Windows Recovery Hints
Plan Ahead for Disaster
Develop a backup and recovery strategy before your computer fails.
- Even a basic plan is superior to no plan at all.
- Recovery media is seldom provided for today's computers and cannot be created unless the system is in good working order.
- A broken computer can't be used to find resources on the Web.
Recovery Requirements and Methods Differ
Depending upon the version of Windows you are running the files needed for a system recovery differ. Generally speaking, up to Windows XP the procedure was becoming more complex as Windows evolved. Beginning with Windows Vista, newer and easier to use utilities are included or available.
Unless you are simply going to reinstall Windows and all your programs, you'll need more than a basic understanding of how Windows runs to recover from a severe crash or system instability.
Be sure to keep a recent backup of all your important data. Having your data and program settings backed up will give you more options, especially if you have to call upon a professional to restore your system.
Many technicians do not bother to try to recover data, but simply restore your computer to working condition. This is primarily an issue of the time involved to recover data from a non-working system. Since time translates into a higher price, most do not bother in order to stay "competitive."
Specifics for each Windows version will be covered later in this document. However, this section includes the main solutions common to recent versions of Windows.
One of the most critical things you can do is to maintain a recent backup of your files, particularly your data files and system files (which vary by version).
Windows XP and later have a recovery function called System Restore. This will allow you to restore your computer to an earlier time such as just before you installed a new video driver or program that made it impossible for you to get back into Windows.
System Restore keeps a series of restore points (a backup of various critical Windows files at a certain time) in a hidden area on the hard drive. Windows automatically makes certain restore points, but you can also create a restore point prior to making a change to your system that you might need to undo.
Getting to System Restore
If your Windows loads OK you may be able to use System Restore to return your system to a state before a problematic driver was loaded or your Windows Registry was corrupted.
- Close all running programs before starting System Restore.
- Begin by clicking on Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, then System Restore.
- A wizard appears that allows you to 1) restore your computer to an earlier time, 2) create a restore point, or 3) undo your last restoration.
If you are unable to recover your system using System Restore or other tools available to you in Windows, you'll have to try other recovery options.
Safe Mode starts a minimal Windows environment with only the essential drivers and files are loaded. Video resolution is greatly reduced and startup programs are not launched.
Some of the reasons you may enter Safe Mode include:
- corrupt video drivers (you'll need to restore a basic video driver before you can start Windows and reinstall the correct drivers);
- removing difficult software that loads at startup; and
- cleaning up malware or virus infections (these often reinstall themselves at boot time from hidden files).
Launching Safe Mode
To see the advanced boot options, restart your computer then press the F8 key repeatedly after the BIOS message disappears (or the initial BIOS beep) but before the Windows logo appears (usually only a few seconds).
- You may need to toggle the F-Lock key (if it is present), to enable the F8 key.
- If the computer begins to beep continually, release the F8 key.
- If you see the Windows log, you'll have to let Windows load then restart your computer to try again.
Other Advanced Boot Options
Other boot options are available on the Advanced Options Menu, including:
- Safe Mode with Networking provides access to other computers on your network and to the Internet.
- Last Known Good Configuration restores Windows to the condition it was in when it last loaded correctly.
- Start Windows Normally will load Windows in the regular fashion. If you were having problems last time you attempted to load Windows this option may not work.
Additional options exist, but most users are unable to take advantage of them.
Bootable Recovery Disk
Each Windows version has some sort of a bootable recovery disk. It is important that you use the correct disk for your version of Windows.
Be sure to use the correct 32-bit or 64-bit utility to match what is installed on your computer. It is also important that you use the correct recovery disk for your version of Windows.
Recovering Windows 7, Vista & XP
In addition to the general information contained in the Recovery Tools section, there options specific to each of these current operating systems:
Recovering Windows 7
Windows 7 has a specific system repair disc available from Microsoft as well as one available from NeoSmart:
Combined with the built-in enhanced capabilities for a system images and scheduled backups in Windows 7 you should be able to recover your system much more readily than ever before.
Repair Your Computer
Windows 7 also has a Windows Recovery Environment available from the Advanced Boot Options menu. Select Repair Your Computer from the Windows Error Recovery screen.
The Windows Recovery Environment can also be launched from the Windows 7 DVD. Select Repair Your Computer when you see the Install Windows screen.
Recovering Windows Vista
Microsoft provides system recovery instructions for Windows Vista and there is a Recovery Disc available from NeoSmart:
- System recovery options in Windows Vista.
- Back up and restore: frequently asked questions from Microsoft.
- Download: Windows Vista x64 Recovery Disc from NeoSmart.
While not as advanced as Windows 7, Vista recovery options are much better than earlier versions of Windows.
Recovering Windows XP
Many of Microsoft's Windows XP resources are disappearing (often replaced with information on how to upgrade to Windows 7).
Windows XP is the first Windows system that specifically does not have an Emergency Repair Disk of some sort. Instead, the Windows XP installation CD provides a Recovery Console option.
- Create A better boot diskette for WinNT/2000/XP using the instructions and XXCOPY freeware (read the licence requirements).
Instead, you might want to try Microsoft's recovery options first:
Should you suffer a catastrophic crash then you will need to use the WinXP installation CD and a Recovery Console to recover. This can be somewhat daunting for non-technical folks since it is a text-only (command line) interface.
- Description of the Windows XP Recovery Console on Microsoft's site.
- Recovering Windows XP using the Recovery Console walks you through the process using screen shots.
Automated System Recovery
Windows XP has an Automated System Recovery but it must be prepared before a crash to make it useful. It is intended only as a last-resort recovery method, when you have tried unsuccessfully to use the Safe Mode and Last Known Good Configuration recovery options.
- Automated System Recovery overview in Windows XP.
- How To Re-Create a Missing Automated System Recovery Floppy Disk in Windows XP.
You might also want to check out more WinXP backup and recovery resources.
Recovering Legacy Windows
Recover information for legacy Windows versions (those older than the ones listed on this page) are now found on the Recovering Legacy Windows page. This information is no longer maintained.
These other pages on this site may offer help in resolving your computer problems:
- Legacy Hardware & Software.
- Legacy Windows covers Windows versions unsupported by Microsoft.
- General FAQs & Resources.
- Anti-Virus Protection — strategies, hoaxes & solutions.
- Shareware & Freeware.
Updated: May 6, 2013