HOWTO: Make a System Repair Disk, NOW!

Category: Software

When something goes horribly wrong with your hard drive, a system repair, recovery or rescue disk can get you back up and running. But there are several types, and vendors don't always provide these when you buy a new PC. If you don't have one handy for your Windows operating system, now is the time to make one. Read on to learn how...

An Ounce of Prevention...

If your Windows computer won't start normally from the hard drive, a system repair or recovery disk can usually fix the problem. Note that these disks cannot be used to install or re-install Windows. It's just a stripped down bootable Windows interface that can be used for recovery tasks such as Startup Repair, System Restore, and some other tools.

Startup Repair is an automated diagnostic and repair program that attempts to analyze and fix corrupted startup components on the specified drive. Choose it if your hard drive won't boot or Windows will not load.

System Restore returns your Windows installation to a state saved at an earlier date, called a System Restore Point. System Restore Points are automatically created at various times, and you can always create one manually. The idea is to roll back your system in time to a point where it was working normally. (See Fix Windows Problems With System Restore.)
Windows Recovery Disks

Vista users (I know there are still plenty of you out there) must have Vista Service Pack 1 or higher installed. To create a System Repair Disc for Vista, click Start, then All Programs, then Maintenance, and finally Create A Recovery Disc. Just follow the utility’s instructions to create a bootable CD that includes repair tools.

It’s even easier in Windows 7. Click Start and type “system repair disc” in the search box. The first search result will be “Create a System Repair Disc.” Click to run it.

Windows 8.1 contains a utility to create a USB system recovery drive. To create a USB recovery drive, swipe in from the right edge of the screen, and then tap Search. (If you're using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, and then click Search.)

Enter “recovery drive” in the search box, and then tap or click Create a recovery drive. After the recovery drive tool opens, make sure the “Copy the recovery partition from the PC to the recovery drive” check box is selected, and then tap or click Next. Insert a USB flash drive into your PC that is at least as large as the size indicated on the screen. Tap or click the USB drive you would like to use for your recovery drive, then tap or click Next. Tap or click Create.

The recovery image and necessary recovery tools will be copied to your USB flash drive, which will take a while, depending on your PC and the size of the recovery image. If you want to remove the recovery partition from your PC and free up disk space, tap or click Delete the recovery partition. Then tap or click Delete. This will free up the disk space used to store your recovery image. When the removal is done, tap or click Finish, and remove the USB flash drive.

Is it Disc or Disk? Actually, it's either, or both. Brits prefer "disc", while "disk" is more common in the USA. Apple muddies the waters by calling removable optical media "discs" (CDs or DVDs) and magnetic ones "disks." I've intentionally mixed it up here to tweak all the purists.

A Pound of Cure

A repair/recovery disc finds and fixes problems with file systems, disk sectors, and so on. But sometimes the problem isn't a messed up master boot record, a scrambled partition table, or an unworkable system configuration. If you suspect a virus may be lurking on your hard drive, there's another kind of rescue disk that will help in situations where the computer won't start normally. This type detects malware that may be causing your computer to not boot.

I recommend that you create a Windows Defender Offline disc, a bootable disc with the Windows Defender virus-detection software installed on it. Creating such a disc is part of the installation of Windows Defender discussed in my article on Windows Defender Offline.

Third-party antivirus software often includes a feature to create a bootable removable disc that can be used to start up and clean your machine when its normal boot drive is infected with something. AVG Rescue Disc image and Kaspersky Labs Rescue Disc are ready-to-burn image files that you can download free of charge, burn to CD, and keep in a safe place until needed.

Once you have created either type of disc, you can insert it in your computer's CD drive and restart the computer. If your computer's BIOS is configured to boot from the CD drive should the hard drive not be available, then it will do so. If not, you may have to manually tell the BIOS to boot from CD. That's an option on the BIOS Setup menu, which you can reach by holding down the Ctrl key while booting your PC. There, you should be able to set the CD as the primary boot device, or at least ensure it is in the set of devices that the BIOS checks during bootup.

