10 free tools to get an unbootable PC working

6. Paragon Rescue Kit Express, 45.7MB

Paragon Rescue Kit Express may be a cut-down version of the full Rescue Kit package, but it could still come in very useful. The program creates a bootable CD that includes the Boot Corrector, a useful tool that can fix many common boot problems. There's an Undelete Partition Wizard to restore accidentally deleted or lost partitions. And if these don't work, the File Transfer Wizard will at least help you export critical files from your broken PC to another system.

Please note that Rescue Kit Express is free for non-commercial use only, and You must register with Paragon before you can create the boot disc,


7. Parted Magic, 79.4 MB

Parted Magic is a Live CD that takes components from Parted and Gparted to deliver a great deal of partitioning power, in an attractive and easy-to-use interface.

There's little in the way of recovery options, unfortunately, but Parted Magic does include many other tools that may be able to help. TestDisk will try to locate lost partitions, for instance. Browsers will take you online, if there's an internet connection available, for more advice. And a variety of backup tools will copy files or clone your hard drive, useful as a precaution if your attempts to fix the boot problems actually make things worse.


8. Partition Wizard, 39.2MB

Partition Wizard's recovery disc comes in a relatively compact 39MB ISO file, but it still manages to cram in plenty of hard drive-related functionality, and an easy-to-use GUI.

The key function on offer here is the ability to rebuild your hard drive's Master Boot Record, the structure that stores vital information like your partition table. And there's also a partition recovery wizard that will scan your drive for lost or deleted partitions. But if you need them, there are plenty of other functions on offer: you can move, resize, merge or copy partitions, convert a partition's file system, convert a dynamic disk to a basic disk, and more.

Partition wizard

9. Trinity Rescue Kit, 118MB

The Trinity Rescue Kit is another Live CD that specialises in system repair and recovery functions. There are tools to rebuild the partition table, reset passwords, detect viruses and recover data, and you also get a samba server, ssh server, disk cloning and more.

The system is command-line based, though, so don't expect much in the way of handholding. It's also looking a little dated at the moment; the site warns that "virusscan is still largely broken because of AV vendor side changes", and the last release was in July 2009 so it's probably not a good idea to try the disc on a Windows 7 system. Still, if the author releases an update soon, or you know what you're doing at the Linux command line, then the Trinity Rescue Kit could still be worth a look.


10. Shardana Antivirus Rescue Disk Utility, 3.01MB

If you've read our list and are unsure which might be the best recovery disc for you, then Shardana may have the answer. It's able to combine the boot discs of many different companies and tools - AVG, Avira, BitDefender, F-Secure, GData, Panda, Parted Magic, Partition Wizard and more - into a single package, then create just one ISO file or bootable USB flash drive that will run them all.

The program doesn't come with the various ISO files, of course: you'll have to download them yourself. And we wouldn't be at all surprised if installing multiple antivirus tools on the same disc resulted in occasional conflicts and odd behaviour. If you're willing to take the time to experiment, though, SARDU really could help you create the ultimate in bootable system recovery discs.


Mike Williams
Lead security reviewer

Mike is a lead security reviewer at Future, where he stress-tests VPNs, antivirus and more to find out which services are sure to keep you safe, and which are best avoided. 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. The early PC viruses caught Mike's attention, and he developed an interest in analyzing malware, and learning the low-level technical details of how Windows and network security work under the hood.