This is how you restore Windows 10 if your PC no longer starts up

It can happen that your PC no longer starts from one day to the next. You may then have to restore Windows 10, but how do you do that? In this article we explain that.

If your PC with Windows 10 no longer starts, it can be for various reasons. There could be a defect in the equipment itself, such as a hard drive that has given up the ghost or a video card that no longer transmits a signal to the monitor. In such cases, the Windows recovery environment is of little use. This is more useful when things go wrong in another way: Windows no longer starts up due to, for example, a malware infection or corrupt files, or the system has become unstable. In that case, we can restore Windows in several ways.

Tip 01: Fully automatic

When you install Windows on your PC, a number of files are automatically placed on your drive that are necessary to start Windows in a special recovery mode. This is also called WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment) and is based on a very stripped-down Windows variant, called WinPE, which stands for Windows Preinstallation Environment (see also box 'Thanks to WinPE'). For example, if important startup data from the Windows boot menu gets corrupted, this recovery environment is normally automatically called up when your system starts up and a wizard will try to recover things from here. Whether or not he will succeed in doing so depends on the nature or seriousness of the damage.

Tip 02: From Windows

It may happen that Windows still restarts, but that something is wrong: certain (system) components, for example, do not function as they should. In that case, you can still call up the recovery environment from Windows itself to carry out repairs that way. To do this, open the Windows start menu and choose Settings / Update & Security / System Restore. In the right panel, press the button Restart now, in the section Advanced Boot Options. Your system reboots and you select Troubleshooting / Advanced Options. Several options now appear, such as System recovery, Startup Repair and Command Prompt. We will come back to this in detail later in this article.

By the way, there is another way to get into this recovery environment from Windows: click the Power button in the Windows start menu and then choose AgainStartup while you the shiftbutton.

Thanks to WinPE

WinPE, a heavily stripped-down version of Windows, not only forms the basis of the Windows recovery environment (WinRE), but is also eagerly used by manufacturers of all kinds of Windows tools. In particular, programs that also need to be able to assist you outside of a (working) Windows installation can benefit from WinPE. These include partition managers, antivirus tools and backup & recovery programs. Let's take the latter as an example, using the free Macrium Reflect Free. It allows you to make backups and clone your hard drive.

Install the tool. Start the program and select Other Tasks / Create Rescue Media. Confirm with Next (3x) and then choose the desired boot media: CD/DVD Burner or USB Device. A little later you will have a bootable medium with Macrium Reflect, based on WinPE.

Macrium Reflect has quite a few options in the free version. You can also make differential backups and you can shrink, resize and rearrange partitions.

Tip 03: Installation DVD

It is of course possible that Windows no longer starts up and that it is no longer possible to (automatically) start from the installed recovery environment. In that case, you still have several options. One is booting from the Windows installation DVD. Boot your grumpy system from this DVD. Select the desired language, country and keyboard and press Next one. Don't choose this time Install now but click on the bottom left Reset your computer. Then click on IssuesTroubleshoot / Advanced Options: The recovery environment is now ready for you.

Tip 04: Live USB stick

If you don't have such an installation DVD - or if you don't have a DVD drive - don't despair just yet. You can also create a live recovery medium on a USB stick from (another, still well-functioning) Windows 10. Press the magnifying glass in the Windows status bar and search for recovery drive. Choose Create a recovery drive. If you think you might ever reinstall Windows from this medium, check Back up the system files to the recovery drive. Otherwise, leave this check mark off. With a check mark you must have a USB stick of at least 8 GB ready (and the process also takes longer); in the other case, a 2 GB stick is more than sufficient. Confirm with Next one. Select your USB stick, press . again Next one and on To make. Finish with Complete. Keep in mind that any data on the stick will be overwritten.

Then you start your unruly system with this stick. click on Show more keyboard layouts until you can select the desired keyboard. Then follow the path to the recovery environment via Resolving problems.

If you are unable to boot your system with this stick (or if you prefer a DVD), you can in principle still create a recovery DVD as follows. Open the Windows start menu and choose Settings / Update & Security / Backup / Go to Backup and Restore (Windows 7) / Create a System Recovery Disc. Select your DVD drive and start the process with Create disc. In principle, that is, because in practice this does not always work well: the message is therefore to test it out.

In times of emergency, a 'recovery drive' can come in handy!

Windows download

There is another option to get a bootable media from which you can then access the Windows recovery environment. Surf here (for Windows 10) and click Download utility now. Run the downloaded .exe file and choose Create installation media for another PC. Set language, Windows version and architecture (64-bit or 32-bit) and press Next one. Choose USB flash drive (provide a stick of at least 4 GB) or ISO file. You can then access this file via Open DVD Burner / Burn Convert to a bootable DVD. At the end of the ride you will then have a Windows installation medium and you can follow the explanation of tip 03 to get to the recovery environment.

Tip 05: System Restore

In the first part of this article we saw how to start the tandem WinPE-WinRE in several ways. We are now looking at which recovery options present themselves from this environment.

