Here's an interesting trick you can do with any Vista DVD. A limited version of this was actually possible back with Win2000 and WinXP. But back then it wasn't really that handy. With the RTM of Vista though it's insanely useful, to the point that I think that every systems guy that's worth his salt should be familiar with this. It allows you to do some excellent troubleshooting with only a Windows Vista DVD. And not just on a Vista machine. You can use this to troubleshoot a copy of XP, Win2K3 Server, Win2K, or even NT.
First some background. When you boot into Vista Setup, the system extracts the contents of the 116 meg file \sources\boot.wim into a RAM drive and assigns it the drive letter X:. There's some pretty handy stuff that's a part of this virtual disk as we'll see. This drive contains a scaled-down copy of Vista, version 6.0.6000. It is then virtually "booted", freeing up the DVD drive so you can change out the media with something else if you need. The bulk of Setup then runs from this scaled-down copy of Vista sitting in RAM, a mode known as the "Windows Preinstallation Environment for Vista" or "Windows PE 2.0". It first presents the nice splash screen asking about language and keyboard layout, and then after clicking "Next" it asks you for your product key. It is at this point that you can access a truly excellent feature of setup, obviously intended to troubleshoot a failed installation, but also VERY handy to administer a system that is on the fritz. By pressing SHIFT-F10, Setup runs "cmd", and drops you to a command prompt that is running with SYSTEM privileges. Again, this was possible with Windows 2000 and Windows XP during the "GUI" part of install, but the major drawback there was that to get to that part of install you had to go through the first part of installation, partitioning the disk, copying files, and otherwise modifying your hard drive. Not too useful. The only thing I ever used it for was to start a game of Solitaire to pass the time while everything installed. Not all that handy. But with Vista you get to drop to a command prompt without ever modifying the hard drive! This opens up enormous possiblities.
You can change out the DVD or CD to put in a disk that has your favorite tools on it. Handy for trobleshooting. Or use a USB "thumb drive" since it is recognized and accessible as well. (The driver for removable media is included in the boot.wim image.) Of course the Setup program is still running in the background, and if you exit Setup then the machine shuts down. So leave Setup running, and then from the X: drive you can run all of these powerful tools at the command prompt:
REGEDIT and REGEDT32
CHKDSK - Check the integrity of any disk in the system. /F will fix errors.
DISKPART - Manage all aspects of disk partitioning
DISKRAID - Configure RAID. (This needs a VDS hardware driver loaded via DRVLOAD to work, but it means you can configure a software-based RAID solution _before_ you install the operating system.)
FORMAT - (Needs no introduction!)
ROBOCOPY - A better version of XCOPY to conveniently move files around on volumes. See this post for an example of how to duplicate a Windows installation using this tool in this WinPE environment.
BMRUI - Bare Metal Restore (Windows Complete PC Restore.) Intended to be used with a DVD that has a .WIM installation image.
MDSCHED - Memory Diagnostics Scheduler Tool. You have to restart the machine to run the test. (It's easier to get to this diagnostic by just pressing the space bar right before the DVD starts booting, bringing up the menu where you can choose to directly run the memory test.)
ICACLS - Manage permissions on files and folders from the command prompt
RSTRUI - System Restore
RECOVER - To try to read files from a defective disk
WDSCAPTURE - Create an image of an operating system installation that can then be used with a Windows Deployment Services server. Here's more details about using WDSCapture in a WinPE environment.
WBADMIN - Windows Backup Admin, command-line version
WEVTUTIL - Manage the Event Viewer logs from a command prompt
Some useful "old-school" tools are also available:
ATTRIB - Modify file attributes like read-only, hidden, and system
CONVERT - Convert a FAT drive to NTFS
EXPAND - Uncompress files (although none of the files on the Vista DVD are compressed in this way.)
FIND - Find text in files
NETSH - Manage network settings
TASKMGR - Windows Task Manager
Some rarely used tools are also out there:
MOUNTVOL - manage volume mount points
CHKNTFS - see if a drive experienced a dirty shutdown
BOOTCFG - manage the BOOT.INI file
CONVERT - change a FAT partition to NTFS
FltMC - manage filter drivers (FBWF and WinFsf are loaded by default to provide the RAM disk on the X: drive.)
Some specialized niche stuff is out there, too:
DRVLOAD - To install drivers either while running in the WinPE environment or into a folder you'd like to create an image from. Here's a little more info.
FVEUPDATE - Full Volume Encryption Servicing Utility (aka BitLocker). Kinda cryptic tool in that it doesn't include any help feature, but to get you started available switches include /bootmgr, /windowsbootenvironment, and /memtest.
BCDEDIT - Manage boot boot configuration data in Vista. BCD is the replacement for boot.ini. Here's more info on BCDEDIT.
BOOTREC - To do things like "FixMBR", "FixBoot". Also "ScanOS" to find installations that could be listed in BOOT.INI, and "RebuildBcd" which allows you to automatically add them to the BCD (boot configuration store).
VERIFIER - Driver Verifier Manager. Useful to those who write device drivers.
WPEUTIL - WinPE Utilities. A smorgasbord of functionality: Initialize the network, create page files, gracefully shut down the system, manage firewall settings, and more.
SETUPOSK - See an on-screen keyboard. Handy if you only have a mouse available for whatever reason. There's probably a way to bring this up during Setup solely with the mouse. I haven't looked into it at all yet.
You can also run your favorite VBScripts as CSCRIPT.EXE and WSCRIPT.EXE are there.
Altough there is no network installed initially, you can load drivers using DRVLOAD and start the network with the command "WPEUTIL InitializeNetwork". Lots of network tools like IPCONFIG, PING, TRACERT, and NET are then available, and you can map to network drives and so forth. (See Q923834 for more info.)
For those who troubleshoot systems in any capacity, I hope this overview of the SHIFT-F10 trick to get into WinPE is handy. Thank you very much, Microsoft for providing a much better alternative to the old Windows 2000 Recovery Console!