Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
System Restore discs allow you to reset your system to the state it was in when delivered from the manufacturer. That is, when they work. Because of that uncertainty, I much prefer a different approach.
My Acer laptop was running perfectly fine until one day I was infected with Live Security Platinum "scareware". So I went through a lot trying to get rid of it. Everything from using anti-malware programs to removing it manually, but it kept coming back. So, I finally decided to "Restore system to factory defaults" (my laptop does this from a hidden partition).
By the way, my OS is Windows 7 Home Premium.
Anyway, after everything was installed and the whole process finished, my laptop went to the login screen (you know when you have to pick a user profile if there is more than one). For some reason, the profile I created during the restore process was disabled; it said something like "User profile disabled. Please see System Administrator." And there was also another profile with no picture (the box was there for the profile pic, but no pic) and there were boxes to type in both a user name and password.
Nothing I tried worked and after not finding any answers online, I gave up and restored my system once more. This time, after everything installed, I can log on to my profile now, but there are still problems. Every now and then, Windows Explorer crashes or sometimes, I see the desktop then the screen goes completely black aside from the mouse pointer. Then, after a few minutes, the desktop comes back with a bunch of error messages, but after dismissing them, everything runs fine. Everything except for Internet Explorer, of course, which is now slow and has trouble loading web pages and sometimes only loads half the page or can't load the page at all, even though I still have an internet connection. Sometimes, I even get an iexplorer.dll error (I occasionally get other .dll errors, but I can't remember them).
And here is the final and weirdest problem. When I turn on the computer after Windows loads up at the login, there is a circle with a line that looks like it supposed to be a clock and under it says two min. No matter how many times I reboot, it stays there but it wasn't there before I restored.
Is it possible that something went wrong in the restore process or is there some other problem or problems?
It's really difficult to say exactly what's gone wrong here.
I have a couple of suspicions, one of which is probably evident by the title of this article, but in reality, it could be many different things. It could be anything from (as you say and I suspect) a bad restore to something that's causing malware to reappear, to even coincidental hardware problems.
For anything short of hardware, however, my recommended approach will be the same.
I have to start by clarifying something extremely important.
Restoring your system to manufacturer's defaults using the System Restore discs that were provided by the manufacturer is not the same as using the System Restore feature in Windows.
They are completely unrelated.
The System Restore feature in Windows, which I don't like either, is basically a glorified registry backup and restore that resets certain files back to a prior point in time depending on when restore points were taken. When it works, that is.
Restoring your system to factory defaults, on the other hand, basically wipes out your system completely and replaces it with the copy of Windows and applications that were originally installed on the machine the day it was delivered from the factory.
Typically, all of your data and subsequently installed applications are lost in the process.
When it works, that is.
In an effort to save money (and perhaps licensing costs), most computer manufacturers don't actually provide a copy of Windows on installation media like CDs or DVDs when you purchase your machine. Instead, they pre-install Windows for you.
In case you ever need to start over, they also provide a copy of Windows in an often hidden partition on the computer's hard disk. The theory is that a "restore to factory settings" is nothing more than erasing the primary partition and copying the recovery partition into the primary partition. (In practice, it's not that simple but conceptually at least, it is.)
So what's with that "System Recovery disc" that came with your system? Well, it doesn't have Windows on it, that's almost certain. What is does have is a small program, unique to your computer's manufacturer, that does what I just described. After warning you about the consequences, it copies the System Restore partition over the main partition, handling all the pesky details relating to booting properly and what not along the way.
That's how a CD with only a small amount of data actually on it can restore a system that's typically so large, it needs to be distributed on DVDs these days.
And of course, I have to say that this is how it "probably" works, as of course, there is no standard. Each computer manufacturer decides how they want to handle this situation and each provides its own tools and techniques to do so.
The most common failure that renders this hidden-partition approach useless is a hard drive failure. If the hard drive goes bad, it takes all of the partitions with it. Your primary partition is lost as is your recovery partition. There is nothing for the system recovery disc to recover and it fails.
Some manufacturers will only send you a complete Windows installation disc if in fact your hard drive has failed and they provide you with a replacement.
Another, less common scenario involves malware.
If your machine is infected, it is possible that the malware could infect or damage the hidden system recovery partition. In fact, sufficiently aggressive malware would try to do just that so as to keep your machine infected even after you've attempted to restore to factory settings.
While the process of restoring your machine to its factory default settings might appear to work, it's very possible that the net result will not be factory default at all.
I'm honestly not saying that this is what's happened to you. There's no way for me to know, but I have to say that it sure does feel that way.
If your recovery partition is lost or damaged, either actually (hard disk replacement or clear failure) or empirically (things don't work right after a reset to factory settings), there's really only one solution:
Reformat and reinstall from scratch.
That means you'll need actual Windows installation media, not system recovery media, that can be used to install Windows onto a completely empty hard disk.
If all you have is a System Restore disc provided by the manufacturer, you may not have what you need. You'll need to either contact the manufacturer for an installation disc, or go out and purchase one.
Recovery partitions, as you can hopefully see by now, are not something to be relied on. Even if you believe your chances of contracting malware that would damage it are small (and they are), the simple fact that a hard drive failure could render it useless should be an important realization.
Regular image backups kept on an external drive and/or elsewhere.
Take and save an image backup as soon as you get a new machine, and that becomes your System Restore media. If you ever need to restore your system to its factory default settings, simply restore to that backup and you're done.
Take periodic image backups and there's a good chance you won't need to take that drastic a step.
In a situation where you've encountered malware that refuses to be removed, simply restore your system to an image backup that was taken before the infection, and you're done. No complicated removal instructions to follow, no questioning whether or not, it's really gone, just a restore from a backup image.
And of course, if your hard disk dies, replacing and restoring to the most recent backup image has you up and running again quickly.
There's a reason I frequently say, "Nothing can save you from almost any problem like a proper and recent backup."
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