What is Windows PE and How it Works?

What is Windows PE and How it Works?

Learn the basics of Windows PE and Windows Recovery Environment in this article. We have covered all the crucial information related to what is Windows PE.

Wondershare Recoverit Authors

Dec 21, 2020 • Filed to: Windows Computer Solutions • Proven solutions


The Windows Preinstallation Environment is majorly used for troubleshooting, performing recovery operations, installing a Windows operating system, and so on. Windows PE is a lightweight version of Windows that provides minimal options and is mostly used to prepare a device for the installation of a loaded OS. If you have never worked on the Windows Recovery Environment, then don't worry. In this post, we will make you familiar with Windows PE and its basic functioning.

Part 1: What is Windows PE

Windows PE, which stands for Windows Preinstallation Environment, is a lightweight OS with limited features. Mostly, it is used to perform a recovery operation, copy disk images, initiate a setup, etc. Needless to say, one can't use Windows PE as a primary OS. It was originally developed to replace MS-DOS booting with ready to boot environments that can be loaded from CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, etc.

Today, the Windows recovery environment can be downloaded for free as it is a part of WAIK (Windows Automated Installation Kit). The first release of Windows PE was for the XP environment. Currently, the Windows PE 10 version is in use (for Windows 10).

Installing Windows: One of the major objectives of Windows PE is to provide a secure environment for its users to install the relevant Windows operation system. It has a dedicated graphical tool that sets up an ideal environment to install Windows.

Recovery: The Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) is a dedicated recovery service provided by Windows PE. It was first included in Windows Vista PE and has been deployed in all the other versions ever since. It can help users recover their data and perform plenty of other tasks like system recovery, automatic recovery, system image recovery, and more. Even if you don't wish to install Windows, you can use Windows PE and recover your data using the Windows Recovery Environment.

what is windows pe

Troubleshooting: While WinRE (Window Recovery Environment) can help you retrieve your lost data, you can also access the troubleshooting feature of Windows PE as well. This can help you resolve any other issue related to your system and get assistance from experts.

Part 2: How Windows PE Works

Now when you know the basics of Windows PE, let's take a step up and learn more about its working. Unlike MS-DOS, Windows PE supports TCP/IP, device drivers, and more, which makes it more advanced. In a nutshell, the environment is based on these components.

how windows pe works

Part 3: Windows PE requirements

The optimal requirements of Windows PE might vary from one version to another. Ideally, you should make sure that the following requirements are met to run Windows PE.

Part 4: Windows PE operation

Ideally, Windows PE operates in the following order:

  1. Once the boot sector is loaded, Bootmgr takes control. BCD (Boot Configuration Data) provides vital information related to the system.
  2. Now, the control is passed to Winload.exe, which is contained in Boot.wim. In this way, the exe file can load HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer). This leads to the loading of registry hive and boot drivers.
  3. Once the necessary boot drivers are loaded, the Windows Preinstallation Environment is also loaded.
  4. The Ntoskrnl.exe kernel file is loaded and sets up the environment. Once it is done, SMSS (Session Manager) takes control of the operation.
  5. Afterward, the Session Manager can load any registry file to configure the environment. To perform the user session, a Winlogon is created.
  6. This further initiates all the important services, including any security subset.
  7. If you wish to run a setup, then the "HKLM\SYSTEM\Setup\CmdLine" registry would be used. This will launch the setup.exe file to install Windows.
  8. In case no application is executed, Windows will run Winpeshl.exe. This will initiate the start.cmd command. This is a default command file that would execute Wpeinit.exe.
  9. The Wpeinit.exe file communicates with the DHCP module and loads the needed resources to perform networking via TCP IP.
  10. After running the files, the boot process is completed and you can use the Windows PE features the way you like.

It might seem a little complicated at first, but after a while, you can easily get familiar with the functioning of Windows PE. Even though it has a dedicated Windows Recovery Environment, you can take the assistance of a third-party tool like Recoverit to get desired results.

The advanced version of Recoverit for Windows supports Windows PE and can be used to recover you're lost and deleted data files pretty easily. Having an easy to use interface, it is compatible with all the major versions of Windows and provides complete support with Windows PE. Simply burn a bootable disk, run the recovery tool, and retrieve your lost content without any trouble.

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