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Repair your computer in Windows 8 and 8.1

How to use Windows 8 and 8.1 Recovery Environment for repairing common startup problems

By . Last modified: 2014-04-02.

If Automatic Repair fails and you cannot even get into Safe Mode, then most probably there are some errors or missing files on your hard disk that prevent Windows 8 or 8.1 from starting correctly. Bootable installation media (DVD or USB) or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc are helpful in such cases.

Those who have Windows 8 or 8.1 installed on SSD, beware: turn off built-in Disk Defragmenter; there is a known bug in it that starts defragmenting (not using the TRIM command) SSD-s. This will lead to decreased lifetime and failure of the drive.

This is a two-page article - page 2 covers Refresh your PC, Reset your PC and restoring a system image.

Common problems with Windows 8 and 8.1 installations

Here is a list of problems that users encounter most often:

  • Endless Automatic Repair failures and restart loops - you cannot disable Automatic Repair, but you can boot from installation media or Recovery Drive to fix errors and make Windows 8 or 8.1 usable again.
    The behavior can also be an indicator that Windows 8/8.1 does not have required drivers for a disk controller. You can then enter BIOS/UEFI and set your disk controller mode (aka SATA mode, RAID mode) to Standard (aka Standard IDE or SATA, Legacy) instead of AHCI or RAID (take note of the original setting first!). This will often ensure that Windows knows which drivers to use for booting from the system drive.
    In case you have multiple hard drives, power off your computer and remove its power cord. Then disconnect drive cables from all hard disks other than the one where Windows is installed. Plug the power cord back in and see if this helps Windows to boot properly.
    After Windows 8/8.1 starts, upgrade storage drivers and software using Intel's Driver Update Utility (Internet Explorer installs ActiveX control, other browsers require Java) or find the driver software from AMD's site. This often solves all problems.
  • Disk check runs each time Windows 8/8.1 starts - on multi-boot systems (Windows 8 or 8.1 is installed along with an older version of Windows or some other operating system) you need to disable the Fast Start-up feature in Shutdown settings. The feature (previously known as Hybrid Boot) enables significantly shorter load times while Windows 8/8.1 starts after a shutdown or sleep/hibernation, but the file that contains fast boot information can be damaged by starting another version of Windows or another OS (Linux, for example). This causes Windows to run a disk check each time.
    To resolve the issue, open Control Panel in Windows 8 or 8.1. Type "power" into search box and click Change what the power buttons do.
    In the Define power buttons and turn on password protection window, click Change settings that are currently unavailable.
    Windows 8, Control Panel, Define power buttons and turn on password protection. Click 'Change settings that are currently unavailable'.
    Then, in the Shutdown settings section, clear the Turn on fast start-up (recommended) check box and click the Save changes button.
    Windows 8, Control Panel, Define power buttons and turn on password protection, Shutdown settings. Clear the 'Turn on fast start-up' check box on multi-boot systems.
  • Windows 8 or 8.1 is unable to boot from a GPT drive on UEFI-enabled devices - if you formatted or converted your system drive from MBR partitioning to GPT, you must ensure the EFI boot options state "UEFI only". Windows 8 and 8.1 require UEFI for GPT drives, this is a must and there is no workaround.
    In old BIOS mode, Windows 8/8.1 will not detect your GPT hard drives or partitions correctly. No booting, no Refresh Your PC or Reset Your PC until "UEFI only" is set. Credits go to Sol for confirming this issue. 
    You can easily verify whether UEFI works correctly by opening Troubleshoot and Advanced Options in Windows 8/8.1 Advanced Startup screen. If "UEFI only" is set, you'll see the UEFI Firmware Settings option listed. Thanks Sol for providing the screenshot:
    Windows 8, Advanced Startup Screen, Troubleshoot, Advanced Options. If EFI boot options are set correctly, there is the UEFI Firmware Settings option available.
  • "The drive where Windows is installed is locked. Unlock the drive and try again" errors while refreshing or resetting Windows 8 or 8.1 installation. In some cases, Windows forgets the proper drive/partition order and tries to load files from a wrong one. Again, power off your computer and remove power cord. Then disconnect cables from all hard drives except the one where Windows 8 or 8.1 resides, connect power cord and see if boot process completes properly now.
    Or, if Windows still works somewhat, try upgrading storage drivers and software using Intel's Driver Update Utility (Internet Explorer installs ActiveX control, other browsers require Java) or find the driver software from AMD's site. This often solves all problems.
  • Unable to update firmware or drivers after push-button reset of Windows 8.1 device. This is because new value for driver or firmware dependency in Windows 8.1 cannot be handled correctly. Download and apply the patch listed in Microsoft support article KB 2913760. Windows 8.1RT users can install it using Windows Update only.
Options to try before using Recovery Environment in Windows 8 and 8.1
  • Always boot to Safe Mode at least once - this often repairs corrupted file system and essential system files.
  • If Windows is able to boot, use System File Checker and icacls.exe to repair corrupted system files.
  • While Windows is running, use free WhoCrashed for determining BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) causes.
    Reliability Monitor might also reveal faulty drivers or software.
Prerequisites of Windows 8 and 8.1 Recovery Environment

