Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Unfortunately you can't just "make a boot disk", but there are approaches that will allow you to boot from CD to access the contents of your hard disk.

Is there a way to create a Windows XP startup disk that would allow me to make changes or run a restore point, if my computer won't boot from the HD? I have one I found for Linux or Ubuntu (I think, I don't know what all the names mean) called Knoppix, but I found it rather hard to use since I am not really familiar with it. I have also looked at BartPE site, but there is so much I don't understand. I just want something basic that will allow me access to my files.

In the old MS-DOS days it was easy to make a boot floppy. Even early versions of Windows could be dealt with that way.

Today? Not so much.

You've actually touched on the most common and useful solutions. Let's look at those and one other as well.

BartPE

Because of product licensing issues you won't find a legal copy of Windows that you can just download and burn to a boot CD. It'd be nice, but it'd be illegal as it would make pirating Windows essentially trivial.

BartPE, for Bart's Preinstalled Environment, is the defacto standard for solving this problem using Windows.

But BartPE is also not something you download. Rather, it's something you build. To work around the licensing issue, you download the PE Builder and then using that tool and your own Windows installation CD, you build a new, bootable CD image which you can then burn to CD.

That bootable CD is then a fully functional version of Windows which should allow you access to the other drives on your system.

The build process may seem a little complicated, but in reality it's not that bad. The real value in BartPE is in fact that Builder which handles most of the steps for you.

Knoppix

Knoppix is a version of the Linux operating system specifically designed to be run from a bootable CD.

The good news: using Knoppix you can once again access all the files on your machines hard disk even if you can't boot Windows. In many if not most cases you'll also get complete network access as well, so you can use Knoppix to copy files to other machines on your local network or even the internet.

The bad news: it's Linux. Not that Linux is bad, far from it, but it's different. In many ways the UI can be very similar to Windows, so many things will be quite familiar. The problem is that you'll run into differences where it won't be all that obvious how to do what you want.

The bottom line is that there's a learning curve. But it's a worthwhile one. Personally I find it quite easy to download, burn and boot a Knoppix CD, and for the longest time that was my recovery method of choice.

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a different distribution of Linux. It's actually targeted at being the desktop operating system you would install on a machine. However the default distribution CD actually boots as a stand-alone operating system much like Knoppix.

Since I usually have an Ubuntu CD lying around, this is what I use these days.

And once again, you should be able to access and copy files that are on the hard disks on your machine after you've booted from the Ubuntu CD.

Bootdisk.com

Bootdisk.com has exactly what it's name implies: boot disks. Lots and lots of boot disks.

You mention that all you want is access to your files, and there's almost certainly a boot disk here of some sort that will allow you to do so.

The trick is figuring out which one. It assumes a fair amount of technical competence to figure out which boot disks will apply in your situation. As a result, I include it here for completeness, but actually recommend one of the prior solutions for most folks.

The bad news, to address one more aspect of your question, is that none of these solutions will allow you to run or revert to a restore point. Your best bet there is to boot from your hard disk into Safe Mode, which should allow you to do so. If that doesn't work, then I'm not aware of a way to recover the restore points themselves. The approaches above will allow you to recover files from your machine, however.

It's unfortunate that it's not easier, but ultimately it is what it is. The good news is that with a little effort and/or education getting and using a bootable CD to recover data from a hard disk isn't terribly difficult.

Article C3256 - January 3, 2008 « »

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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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13 Comments
Bill P. Godfrey
January 4, 2008 5:03 AM

Is there a boot CD with anti-virus software on? (Perhaps download signatures, scan, etc.)

I'm a tad sceptical of regular AV software as I've seen too many virus descriptions which mess about with AV files.

Thanks.

Frank D
January 4, 2008 6:49 PM

Leo,

I've faced this problem of how to run system restore when Windows won't boot (and won't boot into Safe Mode either). The thing that has saved me from hard-disk death at least three times now is Charlie White's excellent 2002 article, "Windows XP Crashed? Here's Help." which can be found at http://webcast.broadcastnewsroom.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=8658.
It requires nothing but the use of a Windows boot floppy or CD to get you to the C:\ command prompt, and then the use of your fingers on the computer's keyboard to type in a series of DOS commands. Within an hour or so, providing your disk wasn't _physically_ trashed, you'll be booting into Windows normally.

