Accessing HP Recovery Disc Files

One annoying thing about modern OEM systems is that they come with "recovery discs" instead of a regular Windows installation. On Vista recovery discs from HP (and probably others), those files are stored as .WIM files. I was initially under the assumption that these were somehow encrypted to protect them from tampering, as my initial attempts to open them had failed, but the reality is that they are spanned WIM volumes and can be reconstructed to a whole WIM image file, then mounted using imagex.exe.

  1. Download and install the free, but HUGE Windows Automated Installation Kit (All you really need is the 'imagex' utility and WIM driver, which is about 14MB, but it only comes as part of this 1GB download)
  2. Install the WAIK
  3. Install the WIM driver:
    1. Go to "C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools"
    2. Open the folder that matches the architecture of the OS you're running
      • 32-bit = x86
      • 64-bit = amd64
    3. Right-click on the "wimfltr.inf" file and select "Install"
    4. Reboot
  4. Add the WIM tools folder to your PATH:
    1. Right-click on "Computer", then "Properties"
    2. Click on "Advanced system settings" in the left-hand pane
    3. Select the "Advanced" tab, then press the button [Environment Variables...]
    4. Under the "User variables for {username}", click on "PATH", then the [Edit] button
    5. In the "Value" box, go to the end of the line (DO NOT DELETE ANYTHING THAT'S ALREADY THERE!) and add to the end of the line:
        ;C:\Program Files\Windows AIK\Tools\x86
      Make SURE to include the semi-colon, and replace "x86" with "amd64" if you are using 64-bit Vista.
    6. Press [OK], [OK], [OK]
  5. Insert each recovery DVD and go into the "preload" folder where you will find a bunch of "BASE#.WIM" files, where # is a number. Copy all of these files into a folder on your hard drive (also get the "BASE.WIM" file). Do this for each of the discs.
  6. Open the "Command Prompt" as Administrator and "cd" into the folder where you copied the "BASE*.WIM" files.
  7. Run the "imagex command to export the split WIM files into one big file:
    imagex /export /ref *.wim base.wim 1 exported.wim "exported"
  8. Wait
  9. Make a directory that will be used to mount the image:
    mkdir exported
  10. Mount the image:
    imagex /mount exported.wim 1 exported
  11. Now you can open the "exported" folder and explore all the files inside!

Some other interesting 'imagex' commands are:

  • imagex /info file.wim

I have .SWM files. what do I do with them?


An SWM file is a WIM image that has been split into smaller files. You can find more information about that here:

The article shows how to split the wim file into swm files... but how would you put them back together? I have 2 recovery disks full of swm files... so how would I put them together to make the wim file?

I'm sure Google knows.

on my Asus recovery disk, I had ASUS.SWM, ASUS2.SWM, ASUS3.SWM. I used the command:
imagex /export /ref *.SWM ASUS.SWM 1 asusdvd.wim "asusdvd"

I followed this verbatim and it worked perfectly, even tho it took me hours on imagex before I found the tutorial.

I wold like to make some questions

I could get the hp_recovery files using imagex, but I lost the original vista instalation and I lost the restore pressing f11. I installed Windows vista but i need get the activation could I get it from the files recupered?. What i have to do?

I apreciate your job

Best regards

Sebastián Rojas

you can try to set the active flag to the "RECOVERY" partition

I have an imagex.exe in C:\ and already created a backup.wim file also in c:\.
I am working on Windows XP and therefore I used the Command Prompt of a Vista DVD, cause with the Command Prompt of XP dosn't work.
I created the backup.wim file by using this command: C:\imagex /compress maximum /check /capture /C: C:\backup.wim "DriveC" /verify.
Now I tried to split the backup.wim into 4GB files with this command:
C:\imagex /split C:\backup.wim 4000 and I had no results.
Will you please help me.

Thank you

for those who get an error please try:
>imagex /export /ref base*.wim /apply base.wim 1 X:\base.wim

Nice article, worked a treat! (not first time but the latter part 'for those who get an error')

This has saved me from a right headache having spent about 4 hours already trying to do just this!

Thanks a lot

I burn my recovery DVD discs and when I want to have a restore point my DVD doesn't work /BASE.WIM file doesn't work or is broken/. I can't make a copy for other DVD too.
I lost my recovery information and My system isn't working.
Please help me to restore my system.

Product Name-HP Pavilion dv6768se Notebook PC
Product Number-KC313UA#ABA
Thanking you in advance for your cooperation.
With best regards

I cannot help you, as there are too many variables and issues that it could be. You will probably have better luck posting to the forums here:

I was trying to get my pictures off the 3 back up discs and i followed the walk thru but did not find a base.wim file on disc 1. i did find a boot.wim file on disc 1 and used it totdo the mount and extract. After the process finnished I seen lots of folders but there was no files in my music, my pictures area. Did I do something wrong?

The HP recovery discs do not contain any user data. The only thing they are used for is restoring the computer to the factory state. When you create the discs it does not back up your data, it just backs up the software on the recovery partition.

Do you have to burn to dvd before the base.wmi file will come up. I looked threw the restore on hard drive it has all kinds of wmi files but not that one. also the wmi driver does it install when you install imagex. Im gratfull for the info i belive it will work but if you could help my i will be very thankfull

The base.wim files would be on the Recovery DVD if you burned them (you should burn them to have as a backup). Otherwise, they would be on the recovery partition, which is a different partition than your Windows installation. It's possible that this has changed since I wrote this, so if so you'll have to figure it out. Also, the instructions for installing the WIM driver are at Step 3.