If Windows 8 or 8.1 is able to start and run, you can reboot right into Recovery Environment or use the Refresh and Reset your PC options.

To access Repair your computer/Recovery Environment (aka Limited Diagnostic State), you must have either Windows 8/8.1 installation DVD or Windows 8/8.1 Recovery Drive (USB) or System Repair Disc (CD/DVD) available in case Windows is unable to start.

If you do not have the Windows installation DVD (e.g. Windows came pre-installed) or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc, grab the 90-day Windows 8.1 Enterprise evaluation DVD from MSDN (you need to sign in with your Windows Live ID).

Warning: do not use Windows 8/8.1 DVD for repairing Windows Vista or 7 installations, or vice versa! You can only use the Command Prompt option on the wrong disc to fix file system errors.

If you can borrow a correct Windows installation DVD from a friend, make sure you get the right version: you can only use 32-bit Windows disc for repairing 32-bit Windows installations and 64-bit Windows disc for fixing 64-bit Windows installations!

Because Windows 8 and 8.1 Recovery Environment does not include RAM testing module, you should use Memtest86+ for checking if your computer's memory modules are fine. Please do this before using tools provided in Recovery Environment - there is no point in repairing Windows if defective memory will ruin it again soon.

The last resort is to use my Data Recovery CD/USB for fixing errors on disk or repairing Master Boot Records (MBR), but other options of Repair Your Computer are unavailable. You can also use the CD/USB for recovering your files from the unbootable hard drive in case nothing helps.

Getting into Recovery Environment in Windows 8 and 8.1 without installation media

In Windows 8 and 8.1, the good old F8 key trick for getting into Advanced Boot Options does not work anymore (it can still be enabled manually). If Windows is unable to start, you can get into new Startup Settings after Windows detects it was unable to start - click See advanced repair options in Recovery screen, or after Automatic Repair fails - click Advanced options.
Windows 8, Recovery, It looks like Windows didn't load correctly. Click 'See advanced repair options' to access troubleshooting tools. Windows 8, Automatic Repair couldn't repair your PC. Click 'Advanced options' to access troubleshooting tools.

If Windows 8 or 8.1 is able to start and run and you can use at least one monitor, open Settings charm using keyboard shortcut Windows Key+I. The fastest way is to click Power and then hold down Shift key while clicking Restart. This will reboot into Windows 8/8.1 Advanced Startup screen.
The longer way is to click Change PC settings in the bottom.
Windows 8, Settings bar. Click 'Change PC settings' to access troubleshooting tools.

In Windows 8, click to open General tab of PC settings app, scroll all the way down to Advanced startup section and click Restart now.
Windows 8, PC Settings, General tab. Click 'Restart now' in Advanced startup section to access troubleshooting tools.

In Windows 8.1, open Update & Recovery tab on the bottom left and then click Recovery tab. Click Restart now in the Advanced startup section.
WWindows 8.1, PC Settings, Update & recovery, Recovery tab. Click 'Restart now' in Advanced startup section to access troubleshooting tools.

This is how Windows 8/8.1 Advanced startup screen looks like.
Click Troubleshooting in Choose an option screen.
Windows 8, Advanced startup, Choose an option. Click Troubleshoot. Windows 8, Advanced startup, Troubleshoot. Click Advanced options.

Booting to Recovery Environment with Windows 8/8.1 installation media or Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc

If your computer does not boot from CD/DVD or USB drive, read this article on how to change boot order.

