What is Windows PE? Use, Limitations, Download and more

Windows PE or Windows Preinstallation Environment is a lightweight OS environment from Microsoft which can deploy and recover Windows Installation on multiple computers. If I say that setting up Windows 10 on your computer is easy as compared to setting up a machine in an office environment, most of you would agree. Microsoft has built an operating system that one can use to install, deploy Windows on multiple computers. It can also be used to repair Windows 10 desktop editions including Home, Pro, Enterprise and Education. In this post, I will touch upon in brief what Windows PE is.

What is Windows PE

What is Windows PE

Windows PE is not an operating system you can use it as the standard one. One should only use it to deploy and recover. Even though it’s lightweight, you will not be able to use it also as an embedded OS. Microsoft had made sure that PE will stop running after 72 hours of continuous use. When you start it again, all changes will be lost including registry changes.

If you want to have something permanent, you will need to mount and customize.

What can you do with Windows PE

  1. Set up hard drive before installing Windows.
  2. Use Scripts or apps to Install Windows over a network or a local drive.
  3. Capture and apply Windows images.
  4. Use it to modify the OS while it’s not running.
  5. Set up automatic recovery tools.
  6. If the device cannot boot, you can recover data using it.
  7. Add your custom shell or GUI to automate these kinds of tasks.

Since you can do all these, it is evident that Windows PE does support a lot of features of the OS. It includes batch files, scripts, applications including Win32, generic drivers, networking protocols such as TCP/IT, NetBIOS over TCP/IP via LAN. It also supports  NTFS, DiskPart tool, and BCD Boot. When it comes to security, you can use BitLocker, TPM, Secure Boot, and others. Lastly, you can also use VHD, mouse integration, etc. which allows PE to run in a hypervisor.

However, there is no support for Terminal, Network domain, Remote desktop, MSI extension, 64bit over 32 bit and adding app packages through DISM.

Windows PE Size Limitations

Since Windows PE installation uses FAT 32, it creates a limitation. You can use a  maximum 4GB file size and maximum 32GB drive size. Even if you have a drive of more than 32 GB, it will still use only 32GB space. You can either create multiple partitions in the USB drive or use a separate USB for the image or use the image from a network location.

Where can you download Windows PE

At the minimum, you will need 512 MB of RAM, i.e., no hard disk required. But you will need RAM disk boot which can hold entire Windows PE image. Also note that 32-bit Windows PE works with 32-bit UEFI and BIOS PCs, and 64-bit BIOS PCs while 64-bit Windows PE can boot 64-bit UEFI and BIOS PCs.

Starting with the Windows 10 October Update; Windows is now an add-on to the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit. You’ll have to create a bootable WinPE USB flash drive, CD, DVD, or virtual hard drive. The files you need to develop WinPE media are included in the Winpe Add-on to the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit.

To create WinPE media, you’ll have to install the ADK with the Deployment tools option and then install the WindowsPE addon kit.

For those still on a version before Windows 10 1809, i.e., 1803 or earlier, you will have to use Windows ADK where WinPE is available. During installation, select features of deployment tool and files of the Windows Preinstallation environment. You can read more about it on microsoft.com.

Now read: What is Windows RE?

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Anand Khanse is the Admin of TheWindowsClub.com, a 10-year Microsoft MVP Awardee in Windows (2006-16) & a Windows Insider MVP. Please read the entire post & the comments first, create a System Restore Point before making any changes to your system & be careful about any 3rd-party offers while installing freeware.

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