Access more troubleshooting tools with Windows 7 System Recovery Options

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz shows you how to get to the Windows 7 System Recovery Options menu and describes each of the tools on the menu.

In last week's article, "Windows 7 Startup Repair Tool Automatically Diagnoses and Fixes Startup Problems," I explained that when Windows 7's Startup Repair Tool detects a startup problem, it will automatically launch a diagnostics-based troubleshooter that requires little, if any, user intervention, and in many cases it will resuscitate what could be an unbootable system.

After that article ran, some of you commented in the forum that you found the Windows 7's Startup Repair Tool less than satisfactory in your particular situations. However, some wrote that it worked fine and helped them get back up and running. To those who had a bad experience, I must remind you that the Startup Repair Tool is designed to fix only certain problems, such as missing or damaged system files.

As you may remember, in last week's article I told you that if the Startup Repair Tool can't repair the problem, you can access the System Recovery Options menu, which provides you with a set of tools that can help you revive your system as well as investigate the problem further.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to get to the System Recovery Options menu and describe each of the tools on the menu.

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Getting to the System Recovery Options

There are actually several ways that you can get to the System Recovery Options, and the method you choose will depend on your situation.

  • If your system will still attempt to start Windows, then you can attempt to access the System Recovery Options from your hard disk.
  • If Windows won't start at all, you can access the System Recovery Options by booting from the Windows 7 DVD.
  • If you have created a System Repair Disc, you can boot from that disk as well and access the System Recovery Options. (I'll cover the creation of a System Repair Disc next time.)

For example, let's suppose that your system will still attempt to start Windows, but it fails to complete the boot-up process. To access System Recovery, you will need to first power down the system and then turn it back on. After the system boots up and as soon as you hear the beep that signals the beginning of the Windows boot, press and hold the [F8] key.

When you see the Advance Boot Options screen, as shown in Figure A, select the Repair Your Computer option. As you can see from the description at the bottom of the screen, selecting this option will display a list of system recovery tools that you can use to repair startup problems, run diagnostics, or restore your system. To continue, just press [Enter].

Figure A

Pressing the [F8] key at the beginning of the Windows boot process will display the Advance Boot Options screen.
When you do, you'll see a screen that tells you that Windows is loading files. Then you'll see a boot screen with a green animated progress bar. After a few moments, you'll be prompted to choose a keyboard input method, as shown in Figure B. To continue, click the Next button.

Figure B

Chances are you are using a U.S. system; if so, just click Next.
You'll then see the logon screen shown in Figure C. You should log on with an account that has administrative privileges.

Figure C

You should log on with an account that has administrator rights.
When you do, you will see the System Recovery Options menu, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The System Recovery Options menu will display a list of system recovery tools that you can use to repair startup problems, run diagnostics, or restore your system.

The options

As you can see, there are five options on the System Recovery Options menu. Let's take a closer look.

  • Startup Repair: This should be your first choice if it did not run automatically when a boot problem was encountered. Keep in mind that Startup Repair is designed to fix only certain problems, such as missing or damaged system files. It is not designed to fix problems caused by hardware failures, such as a failing hard disk.
  • System Restore: As you know, this tool is designed to restore Windows system files to an earlier point in time without affecting your data files, such as email, documents, or photos, in any way. To accomplish this feat, System Restore continuously monitors your system, looking for significant changes to the operating system, such as an application or driver installation or an operating system update procedure, and will automatically create a Restore Point when it senses such an impending change. Restore Points are essentially snapshots of your system state, which include crucial system files and certain parts of the registry. System Restore maintains multiple restore points, which gives you the choice of restoring your computer to any number of previously saved states. As such, running System Restore and choosing a recent restore point is a good way to recover from an unbootable system.
  • System Image Recovery: If for some reason System Restore is unable to do its job and you have recently created a system image of your hard disk, you can use the System Image Recovery option to revive an unbootable system. A system image includes the operating system and all your system settings, your programs, and all your files. Keep in mind that 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 files will be replaced with the versions that were current when you made the system image.
  • Windows Memory Diagnostic: If in addition to having problems starting Windows, you've been encountering application failures, operating system faults, or Stop errors, you can use the Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool to test the RAM chips in your system and investigate the possibility of defective or failing RAM. Essentially, the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool performs its test by repeatedly writing values to memory and then reading those values from memory in order to verify that the data has not changed.
  • Command Prompt: When you select the Command Prompt option, you'll be able to run a specific set of command-line tools that you can use to perform recovery operations as well as other types of diagnostics.

What's your take?

In future articles, I'll cover the tools on the System Recovery Options menu in more detail. In the meantime, have you used any of the options on the System Recovery Options menu? If so, what was your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.


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.

David Lengel
David Lengel

I had a problem this week where my system failed to boot. A VERY quick blue screen said somthing about a device was not accesible or somthing like that. I tried the repair service and it said that it was unable to fix. Fotunately I had a complete duplicate of my drive on another drive two days older. I was able to install the backup drive and then access the bad drive to retrieve files. I have never been able to fix my system with the windows tools. They always tell me that it can't fix anything.


In my last experience - brand new PC with Win7 HE Pre - I have noticed a lot of blue screens (BSOD) repeating randomly. My first thought was - drivers. Win7 is relatively new... Reinstalled the system many times, with Win drivers, manufacturer drivers - nothing helped. Then I thought - ok - HW error. Firstly removed PCIe GFX and work with onboard gfx - BSODs again. Then I recon - ok, it must be RAM - runned this MS RAM test for 3 days - everything ok :) I changed the disk - same story. On the end I almost went crazy, changed the motherboard and it is ok now. I've used about 10 differnent burn-in tests and they all went through well. I really really torture the pc - 100% cpu 100% ram and constant disk usage for more than 48 hours - but it wasn't showing any errors or even stopped with BSOD. It would be really nice if some adequate, kernel based, burn in test would existed in Win7 (or Win8) that will really point a problem out.


Most BIOS today have three settings for handling hard drives (IDE, ACHI, RAID). If you installed Windows 7 with this setting at either ACHI or RAID, but it somehow reverts to IDE (like flashing the BIOS!), Repair will make the hard drive unbootable and possibly unreadable (been there, got a nice t-shirt!). If Win7 reports it can't find a boot disk or anything like it, before you do anything else, check the hard drive settings in the machine's BIOS!


which set of command-line tools do you have to use?


if press and hold the [F8] key doesn't work I suggest press repeatedly the [F8] key because it worked for me


Another vote for this! It is one of the few tests that tests memory above 4GB (if x64 bit WinPE used) and it found a memory fault at 5GB point (on a system that kept crashing in normal use) but MemTest86+ could not find a problem!


Windows Memory Diagnostic have used this option many times on windows xp/vista/win7 if you have memory probs or blue screening its a must to use.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Have you used any of the options on the System Recovery Options menu? If so, what was your experience?


Windows Start-up repair has NEVER fixed any start up problem that I have had and just wastes my time! Last Known Good is always worth a try though ;-) And running System Recovery from the F8: Repair my Computer options usually fixes most problems. Of course, no Windows Repair tool can ever hope to fix a hardware problem, such as dead hard drives, dead video cards etc....


Another vote! I always leave this running on new systems. My newest laptop (schlepptop!) has 16GBytes of memory, all of which is non-ECC (error correcting). I've left the test running overnight for as long as my patience lasted as all electronics suffer from infant mortality (higher failure rates in the first few weeks of use) and I wanted to flush out any memory problems whilst the guarantee is still fresh. Fortunately no problems found! RS