Troubleshooting - System Restore

Read this first

The info given here applies to IBM-compatible pc-systems only, running a version of the Microsoft Windows (tm) operating system. It is merely based on standard procedures which apply to almost all standard build IBM (tm) based computer-systems.

As the purpose of this guide is to be suitable for practically any system, regardless how old the computer may be, "some old-school" methods are included. On newer systems, running the latest versions of the Windows operating system, things became a lot easier. So read through the text first and choose a restore method depending on your computer and operating system.
Nevertheless, some (mostly completely brand-made) computer systems may need their own system-files, and/or special software properly installed to function well; in case you have such a machine, read your manuals first and check if you have the original brand-made installation cd's or dvd's by hand. When in doubt, consult your dealer.

If you have other installation disks, such as disks delivered with a printer, scanner, mouse, keyboard and so on, hold them by hand, but don't use them until Windows asks you to do so. In many cases Windows will have the appropriate software (hardware-drivers) "onboard" and will install them automatically. If Windows didn't ask for it, but still a peripheral component such a printer, scanner, etc., won't work properly, then you can always install the extra software.

As this information is solely intended to help novice users, we also go out from a basic "standard" home system configuration with only one hard-disk as drive (C:) and a (first) cd or dvd drive as drive (D:). (Eventually check for the right drive letters if you have another drive configuration.).
Warning: although it's nearly impossible to damage your system by trying to re-install your software, keep in mind that some configurations and/or settings can be tricky. I'm not responsible for any damage to your machine, neither for any troubles which may occur by following the information given. O well, that's the usual stuff of course. You'd better give it a try... Here we go...


Well... seems the whole system went crazy, so we're a bit less lucky now, and indeed, things may become a bit more complicated now, but don't worry, most of the time, it all can be done in a few easy steps and chances are very well we'll fix it...
And after all, hey... it's just a computer...
Some things to remember:

Because we're going to restore the whole system, cleanup the hard-disk completely and then re-install everything, it's obvious that all previous data on the hard-disk will be lost. So be sure to have always a backup copy of your personal data on an extern medium (e.g. cd or dvd). After restoring the system, those backup files can be copied back to your computer.

To re-install the system you will need your original cd-rom's of the operating system and software. Also keep a list of your registration numbers, licenses, internet logins, passwords, etc. by hand.
Well, what's next... Here's an overview:

PART 1 : Checking and preparing the system
PART 2 : Boot-disk(s) and hard-disk toolsets
PART 3 : Re-Installing the Operating System


Because the computer seems to fail all the way, some important things must have been messed up. There are many ways to check a system, search for corrupted files and (try to) repair them... but that's an expert job, and even then it stays rather tricky. So, in many cases, the best thing would be to do a completely new, clean installation of the whole system. And in fact, that's also what the "experts" do much of the time, for it's the most secure way and in many cases it's saves a lot of time. So you do what the experts do: re-install the complete thing...

Because the computer won't start normally, there's no use in trying to boot (startup) from the hard-disk as usually. In fact we're going to delete everything on the computer, including the operating system (read: Windows), making the hard-disk ("as good as") empty. Then we're going to re-install everything we need.

But it's obvious that an empty computer, without any files on it at all, simply can't startup. So we must give the system something else to startup from. This can be a cd-rom, the one containing the operating system (the Windows setup disk), or a bootable "emergency" cd, or it can be a diskette (or a set of diskettes), called boot-disk(s).

Most recent computers can startup directly from a cd-drive, but some older (and even newer) systems can't. Those systems first need a diskette (or a set of diskettes) to startup, before they can read from the cd-rom drive.

So first we must check if the system is able to boot from cd-rom or not. If not, we'll have to boot from diskette(s), which means we'll have to create one or more boot-diskettes first.
As a computer can "boot" (start up) from different devices (such as a diskette-drive, a hard-disk, a cd-drive) there must be a way to tell the system from which device it must boot, or in other words, where the system must look for the necessary start-up files. This setting, among a lot of other lower level settings, is stored in the BIOS.
Let's dive into the deep... the BIOS
The "bios" (basic input output system) is an "underlying" place where many system settings are stored (such as the number and the kind of hard-disk(s), the memory used, and so on).

