A plug-in card for PCs provides near-instant recovery from any software crash, its manufacturer claims.

Called RecoverPC, the 32-bit PCI device tracks all changes made to the PC's system partition and can roll the PC back to its original stable configuration - even if those changes prevent it from booting into Windows, according to Involution Technology.

The device hooks into the host PC's boot sequence at the BIOS level, much as a graphics card ties itself into a system's POST (power-on self test) checks, said Steve Aspris, executive director for RecoverPC's UK distributor Halcyonics. It extends the BIOS to add system restore options.

"Most technical support issues are software-based - it's not hard to pull the rug from under Windows and even make it completely unbootable," Aspris said. "RecoverPC reduces the resolution time for software problems to zero." He added that it can remove unstable device drivers and faulty bug-fixes, for example, as well as replacing lost registry settings or corrupted files.

The £99 card also provides support departments with the capability to completely lock down a PC's operating system and application set-up, as it can be set to automatically recover at every boot, restoring the PC each time to a pre-defined and saved configuration.

"Many organisations have a policy of 'no local storage', and this way it can be enforced," Aspris said. "The product has security features, plus you can make the load screen invisible. That could be useful for consultants who want to appear wonderful to the companies they support, without them knowing how they do it!" It could also be used in an Internet cafe or to prevent children adding malware to a family PC, he said.

Alternatively, RecoverPC can be set up to protect only the boot and application partition, with the user's data partition left unchanged by a system restore. In addition, you can define a new baseline, following the installation of a service pack for instance, with subsequent restores going back to this new standard configuration.

Aspris acknowledged that journalling can be done more cheaply in software, but points out that a software reload - via Ghost, say - takes longer, and is vulnerable to other software failures: if Windows itself refuses to boot, the journal is inaccessible until an engineer can fix the system.

RecoverPC is still vulnerable to hardware failure, however - it stores its journal files on a hidden area of the hard disk, so if the hard disk fails it cannot help. Aspris added that RecoverPC rewrites the drive partition table, so the journal cache is accessible only via the card, even if low-level hard disk tools are used.

For now, a system restore or baseline redefinition still requires intervention at the PC keyboard, although Aspris says Involution is working on network administration software for RecoverPC. He adds that the company is also developing a USB version of the device for laptop use.