The Startup Disk tab on Windows 98’s Add/Remove Programs Properties dialog box featured a button labeled Create Disk. Clicking this button allowed you to create a bootable Startup Disk that you could use to start a Windows 98 system in the event of a problem that prevented a normal boot sequence.
Unfortunately, Microsoft didn’t include the Startup Disk feature in Windows XP. Windows XP has a slew of tools, such as Last Known Good, System Restore, Recovery Console, and Automated System Recovery, which you can use to boot and fix the operating system. But in many troubleshooting situations, what you really need is a simple startup disk that you can use to boot a Windows XP system.
Fortunately, I’ve discovered how to manually create a Windows XP startup disk that will allow you to boot a troubled Windows XP system running either the NTFS or FAT file system. I’ll show you how to create a Windows XP Startup Disk and explain each step in detail.
Keep in mind that you can use the Windows XP Startup Disk to start a system that is encountering only minor problems that prevent a normal boot sequence. For all major types of boot problems, you’ll need to use one or more of the Windows XP tools I mentioned in the introduction.
The goal of the Windows XP Startup Disk is simply to allow you to boot the computer and gain access to the operating system. Once you do, you can back up important data and then use other tools, either those built in to the operating system or available from a third party, to fix the problem. The types of boot problems that you can use Windows XP Startup Disk to work around include:
- Damaged boot sector.
- Damaged master boot record (MBR).
- Virus infections.
- Missing or damaged Ntldr or Ntdetect.com files.
- Incorrect Ntbootdd.sys driver.
Formatting the Windows XP Startup Disk
Formatting a Windows XP Startup Disk is a straightforward procedure. Of course, before you can begin, you need a blank 1.44-MB high-density floppy disk. To begin, insert the floppy disk into the drive. Then, launch My Computer from the Start menu, right-click the floppy drive (Drive A) icon, and select the Format command. When you do, you’ll see the Format 3-1/2 Floppy (A:) dialog box, as shown in Figure A.
|You’ll use the default settings in the Format 3-1/2 Floppy (A:) dialog box.|
You can immediately click the Start button since the default settings are the correct ones for creating a Windows XP Startup Disk. While you may be tempted to select the Create An MS-DOS Startup Disk check box, don’t. Doing so will create a standard DOS boot disk that won’t work for the Windows XP Startup Disk technique.
High-density disks only
Previous versions of the Windows operating system could format both 720-KB low-density floppy disks and 1.44-MB high-density floppy disks. However, Windows XP allows you to format only 1.44-MB high-density floppies. If you access the Format 3-1/2 Floppy dialog box from Windows Explorer, you’ll discover that the 720-KB option is missing from the Capacity drop-down list box. And, if you attempt to use the Format command-line utility along with the /F:720 parameter, you’ll encounter an error message. Keep in mind that, while Windows XP can’t format 720-KB floppy disks, it can still read data on 720-KB floppies.
If you wish, you can format the Windows XP Startup Disk from the command line. To do so, just open a Command Prompt window and type the command:
Making the disk bootable
Once you’ve formatted the Windows XP Startup Disk, you need to make it bootable. To do so, launch Windows Explorer, access the root directory on the hard disk, and copy the following files to the floppy disk:
The bootable floppy
You may be wondering how these files make the disk bootable. Well, here’s the scoop: When you format a floppy disk in Windows XP, the boot record is configured to locate and run the Ntldr file. When Ntldr runs, it loads the available operating system selections from the Boot.ini file. When you select Windows, Ntldr runs Ntdetect.com and then passes control to Osloader.exe, which, in the case of booting from the Windows XP Startup Disk, resides on the hard disk.
Create a Windows XP Startup Disk without a working system
If you find yourself in need of a Windows XP Startup Disk due to a problem that won’t allow you to boot your system normally and don’t have access to another Windows XP system on which to make a Windows XP Startup Disk, you can still make one. To do so, you’ll need a computer running any other Windows operating system, access to the Internet, and a Windows XP CD.
