Can’t get Windows 7 or Vista to boot? Discover how to use its start-up repair tools to get up and running again
hen your PC won’t start up properly it means big trouble could be ahead, particularly if your files and settings haven’t been backed up recently. Windows XP users could – if they had a Windows XP installation disc – try a repair installation (click here), but Windows 7 and Vista don’t offer that option; instead they've bundled a number of useful tools on the Windows installation disc that can rescue a non-booting system and give you access to your precious data once again.
If you don’t have a Windows Vista installation disc – many PCs ship with recovery discs (or no recovery media at all) – then don’t panic. If you have a broadband connection we’ll show you how to create a boot disc with all the start-up repair tools included with the help of a free download.
Fix Vista and Windows 7 startup problems
1. NO INSTALLATION DISC?
If you don’t have a Windows installation disc, look for an option to repair your computer when you start your PC - you may have to tap [F8] to bring up the Windows boot menu, where many system manufacturers place the option. If it's there, select it and press [Enter] to check it works. If no option exists or you don't see the menu displayed in step five, click here for a guide to creating the rescue disc you may need later on.
2. BASIC REPAIR OPTIONS
If Windows refuses to load, restart your PC and wait for the Windows Error Recovery window to appear. Try Last known good configuration (advanced) first. If this fails, try Safe mode next, then use System Restore to return Windows to a point in time when it worked correctly. Pick the recommended restore point and see if that works, or try an earlier one if it fails. If you can’t get into Safe mode, try Safe mode with Command Prompt. If this works, type cd restore and press [Enter], and then type rstrui and press [Enter] to open System Restore manually.
3. BOOT FROM DISC
If none of these options work, place the Windows installation disc (or recovery disc created in step one) into the drive and restart your PC. Press any key when prompted to boot from CD. If the prompt doesn’t appear, press the reset button. If asked to choose a boot device, press the appropriate key (typically [F12]) and choose CD or DVD; if not, press the key prompted to enter setup (usually [Del] or [F2]). Explore the options for changing the boot device order, and make sure CD-ROM or DVD-ROM is the first device. Save changes and exit.
4. LOAD DRIVERS IF NECESSARY
At the first screen, choose English (United Kingdom) under “Time and currency format” and click Next. At the next screen, click Repair your computer. The recovery disc will attempt to find any evidence of Windows 7 or Vista on the computer – if it finds any, make sure it’s selected before clicking Next; if it doesn’t, and you believe that additional drivers may be required for the disc to recognise your hard drive, click Load Drivers to access them from a CD, floppy or USB-connected drive (including flash drives). If you’re not sure, check with your PC or motherboard manufacturer; otherwise, click Next.
5. STARTUP REPAIR WIZARD
There are five basic options for fixing start-up problems: Startup Repair attempts to fix the problem automatically, and is worth pursuing as your first course of action, even if Windows wasn’t recognised in the previous step. In many cases, the Startup Repair Wizard will work without any user interaction, but in some cases it will give you instructions or various choices before it can proceed. Follow the advice and – when prompted – remove your Windows or recovery disc from the drive before restarting your computer.
6. RUN STARTUP REPAIR AGAIN
Ignore any request to boot from CD or DVD and see if Windows now loads; if it still doesn’t, press reset and this time boot from the disc when prompted. If the Startup Repair Wizard doesn’t run automatically, select Startup Repair again from the System Recovery Options screen. Sometimes the wizard needs to run two or more times before it fixes all outstanding problems, but if it’s unable to fix the problem, try the following steps before consulting your PC manufacturer for more help.
7. ACCESS SYSTEM RESTORE
If the problem is linked to a recent hardware or software change or installation, click System Restore. When the wizard launches, click Next to see a list of available Restore points. If none are visible, tick Show Restore points older than 5 days. Select the most recent Restore point and click Next to see the confirmation window. Click Next followed by Finish and the changes will be made. If Windows still won’t boot, try System Restore again, but this time choose an earlier Restore point.
8. RESTORE BACKUP
Windows 7 Pro and Ultimate, and Windows Vista Business, Enterprise and Ultimate Editions make it possible to back up your entire computer using the Backup and Status Configuration tool. If System Restore fails and you made a backup, click Windows Complete PC Restore at the System Recovery Options screen. The wizard will scan for back-up devices and – if it finds any – will make a recommended choice. Either select this and click Next, or choose Restore a different backup to pick a different choice from a list of all available backups.
9. FORMAT DRIVE PRIOR TO RESTORE
The summary screen has an option to “Format and repartition disks” – tick this if the backup is recent and you don’t have any important files on the drive that aren’t included in the current backup. Once done, click Next and Windows will overwrite the corrupt Windows installation with the backed up files, which should fix the problem. Once complete, you’ll be returned to the point in time when the backup was taken – all subsequent changes (including emails received, programs installed and files created) will be lost unless backed up separately.
10. TEST MEMORY
Seemingly random problems can be caused by faulty memory chips. Choose Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool to scan the PC’s memory for errors, which may indicate a physical fault. Choose Restart now and check for problems (recommended) to run the test immediately, which is recommended if it’s suspect. After restarting, the tool will run and display the various tests as they’re performed – press [F1] for more options. Keep an eye on the tests to see if any errors are picked up; if they are, you’ll need to replace the memory in your computer.
11. COMMAND PROMPT OPTIONS
The Command Prompt option can be used to check that the drive Windows is installed on is actually visible. When the X:\Sources prompt appears, type c: and press [Enter]. If the drive is accessible, the C:> prompt will appear. If this is the case, type chkdsk /r and press [Enter] to verify the drive. Press [N] when asked to forcibly dismount the drive, then [Y] to schedule the drive check the next time you restart Windows. Close the dialog and click Restart. Ignore the prompt to boot from CD and the Disk Checking tool will hopefully fix the problem.
12. RESCUE DATA (1)
If no errors are found, or Windows still doesn’t boot, choose Command Prompt again. Type c: and press [Enter]. If another hard drive is attached to your PC, you can copy important folders off the drive and rescue the data using the cd and robocopy commands. First, verify the drive letter for your back-up drive: type e: and press [Enter]. If e: appears, type dir and press [Enter] to verify its contents. The folder list should match that of the back-up drive; otherwise try a different drive letter.
13. RESCUE DATA (2)
To copy your personal Documents folder on to your back-up drive, type c: and press [Enter] to switch to drive C. Type cd users\username (replacing "username" with your Windows username) and press [Enter] – if you don’t know your username, type dir and press [Enter] first to find out. Now type robocopy Documents e:\Documents /E and press [Enter]. This will copy everything in your Documents folder to a new folder on drive E, including sub-folders and files. Make sure to type a space before the /E switch or the command will fail.
Drive isn't recognised
If no Windows installations are detected by the startup repair disc, it could mean one of three things: first, Vista has been so badly corrupted it’s currently unrecognisable. Let the Startup Repair Wizard run a few times before assuming the worst. Second, the PC may need to load additional drivers before it can recognise the drive – check the CDs that came with your computer, or visit the manufacturer’s web site for “pre-install” drivers which can be copied to a flash drive or floppy disk. The third – and worst-case scenario – is if the disk is physically damaged or has reached the end of its life.
Steps 12 and 13 of the workshop reveal how to transfer files and folders from your personal Documents folder to a back-up drive, should you need to prior to formatting the drive and reinstalling Windows Vista from scratch. You can copy any folder to another drive using the robocopy command. The cd command is used to move between folders – to move back up a directory (for example, from the Users\username directory to the Users directory) type cd .. And press [Enter]. For more help on using the robocopy command, type robocopy /? And press [Enter].