To get into the bios, shut-down the computer completely and restart. During the restart, hit and hold down the [Delete] key (on some computers you must hit the F10 function key). In most cases a blue screen will appear. You can navigate through the bios with the keyboard (not the mouse) using the [enter], [arrow], [page-up], [page-down] keys and so on. The contents of each bios-type may vary, but there's always a list with instructions and help somewhere on the screen (and mostly the function key F1 will bring you into a help menu).

The bios contains a menu where you can set the "boot sequence": this means you set the first drive to startup from, then the second and so on. It's also in the bios you can see if your computer can startup from a cd-drive or not. Look for the "boot sequence" menu and -if necessary- modify the settings as described below. In many cases you can use the [page-up/down or space/backspace] keys to change the values; you find the appropriate keys for your system described on your BIOS screen.

Warning: do not change anything else but these settings, unless you know exactly what you're doing.
If you can select to startup from a cd-drive

In the bios, set the cd-drive as first boot device, and the hard-disk (C:) as the second device (the rest doesn't matter now). Use the [Escape] key to exit the page, navigate to accept the new settings (type "y" to accept) and hit [Enter] to store your settings and exit the bios.
Now let's do a test (assuming your system works properly now)

First insert your operating system cd-rom (your original Windows setup cd). Don't forget this, or you will have to restart once again. Then shut-down the computer completely and restart. If the system starts up and the welcome screen of the Windows setup-cd-rom appears on the screen, or if Windows asks you to start an installation procedure, then everything goes fine... the computer recognized the cd-drive and can startup from it.
Knowing for sure that the system boots up from the cd-drive, there's no immediate need to create a boot-disk or boot-cd. But... whether or not the system can boot from the cd-drive, sometimes a boot-disk (or boot-cd) containing some handy system tools may be very useful in case of troubles. So it's good practice to become a bit familiar with this stuff and have such a boot-disk (or cd) by hand, just in case...
Because this was just a test, exit the procedure now and remove the cd-rom from the drive. Then restart the computer.
In case it's not a test, but you want to resolve problems by reinstalling your system, just continue with the setup from the cd and follow the instructions given by the Windows setup. After the installation of Windows is completed, you can go back into the bios and reset the boot sequence to startup from (C:) as first, (D:) as second, and eventually (A:) as third startup device.

Then you can begin to re-install all the programs you need. For information about installing programs, see the description above and the software installation tips also in the computing section on this site.
If you can't select a cd-rom drive
Now what if the computer won't boot from the cd-rom? Well, then we'll try to boot-up from a boot-disk or a boot-disk set. In the bios, set the sequence to boot from the diskette-drive (A:) first, then set the second boot device to the hard-drive (C:) (the rest doesn't matter now). In this case, there's still no need to put the cd-rom into the drive, we must do some other things first.

Use the [Escape] key to exit the page, navigate to accept the new settings (type "y" to accept) and hit [Enter] to store your settings and exit the bios.

Now the system can be started from a boot-diskette or a set of boot-disks, just read on how to do it.


Boot-disks : why and what ?
A boot-disk or a boot-cd is a normal 3 1/2" diskette (or set of disks) or a normal cd, containing some necessary system-files to start up (boot) the system, and some so-called "drivers" to make the system recognize the cd-rom drive if necessary. Besides these, most boot-disks also include some necessary system-tools, such as to cleanup, check and prepare the hard-disk for installing an operating system.
In case we can't boot neither from a (corrupted) hard-disk, nor from a cd-drive, we can still start-up from the diskette-drive with a bootable diskette in it to get access to the system.
Also in case we suspect the system to be infected with some kind of malicious software causing it to crash on start-up or to start-up erratically, we still can try to start-up from a diskette (or a set of diskettes) in drive (A:).
In case your computer does not have a diskette-drive, but the system can be set to boot-up from the cd-drive, you can use a boot-cd instead of a diskette.
Important : it's obvious that you must have such a boot-disk, or set of boot-disks, or boot-cd before your system crashes. Otherwise you will need another working computer (and internet connection) to create the boot-disk(s). So don't wait until your system crashes, create it and test it now.
Creating boot-disk(s)
First we will create a simple boot-disk or boot-cd containing the necessary files to startup ("boot") and get access to virtually any "no-name" (and most other) pc-based computer systems, together with some tools to cleanup and prepare the hard-disk(s), making it ready for installing an operating system.

