Repair your computer in Windows Vista or 7

By , www.winhelp.us. Last modified: 2015-02-28.

How to use System Recovery Options for repairing Windows Vista or 7 installations

When Windows is not able to start even in Safe Mode, then most probably there are some errors or missing files on your hard disk that prevent Windows Vista or 7 from starting correctly.

Repair Your Computer is a set of tools for recovering from Windows such errors and it is available on Windows installation DVD. Windows 7 users can also create a System Repair Disc, or borrow one from friends - as long as the hardware architecture (32-bit/x86 or 64-bit/x64) matches.

Here are some troubleshooting steps to try before using Repair Your Computer:

  • Last Known Good Configuration often solves booting and stability problems after installing software, drivers, or messing with Registry entries.
  • 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.
    Also, Reliability Monitor might reveal faulty drivers or software.
  • System Restore can help reverting back to a state when your computer was running normally.

Windows 7 users might be able to launch Repair Your Computer or Startup Repair from a hidden system partition. The two options are described later in this article.

Microsoft has pulled ISO (disc image) versions of Windows 7 from Digital River. Non-OEM users can now visit the Microsoft Software Recovery page and download the ISO by entering product key.
If you want a DVD instead of ISO (for a small fee), contact your local Microsoft support. See http://support2.microsoft.com/common/international.aspx for contact information.

OEM license owners can get further help from the http://support.microsoft.com/kb/326246 page.

Burn the downloaded ISO file to a blank DVD using CDBurnerXP. If you do not have the program installed, instructions are available in this article.
To create a bootable USB drive instead, see the Create bootable Windows installation media on a USB stick guide.

If you do not have the disc (a common case for computers that have Windows Vista or 7 pre-installed) and your friends do not have a matching one either, you can 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.

Do not use Windows 7 DVD for repairing Windows Vista installations, or vice versa! You can only use the Command Prompt option on the 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!

Launching computer repair in Windows 7 without installation DVD or System Repair Disc

Windows 7 users can run Repair Your Computer or Startup Repair from a special hidden partition on hard disk.

1. Launch Startup Repair offered at computer startup

The Launch Startup Repair option is offered automatically after Windows 7 detects that it failed to start the last time. If the failure happened just once due to power failure during Windows startup, you can ignore the offer by pressing Arrow Down key on your keyboard to select Start Windows Normally instead and then pressing Enter key.
Otherwise, you should use Launch Startup Repair (recommended) option.
Windows 7, Error Recovery - Windows failed to start. If you added some new hardware, remove it (turn off your computer first!) and see if this helps. If nothing has changed, select 'Launch Startup Repair' and press Enter key.

Move to Startup Repair section.

2. Repair your computer in Windows 7 Advanced Boot Options menu

To access the whole set of recovery tools without using the Windows 7 installation DVD or System Repair Disc, you need to open Advanced Boot Options menu right before Windows 7 starts. After you power on your computer, you might see some full-screen logo or black screen with gray texts such as "AMI", "Intel", "Testing Memory", "Hard disk", etc. Press F8 key on your keyboard repeatedly right after you see such screen disappear. This will open Windows 7 Advanced Boot Options menu. If you see the Select Boot Device menu instead, press Esc key to hide it and then press F8 key again a few times.
Use arrow keys on your keyboard to select Repair Your Computer and press Enter key to confirm your selection.
Windows 7, Window Advanced Boot Options menu. Select 'Repair Your Computer to' see launch recovery tools.

Read on for detailed instructions on using the tools.

Launching Repair Your Computer from Windows Vista or 7 DVD/System Repair Disc

If your computer does not boot from DVD, read the Computer boot order 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.
Windows 7 boot from DVD. Press any key within 5 seconds to launch Windows 7 from DVD.

Windows will load some files from the disc, this takes time.
Windows 7 boot from DVD. Stand by while Windows loads essential files.

If using Windows Vista/7 installation DVD, Install Windows dialog appears. Select your preferred settings from Time and currency format and Keyboard or input method boxes. I suggest you leave Language to "English" here to better understand this article.
If using Windows Vista/7 System Repair Disc, System Recovery Options dialog appears instead. Here you can only select the appropriate keyboard layout.
Click Next to continue.
Windows Vista, boot from DVD. Select your preferences from 'Time and currency format' and 'Keyboard or input method' boxes. Then click Next. Windows 7, boot from System Repair Disc. Select your keyboard input method (layout). Then click Next.

