Monday, October 20, 2014

The best Live CD to rescue data

*UPDATED - September 5 2015*

Hello! It's been 16 days (or 17) since I wrote a tech post. This one is very important for me in that it took me a long time to analyse all the available solutions on the market. It took my brains out and kept them engaged them all day and night, just to conclude which is the best Live CD for any system that I encounter. Some are dead simple to use, few are totally command-line (or terminal) and most are hybrids. Personally I prefer the third option. A large number of people will prefer the first type.

I have ranked them countdown wise with big numbers.

I will list all the utilities I will require for rescuing data from a system crash (for example, when it is impossible to boot into Windows, or if you forgot your Windows or BIOS password). Here they are:
  • Web browser (eg. Firefox)
  • Disk cloning tool (like Clonezilla?)
  • Hard disk wiping tool
  • 'dd' backup option
  • gzip and bzip2 CMD apps
  • Nice bootloader
  • Diagnostic tools
  • Text editor (to make notes or scripts on-the-spot)
  • Data recovery tool (TestDisk?)
  • Complete Internet connectivity support
  • Support for any filesystem (Linux or Mac or Windows)
  • CD/DVD burning tool (in case you want to backup data onto them)

best Live CD

I tested every possible Live CD and distro "specially made" for this task. I will highlight some of the best ones here: Damn Small Linux (DSL), SystemRescueCD, Trinity Rescue Kit, Parted Magic, Rescatux, Redo Backup, Ultimate Boot CD.

Why I did not include CloneZilla Live?

It is because it does not tick any box except the first one in my checklist.

Why I included DSL?

It does not have disk cloning tool, disk wiping tool and data recovery tool. But it can be your best bet on the old Pentium 486 machine with 16 MB RAM.

1. DSL 4.11 RC2

(to be used with the best at the bottom of article)
It is a good and fast Live CD for doing dd backups. It has Firefox and text editor, and looks great while having lot of functionality in 50 MBs in a time when you have 15 GB Windows 8.1 installations.
So which one did I choose as the best of the lot?

6. Parted Magic 01/08/2013

Remember Parted Magic is now paid, and the last free version (01/08/2013) is lethal poison to your PC's hardware. As quoted by Parted Magic author Patrick on his site:
"WARNING! A few sites on the internet are offering a file called pmagic_2013_08_01.iso for free download. This version was released with a very destructive USB corruption bug in the Linux kernel. We removed this file from our official mirrors to minimize the damage and quickly released version 2013_08_10 to replace it. The 2013_08_01 version also included a bug in the OLD Secure Erase GUI that would allow a user to erase an ATA disk through a USB interface. In some cases it would brick the expensive USB device. The OLD GUI would also set the secure erase password to NULL by default and using the disk on a Lenovo BIOS is not possible because a password cannot be entered. Version 2013_09_26 does not contain these flaws and is completely safe to use. Sorry for any inconvenience or loss suffered by using this unofficial/unsupported FREE pmagic_2013_08_01.iso. You have been warned."
Parted Magic is a paid option, and you need to give $10 for personal copy of the latest version, which means for an organisation or group it can be very costly.

5. Ultimate Boot CD 5.3.5

It is CMOS utilities plus diagnostic tools plus the state-of-the-art disk wiping tool DBAN plus Parted Magic free version. As warned, Parted Magic is extremely dangerous to use hence strictly not recommended.

4. Trinity Rescue Kit 3.4

It has text user interface (text menu) but a lot of the work has to be done through terminal (or command line). So if you do not want to dirty your hands and work in the dingy environment, keep scrolling down.

3. Rescatux 0.32 beta 3

It is a nice and easy to use Live CD for rescue operation. It can promote and erase Windows passwords and recover data and lot more in a button-style wizard mode. But the only concern is that it is still in beta mode and thus makes some users uncomortable using it. Though it is stable to a large extent.

2. Redo Backup and Recovery 1.0.4

It is the 2nd best in my test. It wins the prize for looks straight off. Super polished, while remaining small (261 MB) and has everything you would look for. It even has Facebook and Twitter apps. You can also add and use Skype during serious work. I find things like Facebook and Skype useless during such a task. Only one cons here: it cannot restore a partition backup to a single partition. Instead, it will erase any other hard disk contents and replace that with the backup. Bad when you want to restore backups to partition.

1. SystemRescueCD 4.5.4

This is the best of all and offers everything I want. It does not offer CloneZilla. Instead it offers the app on which CloneZilla runs: PartClone. Same text-based interface and same colours. Pretty much the same as CloneZilla, except the name "CloneZilla". It can burn backups and data on CD or DVD. It offers options for erasing Windows passwords and supports even Windows 7 for that. It offers text-based, command line interfaces and graphical interface by writing "startx" in command line. It also has diagnostic tools. A treasure for system administrators and tech geeks in short, while not being hard on the newbie with its quick and extremely descriptive online guides.


SystemRescueCD is the best for any system and the most functional, while not having Facebook or multimedia stuff. In short, for serious work while not getting messy with command line. DSL is for the weak and old hardware systems.

Comments in the form of disagreements would be considered. But my opinion stands still till then.

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