Best antivirus rescue disks
No antivirus can guarantee to protect you against malware. There's always a chance that some dangerous new threat will bypass any defenses and infect your PC, and if that happens, it can be very difficult to remove.
Most antivirus products have a bootable rescue disk to help you eliminate these more stubborn threats. Install this to a CD or USB key, boot from it instead, and it's much more difficult for malware to avoid detection.
Even if your own antivirus vendor's rescue disk fails, you can just download and try someone else's. Most are no-strings free, and can be downloaded and used without 'creating an account' or otherwise handing over any personal details. Keep reading and we'll point you to some of the best antivirus rescue disks around.
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Here are the best antivirus rescue disks
Top-notch assistance from an antivirus veteran
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.
A single-click rescue disk with plenty of 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.
A capable but no-frills rescue tool
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.
A comprehensive rescue disk with full scan controls
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.
A rescue disk for advanced users
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.
Microsoft's built-in rescue option
While there are some great rescue disks around, it's worth remembering that Windows has its own bootable recovery environment, and you may be able to disinfect your PC without having to download anything else.
This can be as easy as launching Windows Defender Security Centre and clicking Virus and Threat Protection > Run a New Advanced Scan > Windows Defender Offline Scan > Scan Now. Windows Defender will then restart your PC into its own bootable environment, spend around 15 minutes scanning the system and removing any threats, before rebooting back into regular Windows.
If your PC won't boot normally, Microsoft has tools you can download to create a bootable CD or USB key.
This can be complicated, at least sometimes. You must choose 32 or 64-bit downloads, for instance, and we've seen multiple reports of problems getting Defender to boot correctly.
Windows Defender Offline was simple and effective in our tests, though, and could allow Windows Defender to uncover threats it wouldn't spot otherwise. It's not the best of rescue disks, but you might want to try it first.
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