HP changes this stuff enough that this is only valid for a small number of machines. I spent a fair amount of time on this only to have it fail.

By the way, HP sucks, if you haven't already figured that out.

It's true that HP could change things around, however the process I describe here deals with standard Vista WIM file splitting, so it should still work for anything that uses that kind of file splitting. HP may have changed to another method by now though.

Thank you for such articulate suggestions. I will implement asap. If this download does not work, your information has provided a good resource.

May your blessings exceed my wishes

I have a few questions if you dont' mind.

Can i use this to get full working installation files for the 3rd party party programs that come with my disk (like Cyberlink)

2. Can this same procedure for vista recover disks on a Win Xp system. ( what i mean is do i have to do this on a Vista PC if i have vista recovery disks or can i use and Xp Pc?

1. It depends. There is no way for me to know what they put in the recovery disks and how each program is packaged. I think you probably can, but every program would be different.

2. You would have to experiment. It would depend on if the Microsoft tools for managing WIM files (imagex) are available for XP, and I have not seen them or looked for them. I think they are probably specific to Vista or Windows 7.

This is stupid kkkkkkkk
all you guys have to do is download and install 7-zip and open the *.*wim file and extrat
BINGO simple as that!!!

At the time this was written 7-zip did not support WIM files, and I'm not sure (haven't tested) if it can support *split* WIM files.

Hi Brian, thanks for the detailed guide.

One silly question: what do I do with the .wim files once it's opened?

I have extracted base.wim using the 7-zip program and it seems there are 5 folders (named 1,2,3,4 and "FILE") and a file named 1.xml inside the root directory - is this the same as what u get using ur method?

I was wondering, since the folders named 1-4 each contains files and folder that looks like the file structures we usually see on a C:\ drive (with system, windows, program file folders etc) can I just copy all in the folder toa hard disk's root folder then reboot into it to run the installed Windows OS?(i.e. without running setup.exe etc)

Btw I did not make a recovery CD before I "clean" installed a Win7 Pro becuase I just assumed Recovery Partition would do the job. However during the installation I formatted the old "system" and C:\ partition and now I cannot boot into the new OS after the first use after installation (once my new OS was installed, I was able to use it even for browsing the internet etc, but if i restart the computer, booting into my new C:\ drive would just give me the black screen). Would you please help by letting me know what to do after extractig the .wim file? Thanks a mil!

You cannot extract the files from the WIM, copy them to C:\, and reboot with a newly-installed OS. You need to run through the installation process by booting from a DVD. If you have Windows 7, you can also install from a USB drive, but in all cases you need to run through the installer. Google can tell you how to make a bootable USB installation.

The reason you might want to extract files from Recovery Discs is to get other software or drivers you might need without going through the entire recovery process. To do an OS install, please use a Windows DVD.

If you still have the recovery partition but are unable to boot from it, you can probably boot to it by starting fdisk and setting that partition as active, and then rebooting. However, you should be familiar with these terms and be careful with what you are doing. If not, you might lose all data on your hard drive.

Can I just copy these files to a formatted HDD and boot it or does the recovery partition do some kind of setup on the drive? I am new to Win7 but I have noticed on previous installs it does not really install to drive its more like a copy but I am not sure.

The recovery partition is set up as a special bootable partition, and if you copy the files directly to an external drive it will not copy the bootable portion, so it will not work. You would be better off creating the recovery DVDs and then if you don't want to keep DVDs around, make an ISO image of each DVD and store them on the external drive. You would need to burn them back to DVD if you wanted to boot and rebuild the system.

my DVD's have files with 74NAv3PcA1# as the file name and .wim as the extension. I assume its the same method?

It's been a while so the process may have changed, but you can give it a try and see if it works.

I have two notebooks hp oldest one that came with Vista. The youngest that has Windows 7, then I would use the new disc to install on older but it checks the model, will have to change that by making this check?

Unless you have purchased a license for Windows 7 to use on the old laptop, this would be piracy. Recovery discs are made to work only with the systems they originally came with, so if you want to install Win7 on the older laptop you will need to purchase Win7 and then perform a clean install (not using the recovery discs)

was hoping you could give me some advice....

i have a friend's laptop, wasn't working and couldn't get the hp recovery partition to load (tried quite hard), so i ended up deleting the whole hd and reinstalling a fresh vista. come to find out she had the recovery disks, but now they won't boot. was wondering if they were corrupt but did this process you described and they seem to be all there. was wondering if you know any reason they wouldn't recognize as bootable to reinstall everything from scratch including a legit copy of vista.

any thoughts you have would be great

also, since i can access the recovery dvd's shouldn't i be able to located the recovery.exe that would get installed had the disks worked right in the first place?

I don't know much about the recovery process itself, just enough to get into the WIM files to get the software that came with them. Anything I say here would only be a guess. It does sound like the discs got corrupted somehow, but since you've already got it back up and running with a clean install, you're doing OK. You can try to extract any programs you want from the recovery discs and install them manually. Otherwise, be happy with the clean install and don't worry about it.

If you want to make a full system backup after you have done the clean install, you can do that with the built-in Complete PC Backup that comes with Vista. That will be close enough to a new recovery disc in case you need to restore to it again.

This worked excellently. Thanks!

Can't get this to work, I'm afraid. I have followed all the steps to the letter as far as Step 7, but when I type the command imagex /export /ref *.wim base.wim 1 exported.wim "exported" it fails at 70% with "Error exporting image #1. The system cannot find the file specified." Any idea what this error message is indicating and what I can do to put it right?