Before wiping out years of tweaked settings, configuration changes and getting Windows ‘just the way I like it’, make absolutely sure that you have no other options available.
For example, I recently came across a Vista PC that produced a variety of BSOD (blue screen of death) crashes at startup but, unhelpfully, never the same one twice… Tests of the hardware showed no problems and the computer booted fine using a Linux CD, enabling me to access and backup all the documents if required.
File System Corrupted? Looked like it – the usual course of action would be to pop in a Vista recovery CD to access the System Recovery Options (startup repair, system restore and command prompt to allow chkdsk, rebuild of boot files, system repair and the like).
However, on this PC the recovery CD would not complete loading up – the PC restarted before I could access the ‘repair’ section of the installation.
Vista Recovery CD Failed to Load? The disc was fine and trying a new DVD drive brought no joy so it appeared that the file system corruption was the culprit. It also prevented a full Vista installation DVD from loading up fully.
The problem is that if even a Vista installation disk fails to load fully it would seem impossible to repair Vista or reinstall a new version of Vista! Of course there are other tools you could use to format the drive and delete the corrupted file system if you want to reinstall Vista but what about repair? Before giving up and going down the ‘nuke and pave’ route there is another option…
Try using a Windows 7 recovery CD to repair Vista – As Windows 7 was effectively designed ‘on top of’ Vista it did not reinvent the wheel – it uses the same file system and behind the scenes it is basically Vista, with bells on.
However, Microsoft had ample opportunity to fix the broken bits and enhance the functionality of their new baby and my research of Microsoft’s Knowledge Base suggests that the W7 recovery CD has a much better chance of accessing (and fixing) a corrupted file system than the Vista recovery CD.
Did the Windows 7 Recovery CD Fix Vista? Yes. The W7 recovery CD loaded up fine and I was finally able to access the System Recovery Options. From there I entered a Command Prompt and ran a full chkdsk /r repair on the corrupted file system. After chkdsk completed (repairing a number of index entries and orphaned files) I exited and tried the Vista recovery CD again.
Now that the file system was at least partially repaired, the Vista recovery CD loaded with no problems and I could proceed to troubleshoot and fix Vista – with both startup repair and system restore available if needed
You can easily create a W7 recovery CD from within W7 (use a W7 PC or ask a friend to burn one for you) by following Microsoft’s instructions here.