WinPE 2.0 (Microsoft Windows Preinstallation Environment version 2) also known as Windows PE or Windows Vista WinPE is the new version of mini bootable tool from Microsoft that provides operating system features for installation, troubleshooting, and recovery. In other word, WinPE 2.0 is a slim down or tiny mini version of Windows (you will see lots of reference to MiniNT). Previously WinPE is mostly used by OEMs, ISVs or system builders to prepare and create recovery CD or recovery partition. Previous WinPE popularity is limited due to shortage of functionality compared with third-party boot loader. However, Windows Vista WinPE 2.0 is greatly enhanced and improved, and widely distributed to the public as free download with Windows Automated Installation Kit (AIK). With its small size, WinPE 2.0 can be installed on a USB flash drive, also known as USB key to create a bootable USB flash drive with WinPE 2.0 with ability to access, read and write to NTFS partitions, workable on almost all modern computers support USB booting.

Step by step guide on how to make a WinPE 2.0 bootable USB flash drive:

  1. Get an USB key or USB flash drive. Depending on your need such as data storage or want to put in a lot of custom scripts or applications, it’s better to buy a USB memory key with at least 512 MB in size.
  2. Download and install the Windows Automated Installation Kit (Windows AIK), which also contains Windows PE 2.0.
  3. Format USB flash drive from within Windows Vista.
  4. Open a command prompt and execute the following commands to create a partition (explanation in bracket, which should be ignored):
    • Diskpart (text-mode command interpreter to manage objects such as disks, partitions, or volumes)
    • list disk (displays a list of disks and information about them)
    • select disk 1 (assuming the USD key is detected as disk 1 from the list generated by “list disk” command. This setting must be correct or else you may accidentally wipe out the hard disk instead.)
    • clean (removes any and all partition or volume formatting from the disk with focus)
    • create partition primary
    • select partition 1 (the only primary partition created by command above)
    • active
    • format fs=fat32 (use FAT32 file system)
    • assign (assigns a drive letter or mount point to the volume with focus)
    • exit
  5. Setup and customize Windows PE by following below instructions:
    • Click on Windows Start menu, open All Programs (if applicable), and then Windows AIK program folder. Select and click “Windows PE Tools Command Prompt”.
    • Type the following command:
      run copype.cmd x86 c:\winpe_x86

      If you want to create a 64-bit version of bootable USB flash disk, change the architecture from x86 to amd64. You may want to change the name of the folder too.

    • You can customize WinPE by copying any tools possible needed and available to the C:\winpe_x86\iso folder. The utilities may include imaging tools for capturing images such as imagex, wimscript.ini and etc.
  6. Insert the USB key disk into the machine where WinPE is installed.
  7. Run the following command in command prompt to copy WinPE and its contents to the USB flash drive:
    xcopy c:\winpe_x86\iso\*.* /s /e /f e:\

    c: and e: represents drive where the WinPE files are located and USB flash drive respectively. Change the drive letter if it’s not the same.