Via the option System recovery Is it possible to restore (a non-bootable) Windows, at least if you have a restore point. When it comes to a corrupt registry, for example after a failed installation of hardware or software, you have a good chance of recovery. If this system restore function was enabled, then there is a good chance that you have a recent restore point. This is created, for example, when you install new software or hardware. You check that as follows. Right click on the Windows start button and choose System. Choose Advanced System Settings and open the tab System Security. join Security Settings check whether the desired disk (partition) Enabled stands. If not, select that disk (partition), click Configure, click System Securityswitch on and confirm with To apply. It is also always possible to create such a restore point yourself: in this case you press the button To make and follow the instructions.

Tip 06: Install Image

Happens creating restore points for the option System recovery (see tip 5) still largely automatic, then you have to go for the option Restore with image have consciously made a system copy beforehand. You can then use it to restore your Windows and system partition with that previously created copy. We'll show you how to do that in Windows 10 (but it's actually better to create such an image with an external tool like Macrium Reflect: see also text box). Open the Windows start menu and choose Settings / Update and security/backup. click on goto Backup and Restore (Windows 7) and then Create a system image. Select a suitable backup medium, press Next one and on Start backup.

If you ever want to return to this copy, you can do so via the option Restore with image. Make sure the backup medium is connected. If all goes well, the wizard will find it automatically and you can select the desired and perhaps most recent copy.

Tip 07: Startup Repair

Another option from the Windows recovery environment is Startup Repair. That is actually the wizard that Windows normally runs automatically when it appears that the system can no longer boot normally. If that wizard was not executed automatically and you still cannot start from Windows, you can still start this wizard manually this way. You can then do little more than wait and see what the wizard's efforts have yielded.

The (automatic) startup repair: great tool, but you can only wait.

Tip 08: boat rec

Can't run Windows with the Startup Repairwizard working again, you can still try to fix the boot problems yourself. Windows provides some powerful command-line commands. Click here for this Command Prompt in the Windows recovery environment and select the administrator account if prompted. At the command prompt, run the desired command, which you confirm each time with the Enter key. With the command exit you can exit the command prompt.

In Windows 7 you can already use the bootrec command. To know the possible parameters run the command bootrec /? from:

bootrec /fixmbr: restores the master boot record (the first physical sector of your drive);

bootrec /fixboot: restores the boot record of your Windows partition;

bootrec /scanos: searches for possible Windows installations on your drive;

bootrec /rebuildbcd: Try to add any Windows installation that can no longer be found due to some corruption to the boot configuration.

However, this bootrec command does not always seem to function (properly) in Windows 8 and 10.

Tip 09: bcdboot

Fortunately, there is an alternative command that normally even allows you to reconstruct the entire boot manager in one move, also in Windows 8 and 10. This command ensures that all necessary boot files are copied to the system partition. However, the condition is that you know the correct drive letter of your - corrupt - Windows partition. Mind you, that is usually not (!) the c-partition, even though that is the drive letter during a normal boot. You can use a trick to get to the correct drive letter from the recovery environment. Run the notepad command at the command prompt: Notepad will start up. Open the File menu and choose Save as). click on This PC and open one of the available (local) drives. If you recognize typical Windows folders like Users, Program Files, and Windows, you've got the right drive. Close your Notepad and run the following command, replacing x with the correct drive letter: bcdboot x:\windows /l en-nl. The parameter /l (stands for local) here refers to Dutch-Netherlands, but can be changed to nl-be, which stands for Dutch-Belgium, if desired. If everything went well, the message 'Boot files successfully created' will now appear and Windows will restart.

Tip 10: Command Prompt: sfc

Of course it can also happen that Windows does not want to restart because some system file has become corrupt, so outside the actual boot record. It can do no harm to have that checked from the recovery environment. The following command does that: sfc /scannow /offbootdir=x:\ /offwindir=y:\windows. Note that you have to replace both x: and y: with the correct respective drive letters here. The letter x: replace with the drive letter of the boot partition. Usually it's c:, but you can check that by using Notepad's trick (see previous tip): usually this partition is labeled "System Reserved". Replace the letter y with the partition on which you installed Windows (see previous tip). The whole scanning process may take a while, but hopefully Windows will do it again after that.

Tip 11: Previous version

You may also have the option in your recovery environment Going back to the previous version noted. This literally returns you to the Windows version that was installed on your PC before the update to your current Windows version. This option is normally only available for 10 days after you update to Windows 10. However, keep in mind that this rollback will cause you to lose applications that you installed after the upgrade, as well as changes to your personal settings. Even if you log in to Windows with a local account (instead of a Microsoft account), you will have to log in to Windows again with your old password after the rollback.

You can also find this option via Settings / Update & Security / System Restore / Go Backto an earlier version.


In the last tip (11) we had actually given up a bit of courage to restore our current Windows installation. Since Windows 8.1, a feature has been added that fits perfectly into that flight scenario. Open Institutions and choose To update and security / System Restore. You will find the option here Reset this PC at. It attempts to return your system to factory settings, where you can choose between Keep my files (only apps and settings will be deleted) and Delete everything.

In the anniversary edition of Windows 10, another new tool was introduced. Choose again Settings / Update and security / System Restore, scroll down and click Start over with a clean install of Windows. This will take you to a website where you can download a refresh tool. That, in turn, will download a Windows image (approximately 3 GB) and restore your Windows. Here too you can choose between Only keep personal files (settings and apps will be deleted) and Nothing (preserve). Unlike the function Reset this PC this is a 'clean' installation and any crapware and related files from the system supplier will not be reactivated.

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