Besides a "real-modus" driver needed to get access to the cd-drive on older systems, no other drivers (soundcards, some keyboards,...) are included. Once we got access to the system, the setup-procedure of the chosen operating system will (automatically) take care of nearly the complete further installation and configuration.
creating 3 1/2" boot-diskette(s)
For our purpose here, you need one blank MsDos formatted diskette. You can format a diskette from within Windows Explorer.
Important: if you're running Windows XP, and you're using the format command from within windows explorer to format your boot-diskette, you must -for our purpose here- check the box to format the diskette in the "Ms Dos" modus. Then, after formatting is completed, delete manually all the files written on the diskette by XP to obtain a blank MsDos formatted diskette. (In Windows 9x, you may just format the diskette normally).

After formatting your diskette, you can download the files below to create your boot-disk. Just follow the instructions.

When you want to create a universal boot-disk to get back access to a system and/or fully cleanup and prepare the hard-disk to re-install an operating system, this is the only boot-disk you need.
Note: ONLY when your system CAN NOT start up from the cd-rom drive, AND you want to install Windows 2000 / XP, you'll need another extra set of boot-diskettes. First you may also use the same boot-diskette as above to get access to the system again, making it starting up and checking and cleaning the hard-disk(s). But afterwards you will need a boot-disk set of four diskettes to install Windows 2000 or six diskettes to install Windows XP. The files to create theses Windows XP or 2000 boot-disk sets are provided by Microsoft. Be sure to select the right file set for your operating system (check version and language) and follow the instructions to create the boot-disk set. You can download these boot-disk file sets from Microsoft (search for boot-disk) at (files are copyrighted by Microsoft).
creating a boot-cd
In case your computer has no build-in diskette-drive, you need to create a boot-cd. What you need is a so-called "disk-image" (e.g. an iso-file) which contains an exact copy of the disk you need. You can download the file below. This disk-image must be burned to a blank cd. You can do this using most cd/dvd burning programs. Look for the "burn image" feature in your cd/dvd burning program and select the downloaded iso-file.

Download boot-disk files (including disk-tools)

remark: most modern computers, running a recent operating system, can startup and perform the necessary pre-install procedures from the operating system's installation dvd. So in most cases, there's no longer need to create a set of boot-files and tools. However, they may be usefull on older systems and in case of some emergency restore conditions. You can still obtain them here.

to create a boot-disk automatically
- click the button "BOOT-DISK" below and download the file "bootdisk.exe"; save the file onto your system
- insert a blank MsDos formatted diskette in drive A: (see important note about formatting above)
- double-click the file ("bootdisk.exe") to run it (execute)
- in the next window select "Unzip" to drive A: to create your boot-disk automatically

to create a boot-disk manually: download the files in zip-format
- click the button "BOOT-DISK" below and download the file ""; save the file onto your system
- unpack the files using Windows (XP or later) Explorer or a file archiving-program (e.g. WinZip)
- if necessary, you can add or remove files and modify the boot-settings
- copy the files to a blank MsDos formatted diskette (see important note about formatting above)
- remark: advanced - only needed if you want to modify the boot-settings and/or add/delete files

to create a boot-cd: download the disk-image file (iso-file)
- click the button "BOOT-DISK" below and download the file "bootdisk.iso"; save the file onto your system
- this file is a cd-image-file in iso-format, which can be used to create a boot-cd :
- use your cd/dvd burning program and look for the feature to burn from an iso-image-file

