Windows box won't boot? SystemRescue 9 may help

An ISO image you can burn or drop onto a USB key

The latest version of an old friend of the jobbing support bod has delivered a new kernel to help with fixing Microsoft's finest.

It used to be called the System Rescue CD, but who uses CDs any more? Enter SystemRescue, an ISO image that you can burn, or just drop onto your Ventoy USB key, and which may help you to fix a borked Windows box. Or a borked Linux box, come to that.

SystemRescue 9 includes Linux kernel 5.15 and a minimal Xfce 4.16 desktop (which isn't loaded by default). There is a modest selection of GUI tools: Firefox, VNC and RDP clients and servers, and various connectivity tools – SSH, FTP, IRC. There's also some security-related stuff such as Yubikey setup, KeePass, token management, and so on. The main course is a bunch of the usual Linux tools for partitioning, formatting, copying, and imaging disks. You can check SMART status, mount LVM volumes, rsync files, and other handy stuff.

Usefully, there's also a full local copy of the website and all documentation, including a console-mode web browser to read it with.

What you don't get are menus and lots of hand-holding. There are a lot of bootup choices, including various safe modes, and loading into RAM so you can remove the media – handy if you're short on USB ports, for example. Once it boots, you're basically left at a root shell prompt with only the docs for help.

Fine if you know what you're doing. Probably rather panic-inducing if you don't.

Windows gets its underwear in a twist relatively easily, and it's not generous with tools to fix it. It won't let you check or repair its own UEFI system partition, for instance. And on UEFI machines, it can be extra-tricky to get into the firmware setup program. Some machines ignore the hotkeys and force you to use the Windows troubleshooting menu – which is no help at all if Windows won't start.

This version of SystemRescue includes native in-kernel NTFS support as well as the older FUSE NTFS, so you can, for example, start a dead Windows box, attach an external drive (or a network drive), get at any data on the box and copy it to another drive. If the drive is failing, both ddrescue and dd_rescue are included, so you can recover as much as possible.

The main advantage of SystemRescue over just using the normal install ISO of your preferred distro is that it's small, it's current, and it includes a selection of repair tools pre-installed, and very little else. As a result, it's only a hair over 800MB.

We would have quite liked to see some tools to help with a dead Linux box, too, though. For instance, BootRepair would have been handy, but as it is, SystemRescue doesn't even include GRUB.

The other thing to note is that the snazzy new in-kernel NTFS3 driver doesn't magically bestow NTFS-repairing powers to Linux. All you get is the old ntfsfix tool. SystemRescue will help you get your data off a box that won't boot, but if the disk isn't bad and you need to repair it, you will need a bootable Windows medium, too.

So alongside SystemRescue, you probably want some other tools in your kit, perhaps including Hiren's Boot CD or the (now sadly rather elderly) Ultimate Boot CD. And of course an actual Windows ISO – you can grab Windows 10 direct from Microsoft's download page without a licence key or any ID, and it's actually easier to do from Linux or a Mac. ®

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