You can think of your computer in a lot of different ways. From one perspective it's an inanimate slab of technology, just a tool you use to amuse yourself or get things done. From a more imaginative point of view, it's a sort of hothouse plant, susceptible to any number of ailments that can keep it from flourishing. If your computer hasn't seemed like itself lately or if it flat out refuses to boot, Hiren's BootCD may provide the tools you need to bring it back to health.
What Is a Boot CD?
Ordinarily, your computer boots from its hard drive. If that's not working properly or if the operating system on your hard drive is corrupted, your computer won't start up the normal way. In those cases, it's handy to have a bootable disk on hand, either as a USB thumb drive or a physical CD or DVD. A boot CD loads and runs an operating system so you can have emergency access to your files and ideally fix whatever's wrong with your system. Hiren's BootCD and others like it load up the disk with a raft of tools for that kind of repair work.
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Two Versions of Hiren's
The original Hiren's boot disk was based on Windows XP and contained a vast number of privacy and fix-it tools – over 300 of them on Version 15.2 of the original boot disk. Unfortunately, that last official version dates from 2012, which means that some of the tools on the disk are badly dated. In the absence of a newer official version from Hiren, a group of users who'd hosted Hiren's BootCD (HBCD) for years created a newer version of the tool that's upgraded for modern computers. The new version, Hiren's BootCD PE, is based on Windows 10.
Windows 10 PE
The newer version of HBCD uses the Windows 10 Preinstallation Environment, or PE, which is a stripped down version of Windows 10 that was designed by Microsoft as a tool for installing or repairing Windows operating systems. It's a crucial update from the original Hiren's base of Windows XP because that version can't work with the boot process used on modern computers. It's a newer technology called the Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), which replaced the old-school BIOS of XP-era computers. This article assumes you'll use the PE version of Hiren's on a modern computer, though much of the information applies if you use the older version of the disk.
First Things First
The problem with an emergency recovery disk is that sometimes people wait until they have an emergency before they make it. If that's the situation you find yourself in, you'll need to borrow a working computer to make the Hiren's BootCD. If you're the plan-ahead type, you can walk through the following steps on your own computer and then store the finished disk or USB drive in a safe place until it's needed.
Downloading the ISO
Hiren's BootCD comes in the form of an ISO file, which creates an exact image of an entire CD or DVD. To download the PE version of the ISO, go to the hirensbootcd.org/download/ page. Scroll down the page and click HBCD_PE_x64.iso in the Filename field. You'll be prompted to save the ISO. You should also use your phone camera to take a photo of the three long numbers underneath the filename, which are the file's checksums. This is optional, but checksums provide a way to verify that your download isn't corrupted or infected with malware. It's like making sure you have lifeboats before you set sail.
Checking Your Checksums
Windows doesn't have a checksum verifier built in, but there are plenty of them available. You could download Microsoft's own File Checksum Integrity Verifier, for example, but something like Checksum Calculator is easier for most users. Download the file from its publisher and then click the installer file to load it on your computer. After it's installed, run the program and click its Browse button to choose the HBCD ISO from your Downloads folder. Choose one of the three checksum methods and click Calculate to generate a checksum. Compare it to the one in your photo or copy and paste the original checksum from the HBCD PE site and let Checksum Calculator compare them. If they match, you're good to go.
Burning the ISO to a Disk
There are plenty of third-party programs you can use to burn an ISO image to a disk, so if you have one installed on your computer, feel free to use it. Windows' own built-in disk-burning function supports ISOs from Windows 7 onward, so that's the easiest option. Right-click on the downloaded ISO, and choose Burn disk image from the menu that pops up. Insert a blank DVD into the drive – despite the name, the new version of HBCD is too big to fit on a CD anymore – and choose that drive from the Windows dialog box. Finally, click Burn.
Burning the ISO to a USB Thumb Drive
The PE version of Hiren's BootCD can run from a disk, but it boots slowly on some computers and booting from USB is the better option. You can make a Hiren's boot USB with Rufus, Unetbootin or another third-party utility, but there's a perfectly serviceable one available from the same site as HBCD PE itself. Download the ISO2USB.exe file from the USB Booting tab and click to run it. Choose the HBCD ISO from your Downloads folder and then choose your ISO file and USB device in the on-screen dialog box. Click Process to make your bootable USB.
