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What is the Recovery Console, and how do I get at it?

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.

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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:

Windows XP Settup, Welcome 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:

XP Recovery Console Installation Choice

Type 1 and press Enter. You’ll then be prompted for the password of the Administrator account:

XP Recovery Console Administrator Password

And now you’re in the Recovery Console.

XP Recovery Console at Prompt

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.

FIXBOOT command in the Recovery Console

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.

FIXMBR command in the Recovery Console

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 Smile, and used properly, (perhaps with guidance or assistance), it may help recover from or avoid a disaster.

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12 comments on “What is the Recovery Console, and how do I get at it?”

  1. I bought a used computer( Pavilion)It didn’t come with a repair CD. Something happened to my compt. and now I have WindowsXP and part of my netscape.com is on Windows Pro. also. They said it couldn’t be fixed back to just windows XP.Can this be fixed or not?

    Reply
  2. I’ve been installing the Recovery Console on XP installations for years now, so there’s no need to boot from the CD.

    From Microsoft (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307654):

    “Although you can run the Recovery Console by starting directly from the Windows XP CD, it is generally more convenient to set it up as a startup option on your startup menu. To run the Recover Console directly from the CD, see the “How to use the Recovery Console” section.

    To install the Recovery Console, follow these steps:

    1. Insert the Windows XP CD into the CD-ROM drive.
    2. Click Start, and then click Run.
    3. In the Open box, type d:\i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons where d is the drive letter for the CD-ROM drive. In the case of ‘Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition, type d:\amd64\winnt32.exe /cmdcons where d is the drive letter for the CD-ROM drive.
    4. A Windows Setup Dialog Box appears. The Windows Setup Dialog Box describes the Recovery Console option. To confirm the installation, click Yes.
    5. Restart the computer. The next time that you start your computer, “Microsoft Windows Recovery Console” appears on the startup menu.”

    Two caveats: 1) this is something you do before you need it, and 2) it assumes your hard disk is bootable in order to use it.

    – Leo
    01-May-2009
    Reply
  3. I read with interest about the recovery console. I used this option trying to fix a boot problem and now have managed to disable my d: boot drive (by mistake). How do I use this to RE-ENABLE the drive? I can’t even access the files from this drive even though it’s booting from the c: drive now.

    Reply
  4. A linux live CD,Parted magic with its Test Disk utility,UBCD and System Rescue CD are a much better option for sorting out windox problems…

    Reply
  5. Dear Leo,

    Very interesting site you have.
    I have been dealing with an error for more than a month, and I can get this resolved.

    is like this:
    Windows installer
    then:
    Prepairing to Install

    I need you help!
    Thank you!

    Leonardo Barrussi
    [email address removed]

    Reply
  6. HI!
    Thx 4 this, but in my case after presing “R” it apears the same page as if I pres ENTER, it starts to examine hard drive without progress bar:
    “Examinando Disco 57240 MB 0 en Id. 0 en bus 0 en atapi…” in a blue screen

    Reply
  7. HI
    I need to type chkdsk /f
    but i cant because windows crashes when it is being loaded. i see the logo of windows and the progress bar then a blue screen error bsd saying *** Stop: 0x00000024 (0x00190203, 0x82b09828, 0x0000102, 0x00000000) so i put the windows CD and i see the same as you show in the first screenshot but when i press “R” i don’t see a black window, (running XP pro), i press R and it goes to a blue screen. What can I do?
    Hope is nothing serious…
    THX A LOT FOR YOUR HELP.

    Reply
  8. i put the disk in and it started up but after a few minutes i get “file cmdide.sys caused an unexpected error (32768) at line 5897 in d:\xpsp1\base\boot\setup\setup.c.” is there something wrong with the disk or is it my laptop with the problem?

    Reply
  9. I seem to remember that the recovery console is service pack specific, at least you can’t install (say) the recovery console from XP SP1 when your computer is already on SP3. So I believe the best way is to install it on any new machine (see instructions in another post) – that way it gets upgraded with any new SP.

    Reply
  10. Hello,
    In my HP laptop, I have got this HP_Recovery directory in my D:/ directory. Now I want to upgrade my hard drive. So I want to know is it possible to get this this Recovery directory setup in my new hard drive exactly same as it is in my current one, so that it has start up option in boot up while system crashes or its files are locked normally for the user etc.
    Thanks in advance.

    Reply

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