Windows installation media users will see a big tempting Install now button. Do not click it! Click Repair your computer in the lower left corner instead.
System Repair Disc skips this step and continues with looking for Windows installations.
Windows 7 boot from DVD. Click 'Repair your computer' to launch a set of recovery tools.

Recovery environment will then look for present installation(s) on hard disks. This might take up to a few minutes.
Windows 7 boot from DVD, System Recovery Options. Please stand by while Windows searches for installations it can repair.

Click Next after the correct installation has been detected. If you have multiple versions of Windows installed, click the one that is broken.
If you see nothing listed here, your computer has a disk controller that Windows Vista or 7 is not able to detect by default. Click Load drivers, insert the CD, floppy disk or DVD that came with your computer or disk controller and load appropriate drivers from there. Your Windows installation will then be located.
Windows 7 boot from DVD, System Recovery Options, Select an operating system to repair. If your Windows installation is listed, click Next. If not, insert the CD, DVD or floppy disk that came with your computer or disk controller and click Load drivers.

If you have several user accounts on the computer, you might have to log on using the account that has administrative rights. Select an administrator's user name and enter the password.
Windows 7, System Recovery Options. To access recovery options, log on as a an administrative user. Select your user name and type in your Windows password. Click OK.

System Recovery Options window then appears with the list of available recovery tools. The tools are almost identically named in Windows Vista and 7.
Windows Vista, Repair your computer, Choose a recovery tool. Windows 7, System Recovery Options, Choose a recovery tool.

Let's see an overview of the tools next.
Please note that if you are using a wrong media here - e.g. Windows Vista installation DVD on Windows 7 PC, or 32-bit version of System Repair Disc on 64-bit Windows - you are able to 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 - Startup Repair in Windows Vista or 7

The very first option to try in case Windows is unable to boot is the Startup Repair (see the two pictures above). Startup Repair 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.
Windows 7, Startup Repair is checking your system for problems. Please stand by.

If a problem is found, Startup Repair will try to fix it. This usually takes a few minutes for minor problems, but sometimes the repairs might last for up to half an hour.
Windows 7, Startup Repair, attempting repairs. Please stand by.

In case problems were fixed successfully, Startup Repair offers to restart your computer immediately to see if your Windows starts normally now. Often it does! Smile
Windows Vista, Startup Repair, Restart your computer to complete the repairs. Click Finish.

In rare cases, Startup Repairs launches again automatically and does some more fixing. Let it finish its job and Windows should start normally after the next restart.

In case Startup Repair was unable to locate or repair problems, you will see one of the following screens. You can click Finish to close Startup Repair and then try some other method of restoring. Or you can click View advanced options for system recovery and support to return to the list of recovery tools.
Windows 7, Startup Repair could not detect a problem. Click Finish to end Startup Repair. Windows 7, Startup Repair, Windows cannot repair this computer automatically. Click Finish to end Startup Repair.

After an unsuccessful repair of Windows 7, Startup Repair suggests using System Restore for fixing your computer. If Startup Repair was your first step in fixing Windows 7 problems, I suggest you click Cancel here and try other recovery tools first.
If you've tried all other tools already, click Restore button. Please remember that this System Restore operation cannot be undone - while you will not lose your documents, e-mails, pictures, videos and other personal data, some programs might be removed during the operation. Read this tutorial about System Restore for detailed instructions.
Windows 7, Startup Repair, Do you want to restore your computer using System Restore. Click Cancel if Startup Repair was your first step in repairing your computer. Click Restore only if no other repair tool helps.

After clicking Cancel, Microsoft asks to send some information about the problem to their servers to help creating solutions for such situations. This will not send your personal information to Microsoft, just data about your computer configuration and problems not repaired.
If you are really concerned about your privacy, click Don't Send. If you would like to help Microsoft a bit, click Send information about this problem (recommended).
Windows 7, Startup Repair, sending more information can help Microsoft create solutions. If you are concerned about your privacy, click 'Don't Send'. Else click 'Send information about this problem'.

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

If you do not have the correct Windows installation/System Repair media, but you still need to check for and fix errors on disks, click Command Prompt in the list.
Windows 7, Repair your computer. Click 'Command Prompt' to try fixing hard disk errors.

A black Command Prompt window opens on drive X. The X: 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/volumes/partitions available. You need to use this command to verify that no partition/volume is listed as having RAW file system type.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, 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, is the recovery partition, and it typically has drive letter C in Ltr column. Such partitions are usually small in size - about 100 megabytes (MB). You should check this partition for errors, too.
Please note that not all computers have the recovery partition.

