My regular readers may notice a recurring theme for this week; that of the Windows tweaking variety. See my reviews of nLite and AutoPatcher for more on how to customize your Windows installation. This week however, I take a slightly different tack, looking at a way to boot your system without Windows, to fix a troubled installation, backup data and get your system back on track. So let’s take a look at Bart PE v3.1.10a.
Installation asks for an install location; the default is C:\pebuilder, rather then an entry in the Program Files. Keep that in mind for adding files later on. You can also create/skip a start menu entry and a desktop icon. BartPE’s Builder will launch after the installation, and then ask you to agree to the license.
Now you are ready to build your BartPE disc. The simple, yet effective Builder will lead you through the preparation stage. A “Search” box will ask to look for Windows install files, but for me, it came up with no valid source locations. This is because I installed Windows XP from a disc; it was not preinstalled on the machine. Most pre-built machines that come with Windows will leave install files on the hard drive, so Dell and HP owners will probably not need the CD. I popped my Windows XP disc into my CD drive and set D:\ as my source.
The “Custom” location lets you point the wizard to the location of any extra files or folders you’d like to include with your disc. The help file explains that the disc will have approximately 300-400MB of free space that you can use for anything you wish. To test it out, I added a document folder that was around 200MB.
The BartPE disc contains a number of files for basic network support and drive checking utilities. You can download plug-ins such as Deep Burner, UltraVNC (virtual networking client), IrfanView, Ad-Aware SE, and a few dozen third party programs. You can add these onto your disc via the Plugins button on the Builder screen. Downloading extra plug-ins requires a bit of extra work; namely copying executables into the plug-in’s directory manually. At first I would have preferred this as a built in feature, but it is simple enough (BartPE’s website will help you with each one), and ensures that the latest version of the program is a part of your BartPE disc. Once the files are copied into the appropriate folder, (The BartPE directory has numerous folders for each plug-in program) just click Enable on the list. See screenshot. If there is anything missing, BartPE will pop up a warning to tell you about it. In this way I added Ad-Aware SE and IrfanView. To add Firefox, I clicked Add, located the .CAB file I had downloaded from BartPE website, and instantly Firefox appeared in the list. So now that I have added my plug-ins, let’s burn our disc and try it out.
When I first clicked Build to create my disc, BartPE shot back with an error that Windows XP SP2 was required, and my XP CD was too old. This is true; it does not have any service packs built into it. So I was left wondering what to do. Then I noticed that under the Source menu, there is an option called Slipstream. I simply downloaded the SP2 file to my computer, told BartPE where to find it, as well as my original XP disc, and then it copied the disc and service pack files into a folder on my hard drive. Then BartPE will add the service pack into the disc when I start the burn. A helpful addition indeed.
Burning options are few, but still practical. You can skip burning all together and come back to the project later. You can create an ISO image file to burn with your choice of software. Finally you can burn within BartPE. The program recognized my DVD-RW drive, and I hit Build. BartPE will pull out all of the files from that slipstream folder, as well as your plug-ins and extras and burn them all to a bootable CD. The program even verifies the data to ensure a clean burn.
When it comes to actually using the BartPE disc, you’ll need to first enter your BIOS and set the CDROM drive as your primary boot device. This way the system will boot up from the disc, not your hard drive. BartPE loads nearly as quickly as Windows does, and presents you with a BartPE desktop and a simple Go button. The Go button is your start menu where you can access all of the programs, plug-ins and data on your disc. Now you can go ahead and use the CD for a number of tasks; perhaps to analyze the drive for spyware/malware, to run a scan on your drive itself to determine its integrity, or to begin backing up data via a burner or network computer.
So there you have it. BartPE is a very useful tool to re-enter your computer if the hard drive’s normal Windows startup is not functioning. The download file is only 3MB, but you’ll need a blank CD and some will need the Windows disc and/or service pack. Check out BartPE at: http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/
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