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Be ready to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive

Greg Shultz shows you how to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive and exactly what to expect if you should ever need it.

In last week's post, Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 8, I showed you how to create a Recovery drive using both a USB flash drive and an optical disc. While knowing that you have a Recovery Drive provides you with a certain level of comfort, using it is another story. The only time you'll ever get to see what the Recovery Drive looks like or see how it works, is when you need to use after a disaster has occurred. And, chances are that 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 edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll show you how to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive. That way, if the time comes when you need to use it, you'll know exactly what to expect.

This blog post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Note: In a series of follow-up articles, I'll be showing you in detail how each one of the recovery tools on the Windows 8 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 8, you can't use that drive to boot up and repair a 32-bit version of Windows 8. 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 8 Recovery Drive (USB flash drive or an 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. As you can imagine, Windows RE is based on Windows PE (Windows Preinstallation Environment).

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

There are a total of 16 pages of keyboard layouts.
On the main screen, shown in Figure B, you'll see three tiles. If you inadvertently boot off your Recovery Drive, you can select the Continue tile to exit the Recovery Drive and boot up Windows 8 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. To access the tools on the Recovery Drive, you will select the Troubleshoot tile.

Figure B

While the main page contains three options, chances are you'll select the Troubleshoot tile.

Troubleshoot

When you see the Troubleshoot screen, as shown in Figure C, you'll see it has three tiles. The first two, Refresh your PC and Reset your PC, present two new Windows 8 options while the Advanced options tile will open a page of more familiar recovery tools, as well as one refurbished tool.

Figure C

The Troubleshoot screen contains two recovery options as well as a link to more advanced recovery options.

Refresh

If you are having minor, but annoying problems with your current Windows 8 installation and it feels a bit unstable, you can use the new Refresh your PC option to essentially perform with a fresh install of Windows 8. Selecting the Refresh your PC option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure D.

Figure D

The first screen outlines what will happen when you choose to Refresh your PC.

When you choose this option, Windows RE will find and backup all your data, settings, and apps. It will then install a fresh copy of Windows and restore all of your data, settings, and apps. When your PC restarts, you can login with your exact same username and password and find all of your data. However, as noted on the above screen, any desktop applications that you have installed will not be saved or restored. The reasoning is that it is possible that a recently installed desktop application could be the cause of the instability. For your convenience, Windows RE will create a list of those applications that were not saved or restored, so that you can decide whether you want to reinstall them.

Reset

If you have backed up all of your data and want to either start from scratch or are getting ready to decommission your PC, you can use the new Reset your PC option. When you select it, you'll see the screen shown in Figure E. If you click Next, Windows RE will erase and reformat the hard drive and then reinstall a fresh copy of Windows 8. In this case, your system will return to the same condition it was in when you started Windows 8 for the first time.

Figure E

When you select the Reset your PC option, your system will return to the same condition it was when you started Windows 8 for the first time.
Note: In a series of future articles, I'll show you in detail how the Refresh and Reset options work.

Advanced

When you select Advanced options, you'll see the screen shown in Figure F, which provides you with four other tools that you can use to recover your damaged Windows system.

Figure F

On the Advanced screen, you'll find four other tools that you can use to recover a damaged Windows system.

System Restore

If you are encountering weird problems with your Windows 8 system, you can use System Restore to restore your system to the state that it was in at an earlier point in time. When you select System Restore and you'll see the screen shown in Figure G. 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 G

System Restore in Windows 8 works just like it did in previous versions of Windows.

System Image Recovery

If your Windows 8 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 H.

Figure H

System Image Recovery in Windows 8 works just like it did in Windows 7.

As you know, a system image includes the operating system and all your system settings, your programs, and all your files. However, 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.

Automatic Repair

Your first line of defense when it comes to recovering a Windows 8 system that will not start is the Automatic Repair option, which is a refurbished version of Windows 7's Startup Repair Tool. When you select the Automatic Repair option, you'll see the screen shown in Figure I.

Figure I

Your first line of defense when it comes to recovering a Windows 8 system in the new Automatic Repair option.

Under most startup failure circumstances, Automatic Repair will start automatically and go right to work; however, it can be run from the Recovery Drive. When you launch it, Automatic Repair will begin scanning your system and analyze 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.

Note: In a future article, I'll show you in detail how the Automatic Repair option works.