So, in the example above, the Windows 7 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. Do not mix up megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB).

To double-check the Windows drive letter, type bcdedit | find /i "OSDEVICE" and press Enter.
This outputs something like osdevice partition=E: where the very last letter is your Windows/system drive letter. It might be some other letter in your case.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. To verify system drive letter, type 'bcdedit | find /i "OSDEVICE"' and press Enter.

In case your Windows partition showed up as RAW in Fs (File System) column, you still need to run chkdsk and take note of the results. Normally, Windows partition should list "NTFS" in Fs column.

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 without the /R switch, and several hours with the /R switch). 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 (press ARROW UP key to recall the last command) until the no problems message appears.

Please check other partitions, especially the 100 MB "System Rese" one for errors, too. If you have more than one hard drive installed or more than two volumes/partitions, do not forget to run disk check on these - this might solve your problems.

If Windows partition was listed as RAW in diskpart and you see the "A disk read error occurred c0000185" message before chkdsk completes, you need to either reseat or replace hard drive cable (turn off your PC, disconnect power cord, then unplug and replug the SATA or IDE cable both on motherboard side and hard drive/SSD side). If your PC case is very dusty inside, clean it with compressed air before reseating or replacing the cable.
Another method that works surprisingly often in this case, is resetting BIOS/UEFI to defaults. Reboot your PC and press F1, F2, F10, F12 or DEL (aka DELETE) key to get into BIOS/UEFI (the correct key is usually displayed on screen first). On some computers you might have to press ESC key to see options list. Then find and use the option that is similar to "Restore defaults" or "Load defaults". Intel motherboards have F9 key for this purpose.
Please note that you might encounter the "Windows failed to start, File: \Boot\BCD, Status: 0xc000000f, Info: The Boot Configuration Data for your PC is missing or contains errors" screen after resetting BIOS to defaults. This can be easily fixed with bootrec as shown here.
If reseating/replacing SATA cable and resetting BIOS/UEFI to defaults does not help, run Memtest86+ to verify that RAM modules are working correctly. If a RAM module has errors, remove or replace it.

Ignore any failure messages about event log: this is because event logs are not available in Recovery Environment.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt, Chkdsk. No problems were detected, close the Command Prompt.

After chkdsk repairs file system errors on all volumes, close Command Prompt window and then click Restart in the System Recovery Options menu and 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:\ (replace D:\ with the correct drive letter for your CD/DVD drive if necessary).

Close Command Prompt window and and click Restart button to see if this helped to get your PC running correctly again.

Step 1.2 (optional) - repair Boot Configuration Data with bootrec

If Windows Vista or 7 BCD (Boot Configuration Data) becomes corrupt after a crash, power outage or some other reason, you'll encounter messages with error code 0xc000000e "A required device isn't connected or can't be accessed", 0xc0000001 "A required device isn't connected or can't be accessed" or 0xc000000f "The Boot Configuration Data for your PC is missing or contains errors" while booting.

Please note that Windows partition must be listed as NTFS (or FAT/FAT32 in rare cases) in Fs column of echo list volume | diskpart results, otherwise there is no point in running the following commands. See how chkdsk results can sometimes reveal the cause for Windows partition listed as RAW.

Type the following commands and press Enter after each one:

  • bootrec /fixmbr
  • bootrec /fixboot
  • bootrec /rebuildbcd

If you see a prompt to add one or more detected Windows installations after the last command, press A and then Enter on keyboard. This means that BCD has been fixed successfully: close Command Prompt and restart your PC.

But in many cases, the bootrec /rebuildbcd command results in 0 total identified Windows installations instead. The screenshot below illustrates this situation:
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Fix Boot Configuration Data by entering the 'bootrec /fixmbr', 'bootrec /fixboot' and 'bootrec /rebuildbcd' commands.

To resolve this problem, you first need to locate the drive where Windows Boot Manager resides. In Command Prompt window, type bcdedit and press Enter. Locate the entry Windows Boot Manager (usually the very first entry with identifier {bootmgr}) and see the second line, device. In this example, the line reads "partition=C:", meaning that Windows Boot Manager is on the partition/volume with drive letter C. In many cases, the drive letter might be something different.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. To locate Windows Boot Manager, type 'bcdedit' and press Enter key. The line 'device' reveals drive letter for bootmgr.

