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Occassionally Windows computers crash badly so it cannot even do a safe boot.

If you do not have access to the Windows install media (preinstalled PC), which boot image would you recommend to start a shell on the Windows hard disk volume (NTFS)?

A DOS or UNIX type shell would be ok.

I will prefer a solution which have a data transfer mechanism via WiFi, net or CD/DVD so user data can be salvaged.

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The easiest one for that would most likely be Knoppix: http://www.knoppix.net/ - it's a bootable Linux distribution that runs completely off the CD, doesn't touch the physical disk.

Other other option, is Windows PE: http://www.nu2.nu/pebuilder/. It's like Knoppix for Windows (gives you a bootable Windows shell, without touching the hdd). You need to have physical Windows disks avaliable to make the bootable disk, but if you keep it handy and you're on-site without windows media, it's a life saver. Especially if you create your PE image with lots of nice software, like Norton Ghost, etc. It even supports a lot of network cards.

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My friend found the installation CD and I did a Windows reinstall. The BSOD was most likely due to a registry inconsistensy. –  Jan B. Kjeldsen Jun 13 '09 at 6:49
    
I tried both Knoppix and BartPE. Knoppix worked well (after cleaning CD), but required manual mounting of the NTFS partition. BartPE worked on my PC but not on the target. –  Jan B. Kjeldsen Jun 13 '09 at 6:55
    
Well, glad to hear that you got some sort of resolution! –  Mark Henderson Jun 13 '09 at 10:43
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WinPE. See http://www.ratsauce.co.uk/notablog/WinPECD.asp

Looks and works much like Server 2008 Core.

JR

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I've used a Ubuntu live boot CD to duplicate an NTFS drive using dd on a sector copy basis. But I was also able to mount the drive and copy files and had net access.

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