Troubleshoot Unbootable PCs With ERD Commander

Whether you're combating virus damage, corrupted registry files or other boot issues, Winternals' ERD Commander 2005 is often the right tool for the job.

The Job

Systems that refuse to boot prompt some of the most stressful events in all of IT. Organizations, regardless of the vertical market within which they operate, all need their computers to work. Lose a single system and a business' operations can grind to a halt. Patients can't be seen. Orders can't be filled. Work stops.

As an IT consultant, I know the stress technology professionals experience when a system's failed and an entire office stares over your shoulder as you navigate myriad cryptic Windows error messages. I was there this morning with a dead Dell that was reporting its Windows\System32\Config\System was missing or corrupt. We've all seen this error before, likely. In some cases, it's easy to repair; other times it's an absolute bear.

Sometimes Windows Recovery Console proves adequate repairing boot configuration and master boot record issues. But what about all those times it doesn't?

Informing a client you need to explode a sizable backup in order to pick through files to manually restore a system hive or reinstall Windows and all their applications (when more often than not the organization hasn't backed up the system's registry) isn't always an option. Customers, patients, employees, suppliers, vendors, government agencies and others can literally be lined up awaiting system recovery.

You need to be fast. You need to be efficient. That's why it's so important to carry powerful tools. Whether you're combating virus damage, corrupted registry files or other boot issues, Winternals' ERD Commander 2005 is often the right tool for the job. It saved me this morning, and it's saved me before. It's so good Microsoft just bought the company.

The Tool

ERD Commander 2005 is one of several utilities included in Winternals' Administrator's Pak. From Active Directory and file management tools to recovery software and even a password nullifier, the pak packs wallop. But, at over $1,400 per administrator license (a license enables a single administrator to use the software on an unlimited number of systems), so, too, does the price.

I wish licensing just ERD Commander 2005 was an option. Maybe following Microsoft's acquisition of the company it will be. Who knows? I suspect Microsoft acquired Winternals not for the products, but for the mind power behind them.

Regardless, ERD Commander 2005 provides me with a single CD I carry to restore corrupted Windows system files, undo Hotfixes, access the command line on non-booting PCs, restore network connections just long enough to rescue critical data from failing disks or access badly needed antivirus or repair software, change a password to gain entrance to systems I've been accidentally locked out of and run disk utilities (such as CHKDSK) to confirm hard drive integrity, among other tasks. You're average day, in other words.

Right Tool For The Job

All of ERD's functions are easily accessed by clicking the Start button that appears on Winternals' XP-like interface. In addition, ERD Commander re-enables access to the traditional My Computer and Network Neighborhood tools on systems that won't boot.

That doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you've got four anxious staff shoulder surfing you, and customers are lined up behind them, it's much easier navigating to the directories you need using the friendly and graphical My Computer interface than it is trying to remember whether you need C:\Windows\System or C:\WINNT\System32 at the command line. The same is true when you need to edit problematic registry entries. ERD's Registry Editor is an almost perfect mirror of Windows Registry Editor.

I've come to depend upon ERD Commander for other tasks, too. When clients request I dispose of their systems, I can assure them the hard disk data won't end up in the wrong hands. ERD Commander 2005's Disk Wipe utility supports four-pass deletion meeting Department of Defense 5220.22-M data destruction guidelines. Truth be told, a good three-eights inch drill bit still comes in handy, sometimes, though.

I've tried the Hirens CD; I've even touted the BartPE disk. If you properly register and license all the software such underground and/or open source tools provide, they can prove helpful. But sitting in a professional workplace, with worried office workers awaiting my pronouncement as to whether a system's recoverable, isn't the time or place to experiment with or take a crack using hackers' tools. I feel much more comfortable knowing I'm working with a proven tool tested by the likes of Bryce Cogswell and Mark Russinovich.

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