After you boot your computer using Windows DVD or System Repair Disc, a black screen appears with gray text "Press any key to boot from CD or DVD". Press some key on your keyboard (Space and Enter are the most common ones Smile) within 5 seconds to launch Windows from the disc.
This screen will not appear while booting from USB Recovery Drive.
Windows 8 boot from DVD. Press any key within 5 seconds to launch Windows 8 from DVD.

Windows will then load some files from the disc or drive, this takes some time.

In case you booted from Windows 8/8.1 Recovery Drive or System Repair Disc, Choose your keyboard layout screen appears. Click your keyboard layout, or if one is not visible, click the See more keyboard layouts link until you see the correct layout.
Windows 8, Recovery Drive or System Repair Disc, Choose your keyboard layout. Click your keyboard layout or use the 'See more keyboard layouts' link to find one.

If using Windows 8 or 8.1 installation DVD, Windows Setup dialog appears. Select your preferred settings from Time and currency format and Keyboard or input method combo boxes. I suggest you leave Language to install to "English" here to better understand this article.
Click Next to continue.
Windows 8, boot from installation DVD, Windows Setup. Select your preferences from 'Time and currency format' and 'Keyboard or input method' boxes. Then click Next.

Windows installation media users will then see a big tempting Install now button. Do not click it! Click Repair your computer in the lower left corner instead.
Windows 8, boot from DVD, Windows Setup. Click 'Repair your computer' to launch a set of recovery tools.

Choose an option screen then appears. Click Troubleshoot.
Windows 8, Boot from DVD, Choose an option. Click Troubleshoot.

Let's see an overview of the tools next.

Troubleshooting steps to take in Windows 8 and 8.1 Recovery Environment

Please note that if you are using a wrong media here - e.g. Windows 7 installation DVD on Windows 8 PC, or 32-bit version of Recovery Drive/System Repair Disc on 64-bit Windows - you can use the Command Prompt option only. While the other options are not disabled in the list, using these end with error messages and might damage your broken Windows installation even more.

Step 1 - Automatic Repair in Windows 8 and 8.1

Unless you started Windows 8/8.1 Recovery Environment from a failed Automatic Repair attempt, the very first option to try in case Windows is unable to boot is the Automatic Repair that will check the condition of your hard disk and see if files needed to launch Windows are present. The process takes several minutes to half an hour.
To access the option, click Advanced options in Troubleshoot screen.
Windows 8, Advanced startup, Troubleshoot. Click Advanced options.

In the Advanced Options screen, click Automatic Repair.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot, Advanced Options. Click 'Automatic Repair' to have Windows 8 look for easy fixes.

Next, choose a target operating system by clicking on its button. In most cases, you should have only one Windows 8 or 8.1 installation visible.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Automatic Repair, Choose a target operating system. Click the correct Windows 8 installation.

Windows will then look for problems on hard drive(s) and verify that all required files are in tact. This might easily take 10 or more minutes. Please stand by.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Automatic Repair, Diagnosing your PC. Please wait until the process is complete.

In case Automatic Repair was unable to fix problems, click Advanced options to access other recovery tools.
If repairs were successful, restart your computer.
Windows 8, Automatic Repair couldn't repair your PC. Click 'Advanced options' to access troubleshooting tools.

Step 1.1 (optional) - use Command Prompt for fixing disk errors or restoring missing system files

If you do not have the correct Windows 8/8.1 installation or Recovery Drive/System Repair media, but you still need to check for and fix errors on disks, click Command Prompt in the Advanced Options screen.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot, Advanced Options. Click 'Command Prompt' to try fixing file system errors with ChkDsk.

A black Command Prompt window opens on drive with letter X. It is a special temporary disk created entirely in the Random Access Memory (RAM) of your PC. No hard disk space is used for this drive.
First, we need to locate the drive where Windows is installed. Most probably this is a drive with letter C, D, E or F.
Type echo list volume | diskpart and press Enter. This will display all drives available.
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Command Prompt. To list all drives, type 'echo list volume | diskpart' and press Enter.

