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Get familiar with the Windows 10 Recovery Drive... before you need it

The worst time to learn your way around the Recovery Drive is when you're facing a disaster. This rundown of its tools and options will help you be prepared.

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Image: iStockphoto.com/-goldy-

In last week's post, Be prepared: Create a Windows 10 Recovery Drive, I showed you how to create a Recovery Drive using a USB flash drive and using an optical disc. While knowing that you have a Recovery Drive provides you with a certain level of comfort, using it is another story. Chances are that the only time you'll ever see what the Recovery Drive looks like and how it works is when you need to use it after a disaster has occurred. And chances are you'll be pretty stressed at that point and won't really want any more uncertainty in your life.

With that in mind, in this article I'll show you around the Windows 10 Recovery Drive and describe what it provides. That way, if the time comes when you need to use it, you'll know exactly what to expect.

Note: In a series of follow-up articles, I'll show you in detail how each one of the recovery tools on the Windows 10 Recovery Drive works.

Caveat

Regardless of whether you are using a Recovery Drive from a USB flash drive or from an optical disc, it is important to remember that a Recovery Drive is bit specific. In other words, if you create a Recovery Drive in a 64-bit version of Windows 10, you can't use that drive to boot up and repair a 32-bit version of Windows 10. Likewise, you can't use a 32-bit Recovery Drive to boot up and repair a 64-bit system.

Getting started

When you boot from the Windows 10 Recovery Drive (USB flash drive or optical disc), you'll see the Windows logo displayed on a black screen for few moments. In the background, your PC is actually booting in the Windows Recovery Environment, or more simply, Windows RE.

You'll then see the screen shown in Figure A, where you are prompted to choose a keyboard layout. For example, you might click US. If you do not see your keyboard layout on this first screen, click the See More Keyboard Layouts link until you find one that fits. There are 15 additional pages of keyboard layouts arranged in alphabetical order.

Figure A

Figure A

There are 16 pages of keyboard layouts available.

On the main screen, shown in Figure B, you'll see four tiles. If you inadvertently boot off your Recovery Drive, you can select the Continue tile to exit the Recovery Drive and boot up Windows 10 as you normally would. If you are done working with the Recovery Drive for the time being, you can select the Turn Off Your PC tile.

Figure B

Figure B

While the main page contains three options, you'll most likely select the Troubleshoot tile.

The Use A Device tile will simply reboot your system to the Recovery Drive. I'm not exactly sure of its purpose, but there you have it. To access the tools on the Recovery Drive, you will select the Troubleshoot tile.

Troubleshoot

The Troubleshoot screen, shown in Figure C, has two tiles. The first one, Reset Your PC, allows you to basically reinstall Windows. The second one, Advanced Options, opens a page of more familiar recovery tools.

Figure C

Figure C

The Troubleshoot screen contains the Reset Your PC tile and a link to more advanced recovery options.

Reset

If you have backed up all your data and want to start from scratch, or you're getting ready to decommission your PC, you can use the new Reset Your PC option. Selecting it will bring up the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Figure D

When you select the Reset Your PC option, your system will return to the same condition it was when you started Windows for the first time.

Keep My Files

If you are having minor but annoying problems with your current Windows 10 installation and it feels a bit unstable, you can use the new Keep My Files option to essentially perform with a fresh install of Windows 10.

When you choose this option, the operation will find and back up all your data, settings, and apps. It will then install a fresh copy of Windows 10 and restore all your data, settings, and apps. When your PC restarts, you can log in with your same username and password and will find all your data. However, any desktop applications you have installed will not be saved or restored. That's because it's possible that a recently installed desktop application could be the cause of the instability. For your convenience, the operation will create a list of those applications that were not saved or restored, so that you can decide whether you want to reinstall them.

Remove Everything

If you have backed up all of your data and want to either start from scratch, or you're getting ready to decommission your PC, you can use the new Remove Everything option. When you select it, the operation will erase and reformat the hard drive and then reinstall a fresh copy of Windows 10. In this case, your system will return to the same condition it was when you started Windows 10 for the first time.

Advanced Options

When you select Advanced Options, you'll see the screen shown in Figure E, which provides you with six other tools that you can use to recover a damaged Windows system.

Figure E

Figure E

On the Advanced screen, you'll find six additional tools for recovering a damaged Windows system.

System Restore

If you are encountering weird problems with your Windows 10 system, you can use System Restore to restore your system to the state it was in at an earlier point in time. Selecting System Restore will bring up the screen shown in Figure F. As you can imagine, this option essentially works just like the System Restore tool in previous versions of Windows—it restores all system files and settings to the state they were in when the last restore point was created. And all your data will remain intact.

Figure F

Figure F

System Restore in Windows 10 works just like it did in previous versions of Windows.

System Image Recovery

If your Windows 10 installation is totally corrupt and unbootable and you have a created a system image on a set of optical discs or on an external drive, you can use the System Image Recovery option to recover your system. When you select the System Image Recovery option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure G.

Figure G

Figure G

System Image Recovery in Windows 10 works just like it did in previous versions of Windows.

A system image includes the operating system and all your system settings, your programs, and your files. However, when you restore your computer from a system image, it will actually perform a complete restoration of your entire system—which means that all your current programs, system settings, and data files will be replaced with the versions that were current when you made the system image.

Startup Repair

Your first line of defense when it comes to recovering a Windows 10 system that will not start is the Startup Repair option. When you select this option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure H.

Figure H

Figure H

Your first line of defense when it comes to recovering a Windows 10 system is the Startup Repair option.

Under most startup failure circumstances, Startup Repair will start automatically and go right to work; however, it can be run from the Recovery Drive. When you launch it, Startup Repair will begin scanning your system and analyzing the various settings, configuration options, and system files looking for corrupt files or botched configuration settings. If it detects anything of that nature, it will automatically attempt to fix them so that your system can boot normally.

Command Prompt

If Automatic Repair is unable to fix your system and you are not ready to concede to a System Restore, System Image Recovery, or a Reset, you can delve into the bowels of the operating system by choosing the Command Prompt option. Selecting this option will open a Command Prompt window like the one in Figure I.

Figure I

Figure I

Choosing Command Prompt will open a window like this one.

From the good old Command Prompt, numerous command-line tools are at your disposal, as long as you know how to use them correctly and aren't afraid to get your hands dirty.

For example, you can use the Reg command to work with the Registry, Bcdboot to repair a boot environment, or Manage-bde to investigate Bitlocker. You can even launch some Windows programs, such as Notepad and the Registry Editor.

To see a list of the programs available from the Command Prompt, type the command

Dir *.exe /b

If you want to find out more about a particular command, use the help parameter /?. For example:

Bcdboot /?

UEFI Firmware Settings

If you need to access your computer's UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) Firmware Settings, you can choose this tile. Your computer will then reboot and immediately display the UEFI.

Go Back To A Previous Build

Using this option will allow you to roll back to a previous version of Windows 10. For instance, if you've installed build 1511 and are having issues, you can use this option to go back to Build 10204.

What's your take?

Now that you know what the Recovery Drive contains, you will be prepared if you're ever forced to use it to recover your computer. If you have used the Recovery Drive already, what was your experience? Share your thoughts in the discussion thread below.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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