Ten Ways to Recover Your System When Windows Crashes
What to do when your PC will not start/boot Windows, and steps to take now to protect your valuable software and data from a Windows system crash. (see Article Index in Left Column)
It's happened to all of us, we're working merrily along on our computers when all of a sudden everything freezes up. Now what? A virus? Malware? A damaged Windows System file? A power surge? A driver conflict? The computer ran out of memory?
At this point it is impossible to figure out what caused your computer to lock up as it is not functioning. What you have to do is get Windows working again. (Note: One of the first things you should do when you get Windows working again is to run a full featured antivirus program like Panda AntiVirus Pro to ensure there is no malware on your computer causing your booting problems.)
1. The first step you should take when Windows crashes/freezes is to reboot your computer.
The rebooting methods from least harmful to most harmful to your system follow.
A. The soft boot method. Press the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys at the same time; keep holding these keys and press them down a second time. After you wait a second or two the computer should reboot --- if it is still responding to the keyboard.
This is the best method for restarting a computer because it allows Windows to perform an orderly shutdown and restart and usually does not damage your Windows Registry or other software. You may still lose unsaved data, such as Word files depending on what locked up your computer in the first place.
(Before turning your computer back on see the Second Step below.)
B. The power button shutdown method. The power button method is very straight forward, but immediately shuts your computer off and can result in damage to Windows and other running software. Push down on your computers "power on button" and hold it down until your computer turns off. Wait a few seconds and then press the power on button to restart your computer (however before turning your computer back on see the Second Step below ).
This method can damage Windows files and will cause you to lose any unsaved work you open when the lockup occurred. However, it will keep power surges and other nasty things from damaging your computer and will usually result in a recoverable Windows restart.
C. The kill the power method. This is the least desirable method as it is the most likely to damage your computer's hardware or software. However, if you are careful in how you do it, you can reduce damage to Windows and your computer's hard drive.
Before turning the power off to your computer, make sure the hard drive's access light is not blinking. If you do not know which light that is, just make sure none of the computer's indicator lights are blinking before you disconnect the power. It never hurts to wait a couple of minutes to give the computer's hard drive a chance to finish what it is doing, namely writing to its hard disk.
The best way to turn off the power on a desktop is to use the power supply's "on/off switch" which is next to the power plug on the back of the computer. Turn the power off, wait a few seconds and turn the computer back on (however before turning your computer back on see the Second Step below).
If you have a laptop, notebook, or netbook you will have to first unplug your computer from any power source and then remove its battery. As this usually involves turning your laptop, notebook, or netbook upside down, you obviously have to make sure there is no hard drive access before doing so.
Again if you are uncertain as to which indicator light is the hard drive access light, just wait a few minutes and make sure none of the lights are blinking before you turn your device over and remove its battery.
Once your computer has turned off, plug it back into the power supply, and turn it back on (however before turning your computer back on see the Second Step below)--- do not reinstall your battery at this time unless you have no other choice, as you will have to remove it again if your computer locks up.
2. The second step is to turn the computer back on and boot up the Windows Advanced Boot Options.
As soon as you see your computer rebooting start lightly tapping the "F8" key located on the top row of your keyboard. This will bring up the Windows Advanced Boot Options screen.
In Windows 7 you will see the following options on the Windows Advanced Boot Options Screen: (Bolded items are the ones we will discuss.)
Repair Your Computer
Safe Mode Safe Mode with Networking
Safe mode with command prompt
Enable boot logging
Enable low resolution video (640 × 480) Last Known Good Configuration (advanced)
Directory services restore mode
Disable automatic restart on system failure
Disable Driver Signature Enforcement Start Windows normally
Our recommendations for using the options on this screen start at the quickest and most reliable method, and progress to the more technically involved and the greater likelihood that you will have to reload software or drivers. (Note: To select different options on this screen requires that you restart your computer and boot into the Windows Advanced Boot Options screen by tapping the F8 key during startup.)
The Windows Advanced Boot Options Screen
3. Most of the time, Windows will not be seriously damaged and you can select "Start Windows normally".
This option boots the most recent version of the Windows Registry and other settings. If this is the first time you have seen the Advanced Boot Options screen this may work. If not go to step 4 below.
4. The second Advanced Boot Option to try is "Last Known Good Configuration".
This boots the Windows Registry and drivers from the last successful start of Windows. This is a good second choice and usually results in almost no damage to software and drivers (unless of course you didn't save your work before your computer locked up).
5. The third Advanced Boot Option to try is to boot into Windows Safe Mode with Networking.
Safe Mode is a dumbed down version of Windows that uses some of your devices and drivers, in order to boot a minimal version of Windows. Our primary purpose for booting into safe mode is to first connect to the Internet, and secondly to use System Restore.
