The Master Boot Record (MBR) is quite possibly the most important piece of data stored on you hard drives or USB flash drives. For those that aren’t exactly sure what the MBR is, it’s basically a small dedicated section of the drive which holds vital information about the disc including its boot information and the layout of all the partitions stored. The MBR area itself is tiny being only a 512 byte sector and is the very first piece of information held right at the beginning of the disc.
If your Master Boot Record becomes corrupted through drive errors or malware etc, it could stop you booting your operating system and in the worst case, cause all the partitions on the drive to be lost because the drive doesn’t have the correct information to identify them. If your system has a standard disc layout, it’s always possible to write a new standard MBR using the Windows XP Recovery Console and the FixMBR command. Or you can use a Windows 7 install disc and select the “Repair your computer” -> Command Prompt option with the Bootrec /fixmbr command which also works on Vista and Windows 8 from the Windows 7 disc.
As the Master Boot Record is such a vital part of your system, it makes sense to have a backup of it just in case the worst happens. And being only 512 bytes in size means it takes up no room at all and can be stored anywhere. This could save hours of frustration trying to recover your files from damaged partitions. So here are 8 free tools that can help you to easily backup and restore your system’s Master Boot Record (MBR) for some extra piece of mind.
MBRwizard is quite a powerful utility and can be helpful in dealing with all sorts of MBR related problems. It was originally designed to repair the damage left on occasion by disk imaging applications such as Symantec Ghost and Acronis True Image, but has matured into a program to repair all sorts of MBR related issues. It also supports GUID Partition Tables, removable media and VMware disks. Backing up and restoring an MBR is easy with the Save and Restore commands with optional use of Vol/Disk.
The odd thing is MBR Wizard’s online documentation doesn’t list the proper commands for saving or restoring the MBR in newer versions of the tool. It was:
but now it’s:
MBRWiz /Save=MBR /Filename=C:\MyMBR.Dat
The same command change is present with MBR restoration. As a result of this change, some of the old MBR Wizard GUI frontend tools (MBRWhisky/Ultimate MBRGUI) won’t work if you update the MBRWiz.exe they come with. The MBRwizard command line version is freeware, and there’s also a shareware version with its own frontend, which might explain the command change, to make the old freeware frontends useless!??
BOOTICE is more of a general boot sector/MBR editing tool because it has a lot more useful options for advanced users and is quite a powerful tool. There are extra features such as a Grub4DOS menu editor, disk and sector wiping tool, visual BCD editor for NT 6.x systems, edit the MBR/boot sector of IMG, IMG, VHD, VHDX and VMDK images, a partition manager and a disk sector editor. The options to backup and restore the Master Boot Record or the Partition Boot Record (PBR) are via the Process buttons on the Physical Disk tab and you can also install a boot loader from a variety of different choices such as Plop, Grub4DOS, NT 5.x/6.x and BOOTMGR or NTLDR. The 1st sector or as many as you wish can simply be backed up to a file ready to restore later on. As well as the portable GUI, BOOTICE has extensive options available from its command line.
MBRtool is a utility that runs in DOS and is designed to backup, restore and verify your hard disk’s Master Boot Record. In addition it can also edit or wipe the partition table and blank or remove the boot code. MBRTool will support the first 4 hard drives present in the system. The program comes with its own bootable media builder where you can write an image to floppy, burn it to a CD or extract the MBRTool executable to be used on the command line or in scripts. Backing up and restoring is menu driven and easy to operate if you enter no arguments or double click the EXE while the more manual commands can be used like any other command line tool.
HDHacker is a much more user friendly tool with the Windows GUI making it very easy to backup and restore the MBR with a few clicks. It’s able to backup and restore the Maser Boot Record to the physical drive, the boot sector from a logical drive or a specified number of sectors up to a maximum of 16. They can be saved to a file or loaded back in and written to just about any type of drive. Although it will probably look like a mixed up mess in the viewing pane to most people, others may be able to trace problems or even possible boot sector viruses from the information.