Some notes about boot-disks for the more advanced "pc-savvy" users and useful for everyone
about the "format" command

Although the name didn't change, the "format"-command is different in Windows 9x and Windows XP, so a diskette formatted under XP using the standard options won't work as a (MsDos) boot-disk.

boot-disk tools and modifications

The boot-disk also contains some other system- and disk-tools and commands, useful for those who are familiar with MsDos, and of course you can add driver-files and modify the startup files "autoexec.bat" and "config.sys" to create a more suitable boot-disk for a multi-cd system, other drives, keyboards, soundcards, mice and so on.

MsDos - tools, booting and setup
You can use this or any MsDos (Windows 9x) boot-disk to test and startup virtually any pc-based computer system and for partitioning and formatting the hard-disk. But nevertheless, 'cause the Windows XP setup program won't run in MsDos modus, you'll have to use the XP boot disk-set if you want to (re-)install Windows XP. But having a simple good old boot-disk by hand, has never been a bad idea ;-)

the cd-rom real modus driver
Although the included cd-rom real modus driver "cdrom.sys" will work on most cd-drives, it is always possible that it won't work with a certain drive. In that case you can search for the appropriate real modus driver-file on the internet and add it to the boot-disk.

Copy the new driver file to the boot-disk and then modify the driver name in the file "config.sys" (you can edit the file using NotePad).

Example: edit the line "device=a:\cdrom.sys /d:mscd001" (without the quotes) into "device=a:\driver.sys /d:mscd001" where "driver.sys" is the name of the appropriate cd-rom real modus driver.



Now I have a boot-disk... What's next ?

First, shut-down the system completely. With the computer shut off, put the boot-disk into the diskette drive and startup the system again. The computer will boot from the diskette and you'll get a black screen with some text on it.

After awhile, the last line on the screen will look something like this:


In some cases, now you could start immediately with the installation process of the operating system, but to stay on the safe side (excluding a range of possible errors from a previous "suspicious" system), we're going to use some system tools to cleanup and prepare the hard-disk ("fdisk" and "format"), and next -if necessary- we make the system switch to the cd-drive to install Windows.

Step one

Although not always necessary, it's good practice to check and eventually delete and re-create all partitions on the hard-disk(s).
A partition can be seen as a part of the hard-disk which can be addressed separately under its own drive-letter. You could see it -more or less- as a "virtual" hard-disk (e.g. an hard-disk with three partitions which shows up in Windows Explorer as drive C:, drive D: and drive E:).
There are some reasons why partitioning of an hard-disk maybe useful and even necessary, but most of the time, on a relatively modern computer system there's no big need to create more than one partition for home use.

Now, after the backslash, type exactly (!) this:


and hit the [Enter] key

Follow the instructions on the screen to view which partitions are already created on the hard-disk(s). In most cases you do not need more than one single partition on a system for home use. If fdisk only finds one partition, as large as the hard-disk capacity, you can close the program by hitting the [Escape] key and proceed to the next step.

If you find more than one partition, then try to find out why these partitions were created in the past. Maybe the hard-disk contained more than one operating system, or some partitions may be used to store different kinds of data. Although there are still some good reasons to work with partitions, remember that for "normal home use" you don't have to make things more complicated using more than one partition. Nevertheless, it may be possible that you need more partitions when using an older system, let's say a computer build before the year 2000, or when using a brand made computer system (see the remark on brand make computers at the top of this page).

So in most cases, it's safe to delete all partitions and afterwards re-create and activate one single partition as large as the hard-disk capacity. Doing this is relatively simple, just follow the instructions on the screen. First you delete all the existing partitions. No problem if you don't understand the types of partitions very well, just start with the last one, and try to delete it. If fdisk tells you there is no such partition, just select the previous one, try to delete it, and so on until you deleted all partitions on the hard-disk.

Next re-create one single partition and activate it. That's an easy one, for fdisk will propose you by default the right choices and automatically check, create and activate the partition.