Frank D

Bill Nelson
January 4, 2008 11:57 PM

I tried the link in Frank D's comment and the link doesn't work. I planned to print it out for future reference, just in case the link wouldn't work in the future. Apparently, it's already too late.
I'm storing your article for future reference. I was in this condition recently and it was neither fun, nor obvious, as to how to resolve it. I couldn't boot up in Safe Mode. Fortunately, I had taken your advice and had an image and incremental images for the preceeding month. Thanks!

ezra Ben-Meir
January 5, 2008 12:09 AM

Dear Leo- My preferred remedy is to have two separate physical hard drives, or at least separate partitions, one for the programs and a separate one for the data files. I even have a third partition to where I ghosted the operating system with its various applications.
I love you letters
Keep writing and warm regards
ezra

Fred
January 5, 2008 2:08 AM

I found that BartPE won't work on certain OEM disks. (like my Optima laptop), which annoys me because I then had to get a pirate copy to do what should have been legal.

chris faulkner
January 5, 2008 3:55 AM

just type into your google search bar,
"charlie white windows xp crashed"
There are quite a few there, the first one I opened had a CORRECTED version. It was the site mentioned above.
I guess the idea would be to download and print a copy for the big day.

Murray
January 5, 2008 4:04 AM

The excellent article that Frank D refers to still exists. It's just that his hyperlink includes the period at the end of the sentence. The correct link is
http://webcast.broadcastnewsroom.com/articles/viewarticle.jsp?id=8658

Well worth reading.

Chris Ottaway
January 5, 2008 4:35 AM

I have a HP computer and it is very easy to make a boot cd and recovery disks,as there is a program to do it in a hp.

Frank D
January 5, 2008 9:18 AM

Sorry about that pesky "." at the end of the link I posted above!

I have something to add that may help: Where Charlie White's article talks about putting the XP CD in the drive, it skirts the issue of what to do if you don't have an XP CD. Here's the tip: You can skip all use of an XP CD if you have a _copy of your Drive C:_ on a second hard drive in your PC (I know, this is not too common a practice, but it's a good one!). It doesn't have to be bootable, just a copy. Having this on your PC will enable you to boot into Windows (of course not your regular Windows, but the copy) by first changing your first boot drive (in the PC's BIOS) to the drive containing the copy, and then using Windows Explorer to do all the copying and pasting of files instead of having to type the commands in manually.

Note: If you follow my revision, then there's a small addendum to make to Charlie's procedure: Where he says "Now type Exit and watch your computer restart into Windows XP again," after typing Exit you must reset your C: drive as the first boot drive before allowing the reboot to take place. (Otherwise, you'll be looking at the copy again.)

Hope this helps!

Frank D

David T
February 17, 2009 7:59 AM

Leo,

I tried to boot from the Ubuntu CD, but my laptop will still not boot. Any suggestions?

Hubert Fitch
August 25, 2009 2:16 PM

I downloaded a good registry backup and restore program Eergency Recovery Utility NT, (setup filename = ERUNT-setup), by Lars Hederer, that claims to copy ALL the registry fles, (some are not copied by Windows System Restore).

This program is installed in C:\Windows\ERUNT

The saved registry fles are located at C:\Windows\ERDNT\ Each set of saved registry files is in a folder for this particular backup that contains these files and a program to copy them back to the Windows Registry.

I made a shortcut to the ERDNT folder on my desktop. This allows me to see all my registry backups, and choose the one I want to copy back to the registry.

I think I got it From CNET http://download.cnet.com/windows/3055-2094_4-10448775.html?tag=pdl-redir

This has saved me several times, when viruses have messed up my registry.

I cleaned my registry about 5 times (from fake anti virus applications, they want me to buy).

I learned too late that I could run "Hijack This" which showed me that a program was running at each boot time, that accesses a class ID for IE in the registry, so that IE connects and downloads an executable file that gives the virus maker access to my system.

I think the executable filename of the offending file is ax.exe, (which is I think also a filename that is used by a good application)

Running ax.exe installed a virus that I couldn't beat, so I removed my drive and bought a new identical WD 500 GB serial drive and re-installed windows XP full Home Edition.

I want to use my original 500 GB drive as a 2nd drive to access my old files, but if I do this,I am afraid that the virus might somehow be able to infect my new drive.

I think that I got the virus from the Science Daily website? (sciencedaily. com) So, I have not visited this site again on this computer.

I also have an Ubuntu Linux system, that can go to this website without catching a virus from the sciencedaily site,(but I am not a good linux comand line programmer).


I want to create an Ubuntu boot disk. My Ubuntu system automatically installs each new version of Ubuntu, but I don't think a downloaded install disk will run on my Windows system, I think it will only install ubuntu?

Nikki
January 6, 2010 8:27 AM

when i get to the Recovery console, my keyboard no longer communications to the pc...so I try and select R or enter or ANYTHING, but it doesn't work....ugh

You likely have the problem outlined in this article: Why doesn't my keyboard work until Windows is running?
Leo
07-Jan-2010

Peter Leg
January 17, 2011 5:11 PM

forget mybootdisk.com stick to the one mentioned here even that is a bit complicated.
with mybootdisk you need to download it to 6 floppies i think i don't even have a floppy drive
i'm looking for something i can stick on an external drive

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