Changing the Boot Order
Now that your HBCD USB or disk is ready and contains the Hiren's image, it's time to use it. Your computer will want to boot to the hard drive first, though, so you need to tell it which drive to use instead. When you first restart your computer, there's a brief moment when you're prompted to hit a key – usually Esc, Del or F2, though it varies among manufacturers – to enter the Setup screen. Once you're in, look for a setting that's usually called Boot Order. Your hard drive is normally the first drive listed. Change the order so that the DVD drive or USB is first and then choose Save Settings and Exit. Your computer will continue to reboot, but this time it loads from the Hiren's disk rather than your hard drive.
Hiren's BootCD PE Overview
When your computer finishes booting, you'll find yourself looking at a version of the usual Windows 10 desktop. You'll have access to the internet and a wide range of tools available to fix any problems you might be experiencing. The programs included on the CD are all either freeware or usable trial versions of the respective programs, so in most cases, you'll be able to get back up and running without needing to splash out for the full paid version of a given program. HBCD PE contains dozens of programs, rather than the hundreds of the older product, but they're still divided for convenience into a number of separate categories.
An Important Warning
The tools on HBCD range widely in the level of expertise they require. Running an antivirus or anti-malware program is straightforward, for example, and there's little risk involved. Some of the other tools, including the ones for data recovery, fixing boot errors or changing drive partitions, can mess up your computer if you don't know what you're doing. Take the time to read the instructions for any given program carefully before you start. If you don't understand them, you might be better off asking or paying someone else to do the repair for you.
Hard Disk Diagnostic and Inspection Tools
A lot of computer problems begin as hard drive issues, and much of HBCD PE is taken up with disk tools. The first step in fixing your problem is finding out what it is, and there are a number of diagnostic products on Hiren's. These include HDDScan and HDTune, Western Digital's Data Lifeguard, and Runtime Software's Captain Nemo and several versions of DiskExplorer for different filesystems. With those, you can identify a wide range of disk issues.
Fixing Hard Drive Problems
If you find that your problem starts with a problem in your hard drive's Master Boot Record or Boot Configuration Data, Bootice or EasyBCD can often fix it. If your problem is lost data, you'll find a number of programs to address that, including Runtime's RAID Reconstructor and NAS Data Recovery for advanced network-oriented hard drive subsystems. Modern operating systems usually create multiple partitions on a hard drive, and if those are messed up, you'll find AOMEI Partition Assistant and Macrorit Partition Extender on the disk.
Disk Maintenance and Hygiene Tools
Your hard drive will run more efficiently if you take good care of it, and there are tools here for that as well. Defraggler keeps your filesystem healthy by gathering up the bits and pieces of your files and grouping them together efficiently, so your hard drive doesn't have to find them separately when you load a file or program. You'll also find several tools for backing up your files or cloning your hard drive – very handy when you upgrade – and if you're planning to reuse the old drive, the HDD Low Level Format Tool makes sure your files are well and truly wiped away.
Fixing Windows Issues
Another large group of programs on the Hiren's boot disk is intended to fix up problems with Windows. The most comprehensive is Lazesoft's Windows Recovery, but the disk includes a number of smaller, more specialized tools as well. For example, Dependency Walker helps you track down the source of those maddening bad or missing module errors that cause your system to crash or keep programs from running. Others, including Registry Backup and Regshot, protect against glitches in Windows' System Registry, which manages your programs and how they interact with the OS.
Malware, Viruses and Privacy
Protecting your computer against viruses and maintaining your online privacy are a couple of other functions covered by HBCD. For protection against malware, you'll find Malwarebytes and ESET Online Scanner on the disk. Ccleaner is a sort of janitor for Windows, stripping away outdated portions of your registry, uninstalling software you no longer want, removing duplicate files, and protecting your privacy by cleaning out cookies and temporary files.
Other Useful Stuff
Sometimes the only problem with your computer is that you password protected it at some point and now you can't recall the password. HBCD includes tools for that, including Lazesoft's Password Recovery. You'll also find a number of semi-random things you need while you're operating from the boot CD, including the Sumatra PDF viewer, 7-Zip for unpacking archived files, and both FreeOffice and Notepad++ for any writing you need to do.
Get Familiar in Advance
Hiren's BootCD can be a real lifesaver, but you don't have to wait for an emergency to get to know it. Spend an afternoon looking up the programs that come as part of the package and download the ones that sound the most useful. Installing and using them on a regular basis can often prevent emergencies in the first place, and if you have an emergency, you'll already be familiar with the programs. That can make recovery faster and less stressful, and that familiarity also reduces the risk that you'll accidentally make things worse from not knowing what you don't know.