As you may know from firsthand experience, startup problems with previous version of the Windows operating system occurred pretty regularly and Microsoft has always provided us with special tools for fixing those problems. For example, in Windows NT we had the Emergency Recovery Utility, in Windows 2000 we had the Recovery Console, in Windows XP we had System Restore, and in Windows 7 we had the Startup Repair Tool.

Windows 8 comes with new tool called Automatic Repair and like its Window 7 predecessor, Automatic Repair is designed to intercede at the first hint of an operating system startup problem. When a startup problem is detected, the Automatic Repair will launch an automated, diagnostics-based troubleshooter that doesn’t require user intervention and in many cases it will resuscitate an unbootable system.

If the startup problem is severe enough to prevent Automatic Repair launching on its own, you can launch it from a Windows 8 Recovery Drive, as I showed you in a recent post: Be ready to use the Windows 8 Recovery Drive.

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I’ll take a look at using Automatic Repair from the Recovery Drive. As I do, I’ll explain how it works.

Note: In a series of future articles, I’ll continue my examination of the tools on the Recovery Drive and show you in detail how the Refresh and Reset options work.

This post is also available as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Running Automatic Repair

Running Automatic repair from the Recovery Drive is easy. After your system boots from the Recovery Drive and you follow the Troubleshoot | Advanced options path through the menu, you’ll see the Advanced options screen shown in Figure A. Among the tools found on the Advanced options screen, you’ll see Automatic Repair.

Figure A

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

When you select the Automatic Repair option, you’ll see the screen shown in Figure B.

Figure B

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

Once you launch Automatic Repair, it will begin diagnosing the startup problem and you’ll see the screen shown in Figure C.

Figure C

In the first step of its operation, Automatic Repair will diagnose the problem.

During this diagnostic phase, Automatic Repair will scan your system and analyze the various settings, configuration options, and system files looking for corrupt files or botched configuration settings. More specifically, Automatic Repair will look for the following problems:

  • Missing/corrupt/incompatible drivers
  • Missing/corrupt system files
  • Missing/corrupt boot configuration settings
  • Corrupt registry settings
  • Corrupt disk metadata (master boot record, partition table, or boot sector)
  • Problematic update installation

If it detects any of these types of problems, it will automatically attempt to fix them, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Once Automatic Repair has diagnosed your startup problem, it will attempt to repair it.

If Automatic Repair can fix the problem, it will do so without any intervention. It will then restart the system and boot normally.

Severe problems

If Automatic Repair is unable to fix the startup problem, you’ll see a screen like the one shown in Figure E. As you can see in this situation, Automatic Repair will create a log file with more information and will provide you with a way to go back to the Advanced options menu where you can select one of the other recovery options.

Figure E

If Automatic Repair is unable to repair your system, it will display this screen.

Before you use one of the other recovery options, you should investigate the log file and see what details it provides. Fortunately, the Recovery Drive contains Notepad and you can use it to view the log file. To begin, take note of the path and file name of the log file. Then click the Advanced options button. When you return to the Advanced options menu, select Command Prompt.

When the Command Prompt window appears type the drive letter to change drives. In my example, the log file is on drive D. Then, use the CD command to access the folder containing the log file. Finally, type the name of Notepad’s executable file along the name of the log file as a parameter.

This is the set of commands you would use to access the log file as shown in Figure F.

cd \Windows\System32\LogFiles\Srt
notepad.exe SrtTrail.txt

Figure F

From the Command Prompt, you can launch Notepad and open the log file.

When Notepad appears, you’ll see the contents of the SrtTrail.txt log file similar to the one shown in Figure G. If you scroll to the bottom of the file, chances are that you will find a test that failed and could have a good lead for further investigation.

Figure G

The SrtTrail log file contains information that you can use for further troubleshooting.

Now if you booted the system from a USB flash drive, you can save the file from Notepad to the flash drive, remove the flash drive, take it to another PC and print it. You now have a printed copy of the log file that you can use as an aid to further troubleshooting. After you have printed the log file, be sure and return the flash drive to the ailing computer.

If you booted the system from an optical disc, you won’t be able to print the file, but you can scroll through it and take note of any details you think are crucial.

Automatic Repair loops

I have one more piece of information to pass on concerning Automatic repair, but it comes with a caveat.

A friend recently mentioned that his Windows 8 laptop was stuck in an Automatic Repair loop in which the system ran Automatic Repair, rebooted, and then ran Automatic Repair again. The process was unending and very frustrating. After booting from a USB Recovery Drive, rather than running Automatic Repair again, we decided to go right to a Command Prompt and try a series of BootRec commands we had used in the past to rescue a Windows 7 system that was encountering severe startup problems.

In our case, this series of BootRec commands, followed by a ChkDsk command just for good measure, solved the problem. Unfortunately, I have not encountered another Windows 8 system that was stuck in an Automatic Repair loop and so have not been able to test the process again. However, I have heard of other folks who used successfully used this technique. So, while I can’t guarantee that this will work in every case, at least it will provide you with another option to try before moving on to the next level of recovery tools.

When the Command Prompt window appears type the following set of commands, one by one.

bootrec /FixMbr
bootrec /FixBoot
bootrec /RebuildBcd
chkdsk /r

Once the ChkDsk command completes, remove the Recovery Drive and restart the computer.

The /FixMbr switch writes a new MBR (Master Boot Record) to the system partition, the /FixBoot switch writes a new boot sector onto the system partition, and the /RebuildBcd switch scans all disks for Windows installations and provides a choice of which entries to add to the BCD store. Finally the /r switch on the ChkDsk command locates bad sectors and recovers readable information.

What’s your take?

Using the Automatic Repair tool from the Recovery Drive can help you to get your system back to a bootable state. If it can’t, you can use the log file as an aid for further investigation. Have you used Windows 8’s Automatic Repair option? If so, did it get your system back into a bootable state? 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.

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