Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Legacy Windows Recovery Hints

Hints and resources for recovering legacy Windows installations.

The following legacy recovery information was created when these Windows systems were active but is not currently maintained.

You should view the introductory information on the Windows Recovery Hints page as it is relevant but not repeated here. Generally, you'll find that the skills and difficulties recovering a Windows system increase as you go back to earlier generations.

Recovering Windows XP

Many of Microsoft's Windows XP resources are disappearing (often replaced with information on how to upgrade to Windows 7).

Windows XP is the first Windows system that specifically does not have an Emergency Repair Disk of some sort. Instead, the Windows XP installation CD provides a Recovery Console option.

Instead, you might want to try Microsoft's recovery options first:

Recovery Console

Should you suffer a catastrophic crash then you will need to use the WinXP installation CD and a Recovery Console to recover. This can be somewhat daunting for non-technical folks since it is a text-only (command line) interface.

Automated System Recovery

Windows XP has an Automated System Recovery but it must be prepared before a crash to make it useful. It is intended only as a last-resort recovery method, when you have tried unsuccessfully to use the Safe Mode and Last Known Good Configuration recovery options.

Microsoft resources:

Other resources:

You might also want to check out more WinXP backup and recovery resources.

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Recovering Windows 2000

If you can get Windows 2000 to load, you have more troubleshooting options.

Interactive Troubleshooters

Windows 2000 introduced the interactive troubleshooters that we find in more recent versions of Windows:

  1. Click on Start then Help and look for Troubleshooting and Maintenance.
  2. Now click on Use the Interactive Troubleshooter.
  3. Choose the appropriate troubleshooter for the problem you're experiencing.
  4. Follow the steps of the resulting wizard, selecting the options that best describes the problem you're experiencing in each step.

Recovery Console

The Windows 2000 Recover Console is a command line utility. If you're unfamiliar or uncomfortable with DOS commands, then these are not options you should attempt. Take advantage of Microsoft's Fix-it option if it is provided in a box overlaying these pages:

Windows 2000 — Emergency Repair Disk (ERD)

Recovery is greatly enhanced if you have an emergency boot diskette for your system. Create and keep a current copy of the emergency boot disk handy, updating it each time you make changes to your system.

Creating the Emergency Repair Disk:

  1. Click Start » Programs » Accessories » System Tools » Backup.
  2. Click on the Emergency Repair Disk button to start the wizard.
  3. Insert a blank, formatted floppy disk into drive A: and click OK to start the copy process.
  4. Remove and label the diskette "Emergency Repair Disk" and include the date it was created for future reference. You should also indicate the operating system for which it was created.

This disk should be created each time you alter hardware or make significant changes to the operating system.

Microsoft can make significant changes to your system when updating such software as Internet Explorer and installing Service Packs. Some other anti-virus and utility software companies create specialized recovery and repair disks. I recommend that you create both the standard system recovery boot disk and those created by the other software.

See also, Alternative Boot Diskette.

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Recovering Windows 9x (95, 98 & Me)

This series of Windows is often referred to as Windows 9x because they are very similar in how they work. Windows Me was the result of the failure to converge the business and consumer versions of the operating systems anticipated with Windows 2000 (this occurred with Windows XP).

These operating systems still operate on top of DOS to some degree so you can boot to a DOS command prompt using the Startup Disk specific to the OS. The newer the OS, the better the recovery options are on the Startup Disk.

Critical System Files

At the very minimum, keep a backup copy of these system files:

  • registry
  • win.ini
  • system.ini
  • config.sys
  • config.dos
  • autoexec.bat
  • autoexec.dos

Troubleshooting Windows 9x

If Windows 9x fails to start properly, try booting into Safe Mode and selecting "Last Known Good Configuration" to attempt to recover your Windows installation. If critical system files are not damaged, you will be able to correct many problems. The Emergency Boot Diskette contains system files which can recover damaged system files, correct damaged Registry information and rebuild your startup files.

Emergency Boot Diskette

Recovery is greatly enhanced if you have an emergency boot diskette for your system. Create and keep a current copy of the Windows 9x Start Disk handy.

Windows 9x — Emergency Boot Diskette

Creating the Emergency Boot (Startup) Diskette:

  1. Open the Control Panel (Start » Settings » Control Panel).
  2. Double click on the Add and Remove Programs icon.
  3. Click on the Startup Disk (third) tab.
  4. Insert a blank, formatted floppy disk into drive A: and click on the Create Disk button to start the copy process.
  5. Remove and label the diskette "Windows Startup Disk" and include the date it was created for future reference. You should also indicate the operating system for which it was created.

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Recovering Windows NT

Windows NT recovery depends upon much more intimate knowledge of command line instructions (DOS) than later versions of Windows. Created for corporate use, it was assumed that expert help would be available.

Last Known Good Configuration

Windows NT "Last Known Good Configuration" boot selection might enable you to recover if critical system files are not damaged. The Emergency Repair Disk contains system files which can recover damaged system files, correct damaged Registry information and rebuild your startup files.

Recovery is greatly enhanced if you have an Emergency Repair Disk for your system. Create and keep a current copy of the Emergency Repair Disk handy.

Windows NT — Emergency Repair Disk (ERD)

Creating the Emergency Repair Disk:

  1. Insert a blank, formatted floppy disk into the floppy drive. This disk must be formatted under Windows NT (not any other operating system).
  2. Select Run from the Start menu and type "cmd" (without the quotation marks).
  3. Run Rdisk.exe from the command line (with the /S switch so that it includes the default user profile and passwords).
  4. Run either Create Repair Disk or Update Repair Info depending on whether you need to create a disk or are updating a previously created disk (from the same installation).
  5. The WinNT system will copy the necessary files to the diskette.
  6. Remove and label the diskette "Emergency Repair Disk" and include the date it was created for future reference. You should also indicate the operating system for which it was created.

This disk should be created (updated) each time you alter hardware or make significant changes to the operating system.

If the files on the Windows NT Emergency Repair Disk don't match your system (such as an old disk with outdated or invalid information and files) you may be unable to recover your system without reinstalling. Run the file Rdisk.exe from the command line (with the /S switch so that it includes the default user profile and passwords) to update the Emergency Repair Disk whenever you change software or hardware.

See also, Alternative Boot Diskette.

Recovery When Using Multiple Operating Systems

If you are running more than one operating system on your computer, changes to some "hidden" files on the NT boot drive by the other operating systems could disable your ability to start NT. See the Multi-Operating Systems page for more information.

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Troubleshooting Windows 3.x & DOS

Critical System Files

Keep a backup copy of these system files on a disk:

Windows 3.x

  • win.ini
  • system.ini
  • config.sys
  • autoexec.bat

DOS

  • config.sys
  • autoexec.bat

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Boot Diskette

Alternative Boot Diskette

You can create an alternative boot diskette for Windows NT/2000/XP using the instructions and XXCOPY freeware (read the license requirements).

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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www.russharvey.bc.ca/resources/legacyrecovery.html
Updated: September 26, 2015