Run the following commands in case your PC is in legacy boot mode (uses BIOS, or is set to legacy boot). If necessary, replace drive letter "C" with the previously detected drive letter in the first two commands.
If the first command fails with "Path not found" error, your PC is not in legacy boot mode, or you used a wrong drive letter. Do not worry, try the UEFI boot mode commands instead, or double-check the drive letter from bcdedit output.

  • attrib C:\Boot\BCD -h -r -s (removes hidden, read-only and system attributes from BCD folder)
  • ren C:\Boot\BCD BCD.old (renames BCD folder to BCD.old)
  • bootrec /rebuildbcd (retries the rebuild)

In case your computer is in UEFI boot mode (the commands above resulted in "The system cannot find the file specified" error), use the following commands instead (replace drive letter "C", if necessary):

  • attrib C:\EFI\Microsoft\Boot\BCD -h -r -s (removes hidden, read-only and system attributes from BCD folder)
  • ren C:\EFI\Microsoft\Boot\BCD BCD.old (renames BCD folder to BCD.old)
  • bootrec /rebuildbcd (retries the rebuild)

Now, in the Add installation to boot list line, type A and press Enter. The new BCD is ready, close Command Prompt and restart your computer.
Windows 7, Repair your computer, Command Prompt. Rebuild BCD by entering the 'attrib C:\Boot\BCD -h -r -s', 'ren C:\Boot\BCD BCD.old' and 'bootrec /rebuildbcd' commands.

Step 2 - Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool

If Startup Repair did not solve your problems, and you have not used free Memtest86+ for checking if your computer's memory modules are fine, try Windows Memory Diagnostic. This will ensure that Random Access Memory (RAM) modules do not cause computer problems. A faulty module is the most common reason for software crashes and lockups.
Please note that this check will take at least 30-40 minutes to complete.
Windows Vista, System Recovery Options, Choose a recovery tool. If Startup Repair did not solve problems and you have not used Memtest86+, click 'Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool' to check if your computer's memory modules are working correctly. Windows 7, System Recovery Options, Choose a recovery tool. If Startup Repair did not solve problems and you have not used Memtest86+, click 'Windows Memory Diagnostic' to check if your computer's memory modules are working correctly.

Click Restart now and check for problems (recommended) in Windows Memory Diagnostic dialog.
Windows 7, Windows Memory Diagnostic restart prompt. Click 'Restart now and check for problems'.

After your computer restarts, Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool will launch automatically. The test will easily take 40 or minutes. If your computer reboots or stops responding during the test, you should replace memory modules in your computer. Consult the computer reseller and the manual that came with your computer for this.
Check the Status column from time to time. If it says "No problems have been detected yet", your computer's memory is working fine.
After the lengthy test is complete, your computer will restart. In case the Status was "No problems..." before the restart, you should boot from Windows DVD or System Repair Disc again and return to Repair your computer tools.
Windows 7, Memory Diagnostics Tool. Memory test will take 40 minutes or more.

In case Windows Memory Diagnostic detected problems in memory modules, you should replace the faulty memory modules in your computer as soon as possible - failing RAM module(s) can easily recreate the problems and in the long run you will definitely experience data loss! Consult the computer reseller or the manual that came with your computer for replacement of memory modules.

Do not use your computer or try other recovery options until the faulty memory modules have been replaced!

Step 3 - System Restore

The next step is to try System Restore from System Recovery Options menu. This works only while using the correct Windows installation or System Repair disc. Using Windows 7 media on Windows Vista installation (or vice versa) ends with an error message about no available Restore Points.
Windows 7, System Recovery Options, Choose a recovery tool. If Startup Repair did not solve problems and Windows Memory Diagnostic detected no faults in memory modules, you can use System Restore.

Please note that this System Restore cannot be undone (but you can still choose another Restore Point later). While you will not lose any of your documents, pictures, videos, e-mails, etc, all programs installed after the selected Restore Point will be deleted. You will have to reinstall these.

Read detailed instructions on using System Restore.

Step 4 - other options

In case nothing helped, you must restore the disk image backup of your computer. You do have a backup, don't you?

In case you do not have a backup, you can use my Data Recovery CD/USB or Puppy Linux to copy your documents, pictures, videos, music, etc to a flash drive or external hard disk. After copying is complete, reinstall Windows and all programs, copy your rescued files back to your computer and do start making regular backups this time.

 

 

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