Microsoft calls Windows Preinstallation Environment 2.0, but it is more often known as Windows PE or even WinPE.

You may not think you’ve used WinPE before, but you probably have. When you install Windows Vista, for example, the code that enables you to load a command-line environment, as well as the Windows Recovery Environment (also known as Windows RE or WinRE), comes straight from WinPE. While Microsoft won't admit it publicly, it is the Windows Preinstallation Environment, aka WinPE, that allows one to create a bootable UFD–instead of using the more time-consuming Windows Recovery Environment, also known as WinRE.

Ed Tittel is a freelance writer, trainer, and internet consultant. His work has appeared on many sites, including Tom's Guide, Tom's Hardware, TechTarget, and more. He has also contributed to multiple books, including the "For Dummies" series, where he wrote about HTML, HTML4, XHTML, XML, and CCS. He was also series editor of the Exam Cram books until 2005.