Microsoft has been providing a free disk imaging utility since Windows XP.  It’s called ImageX.  ImageX is a command line utility that comes packaged with the Windows Automated Installation Kit otherwise known as AIK. 
AIK also includes one of the most useful troubleshooting tools I have come across in my 12 years of supporting PC’s: Windows PE.  PE is a stripped down version of Windows that gives you the ability to boot to media such as a USB Stick, CD or DVD or even a hidden partition on your hard drive and run 32 or even 64 bit utilities depending on the flavor you choose. 
A lot of technicians I know have avoided it because it’s command line seems complicated and daunting.  It really is simple and Microsoft provides some really great walkthroughs on how to create your own Windows PE image; how to create a bootable USB stick (a godsend for recovering non-bootable systems and doing virus cleanup); and most importantly, how to capture and apply disk images using ImageX. 
Below are the links that you need to download your copy of Windows AIK and get started using Windows PE and ImageX:
To Download Windows AIK
This is the download for Windows 7 AIK.  Do not download the Windows 8 AIK as there are some major differences and not all the kinks have been worked out yet.
Create a Custom WinPE Image (and how to create a bootable USB stick with PE)
Capturing an Image using ImageX
These are the command line options for ImageX.  Basically you need to know ImageX /capture Volume:\ destination:\my_image_file.wim
Applying an Image using ImageX
The walkthroughs are great because with some of the functions you can literally copy and paste the functions.  I like to keep a cheat sheet of these functions in a notepad file on my bootable USB drive that I carry with me to clients.  Here are some examples of some more advanced things I have done with Windows PE. 
  • Created a Windows PE boot disk that contained a custom image file and launched a script to automatically image a machine.  This was mass produced and distributed to 100’s of non-technical contractors to use to apply a fresh image to desktops in a retail kiosk.
  • Created a Windows PE boot disk preloaded with the NIC drivers of all the machines on my network.  The disk also contained Firefox portable and I was able to establish a remote session to a non-booting system.
  • Once, while at a client, I was able to capture an image of a system configured with a complicated software setup, apply it to a new PC, sysprep it, add it back to the domain. This was taking a complicated and time consuming task and making it simple.
These are only a few examples that I have done.  I have seen some really creative uses for PE over the years.  In closing, don’t overlook these valuable, useful and most importantly, free tools from Microsoft as you look for utilities to add to your arsenal.
All content provided in this blog are for informational purposes only.
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