After creating the partition, exit the program by hitting the [Escape key] and restart the system (let the boot-disk in the diskette-drive).

Step two

Now were going to format... (this will do a checkup of the disk and make it empty)

After the system is restarted (with the boot-disk in the diskette-drive), you get the A:\ prompt once again:


After the backslash, type exactly (!) this:

format c:\

and hit the [Enter] key

the system will warn you, type "y(es)" and [Enter] to proceed

After some time, the system will tell you the results of the formatting. Here you can see if the disk is physically okay or not. Of course it's bad if there are broken parts in it, but the disk will be still usable. The system will remember the bad parts and don't use them anymore. You can also give a name to the hard-disk, but if you don't, that's okay too, for you can set it later on in Windows.

Step three

Next step depends on which operating system we want to install. If you want to re-install Windows 9x/ME, or any other older system, then continue here, if you want to re-install Windows 2000 or XP then go there.
for Windows 9x/ME
Now let the disk in the diskette-drive and -once again- restart the computer. You will get the same black screen and the same text with at the end the so called "A prompt" as above:


Now, after the backslash, type exactly (!) this:

cd D:\

and hit the [Enter] key

this will result in:


Now take the diskette out of the diskette-drive, and put the Windows cd-rom into the cd-drive, then

after the backslash, type exactly (!) this:


and hit the [Enter] key

This will switch to the cd-drive and start the installation procedure of the Windows operation system. From now on follow the instructions given by the Windows setup.

After the installation of Windows is completed, you can go back into the bios and reset the boot sequence to startup from (C:) as first, (D:) as second, and eventually (A:) as third startup device.

Then you can begin to re-install all the programs you need. For information about installing programs, see the software installation tips also in the computing section on this site.
for WINDOWS 2000/XP/VISTA/7/8
Remark : see above (Part 2) about the use of boot-disk(s).
If the system can boot from cd-rom, you don't need boot-diskettes anymore (if necessary, check the boot-sequence in the bios and set it to boot from cd). Then insert the windows cd-rom an boot up the system. The Windows installation procedure will start from the cd. Follow the instructions on the screen.

If the system won't startup from cd, use the boot-disk set from Microsoft. If necessary, check the boot-sequence in the bios and set it to boot from diskette.

First, shut-down the system completely. With the computer shut off, put disk 1 of the boot-disk set and the Windows setup cd-rom into the drives and startup the system again. The computer will boot from the diskette and you'll get the Windows installation screen. Change disks when the system asks for it.

Note : when you did not cleanup the hard-disk first, and a remaining operating system is still on the hard-disk, then in the next screen you can select to repair an existing installation or to (re-)install Windows completely. In most cases a compete re-installation will be the best.

When doing a complete new installation, you get the choice to reformat the hard-disk, selecting the FAT32 or NTFS file-system. Roughly said, this is the way how Windows stores files onto the hard disk. Although an explanation of the working of the file-system goes far beyond the intention of this guide, you must remember that the selection of the file-system will have -amongst other- a big impact on the file-reading and -writing speed. On a relatively modern system, it's nearly always the best choice to select the NTFS file-system.

After the installation of Windows is completed, you can go back into the bios and reset the boot sequence to startup from (boot-)drive (C:) as first; then select a cd/dvd drive as second, and eventually another drive (e.g. floppy-drive (A:) as third startup device).
Next, you can begin to re-install all the programs you need. For information about installing programs, see the software installation tips also in the computing section on this site.
Important remark on Windows 7/8.0 (and later)
Windows 7 gives you the possibility to create full data and system restore backups, including the creation of a system boot disk.
Windows 8.0 (and later) includes, besides backup possibilities, additional features to restore or refresh/repair the system without data loss.
You find these functions in the Windows Control Panel and Computer Settings.




Related topics : Troubleshooting overview - Application software fixes - Malware forced removal - System cleanup


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All info provided on an "as is"-basis, without any warranty and/or further responsibility whatsoever.
All texts are free for personal non-commercial use. Copyright by the NightOwl.