I have Windows XP home media edition. The message reads: “Windows
could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt –
<windows root>\system32\ntoskrnl.exe Please re-install a copy of
the above file.” The computer came with pre-installed Windows. All I
have is recovery disks. I already lost all of my data once and I can
not afford to lose it again. Please advise. I also spent hours looking
for an answer on the internet. I saw nothing that could solve my
I’ve addressed this and similar questions here several times before,
but I want to revisit this because there are two important reminders
that arise out of addressing this situation.
The first, of course, is that even if Windows is pre-installed you
should always get the installation, not recovery, CDs
when you buy a new machine.
Why manufacturers think it’s a good idea not to provide them
automatically is beyond me.
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First, let’s run through a few possible ways you might get lucky and
be able to recover that single file.
Boot from that recovery disk, ideally into a Windows command prompt,
or boot using one of the many Linux “Live CDs”. In either case, this
should allow you to explore the data on your hard drive.
Look for a folder labeled “I386” in the root of your C: drive – you
may find a backup copy of the missing file there, or in subfolders
there. (Other “I386” folders elsewhere on the hard drive are not likely
to have this file, though there’s no harm in looking.)
Look for another partition on the hard drive – perhaps a “D:” drive.
Many manufacturers place recovery data onto this other partition so
that it remains untouched as you use your machine normally. The missing
file might be found somewhere there.
Borrow a Windows installation CD from a friend and copy the required
file. It’s likely that you’ll need a friend with the same version of
Windows as you have.
Even riskier, you can try copying the required file off of that
friend’s system. Once again, in the case of ntoskrnl.exe you’ll at
least need the version that matches your version of Windows. In the
case of other files, it’s quite possible that you’d need the version
that matches your machine’s make and model as well.
solution is to reinstall Windows, from scratch.”
But even if you do recover the single file, it still may not be
And perhaps more files are missing. It’s quite possible that this is
simply the first of many.
The really bad news here is that the right solution is to reinstall
Windows, from scratch.
And that requires an installation CD.
I would absolutely contact the manufacturer and see if they can
provide you with the proper installation CDs. At this point it’s
possibly even worth it to pay for them.
Failing all of the above, you can of course go out and purchase a
retail copy of Windows.
It’s a mess. A mess that could have easily been avoided had
the machine been provided with a matching installation CD in the first
Lesson #1: when purchasing a machine with Windows
preinstalled, insist on getting the installation CD or DVD. There are
scenarios such as this one where the original installation media is the
only recovery solution.
I also want to touch on a secondary statement made in the original
question: “I already lost all of my data once and I can not afford to
lose it again.”
Clearly, then, you haven’t been backing up.
If you’d been backing up regularly and thoroughly there would be no
risk of losing “all of my data”. At worst you would lose the
changes/updates since the last backup. How long ago that would be
depends on how often you backup, and that should be a choice you make
that depends on how heavily you use your computer.
I backup nightly. I’m guessing that most people who use their
computers even moderately should probably do the same.
Lesson #2: backup regularly. You’ll avoid data loss
when, not if, disaster strikes.