Using boot CDs (e.g. BartPE)

In most cases, the hard disk containing the damaged volume is attached to the known-working machine with a known-good Windows installation. All the necessary software is configured and run on the known-good system. At least, this is the recommended approach.

However, it is not always practical to move the hard drive between computers. This is especially complicated with laptops, because some models are difficult to disassemble, and you may need an adapter to connect a laptop 2.5-inch hard drive to a desktop computer.

Still, the rule is not to install any software to the damaged volume. This does always hold. Hence, you cannot install a fresh copy of Windows onto the notebook hard drive to perform a recovery from there. Doing so will cause irreversible damage to the data.

This is where bootable Windows CDs come into play. A number of tools to create a bootable Windows CD are available, BartPE being most well-known. These tools take your Windows setup CD and produce a bootable CD which runs a downsized, yet functional Windows installation. You can use this CD to perform a data recovery, and it would not modify your hard drive in any way.

In practice, you need to consider the following points before deploying a boot CD:

  • You need a well-working computer to create a CD.
  • You need your Windows setup CD or DVD.
  • Most likely, some sort of network connection or a high-capacity removable media, e.g. an USB hard drive, would be necessary. Make sure the appropriate drivers are either included in Windows, or explicitly integrated into the bootable CD you create.
  • The data recovery tools you plan to use may either be integrated into the bootable CD, or placed onto whatever removable media you decide to use.

Continue to Various aspects.