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Best antivirus rescue disks of 2020: recover your PC from malware

Best antivirus rescue disks
(Image credit: Pixabay)

It happens to the best of us - one wrong click, a forgotten anti-virus update, or any number of other small decisions can lead to bigger consequences, not least a malware infection on your harddrive.

However, if that happens don't panic yet - most major anti-virus providers can also help provide a rescue disk to try and help you access your PC, folders and files, and remove the infection.

What you will need, though, is a USB stick of 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:

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Here are the best antivirus rescue disks

Bitdefender Rescue Disk

(Image credit: Bitdefender)

1. Bitdefender Rescue

Top-notch assistance from an antivirus veteran

Accurate engine
Graphical interface
Built-in file manager
Minimal scanning options

If your PC has been infected and your antivirus can't help, you need some urgent assistance, and there's no better choice than Bitdefender. The company's accurate engine regularly comes top of the list in protection testing, and it does a great job of removing all kinds of threats.

Bitdefender's website has a lot of details on its website explaining how you can download and set up its ISO file, ensuring even security beginners will be able to install it to a CD or USB key.

The rescue disk has a great-looking graphical interface and it's very easy to use; just boot, and it launches a scan automatically.

The down side to this simplicity is you don't get any fine-tuned control over what to scan, or how to do it. But how much this matters with a scan you might run only once, is open to question. Being thorough and checking everything is often the best approach.

If the first scan doesn't help, you're not left alone. The rescue disk's Xfce Desktop Environment gives you Firefox, a File Manager, and a stack of other tools to help you understand and solve your PC problems.

Kaspersky Rescue Disk

(Image credit: Kaspersky)

2. Kaspersky Rescue Disk

A single-click rescue disk with plenty of options

Reliable malware removal
Graphical interface
Feature-packed desktop
Few configuration options

Kaspersky Rescue Disk is a 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. Don't take our word for it: AV-Comparative's February-October 2018 Malware Removal Test rated it the top product from a field of ten.

Trend Micro Rescue Disk

(Image credit: Trend Micro)

3. Trend Micro Rescue Disk

A capable but no-frills rescue tool

Good detection rates
Easy to use
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' July-November Real-World Protection Test placing the company third out of a field of 18. Overall, it's a capable product, and well worth trying out if your regular antivirus has failed.

AVG Rescue Disk

(Image credit: AVG)

4. AVG Rescue

A comprehensive rescue disk with full scan controls

Lots of scanning options
Wide range of bonus tools
Reliable malware removal
Can be tricky to use

If you're tired of stripped-down rescue disks which give you full system scans and nothing else, you'll want to take a very close look at AVG's offering. It's so comprehensive, it gives you more control over scanning than some full antivirus packages.

You can choose a full volume scan, of course. But if you know what you're doing, you can choose to scan Windows startup files, specific folders, or even just the Windows Registry.

The disk can help you diagnose and fix system problems, too, with options to remount Windows volumes, recover deleted files, reconfigure network interfaces and edit the Windows Registry.

A very plain text-based interface and some deeply nested menus mean AVG's rescue disk isn't always easy to use, but if need its many features, we suspect you're unlikely to care.

ESET Rescue Disk

(Image credit: ESET)

5. ESET SysRescue Live

A rescue disk for advanced users

Very configurable scans
Excellent graphical interface
Lots of advanced extras
Not for beginners

ESET isn't a name you'll usually see topping the 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.

Avast Rescue Disk

(Image credit: Avast)

6. Avast

Free rescue disk with Avast anti-virus

Avast free software
Easy to set up
Simple to use
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.