Ignore all volumes that have CD-ROM for Type.
The volume that has "System Rese" (part of "System Reserved") written in Label column, can also be ignored - this is the recovery partition. Such partitions are usually small in size - about 350 megabytes. Not all computers have the recovery partition.
So, in the example above, the Windows 8 partition has drive letter D (note the Ltr column). You can also use the Size column for verifying that you have located the correct one.

Now type chkdsk <the drive letter>: /F /X and press Enter. Replace <the drive letter> with the letter of drive where Windows is installed (or the drive that has files badly messed up), for example chkdsk d: /F /X or chkdsk c: /F /X.
This command will find and repair errors on the partition/volume (the /F switch) and if required, unmount it first (the /X switch).
If you want to run a full disk check with recovering data from unreadable clusters, use the chkdsk <the drive letter>: /R /X command instead. Note that the exhaustive test might take several hours to complete.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. To check and repair the disk, type 'chkdsk <drive letter>: /F /X' and press Enter.

The process might take quite a while (up to an hour). After it is completed, verify that there is a line stating "Windows has checked the file system and found no problems" in the report. If there were errors on the volume, repeat the last command until the no problems message appears.
Ignore any failure messages about event log.
Windows 8, Repair your computer, Command Prompt, Chkdsk. No problems were detected, close the Command Prompt.

If there were errors detected and repaired, close Command Prompt by clicking the X mark on the top right. Click Continue in the Choose an option screen to try starting Windows normally and see if the problem has been solved.
If no disk errors were found, read on.

You can also try restoring missing system files using the SFC (System File Checker) tool. This is useful in cases where Windows boots up, but all you see is black screen with mouse pointer and keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Alt+Del does nothing.
Type sfc /scannow and press Enter. Let the scan finish, it will take about half an hour.
If you see the error message "There is a system repair pending which requires reboot to complete. Restart Windows and run sfc again.", use alternative command sfc /scannow /offbootdir=C:\ /offwindir=D:\Windows\ (replace D:\Windows\ with the correct drive letter or folder name if required).

Close Command Prompt window and and click Continue to see if this helped to get your Windows 8 PC running correctly again.

Step 1.2 (optional) - temporarily enable the F8 key for getting into Advanced Boot Options menu at computer startup

Because Windows 8 and 8.1 have no support for F8 key by default, you might be unable to get into Safe Mode or Low-resolution video mode for troubleshooting unless Windows starts properly. Somehow Microsoft couldn't foresee this vicious circle happening to many users.

Luckily, you can enable the good old trick in the Command Prompt window described in Step 1.1 above. Please note that legacy boot options should not be turned on forever because they can cause trouble on UEFI systems. This is just a temporary workaround.

In the black Command Prompt window, type bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy and press Enter key. You should see "The operation completed successfully" message after this.

Windows 8, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Windows 8, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Enable good old boot options by typing bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy legacy.

Close Command Prompt window and restart your computer. Pressing F8 key repeatedly before Windows starts loading should now bring up the older Advanced Boot Options menu.
Windows 8, legacy Advanced Boot Options menu accessible with F8 key.

To revert to the newer Modern UI version of troubleshooting tools, open elevated Command Prompt while Windows is running (use Window Key+X to open Quick Links menu and click Command Prompt (Admin)). You can also boot from Windows installation media or System Repair Disc/Recovery Drive and open Command Prompt in Recovery Environment.
Type bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard and press Enter key.
Windows 8, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Windows 8, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Re-enable modern boot options by typing bcdedit /set {default} bootmenupolicy standard.

Close the Command Prompt window and reboot your PC. Now your computer uses the Modern UI boot options again.

Step 2 - System Restore

The next step is to try System Restore from Advanced Options screen. This works only while using the correct Windows installation or System Repair Disc. Using Windows 7 media on Windows 8/8.1 installation (or vice versa) ends with an error message about no available Restore Points.

System Restore will literally turn back time for your PC: while your documents and files will always remain in tact, all programs or drivers installed after the selected Restore Point might disappear and must be reinstalled. Also, if you changed your Local Account password recently, it might be reverted to the previous one by the selected Restore Point.
Please note that this System Restore cannot be undone (but you can still restore another Restore Point later).
Windows 8, Recovery Environment, Troubleshoot, Advanced options. Click 'System Restore' to try reverting recent changes.

Read detailed instructions on using System Restore in this article.

Move on to the next page of this article to read about Refresh your PC, Reset your PC and re-imaging options.

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