Keep your recovery disc and your anti-malware disc in a safe place. You never know when you or a friend may need it. Your thoughts on this topic are welcome! Post your comment or question below...

 
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Most recent comments on "HOWTO: Make a System Repair Disk, NOW!"

(See all 22 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Robert Hagen
11 Mar 2014

You can make a recovery disk in Windows 8, or 8.1, the same way as in Windows 7. It doesn't have to be a USB drive.

EDITOR'S NOTE: As fas as I can tell, the option to burn a recovery disc on CD is gone in Windows 8.1. I think it was available in Windows 8, but no longer.


Posted by:

Skip Henry
11 Mar 2014

I am on your page "How tomake a S "System Repair Disk," but for the life of me I cant find how to make one. I have Windows XP Pro with SP3, and Windows 7, and Windows 8.1. Help, I can't figure out how to make one for the Windows XP from all your information. HELP.

EDITOR'S NOTE: See: http://askbobrankin.com/recovery_console.html, and perhaps more importantly: http://askbobrankin.com/windows_xp_the_end_is_near.html


Posted by:

HLSinker
11 Mar 2014

I have Vista Home Premium and have gone to maintenance and cannot find any way of creating a recovery disk. What is wrong? Anyone know?


Posted by:

Martin
11 Mar 2014

Maybe this will be the geeky comment of the day, but there's another alternative: A Linux LiveCD. In an emergency, it may help you start the computer, extract the relevant files, work with the Free & Open Source alternatives for common tasks (web browsing with IceWeasel, office stuff with OpenOffice or LibreOffice, etcetera), and repair the hard drive. I keep a copy of Knoppix (http://knoppix.net/) at hand for that kind of things, and it has saved my skin many times.


Posted by:

Mark
11 Mar 2014

Interestingly, my programs>maintenance has no option to make such a disk. Anyone have any ideas as to why?

EDITOR'S NOTE: According to my sources (I don't have a Vista machine to test) it should be available with Vista SP1 and higher. Perhaps you need to be logged into an admin account? Also, try going to Start -> Run, then type recdisk and press Enter.


Posted by:

Jerome
11 Mar 2014

This is actually a reply to Skip Henry... as far as I know the Windows XP operating system does not have a option to create System Repair discs like Windows Vista, 7, 8 and 8.1


Posted by:

Daniel
11 Mar 2014

Your last sentence in the box about the difference between disc and disk gave me a much needed chuckle!


Posted by:

Bob Pegram
11 Mar 2014

There is also UBCD (http://www.ubcd4win.com/) and Hiren's Boot CD which both have many tools on them including anti-spyware. Hiren's works on 32-bit and 64-bit. As far as I can tell, UBCD works only on 32-bit.
Windows 7 and 8 recovery disks are here: http://neosmart.net/blog/2009/windows-7-system-repair-discs/. A recovery disk for Vista is here: https://neosmart.net/blog/2008/windows-vista-recovery-disc-download/.
Various downloadable bootable anti-malware disks are here: http://www.techmixer.com/free-bootable-antivirus-rescue-cds-download-list/


Posted by:

Nigel Appleby
11 Mar 2014

Very informative and useful as always, thanks Bob. One question though, can one make a system repair disc on one computer and use it on anther if the operating system is the same? In my case Windows 7 Professional 64bit fully updated. Same question with the AVG rescue disc. Or are the repair/rescue discs specific to the computer on which they are created?
Thanks.


Posted by:

Robert or Bob
11 Mar 2014

Bob:
I made a Win 7 repair CD. The 5th option therein is "Command Prompt" Where Oh where do I find commands to place therein. and proceed to repair?
And while I still have you cornered in the laundry room, for weeks I've tried everything to "Install 19 Windows 7 Updates". I am really ticked. Is that because I'm a 79 year old Canadian?