If you can get Windows Safe Mode with Networking to Boot, and can establish an Internet connection, then the first thing you should do is to use an online virus checker to make sure a virus or other malware is not causing your problems.
If you want a recommendation as to which online virus checker you should use, I would suggest the free online scanner Panda's ActiveScan 2.0. You might be thinking to yourself, "I already have a virus scanner. Why do I need to use an online virus scanner?" The short answer is, a virus or malware program may have defeated your virus scanner either because it wasn't able to detect the threat, or a user of your computer did something to keep it from working correctly. Once your virus scanner has been defeated, it is likely that it has been disabled by the virus.
Attempt a normal restart of your computer if the online scanner discovered viruses, trojans or other serious malware threats that could have kept your computer from booting. If your computer still doesn't boot normally, read on.
Tip Number 1 - The everything-in-one-package-quick-fix from Reimage.
What would you say if I told you that there was a software package called Reimage that could rid your computer of viral and malware infections and could also diagnose your system and actually replace damaged Windows system files and cure other Windows errors?
Well this one-of-a-kind PC repair program could be just the thing if you have a late night computer crash, you need your system fixed in a hurry, or other programs have not cured your Windows problems. Reimage claims to have had over 2 million downloads of their product.
While no one software program can fix every computer problem, and the software is a bit pricey, if you need your computer fixed in a hurry this could be just the program for you. Download Reimage and give it a try before you buy test.
6. While in Safe Mode, use System Restore.
System Restore saves previous versions of your Windows Registry, when various events happen on your computer. Provided that you have been allowing System Restore to save versions of your Registry, you should be able to reload one of the saves and get your computer working again. (Note: Many viruses and other malware programs attack System Restore, and if this is the case, you may not be able to perform these steps.)
Open System Restore by clicking the Start button, Control Panel, System and Security, Restore computer to an earlier time, Open System Restore. Then select one your most recent restore points. (Note: If you have no restore points, either a virus has erased them or System Restore has not been turned on. Follow the screens to turn it on now if possible.)
This is an example of the System Restore Screen from my laptop.
Click "Next" after highlighting the restore save you wish to use, then system restore will restart your computer and attempt to boot Windows. If the restore point you chose didn't result in a good boot of Windows then reboot your computer into Safe Mode,choose another restore point, and try again. Note that you will lose software or system settings as you progressively load older Window's Restore Points. So in my case above I might lose my install of Adobe Reader 10 if I select a restore point from July 27th.
Tip Number 2 - If you can't get System Restore to work from Windows or Windows Safe Mode you can boot your Windows System CD or Windows Repair CD and choose the repair option.
Then choose System Restore, pick your restore point, and hopefully System Restore will tell you it has successfully restored your system. Then select Reboot, and instead of allowing other processes to run when Windows starts, System Restore runs first and it is much more likely to work as other programs are not interfering with it.
If you don't have a Windows Repair CD/DVD, making one is discussed in the next step.
7. The next thing you can try is to select the Windows Repair option on the Windows Advanced Boot Options Screen.
This option will ask you to insert your Windows System Disk into your CD/DVD drive and it will attempt to repair any trashed Windows system files. This method is not available to you if you purchased a computer without a Windows System Disk (unless you made a Windows Repair Disk see below).
Tip Number 3 - Protecting yourself from startup freezes and lock ups by creating a Windows 7/Vista Repair CD.
If you do not have a Windows System CD you can still protect yourself from damaged/corrupt Windows System files by making a Windows 7/Vista Repair CD.
Open Backup and Restore by clicking the Start button, clicking Control Panel, clicking System and Maintenance, and then clicking Backup and Restore.
In the left pane, click Create a system repair disc, and then follow the steps. If you're prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password.
Well you made the disk and now you are safe right? Wrong. The disk will do you no good unless you know how to use it. Basically you have to boot from it when your computer starts up. So you have to configure your computer to boot from the CD/DVD in its BIOS. To access your computer's BIOS you usually hold the Delete key down when your computer is starting up.
My Laptop's BIOS Screen
As shown on the BIOS screen the first device to boot will be the computer's hard drive P0: ST96... and the second boot device is the CD/DVD drive. To boot from the CD/DVD drive I would have to change Option #1 to my CD/DVD or the computer would continue to boot from the hard drive. Press F10 to save changes to the BIOS. Once the BIOS changes are saved your computer will boot off of the first designated device.
The Windows Repair CD can only fix certain problems, such as missing or damaged system files that keep your computer from starting up. It can't fix hardware failures, such as a failing hard disk or incompatible memory, nor does it protect against virus attacks.
