The Windows 10 Recovery Environment, aka WinRE, can be incredibly helpul in restoring a damaged install to proper operation. Thus I recommend that, at a minimum, Windows 10 users run the “Create a recovery drive” tool in Control Panel to create a USB flash drive from which they boot within WinRE. This requires a 16 GB or larger USB flash drive, and can take an hour or more to create (the speed of the USB flash drive apparently matters a LOT). Here’s the wiminfo I just extracted from the file named F:\sources\boot.wim. It is, of course, the boot file for WinRE itself. Notice it is tied to Build 18362.1, which is actually a Windows 10 1903 release. In PowerShell, the text reads:
PS C:\WINDOWS\system32> dism /get-wiminfo /wimfile:”F:\sources\boot.wim”
Deployment Image Servicing and Management tool
Details for image : F:\sources\boot.wim
Index : 1
Name : Microsoft Windows Recovery Environment (x64)
Description : Microsoft Windows Recovery Environment (x64)
Size : 2,469,710,498 bytes
The operation completed successfully.
The disk structure for the \Sources folder is kind of odd, too. Here’s what it looks like:
The Control Panel utility creates a two-part wimfile named “Reconstruct” to build a recovery image. Weird.
[Click image for full-sized view.]
The Macrium Reflect Boot Menu Option
As part of its “Create Rescue Media function,” Macrium Reflect allows you to place a special WinRE version into the boot menu for your PC. This permits you to invoke that WinRE when you boot your PC, instead of the usual OS. It will then launch a limited runtime environment that will do the following:
1. Run a compact version of Macrium Reflect. You can use it to restore any of your image backups, and thus repair your PC from its primary boot drive. This has the advantage of being fast and convenience. But if your boot drive itself is failing or otherwise unavailable, this option will not be available, either. Even if you use this capability, you should still build Rescue Media on a USB Flash drive. It will boot and let you run repairs and backups even if the boot drive is MIA. Very important!
2. Access to the command prompt on a temporary drive named X:. This lets you run command-line tools to work on disks, or attempt manual OS repairs at the command line.
3. Access to a simple drive explorer, called Macrium PE Explorer. This lets you inspect the files in any defined volumes (lettered drives) in your PC’s file system, including the aforementioned X: drive, as well as any other drives you might have defined for use during normal operations. That said, SD cards (including SDXC) inserted into the PC do not appear in this listing (my best guess is that WinRE does not load the necessary drivers to make such devices visible).
Pros and cons of Macrium WinRE boot option. Pros: quick, convenient, easy to use, doesn’t consume much disk space. MUCH faster to create than the built-in Windows 10 Recovery Media builder. Cons: works only if the boot drive is working, appears on the boot menu, so you have to wait for it to timeout (default setting: 30 seconds should definitely be shortened in msconfig.exe if you add this option). Not as General Purpose as Kyhi’s excellent Rescue Disk
Boot from MS Recovery Media
To boot from alternate media in Windows 10, the easiest technique is to hold down the Shift key when you select the “Restart” item from the Shutdown menu. This automatically boots into advanced startup options, from which you can choose the “Use a device.” This will let you select the Recovery Media you’ve created during the boot sequence. Or, you can click through this sequence of Start Menu items: Settings → Update & Security → Recovery → (Advanced Startup) Restart now. Note: this will immediately cause your system to restart, so make sure you save any unsaved work before you click the button. From there, you’ll again choose “Use a device,” and pick the recovery media device as your boot target. Those who understand how to work with their BIOS and select an alternate boot target will probably find that method the fastest (but it varies from PC to PC. For example I strike “Enter” on my ThinkPads before the OS starts loading to get into boot-up alternatives).
In fact, you should always do this any time you build recovery media, to make sure it’s working properly. You can’t know until you try, and if you don’t try when your PC is working properly, it might fail you when it’s not. Don’t take that chance!. And in fact, that’s how I learned that the default recovery media doesn’t work on my newer Lenovo ThinkPads unless I disable Fast Startup in Power Options. A quick look at the Sources folder on the Microsoft recovery media showed me a two-part WIM file, 1 about 3.8 GB in size, the other about 2.3 GB. I’m guessing that the actual, complete WIM file is too big to fit within the 4GB file max limitation on FAT32. Thus, it gets broken up into two pieces that must be put back together. Something about turning off fast startup (which supposedly does not affect restart, but which prevented the Recovery Media from working anyway) put things back to rights. The Microsoft Recovery Media UFD now boots, and it would allow you to restore its captured image.But I now understand it’s just a rollback to the time that the recovery media was made. Not really what I wanted, I guess
Pros and cons of Built-in Recovery Media. Cons: takes forever to build, must turn off Fast Boot option before media will boot, get better/easier functionality from Macrium Reflect. Pros: free, built-in tool, easy (but not fast) to use. Note: if you download and run the Windows 8.1 recoverydrive.exe file from https://restorecd4u.com/upload/RecoveryDrive.exe, it will skip the file splitting and build simpler recovery media. If you have problems with the built-in function — and I saw many such reports on Google — this might be more to your liking. Don’t need it myself.
But wait: there’s more. As it turns out on the Lenovo support site, I found and downloaded a utility named Lenovo USB Recovery Creator. Just to check it out, I also used that to build different recovery media. Turns out it does a factory reset (which is not what I really wanted, but it’s good to have, in case I want to sell one of my X380 Yogas someday). At any rate, after some dithering around using the utility depicted below, I wound up with a a factory reset UFD, too.
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.