EDITOR'S NOTE: I'd recommend you try the Startup Repair option first. If you opt for the command line, enter HELP to get a list of commands. Here are some of them:

CHKDSK /R - Scans your hard drive and attempts to repair any problems found.
DISKPART - Displays a table of all hard drive partitions. You can also add or delete partitions, but this is the stuff of wizardry.
FIXMBR - Replaces the Master Boot Record on the hard drive, if you are having trouble booting. (See Repairing a Damaged MBR).
FIXBOOT - Creates a new startup sector on the hard drive, if you are having trouble booting.


Posted by:

Kirk
11 Mar 2014

My system is already shot and the PC won't boot so its too late to make a repair/recovery disk. Where can I get one that will work on an old Win XP computer without paying an arm and a leg? Thanks!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This should help: http://askbobrankin.com/windows_xp_repair.html


Posted by:

P Schoonmaker
11 Mar 2014

I have an older HP laptop running Vista Service Pack 2. When I go to Maintenance there is no option to choose "Create a Recovery Disk." Where is it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: According to my sources (I don't have a Vista machine to test) it should be available with Vista SP1 and higher. Perhaps you need to be logged into an admin account? Also, try going to Start -> Run, then type recdisk and press Enter.


Posted by:

Ben
12 Mar 2014

@ Sheri:

"What would be more useful would be a disc that actually repairs Windows by overwriting any corrupted system files with new ones. Is there such a disc?"

Yes. It's called the installation disc. This link includes instructions on how to do a repair install including info on how/where to obtain a legal installation disc for Windows 7. NOTE: You'll need your product key to reactivate after the repair is finished.

http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/3413-repair-install.html?ltr=R


Posted by:

HA
12 Mar 2014

There's no point in creating and saving a Windows Defender Offline disc/k. The virus definitions are updated often, so you need a new one each time. Make it on an unaffected computer when you need it.


Posted by:

BaliRob
12 Mar 2014

@ Sheri Thank you for saying that in your experience none of the repair disks have ever worked. My Google research has shown this to be the case with contributors saying the same thing. I possess a library numbering over 20 rescue disks downloaded from the best known names in the business.

I experienced system crashes on my XP viz; 1) opening up my desktop during a Windows update, 2) downloading AVG's 2013 update (thousands of users crashed with this also) and 3) removing a Cnet interloper which piggy-backed itself on a requested program.

In each case I could not boot up or get into 'safe' mode. A re-install was the only way I could use the system again. Examination of the hard disk on each occasion was only by using Hiren's who let me look at folders and, in some cases, transfer details but its other tools would not allow me to boot up.

Thank you Bob for the article - I will use the links you provided - perhaps a rescue disk will only work when copied by a particular system before it crashes?


Posted by:

John Wallace
13 Mar 2014

The advice for VISTA does not work. After you reach "maintenance", there is no further step available for creating the disk (disc).


Posted by:

jkcook
14 Mar 2014

OK, that was spooky. Within a day of getting this email and thinking, oh, yeah, I should do that, I came home to a blue screen of death and a computer that would not reboot. I had just removed some IOBit software because I didn't like the Yahoo! search it had installed against my wishes and run Avast and Malwarebytes. I don't know if the IOBit removal was the cause of the crash. I will certainly never use their software again. Finally after several restarts and using system restore it is restarted and I've created the System Repair Disc and I'm downloading your other suggested emergency methods.


Posted by:

TheRube
15 Mar 2014

Mr. Rankin. Thank You.

I just successfully burned a System Repair Disc . . . did not know that I could do it so easily via Windows 7 (My second favorite version of Windows after XP!)

. . . speaking of XP, I am now installing Linux Lite on a few of my neighbors' computers (as an XP replacement). Of course one has to make sure that the PAE is enabled on the CPU before installion!

Good Day,

TR


Posted by:

TheRube
15 Mar 2014

@jkcook . . .

Trust NOTHING coming out of IOBit's Orbit!

TR


Posted by:

Juliane
02 Apr 2014

Does a system repair disk need to be updated?
Also, how do you make one for a computer remaining on XP?


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