Microsoft’s approach to deploying Windows and applications to devices has changed a bit in recent years. As I’ve written about Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) and Windows Deployment Services (WDS) in the past, it’s moved toward a modular deployment platform that seamlessly integrates with an existing Active Directory (AD) environment and scales according to your organization’s needs.

It performs these features with a “Lite-Touch” (LTI) or “Zero-Touch” (ZTI) methodology that is user-customizable to largely automate the entire process by way of scripts and leveraging network resources. But what of troubleshooting issues or providing support for problematic installations?

The processes involved may change from site to site, but the reliance on multiple software tools and tricks is still part of the equation. What’s needed is a solution that addresses a large percentage of common troubleshooting issues, is vetted by Microsoft, and that resides on the network as a sort of “digital Swiss army knife.” Such a suite exists in the form of Microsoft’s Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset, or DaRT for short.

DaRT is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP). It’s available to organizations that use the Microsoft Software Assurance program (SA), which provides business customers with maintenance and support for Microsoft OSes and applications, along with upgrade assurance to the latest versions of Microsoft software.

While this won’t likely apply to smaller companies or those that don’t have SA, larger enterprises may benefit greatly from the value-added features, like DaRT for troubleshooting and support of devices and users.

SEE: Power checklist: Troubleshooting hard drive failures (Tech Pro Research)


How does an SA member integrate DaRT into MDT? First, let’s look at the requirements:

  • Microsoft Software Assurance membership
  • Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) app
  • Server running Windows Server 2008 R2 (or later)
  • Windows Deployment Services set up and configured on server
  • Microsoft Deployment Toolkit installed and configured on server
  • Windows ADK

Creating the boot image

Now, let’s look at how to create a DaRT boot image on the server.

After installing the MDOP software, extract the DaRT installers to a temporary folder (Figure A).

Figure A

DaRT 7 works on Windows 7 or Windows Server 2008 R2. DaRT 8 SP1 works on Windows 8 or Windows Server 2012. DaRT 8.1 works on Windows 8.1 or Windows Server 2012 R2. DaRT 10 works on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016. Identify the version of DaRT that supports your host OS and launch the Setup Wizard (Figure B).

Figure B

Once the installation is complete, navigate to the program’s installation path in Program Files to locate the CAB files necessary to enable MDT Boot file functionality (Figure C).

Figure C

Copy and to their respective destinations at the Tools\x86 and Tools\x64 directories, located at the root of your MDT deployment share (Figure D).

Figure D

Now, launch the Deployment Workbench snap-in, right-click the deployment share root, and select Properties from the context menu. Click on the Features tab and scroll down through the Feature Packs to Microsoft Diagnostics And Recovery Toolkit (DaRT). Select the check box beside it to enable the feature pack. Repeat the process by toggling Platform to select between x86 and x64, then click OK to save the change (Figure E).

Figure E

To generate new Boot.wim files with DaRT functionality, right-click the deployment share root again and select Update Deployment Share. This process may take some time depending on the resources available to your server and the driver store size.

The last step is to import the newly generated Boot.wim into Windows Deployment Services under the Boot Images node. The Boot.wim should import quickly and will be added to the existing list of boot images (Figure F).

Figure F

After the process is completed, IT will be able to PXE boot a device and select the DaRT image from the boot menu. The Boot.wim will load a WinPE-based environment, which offers tools for greater control of a machine, such as command line access, the LockSmith password utility, the HotFix uninstaller, and the Offline Registry Editor, to name a few of almost a dozen apps to choose from.

More Windows how-to’s

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