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Best antivirus rescue disks of 2021

Representational image of data security
(Image credit: Kingston)

The best antivirus rescue disks make it simple and easy to access your PC after a malware attack and recover your files and folders.

So if you do get a serious malware infection on your hard drive, don't panic yet - most major anti-virus providers can also help provide a rescue disk to try and help you remove the infection.

What you will need, though, is a USB stick or a way to burn what you need to a CD, then click through any of the feature providers below and download their rescue disk to your storage media.

After that's done, load up the USB or CD in the infected computer, and boot up from the installed media.

With any luck that will recover your PC, and help everything run more smoothly and stress-free afterwards. However, do ensure you have the best anti-virus and keep it updated!

Here then are the best antivirus rescue disks.

Suspect you have malware? Try these malware removal tools.

(Image credit: Avast)

1. Avast Rescue Disk

Free rescue disk with Avast anti-virus

Reasons to buy
+Avast free software+Easy to set up+Simple to use
Reasons to avoid
-Requires Avast

The Avast Rescue Disk isn't a standalone product, as much as a service existing Avast customers can access from whichever Avast anti-virus or internet security package they are using.

If you don't have Avast then don't worry - you can simply download a free version of Avast anti-virus software and use that.

First of all, you will need either a blank CD (presuming your PC has a CD writer) or a USB stick with 500MB of free space. Then you've put those into your machine, double-click on your Avast icon on your desktop, or click once from your active tray.

When your Avast active panel has come up, click the left-hand setting "Protection", then click through the "Virus Scans" option that is presented. The rescue disk link will be somewhere in that section, perhaps standing alone to the right.

Once you've clicked through that, select either CD or USB as your preferred option, then the correct drive, then the rescue disk should begin to record to your media.

Afterward, shut down or restart your PC with the media present, and use whichever keys are required to bring up the Boot Menu. From there select your media, and the rescue disk option should come up. Select that, and then leave it to run. You can select for the rescue disk to "Fix "automatically" any malicious files that are found, or else select to manually review any results. 

All in all, it's a reasonably straight-forward and painless feature to set up and run.


(Image credit: Kaspersky)

2. Kaspersky Rescue Disk

A single-click rescue disk with plenty of options

Reasons to buy
+Reliable malware removal+Graphical interface+Feature-packed desktop
Reasons to avoid
-Few configuration options

Kaspersky provides a number of free tools, and if you click on the link you'll probably have to scroll down a little before you find the Kaspersky Rescue Disk option. What we like about Kaspersky's rescue disk solution is that it's a clean and professional product which includes plenty of extras, but is also easy to use.

A boot menu enables deciding whether to boot into full or limited graphics modes, for instance. The simple scanner can be launched with a single click. But you can choose to scan only specific folders, which should improve speeds. You're able to view and even restore quarantined objects. And the Xfce desktop powering the disk includes Firefox, Thumar File Manager, and a bunch of other useful tools.

You're unlikely to need anything more than Kaspersky's main scanner, though, because it's one of the best around. However, when you click through the link provided, do scroll down to find the free Kaspersky Rescue Disk.


(Image credit: Trend Micro)

3. Trend Micro Rescue Disk

A capable but no-frills rescue tool

Reasons to buy
+Good detection rates+Easy to use
Reasons to avoid
-No graphical interface-Few features

While most antivirus vendors provide rescue disks in a plain ISO format and leave you to decide how to use it, Trend Micro's Rescue Disk tool handles all the complexities itself. Just choose whether you need a bootable CD, USB key or hard drive and the tool quickly creates it for you.

The tool doesn't have a graphical interface or anything in the way of bonus features, opting instead for DOS-like plain text windows. But it's easy enough to use, and you'll be watching the scan progress bar within a few seconds.

Trend Micro's malware detection abilities are what really count, and here the engine scores very well, with AV-Comparatives' Real-World Protection Test, which routinely sees Trend Micro among the best three for overall antivirus protection. Overall, the Trend Micro Rescue Disk a capable product, and well worth trying out if your regular antivirus has failed.


(Image credit: ESET)

4. ESET SysRescue Live

A rescue disk for advanced users

Reasons to buy
+Very configurable scans+Excellent graphical interface+Lots of advanced extras
Reasons to avoid
-Not for beginners

ESET isn't a name you'll usually see listed in antivirus rankings, but its products are more accurate than most, and its SysRescue Live is one of the most configurable rescue disks we've seen.

SysRescue doesn't just automatically scan your entire volume, for instance. You're able to define specific drives and folders to check, the type of objects you'd like to scan (files, archives, email files, boot sectors, symbolic links, more), assorted scan exclusions ('don't check files with these extensions), and the list goes on.

All this power could be a problem, especially if you're a security novice. Change the wrong setting and you might prevent ESET SysRescue detecting your threat.

But if you're an expert, the ability to tune the scan could make a huge difference to performance. Handy features like scanning without cleaning and quarantine management give you plenty of control over what happens to any threats. And if you need more, SysRescue comes with the Chromium browser, the excellent partition manager GParted, and TeamViewer for remote access to the system.


(Image credit: Dr.Web)

5. Dr.Web LiveDisk

Free emergency disk repair

Reasons to buy
+Free+USB or DVD+Additional Ransomware removal

Dr.Web is possibly the biggest antivirus company most people haven't heard of, though that's changing with the increased popularity of the Dr.Web Security Space app for Android.

Dr.Web LiveDisk is specifically developed to help Windows users try to recover their harddrive after it has been rendered non-bootable by malware. It's a free utility that can be used by either burning to a DVD or USB stick, though for the latter your PC must be able to boot from USB media.

As well as clean up malware from your system Dr.Web can also be used to copy important files or folders to removable media or another PC in order to recover and protect them. However, Dr.Web LiveDisk will attempt to remove any malware from an infected drive so that it can be recovered and reused.

Dr.Web also provides a number of additional security utilities, such as one for trying to decrypt ransomware, though this is a paid-for service for existing registered users. However, it is worth mentioning, especially when larger security software vendors have been moving away from that space.

Also check out the best endpoint protection software.

Mike began his career as a lead software developer in the engineering world, where his creations were used by big-name companies from Rolls Royce to British Nuclear Fuels and British Aerospace. He now covers VPNs, antivirus and all things security for TechRadar, although he still has a secret love of quirky open-source and freeware apps which find brand new ways to solve common problems.