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One of the often overlooked steps in preparing for disaster is creating a system repair disk. I'll review how to do that and what it does and does not do.

Windows 7 includes the ability to create what's called a "System Repair" disc. On the created disk are placed a set of tools that can be used to repair several different types of system failures or problems.

Creating a repair disc is actually very easy, if you have the right equipment.

Unfortunately there's also a lot of confusion as to what a system repair disk is, and is not.

For example, it's not something you can be assured will in fact repair your system.

How to create a Windows 7 System Repair disc

We start in the Windows 7 Control Panel, selecting the Back up your computer item:

Back up your computer in Control Panel

Off to the left side in the resulting Backup and Restore window is a link to Create a system repair disc:

Create a system repair disc in Control Panel

Click that, and we run into our first problem:

No CD/DVD burner present

Windows 7 can only create a System Repair disc if you actually have a CD or DVD burner on your machine. If you do not, Windows 7 cannot be coerced into creating a disc some other way.

With a CD or DVD burner, Windows will simply ask which drive you want to use to burn the disc (typically, there is only one - the drive that is your CD or DVD burner). Once you insert blank, writable media into the drive and click OK, Windows proceeds to burn the disc.

Burning the System Repair Disc

When done, you now have a System Repair disc for your computer.

A System Repair disc might not be all you think

Reboot your machine from the System Repair disc that you've just created.

After confirming your preferred language, the repair disc will search your hard disk for any Windows installations and then present you with this dialog:

System Repair Disc System Choice

In most cases, you'll have the option to choose the single Windows installation found on your machine or to restore the hard disk using a previously created system image.

Select the correct (or only) Windows installation and click Next.

System Repair Disk Options

This is the list of things that a System Repair disc can do.

  • Startup Repair - If your computer is having problems booting due to issues with the hard disk's boot sector, master boot record or other low-level items, this process can often fix them.

  • System Restore - If your computer is having problems running due to recent changes made or programs installed, System Restore may be able to restore parts of the system back to a working state.

  • System Image Recovery - You can use this option to replace the system currently on your hard disk with a complete system image backup taken previously using Windows own backup program. (Note that this only works with Windows own included backup program. If you use a different backup program, then you'll need to make sure to make a System Rescue disc for this purpose using that program.)

  • Windows Memory Diagnostic - If you suspect that your RAM may be causing problems, this diagnostic can determine if there are in fact issues.

  • Command Prompt - The Command Prompt is meant for advanced usage and allows access to several command line utilities that can be used to examine, diagnose, and possibly repair certain types of issues.

That's it.

A System Repair disc is not a System Installation disc

You cannot use a System Repair disc to reinstall Windows or install it from scratch on this or any other machine.

A System Repair disc can only work on an existing installation, or restore a backup image of an installation.

If you actually need to reinstall Windows, a System Repair disc will not help. You'll either need to restore to an image backup of the system when it was working or boot from an actual System Installation disc.

A System Installation disc IS a System Repair disc

If you actually have the original installation media for your system, then you may not need to create a System Repair disc.

When you boot from your System Installation disc, after choosing your language, you are given an option to Install Windows or you can click the link to Repair near the bottom of the screen:

Repair link on the Windows installation screen

Click that link and you'll be taken to the same set of tools that are available on the System Repair disc.

Thus, if you have your original installation media, you can probably skip making a repair disc. On the other hand, if you don't have the original CDs or DVD from which Windows was installed, making a System Repair disc before you need it can be very helpful later, should your system be in need of repair.

Article C6383 - April 6, 2013 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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