Tip Number 4 - Repairing Windows System Files Using the Command Promptand Windows System File Checker
There is another procedure you can use to check and repair your Windows System Files. You can use Microsoft's System File Checker (SFC) which is a DOS program that runs from the Start/All Programs/Accessories/Command Prompt. Run the Command Prompt in Administrator mode by RIGHT clicking on the Command Prompt program and selecting "Run as Administrator". Then you type (or copy and paste in the command) - sfc /scannow. Hit enter and your system files will be scanned for errors.
This will take a few minutes or more depending on the speed of your hard drive and disk cache. You will get a report at the end of the scan as to what files were fixed or what errors were not fixed. If you get error messages or need additional information on the SFC results, please see Microsoft's Article, "How to use the System File Checker tool to troubleshoot missing or corrupted system files on Windows Vista or on Windows 7".
8. Booting off an Antivirus/System Utility Rescue CD/DVD.
This is a necessary step because if you were unable to establish an Internet connection and run an online virus checker in Windows Safe Mode, then a virus or other malware program may be keeping your computer from booting. Therefore, you would of had to make a rescue CD/DVD with your antivirus program before Windows crashed. If you have a Rescue CD/DVD, you would have to boot from the Rescue CD/DVD to use it, as is discussed in the above paragraphs.
Tip Number 5 - Where can you get an Antivirus/System Utility Rescue CD/DVD?
Now before you jump to conclusions and start wondering where your Rescue Disk is, you first would of had to purchase a commercial software package with a program that would create such a disk for you.
If your antivirus program doesn't let you create a rescue disk, and you are wondering why you don't have one (especially when your system crashes and you are unable to restore it) then I suggest you throw down on a program that can make a rescue disk for you.
My personal favorite is Panda AntiVirus Pro. Its a very good antivirus and firewall program, it has a host of other security features, and it will make an antivirus rescue CD for you. I use it on all my personal computers, and recommend it to my customers. So try Panda AntiVirus Pro, if it saves your system one time it will more than pay for itself.
9. Load a backup save of your hard drive.
A hard drive back up imaging program is built into some versions of Windows Vista, and all versions of Windows 7. The program is called Windows Backup and what it does is make an image of your hard drive in case your computer gets trashed. By loading your backup, you get a fully functioning computer the same as the day you made the backup. You can access your backup by booting your Windows System Repair CD or your Windows System CD. If you have no backup of your hard drive then see the tip that follows on how to make a backup of your hard drive.
Tip Number 6 - How to make a hard drive disk image with Windows Backup.
Windows Backup can be found at Start/Control Panel/System and Security/Backup and Restore. Now before you get excited and get started making your disk image, you will have to decide where you backup image will be stored.
As these backup disk images can get quite large there are only two practical places to store the backup image -- to an external USB hard drive, or to a second internal hard drive. If you have neither of these and no wish to purchase either device; the two "impractical" places to store your backup are on CD/DVDs or on the main hard drive itself.
The drawback to using the CDs/DVDs is the backup process will be very slow and time consuming, and as you will most likely want to make a backup every 3 to 4 months, you will be throwing your old backups away.
If you use the main hard drive to store the backup image, you run the risk of not being able to use the image if your hard drive becomes dysfunctional (or simply put it "crashes"). Given the choice of the two impractical methods, I would store the backup on the main drive, with a promise to myself that I will buy an external USB hard drive as soon as the budget allows.
10. Explore you computer repair options.
At this point we have tried most of the remedies for a computer that will not boot Windows. Your remaining choices at this stage are:
1. If you have not done so, give the repair software Reimage a try. Download Reimage and give it a try before you buy test.
2. If you have a Windows System Disk you can reload Windows. Do save your important files before you do this. If you don't have a system disk, you will have to purchase one. Note that this was also result in you having to reload most of your software, but it will temporarily defeat any virus on your system.
3.You could try an online computer repair service.
4.You can take your computer to a repair shop.
There are many different techniques presented in this article to help you get your computer up and running after a system crash. We suggest you follow these steps in the order they were made as they were presented from easiest to hardest. We have also supplied six hints to help you prepare for a Windows crash, and to help get you up and running quickly with a minimum of data loss. If you have any questions about the techniques presented in the article or have any comments, please fill out the comment form below.
Alex C asks:
How do you fix your computer if your computer has
a lot of downloads and it crashes?
InfoHQ Answer: If you know the directory you saved the downloaded programs in, then you would be able to simply install them again once you get your computer running. If you don't know the download directory (in Windows 7 it is usually Documents/Download) then you can try searching for the program by name by using the search box after clicking on on the Window's Start button. Commercial programs that you downloaded can be recovered from the company that sold them to you.
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