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96. Saving the day with BartPE

By Andrew D. Wright

You're working late at your computer. The lights flicker for a moment sending Windows into an extra-crunchy sounding shut-off. You go to reboot. The hardware seems to work okay but Windows won't start up. Your work is trapped inside the computer, out of your reach.

Tomorrow you can think about re-installing Windows or taking the computer to the shop but tonight you just need to get your work off the hard drive. Good thing you took precautions.

Bart's Preinstalled Environment, or BartPE for short, is a bootable CD that lets you start up a limited Windows interface complete with networking, access to your hard drives and the ability to run some software.

Unlike DOS boot disks or using the repair option on the Windows CD, BartPE lets you access NTFS formatted hard drives with a graphical user interface and readily copy files to a floppy disk or to a networked computer.

The stripped-down Windows interface can also run programs using plugins. A Firefox plugin allows you to run the Firefox web browser from within BartPE. Anti-virus and anti-spyware software can be run with plugins allowing the sort of deep cleaning not possible when normal Windows is running.

You create your own BartPE CD using PE Builder, a free program written by Bart Lagerweij, a Netherlands programmer. You'll need your Windows XP installation CD, a copy of Windows XP Service Pack 2 if your Windows CD is older than that, around 1 GB of free disk space and a CD burner.

Copy your Windows XP CD files to a new folder on your hard drive. You will need to slipstream your Windows XP CD to update it if it is older than Service Pack 2. PE Builder makes this easy with a Slipstream menu item (under Source). You specify the original CD folder, the location of the Service Pack file and where you would like the slipstreamed Windows XP CD files to be copied.

PE Builder's interface is easy to follow. A Plugins button shows all available plugins with the options to add new ones or enable existing ones.

Unfortunately finding new plugins is quite difficult; they are scattered over a number of different sites and web forums. As often as not they are dead links or only work with out-dated software versions. Some plugins are self-contained while others require the original software be installed on the computer running PE Builder.

Two options are supplied for burning the BartPE CD image to disk - StarBurn and CD-Record. Which one will work best with your particular CD burner is trial and error. When ready press the Build button and PE Builder will copy over hundreds of files from the slipstreamed Windows XP folder to a disk image and record it to a blank CD.

When a computer is booted from a BartPE disk it looks a lot like a regular Windows XP startup. When it is done you will be looking at a BartPE desktop graphic with a big yellow Go button where the Windows Start button usually is. Some monitors may need to be manually adjusted to move the screen up to see the Go button.

The A43 File Management Utility under Programs is the BartPE equivalent to Windows Explorer.

PE Builder:


Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2 download:

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Originally published 19 November 2006


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