Windows XP Repair

Category: Windows

Sometimes, something goes wrong with your Windows XP installation. It could be due to a hardware glitch, a software error, malware, a lightning strike, or who knows what else. In the worst case, Windows XP won't boot at all; you get a black screen and a message like disk boot failure, Invalid partition table, or missing operating system. Or Windows may boot up, but you keep getting error reading disk or file not found errors. In other cases, everything seems okay, but you can't access the Internet. Here are some time-tested tools and techniques to repair your Windows XP system...

How to Repair Windows XP

If anything like this is happening to you, you'll need to re-install Windows XP, or repair your existing installation.

Re-installing Windows is usually a drastic measure of last resort, because it means starting from scratch and spending several hours rebuilding your system. You'll be reloading not just the Windows operating system, but you'll also have to re-apply all the security updates, re-install all your software, and reload all your personal files from a backup. But in some cases, it is necessary.

The upside is that a reinstall is the only way to be certain that you have a truly clean (error-free and virus-free) system to work with. See my article Reformat Hard Drive Under XP for instructions on how to wipe your hard drive with a reformat. Then insert your Windows Setup CD to begin the re-installation process.
windows xp repair

Fixing Common XP Problems Without Reinstalling Windows

But in many cases, a complete reformat and reinstall is not necessary. If your computer won't boot up, see my article on Hard Drive Recovery and you'll find some tools you can use to fix a damaged partition or master boot record that's preventing your computer from starting.

If you can boot up into the Windows desktop, and you're seeing error messages that weren't popping up a few days ago, try System Restore to return your computer to a working state.

If your computer is still running slowly, or if you have a problem accessing the Internet, I recommend that you do a thorough anti-virus and anti-spyware scan. In many cases, clearing out malware infections on your computer will take care of the problems you're experiencing. Check out my resources for finding Free Anti-Virus and Free Anti-Spyware tools.

Windows Repair Install

If you still have problems after trying all of those remedies, you should consider a "repair install". This process will delete Windows XP configuration files that are messed up, and replace them with fresh copies of these files from the installation source (CD or hard drive). No data or application files will be deleted so everything should still work when you're done.

You will need your Windows XP installation source files, which are on the Windows XP Setup CD. A repair install can be a little tricky, at least the preliminary steps. But fortunately there's an excellent tutorial on how to do a Windows repair install.

The whole repair process should take only a few minutes, unless your Setup CD has a version of Windows that's older than what's on your system. This can happen if you've applied a service pack such as SP2 or SP3 after the initial Windows installation. If Setup warns you about this, you MUST follow the instructions for creating a "slipstream disk" or you'll end up replacing important system files with outdated copies.

Reformat or Repair?

Should you repair or replace a corrupted Windows XP installation? Repair is faster and preserves data and applications on your hard drive. But if a repair is imperfect it can cause new problems. Also, some stubborn malware is very hard to remove with repair tools. Many people prefer to reformat the drive and do a clean installation from CD. That takes longer, and then there's the pain of re-installing all your application software and restoring the backup copies of your data files. You did make backup copies, didn't you?

If you don't have a recent backup copy of your data files, a repair is probably your first resort. Make a backup of all your data as soon as the repair allows you to use Windows XP again. Then, you might want to reformat and do a clean installation.

Do you have something to say about repairing a Windows XP system? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Windows XP Repair"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Mike Dickson
19 Jan 2010

I have been having problems with XP and Internet access.
I was using Firefox as my browser until it started telling me it did not have internet access
I switched back to IE and that is working
At the same time I could not update AVG or Zone Alarm. I have deleted these and now can't download them again. I also tried downloading Google Chrome, denied.
After reading your recent article I installed MSE, appears to work fine.
I do not want to do a complete XP reinstall.
Is there anything you can think of that I might have installed that simply blocks competitor
products? I have run CCleaner and MSE.

Thanks, MikeD

Posted by:

Denis Joseph Trainor
19 Jan 2010

Bob, Can I buy a cd with a program on it to clean my hard get rid of files that I've deleted. Thank you.


Posted by:

Mike Dickson
19 Jan 2010

Follow up to my question of a few minutes ago:

I have been using Majic Jack until 2 weeks ago when it also told me I had no Internet connection
I spent 3 hours on a chat line with them until I was cut off. This is my only phone access and the most pressing of the things I have been denied

Thanks, MikeD

Posted by:

Bill Knowles
20 Jan 2010

You mention chose XP in the article. This OS appears to be close to burial, according to Microsoft. Do you have anything as to how to do the same thing for Vista, or Win7.

Posted by:

20 Jan 2010

After I thought I successfully eliminated a trojan horse using a malware application I was instructed to restart my computer. Now when I attempt to log in to Windows XP the computer logs me in and immediatley logs me off again. This happens when I log in with any of my three users, none of which are password protected. The same thing happens if I start up in safe mode.

Posted by:

Des M
20 Jan 2010

A couple of weeks back I went right through the whole XP Repair process without a hitch - until I came to reboot the new installation. Total failure. Fortunately I have another couple of hard drives in my machine, one which contained a total back-up of the C drive (accessible via a recovery CD). But my system is still doing odd things and I'm reluctant to reformat and reinstal.

Posted by:

20 Jan 2010

I also find myself in the situation mentioned by Dave on my old XP machine. After my Anti-Virus software was able to remove the infamous Internet Security 2010 malware, I too was instructed to do a restart to complete the process. The Owner and Administrator accounts now login and then logout; booting into Safe Mode yields the same result. I'm beginning to believe another machine may be required to fix this problematic XP machine or that an alternate OS boot might allow for repairs so that the I could login to it? Perhaps an alternate OS should simply be selected for use from this point forward? Restoring XP seems to have limited value. I'm open to suggestions on how to proceed. Thanks!

