Comparison of Windows PE to Bootable CD-ROMs (Windows Embedded Standard 2009)


You can boot an embedded device that does not have hard drive by using either Microsoft® Windows® Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), or by using a bootable CD-ROM. These two operating systems have different purposes in the development, testing, and deployment of an embedded device.

Windows PE is intended to provide a minimal operating system that you can use for developing, testing, and fine-tuning your device.

You can also package Microsoft® Windows® Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE), a System Deployment Image (SDI) file, and SDI tools, to create a recovery CD. With this recovery CD, you can boot the device with Windows PE, and then restore the image on your device by installing an image from an SDI file. Once the recovery image is installed, you can reboot the device from the recovery image. To create this recovery CD, you will need a licensed version of Windows PE toolkit or the OEM Preinstallation Kit (OPK). For information about licensing Windows PE, contact your Microsoft distributor.

A bootable CD-ROM is primarily used to deploy and distribute Windows Embedded Standard on a device that does not have a hard drive. You can also create a bootable CD-ROM that provides the functionality of Windows PE, but that includes additional features or tools which are not included in Windows PE.

The following table compares Windows PE to a bootable CD-ROM.

Capabilities Windows PE (Windows Embedded Standard version) Windows PE Recovery CD (Using SDI and customized Windows PE) Bootable CD-ROM (El Torito component with EWF component)



  • Detect hardware — running Target Analyzer from within Windows PE provides a smaller hardware device list.
  • Boot the device without a hard drive
  • Format and partition a hard drive
  • Connect to network folders to install drivers or a run-time image

Testing and fine-tuning:

  • Use as an emergency boot disk
  • Fix corrupt boot.ini files
  • Access the file system on the target device
  • View or edit the registry hive for your run-time image before or after booting the image on the device


  • Ship with the device. Use in the field on the physical device to reinstall the factory image.

Field Upgrade:

  • Use to upgrade an embedded device that has been running Microsoft Windows NT Embedded, or a non-Microsoft operating system.


  • Use for in-factory deployment. Deploy your initial installation to an embedded device by using a deployment disc, or by using RIS Server.
  • You can ship this disc separate from the device, so that it can be deployed in the field at the device.


  • Protect the operating system — a bootable CD-ROM is read-only, which means that the operating system is protected from potential corruption.
  • Deploy or upgrade — a single CD-ROM image can be quickly duplicated and deployed across target systems.
  • Run the operating system on a diskless system — a device that does not have a hard drive.

Can boot device




Configurable with Windows Embedded Standard Tools


Yes: SDI is included in Windows Embedded Standard Tools.

No: Windows PE. You must obtain Windows PE toolkit or OEM Preinstall Kit to create a bootable Windows PE CD-ROM.






See Also


Licensing Requirements and Guidelines
How to Create a Device Recovery CD by Using Windows PE and SDI
Choose Your Windows PE Options

Other Resources

Development with Windows PE
Bootable CD-ROM