You might not be ready to accept Linux as your desktop yet, but you can still use it to save your Windows PC—whether you need to reset passwords, recover deleted files, or scan for viruses, here’s how to do it.
What we’ll do today is walk you through some of the most useful ways that you can repair your Windows PC using an Ubuntu Live CD, but keep in mind that most of these tasks can be performed with any version of Linux.
Image modified from Smuggle559′s Broken Windows
Make Your Ubuntu Live CD
The first thing you’ll want to do is make your own Ubuntu Live CD, and while you can just burn an ISO image to a disc and call it a day, you might want to think about creating a customized live CD using reconstructor, which can include custom applications that aren’t included by default.
Alternate: Make Your Ubuntu Live USB
Since carrying around a CD isn’t always the most convenient thing in the world, you might want to also create an Ubuntu Live USB, which is nothing more than a flash drive that has a copy of Linux installed on it, which you can use to boot straight into Linux a lot quicker than using a CD. If you really want to get fancy, you can create a persistent Ubuntu flash drive that saves your settings.
The only problem with this method is that not every PC supports booting from a flash drive, and older PCs are not only more likely to have problems, but they are the ones that are less likely to boot from a flash drive—so you’ll want to keep a Live CD around as well.
Change or Reset Your Password
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to use Linux to fix Windows is when you’re trying to recover a forgotten password—all you have to do is boot it up and run a few commands, and your password will be reset. It’s really as simple as that. Here’s a couple of ways that you can do this, both for Windows and Linux:
- Change or Reset Windows Password from a Ubuntu Live CD
- Reset Your Ubuntu Password Easily from the Live CD
- Change Your Forgotten Windows Password with the Linux System Rescue CD
The last one isn’t using the Ubuntu Live CD, of course, but the System Rescue CD is a great tool as well, so we figured we’d include it in the list.
Diagnose Windows or Hardware Problems
There’s a number of ways that you can use Ubuntu to diagnose hardware problems, but the first is really obvious once you think about it—just boot off the Live CD, and start running some applications and test out all the hardware from a working Linux environment. If the system works fine in Linux, the problem is probably a Windows, virus, or driver issue.
You can also run a number tools to more closely check the hardware components—for instance, memtest86+ can do some serious testing on your system RAM to make sure that you aren’t having any problems there, or you can use CPU burn to test out your CPU and motherboard.
Clone Your Hard Drive
If you’ve just replaced your hard drive with a new one, or you simply want to create a backup of your whole system, you can use the Ubuntu Live CD to make a clone of your drive, make a drive image, or even transfer that drive image across the network to another computer for safekeeping. Here’s a couple of the ways that we’ve covered:
- Clone a Hard Drive Using an Ubuntu Live CD
- Make a Drive Image Using an Ubuntu Live CD
- Transfer a Drive Image Over a Network Using an Ubuntu Live CD
Of course, you should make sure to read our guide to exactly what files you should backup from you Windows PC, and keep your PC backed up at all times, but in a pinch, it’s very useful to be able to make a clone of your hard drive.
Recover Data (Like a Forensics Expert)
You don’t need to go to school to become a forensics expert—just read through our article and you’ll be able to recover deleted files using a number of tools directly from the command line. If you’re a serious geek, it’s a very useful set of skills to add to your geek resume.
Recover Deleted Files
Accidentally deleted some files off your PC that you really need back? You can use an Ubuntu Live CD to recover the files with a couple of keystrokes from the terminal and get yourself back in business in no time.
Of course, if your PC can boot into Windows just fine you should probably read our guide to restoring accidentally deleted files, but if your PC is unbootable because of a virus or something else, it’s a very useful technique to learn.
Scan Your Windows PC for Viruses
Virus cleaning is one of the most common repair tasks when dealing with a Windows PC, and the Ubuntu Live CD can really help you here, since there are a number of very good antivirus applications that have Linux versions these days. All you have to do is head into the Synaptic package manager, search for Avast, and install it into the live cd session.
There’s actually a few more steps to it, but it is a fairly easy process. Don’t worry about installing software during a live cd session, because it is only installed into memory… Once you reboot, it will be gone. Hit the link for the full walkthrough.
Securely Wipe Your PC’s Hard Drive
If you need to give away or sell a pc to somebody else, or you just want to make absolutely sure that your hard drive is clean, you can use the Ubuntu Live CD to wipe the drive. This wipe will be secure, with every piece of data being overwritten to make sure nobody can recover anything.
Of course, if you need to wipe drives often, you would be better off making yourself a copy of boot and nuke instead, just because it requires less steps, but if all you have handy is your trusty Ubuntu live cd, this method works perfectly.
Repair Damaged Backup CDs
Got a backup CD that’s too scratched up to read very well? You can use the ddrescue tool from the command line to recover as much information off that disc as possible, and it’s really not that difficult. Just boot into the Live CD and follow through our guide to recover some files.
Access or Backup Files from Your Dead Windows PC
If your pc just won’t boot, or you can’t get into it because it is overrun with viruses, you can use an Ubuntu live cd as a quick way to get access to your files and copy them to another pc, or external drive. The process is simple enough… Just mount the drive from within the live cd session and then map a drive to another machine.
If you want to move the files from the PC to another computer on your network, or simply back them up to an external drive, you can read through either of these tutorials to get you started.
- Move Files from a Failing PC with an Ubuntu Live CD
- Use Ubuntu Live CD to Backup Files from Your Dead Windows Computer
Note: the two articles cover the same general topic area, but the first one has a lot more coverage of moving the files to another PC, whereas the second article covers some manual tips to troubleshoot problems mounting the Windows disk.
Bonus: Use the Ubuntu Live CD to Browse Without a Trace
This isn’t a recovery technique, but have you ever considered that an Ubuntu Live CD is the ultimate way to browse without leaving any traces? Since there’s nothing installed anywhere, there’s no logs, cookies, or caches to look through. Read through our guide to learn how to enable Flash in the Live CD session as well.
There’s no way that we’ve covered all of the great ways you can use Linux to save Windows—so what are your favorite tips? Share them with your fellow readers in the comments.
Programmer by day, geek by night, The Geek, also known as Lowell Heddings, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on Google+ if you'd like.
- Published 10/12/10