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 Refresh, you can delve into the bowels of the operating system, by choosing the Command Prompt option. When you select this option, you'll see a Command Prompt window like the one shown in Figure J.

Figure J

From the good old Command Prompt, a host of command line tools are at your disposal.

From the good old Command Prompt, a host of 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 or 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 /?

What's your take?

Now that you know what the Recovery Drive contains, you will be prepared if the time comes when you are forced to use it to recover your computer. If you have used the Recovery Drive already, 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.

Also read:

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.

12 comments
scotchie07
scotchie07

I was told to reset my PC completely because the touchscreen driver needs to be completely reset (that was the jist of it). Creating a recovery would keep ALL files intact correct? If so, would that be the best backup method? If not, what would be the best method? Please keep directions simple.

John94903
John94903

Does either Refresh or Reset require inserting a Windows 8 installation DVD? If so, this should be noted because most PCs are not sold with installation media. Will an OEM restore DVD work as well as a Microsoft installation DVD?

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

It is much harder to generalize about Windows 8 backups than about earlier versions. Factors that may determine success or failure include whether you are working with a GPT disk or an MBR disk, whether login is local or online, and whether the manufacturer included a recovery image and tools on the hard drive. Recently, with no recovery media provided by the manufacturer, I used the included tools to copy the original drive to another, then put the original drive on the shelf as the only sure way to be able to bring a laptop back to life in the event of major trouble. Windows 8 running on a GPT drive is particularly fussy as to what must be on the drive and how partitions can be restored. So far, the tools I have found to work include: Windows Home Server v.1 with a local login, Clonezilla (difficult but powerful), Macrium Reflect 5.1, and the built-in system image restore. Each has its advantages and limitations. Win8's system image is perhaps the easiest, but it only preserves drive C:. If you have data partitions, you'll need to supplement the image with a Win7 file backup (via Control Panel) or one of the other tools. Especially important with Windows 8 on a GPT drive, test the restore procedure to be sure it will work and that you know what to do.

Astringent
Astringent

Another reason not to use Windows 8. One of the selling points is that you can perform a refresh. However it is says that while applications installed through the Windows store will remain, other applications will go bye-bye. While there may be a technical reason for this it also appears to be another way of manipulating and locking the public into purchasing through the Microsoft store exclusively. The next step, further down the road, will be to disallow all installs except via the Microsoft Store. This is not the type of Fascist world that I want to have any part of. I will stick with Windows 7 until a better alternative arrives.

Ron_007
Ron_007

After seeing your article, I tried to use it. No luck both with the DVD and USB drive. Very annoying.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Having several test machines running Windows 8, I have used the Recovery Drive several times and a several different ways. So far, it has worked very well. What has been your experience?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...Windows 8 installation media is required for a Refresh or Reset. As I mentioned in the introduction, this article is only about running the Recovery Drive and that in a series of future articles, I’ll show you in detail how the Refresh and Reset options work. Stay tuned...

Gate420
Gate420

@Astringent Windows 8 is great and the refresh is basically doing a quick re-install of windows it refreshes and instead of needing to back up all files all that needs to be done is a re-install of other programs, but its very rare that a refresh needs to be done so far in my experience with windows 8 it is very good at repairing itself.I was worried about getting a system with windows 8 but I would not run a system without it now its a very stable system and the extra repair options are awesome and the refresh option is an advantage in my opinion.I have been repairing computers for a long time and Windows 8 is the best OS I have ever had the pleasure of working with. 

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...you weren't able to create a Recovery Drive or weren't able to boot from a Recovery Drive? If you can provide a little more detail, maybe I can help?

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

It appears that this is a better recovery option than has been previously available for Windows in the past, but being a little paranoid about data loss and assuming my Win 8 customer does not have a recent backup is it possible in the command prompt to use xcopy to move customer data to the USB drive? This would seem like a security breach if you can access the hard drive so easily, I assume you need an admin password to get to the command prompt, right? Or is there no direct access to the hard drive?

John94903
John94903

Thanks Greg. I'm looking forward to your future articles on Refresh and Reset.

janemendola
janemendola

@Greg Shultz   I need a basic piece of information. I have created a recovery drive on a usb flash drive. I don't understand how to boot my Toshiba Satellite laptop windows 8 FROM the recovery drive. I have my laptop powered down, now what do I do to get to the point where I can follow the instructions above? Jane