What to Do When Windows Gets Really Messed Up

How Do I Restore Windows If I've Lost My Restore CD?

Conflict34, Answer Line Forum

When Windows misbehaves and nothing else works, restoring the operating system via your restore CD or hidden hard drive partition may be the last resort. So what do you do if you can't find that CD? Or if some program that wrote to the boot sector scrubbed the special keyboard sequence for recovering everything, so that it no longer works?

Video: How to Reinstall Windows XP

The first thing to do is get in touch with your system's manufacturer and find out its policies. In most cases, some option will be available. I checked with six PC manufacturers, and five of them (Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Micro Electronics, and Micro Express) will sell you a recovery CD for between $15 and $40. Recovery media may not be available for older PCs, however. Also, several companies include software on their PCs for creating a new recovery disc.

The sixth PC manufacturer I consulted, Dell, has no stated replacement policy. But even here, my contact told me, the company tries to "encourage customers to call when this happens."

If consultation with the vendor doesn't work out, you might be able to create an installation CD from files on your PC. See "Create a Windows CD for PCs That Don't Have One" and "Slipstreaming Service Pack 2 on an Old Windows XP CD" for details. But be warned: These methods aren't guaranteed to work.

If your copy of Windows is currently in good working order, but you worry that you don't have a recovery tool and that someday you'll desperately need one, create your own with a good backup program. The resulting recovery disc is arguably better than a factory-issued backup tool, because it will restore a version of Windows that includes all of your personalized settings.

You'll need a backup program with good disaster-recovery capabilities. Image-based backup programs such as Symantec's Ghost and Acronis's True Image do nicely. I'm partial to Genie Backup Manager, which doesn't use images but still reliably restores Windows. You may already own a simple image backup app; such programs come with Vista's Business, Enterprise, and Ultimate editions; with Nero Burning; and with several external hard drives.

The trick is to make a single image or disaster recovery backup of your drive (I have yet to find a program that can create a reliable backup of everything except your data; when I find one, I'll let you know) and then put it aside. You should also, of course, create regular daily backups with the same program or another one, but you should keep your recovery backup separate from these, in a place where it won't be overwritten.

When Windows becomes too broken to fix, restore it from your recovery backup, and then restore your more recent data from a recent data backup.

See the PC World forums for the original discussion on this topic.

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