Each and every Windows user should have a rescue disc nearby, stored in a glass box that says: “Break if your computer breaks!”. They are a very efficient way of troubleshooting the problems and issues your computer is having when it doesn’t want to start, when it starts but does so with lots of errors, or when it just stops with one of those “blue screens of death” which have almost become a trademark of Windows devices. In this article, we’ve rounded up the system rescue discs we like most and which we believe are the most useful in desperate times, when your computer refuses to boot. They include a lot of tools useful to gather information and troubleshoot your PC:
NOTE: If your computer no longer works as it should, before using any of the next ultimate boot discs, you might want to first try Windows’ own tools. Both Windows 10 and Windows 11, as well as older Microsoft operating systems, allow you to create a System Repair Disc that you can then use to troubleshoot your PC. It has nowhere near as many tools as the system rescue disc options shared in this roundup, but it can be useful sometimes. Here’s How to create a System Repair disc in Windows 10 and Windows 11.
Hiren’s BootCD was probably the most popular system rescue disc ever invented. A few years ago, any system administrator or technical user could tell you that Hiren saved their lives at least once. Although there have been no official updates since 2012, fans have taken it upon themselves to create and maintain a new version called Hiren's BootCD PE. This one’s a system rescue disk based on a portable edition of Windows 10 and supports UEFI booting. Otherwise, we’re still talking about a rescue disc assembled especially for Windows PCs, including all the tools you might need to make your computer operational again.
Hiren’s BootCD includes:
- Anti-malware software for finding and cleaning viruses, rootkits, spyware, adware, and other types of malicious programs
- Backup and image management tools for creating and restoring image files for partitions and hard drives
- Management tools for hard disks and partitions that allow you to create, delete, resize, and analyze partitions
- Hardware analyzers and benchmarking tools that can detect failing hardware components from your computer
- Password recovery tools that might help you get by a lost Windows password
These are just a few of the tools that you will find inside Hiren’s BootCD. Try it, and you might have a chance of bringing back to life an unresponsive Windows computer.
Download: Hiren’s BootCD PE
SystemRescue, formerly known as SystemRescueCd, is obviously not trying to hide its purpose, and it offers plenty of computer rescue tools. But unlike most of the other rescue discs in this roundup, SystemRescue is designed with Linux users in mind. However, Windows users can benefit from it too. This rescue disc is easy to use even if you’ve never seen a Linux operating system before.
- File system tools for creating, resizing, moving, and copying partitions of almost any type and format
- Data recovery tools for getting your lost data back from damaged drives
- Erasing tools that help you securely erase sensitive data that you don’t ever want recovered
- Benchmarking tools for testing the hardware components
- Network utilities that allow you to access data from the network as well as test other devices from your local network
Any Linux Live CD or DVD comes bundled with a lot of tools that you can use to rescue a broken computer, even if it was running Windows. However, there’s something we need to emphasize: Linux live CDs can be very powerful rescue discs, but they might also be a bit hard to master by novice users. If you’re not a technical person and you haven’t worked with Linux operating systems before, then you should check the other options in this roundup.
Although there are plenty of options out there, we’ll point you to Ubuntu as a starting point because it’s one of the Linux distributions that are easier to use and because it’s also filled with many tools and useful apps.
By default, Ubuntu includes:
- Partitioning and (re)formatting tools that let you create, resize, format, and delete partitions
- Backup tools that you can use to backup data to local folders, network servers, or even to your Google Drive
FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD is a heavily modified version of Hiren’s Boot CD that includes both free-to-use software and a series of commercial rescue tools. Although it’s no longer maintained and doesn’t support UEFI booting, it can still be an asset for people still using older computers running Windows 7 or BIOS instead of UEFI.
FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD includes:
- Information collecting tools that give you an insight into the hardware in your PC
- Backup tools for creating and restoring backups of your hard drives
- Partitioning tools that allow you to create, delete, and resize partitions
- Benchmarking programs that can find defective hardware components from your system
- Tools for clearing the CMOS and flashing the BIOS of your computer’s motherboard.
Download: FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD.
Ultimate Boot CD is another example of a system rescue live CD/DVD that should be found in every doomsday prepper’s bag. Although it doesn’t support UEFI-based systems, it works great on computers with BIOS that are still running old operating systems like Windows 7 or even Windows XP. UBCD includes a plethora of tools designed to help you troubleshoot and rescue an unresponsive computer.
Ultimate Boot CD includes:
- Hardware benchmarking apps that help you identify the components that are likely to fail soon or are already defective
- Hard disk and partition management solutions
- Data recovery tools for getting back your files from damaged drives
- Boot repair tools
Download: Ultimate Boot CD
TIP: Are you looking for an app to recover deleted files from your PC? Here’s how to recover deleted files with Recuva (from SSD, HDD, USB stick, etc.).
Last but not least, a bonus: antimalware rescue disks. Sometimes, all your computer problems stem from a nasty malware infection that won’t let you use your PC or recover your files. What if not even the antivirus you had installed couldn’t clean the affected files? That’s when an antimalware system disc comes to the rescue. Some antivirus companies offer such tools for free, and one of the best is ESET. The company’s SysRescue Live disc is a malware cleaning tool that you can put on a CD, DVD, or USB, boot your computer from it, and let it scan and clean your device. It can remove even the most ominous threats, so we highly recommend it.
Download: ESET SysRescue
In troubled times, when your Windows computer doesn’t want to do what you want, system rescue discs are your best friends. They are to you what a Swiss army knife is to Bear Grylls. Whether you’re a system admin, a novice, or a technical user, your rescue kit should always contain at least one of the rescue discs mentioned in this article. Try them and let us know which one you prefer. If you know other good rescue discs, share them in the comments below.