The recovery console is a diagnostic and repair tool that’s included
on your Windows installation CD. It allows you to boot from that CD and
run a command-line “console” from within which you can examine your
hard disk, copy files and fix certain classes of problems.
It’s fairly geeky, and not something most people know about.
It can be an occasional lifesaver.
Let’s look at it a little.
I’m using Windows XP for this example. In fact, while the system I’m running is fully up-to-date with Windows XP SP3, the CD I’m using is in fact an original Windows XP CD without service packs.
Boot from your Windows XP installation CD, and you should (eventually) arrive at this screen:
Type R to start the Recovery Console. The Recovery Console will examine your system for Windows installations, and present you with a list to choose from. In my case (and likely in yours) there is only one:
Type 1 and press Enter. You’ll then be prompted for the password of the Administrator account:
And now you’re in the Recovery Console.
This looks very much like a Windows Command Prompt because in effect it is a modified version of it. There is no graphical interface, everything here is done via typed in commands.
The goal of the Recovery Console is to, as its name implies, recover from problems. As a result, it does not allow access to any or all drives or folders on the machine – typically only the root folder, and the Windows folder tree, where all of the recovery activity makes sense. The idea is that once you’ve repaired whatever needs repairing, you can then boot back into Windows (perhaps in Safe Mode), and continue whatever data or other recovery is necessary.
There are several commands available within the Recovery Console (you can get the full list in Microsoft’s Knowledgebase Article). I want to point out a couple of the most commonly used and useful.
FIXBOOT writes a new Windows boot sector to the system partition. This can sometimes be useful if the partition exists, but the boot sector has been damaged by a virus or other issue.
FIXMBR writes a new master boot record, which is different than the Boot Sector written by FIXBOOT. A single hard disk can have several partitions, each which could be bootable with its own copy of Windows or another operating system. FIXBOOT writes the boot sector that appears within a specific Windows partition. FIXMBR writes the master boot record on the hard disk that is used, among other things, to locate all the partitions that may have bootable operating systems on them.
FIXMBR can, in fact, wipe out partition tables, and perhaps your entire hard drive, if used improperly. On the other hand, certain viruses have been known to cause damage that FIXMBR does repair. Use with caution, and of course always have a full/recent backup available, in case the worst happens.
Note the dire warning. In my case there was no problem and the machine booted properly. Be careful.
DISABLE and ENABLE are commands that let you control services that may start when you reboot into Windows. In particular, these can be useful to disable an optional service that may be causing problems. Note that disabling a required service may prevent Windows from booting.
DISKPART is a simple partition manager that will allow you to examine, and if needed modify, the partitions on the hard disk.
There are other commands, of course, but perhaps the most powerful is the most unassuming:
COPY allows you to copy files. I say that this is the most powerful, because it can allow you to copy off files (those that are accessible, anyway) from the machine, and copy files to the machine. For example, one machine I was repairing had lost its copy of winlogon.exe due to a virus and naturally no one could login. Using the recovery console and a copy of winlogon.exe from another system (running an identical version of Windows) I was able to COPY it back into place, reboot the machine and sign in successfully to continue my repairs.
The recovery console is extremely powerful, and as with the FIXMBR command, you can do a lot of damage if used improperly. On the other hand, the Recovery Console is extremely powerful , and used properly, (perhaps with guidance or assistance), it may help recover from or avoid a disaster.