To perform this procedure, you’ll need to start by downloading the Windows XP Setup Boot Disks program from the Microsoft Downloads Web site. You’ll download a different program depending on whether you’re using Windows XP Professional or Windows XP Home Edition.
Once you download the appropriate program, launch the Windows XP Setup Boot Disks executable file, which will open a Command Prompt window, and follow the on-screen instructions to get started. While the instructions will tell you that you’ll need six disks, for the purposes of creating the Windows XP Startup Disk, you’ll only need one disk.
The on-screen instructions will prompt you to insert the first disk, which will become the Windows XP Setup Boot Disk. Go ahead and create this disk when prompted. As soon as the Windows XP Setup Boot Disk is complete, the instructions will prompt you to insert a second disk. At this point, press [Ctrl]C to abort the procedure. Then, close the Command Prompt window.
Now, launch Windows Explorer, access the Windows XP Setup Boot Disk in drive A, and delete all the files on that disk. Next, insert the Windows XP CD into the CD-ROM drive and hold down [Shift] to prevent the installation procedure from automatically starting. Then, return to Windows Explorer and use the Folders tree to access the CD. Open the I386 folder, locate the Ntdetect.com and the Ntldr files, and copy them to the floppy disk.
As soon as you’ve copied these files to the floppy disk, you’ll need to make a slight alteration to one of the files. Due to the way the Windows XP Setup Boot Disks program has formatted the disk, you’ll need to rename the Ntldr file to Setupldr.bin. Launch Notepad and create a base Boot.ini file like the one shown in Figure B.
|You’ll need to create a base Boot.ini file.|
As you can see, under the [boot loader] heading, the last section on the line that starts with Default= lists the folder into which the Windows XP operating system is installed. In the case of my example, that happens to be the \windows folder. On systems where the installation was an upgrade on top of an existing installation, the folder may be \winnt. As such, you’ll need to customize the Default line according to your particular installation. Keep in mind that you shouldn’t include a drive letter in this section—just the path symbol “\” and the name of the folder.
On the line under the [operating systems] heading, there are several items that may need customization. To begin with, if your system’s hard disk is a SCSI drive, the first entry will need to be scsi(0) instead of multi(0). Second, if your system is configured to multiboot several operating systems, you’ll need to specify the correct partition on which Windows XP is installed. As you can see, in my example, the Windows XP operating system is installed on the first partition as specified in the partition(1) item. However, if Windows XP is installed on the second partition on your system, you’ll need to specify this item as partition(2). In addition, you must also specify the path of the folder into which the Windows XP operating system is installed.
If your system’s hard disk is a SCSI drive, you’ll need to do a few other things. First, you’ll need to copy the device driver for the SCSI controller to the Windows XP Startup Disk and then rename that driver Ntbootdd.sys. In addition, you may need to change the number in the disk(0) section to match the SCSI -ID number assigned to that hard disk.
Testing your Windows XP Startup Disk
Once you’ve created your Windows XP Startup Disk, you should test it. That way you’ll know that it’ll work correctly before you really need it. To test the disk, simply leave the disk in the drive and restart Windows XP. When the system boots from the floppy disk, you should see the regular Windows XP startup screen and be able to log in as you normally would. At this point, remove the disk, label it Windows XP Startup Disk, and store it in a safe yet accessible location so that it’s available should you need it. Once you’ve confirmed that your Windows XP Startup Disk works properly, you can restart your system so that it boots normally from the hard disk.
More information on Boot.ini
As you may have realized after reading the section on creating a Windows XP Startup Disk without a functioning system, there are many variables that can come into play when manually creating the Boot.ini file. As such, you may want to take a look at these informational articles in the Microsoft Knowledge Base:
You may also want to investigate my article "Get to know Windows XP’s Bootcfg command."
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.