Posted by:

Beryl Franklin
20 Jan 2010

An unbelievably quick and easy fix that has worked for me several times after a hard drive failure consists of simply opening the side of the desktop tower and unpluging the hard drive for a minute or so and then plug it back in. This actually worked for me after recently getting the "blue screen of death." Always remember to first remove your power cord from your tower and discharging any static electricy before placing your hands onto or near to any internal components of your computer.

Posted by:

21 Jan 2010

Recently my computer would not boot into Windows XP. I did however manage to boot into Safe Mode (pressing F8 during the bootup) and selected Last known successful configeration (I think thats what it was called)and my computer booted successfully after that.

I then ran sfc /scannow just to be on the safe side.

Posted by:

Nick Iacovelli
22 Jan 2010

my xp repair procedures
I start with free edition of the following programs
1. ccleaner clean the registry and hard drive
2. malwarebytes antivirus
3. superantivirus
4 spybot also go to advance and check for inconstancy
5 avira anti-virus free edition

if the problem is you cant boot try all of them in safe mode first then run run in main mode.

also sometimes file do get corrupt and you need to run chkdsk to fix your hard drives

Posted by:

28 Jan 2010

PLEASE don't point to that MBR page on MS.. It goes from PC DOS 5 to Windows ME... ONLY !!! It is badly out of date

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not sure what you mean. This article doesn't have any links to MS pages. Which MBR page do you mean?

Posted by:

Bob Bowen
28 Jan 2010

Good day Bob, Your newsletters have been excellent of late. Red Bull?
I bought an Iomega 500GB exterior HDD and used SyncToy to back-up my entire OS. My question is: SyncToy is "read only" is it not, so is a sync really a back-up, and how is it used? Can you please explain how sync back-ups work please to repair an XP OS? Many thanks Bob.

Posted by:

08 Feb 2010

Sir, I am getting some different message when I boot pc. It reads "Windows cannot find 'C:\Documents @ settings\Rajan|kdlvwy.exe' Make sure you typed the name correctly & try again " Here I donot find such file when search was applied.What does this suggest?How to fix it?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Sounds like a virus-related issue. If you recently removed malware, this might happen. If not, then run a good anti-virus and anti-spyware scanner. See

Posted by:

12 Feb 2010

I have found that taking an image of the affected drive, that won't boot, will allow you to get any data you want from it. And it does appear that any viruses contained in the image do not affect your system until you copy them from the image. You should run malware scans on any data you pull from the image and place on your rebuilt drive. I have done this many times and not had any troubles yet.

Posted by:

Bobby B.
23 Feb 2010

Please help me fix my windows installer. I have tried the Installer Repair Program by Microsoft and guess what it won't let me install because it uses the Windows Installer(Duh). I have tried replacing it and that did not work either. Any suggestions???? Thanks..

Posted by:

05 Apr 2010

i ccan't install microsoft security essentials!al that i get is error 0*80070643

Posted by:

19 Jun 2010

After massive trojan invasion (despite installed firewall & anti-virus suite) of Windows XP Media Center Edition, then removal of virus by malware program, was unable to connect to internet. Unfortunately I never created a recovery disc and have only a "reinstall" OS disc. Tech consultant was unable to correct problems, so first tried "repair" install & it reinstalled Windows but froze at application 16 or 76. So then did "clean" & it did the same thing. However, tech consultant then started Windows,applied all Windows updates (including SP3) but now components are missing, such as MSWorks which came installed originally, and computer doesn't "go to sleep" when idle. Probably others too that I haven't found yet. Any way to fix without starting all over again? (He set me up with Open Office(ok for docs, but missing some MSWorks format options)and installed a bunch of other things such as popup block, AVG, Firefox (with addons including NoScript), Open Office, Spybot.

Posted by:

11 Nov 2010

My Webroot will not accept updates because MS Silverlight is damaged. I belierve that it is also affecting my Adobe as updates are not being accepted their.

I cannot uninstall Silverlight or reinstall it.

Problem may have started when my home browser, Firefox, was removed by windows bing and I tried to follow some online directions to get rid of bing as it continued to replace itself. HELP

Posted by:

12 Nov 2010

I reinstalled windows xp (couldn't repair) on my laptop do to a major boot issue. None of my previous programs are listed in "all programs" but are listed when I "explore" the C drive, same story with "my documents". How do I get them linked to the new install.

Posted by:

03 Apr 2011

I brought our Windows XP computer to a dealer to fix a problem where the cursor had turned into an icon sized square and it was no longer possible to click on stuff reliably! Apparently this happened because the "free" AVG system had gone out of date.

That dealer was not reliable and after paying over $100, I found that though he had put on antivirus software, the cursor problem had not been fixed, but also the large secondary hard drive in the system was no longer recognized so I couldn't even back up the latest data! I have no way of even knowing whether that drive is still in there! There are lots of old photos I've scanned into that drive and would like to recover them. Suggestions?

(After that event, we bought another computer to surf the internet, but want some guidance on this problem.)

EDITOR'S NOTE: Shut down, unplug, open the system unit case and take a look. It's no more scary than popping the hood on your car. Perhaps one of the cables connected to the hard drive has come loose. Pop them off, then back on (both ends) and see what happens. If still no go, remove the hard drive from the computer, and try to connect it via USB with an external drive kit.

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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Windows XP Repair (Posted: 15 Jan 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved