My Acer laptop was running perfectly fine until one day I was infected with
Live Security Platinum “scareware“. So I
went through a lot trying to get rid of it. Everything from using anti-malware
programs to removing it manually, but it kept coming back. So, I finally decided
to “Restore system to factory defaults” (my laptop does this from a hidden
By the way, my OS is Windows 7 Home Premium.
Anyway, after everything was installed and the whole process finished, my
laptop went to the login screen (you know when you have to pick a user profile
if there is more than one). For some reason, the profile I created during the
restore process was disabled; it said something like “User profile disabled. Please see System Administrator.” And there was also another profile with no
picture (the box was there for the profile pic, but no pic) and there were boxes
to type in both a user name and password.
Nothing I tried worked and after not finding any answers online, I gave up
and restored my system once more. This time, after everything installed, I can
log on to my profile now, but there are still problems. Every now and then,
Windows Explorer crashes or sometimes, I see the desktop then the screen goes
completely black aside from the mouse pointer. Then, after a few minutes, the
desktop comes back with a bunch of error messages, but after dismissing them,
everything runs fine. Everything except for Internet Explorer, of course, which
is now slow and has trouble loading web pages and sometimes only loads half the
page or can’t load the page at all, even though I still have an internet
connection. Sometimes, I even get an iexplorer.dll error (I occasionally get
other .dll errors, but I can’t remember them).
And here is the final and weirdest problem. When I turn on the computer
after Windows loads up at the login, there is a circle with a line that looks
like it supposed to be a clock and under it says two min. No matter how many
times I reboot, it stays there but it wasn’t there before I restored.
Is it possible that something went wrong in the restore process or is there
some other problem or problems?
It’s really difficult to say exactly what’s gone wrong here.
I have a couple of suspicions, one of which is probably evident by the title
of this article, but in reality, it could be many different things. It could be
anything from (as you say and I suspect) a bad restore to something that’s
causing malware to reappear, to even coincidental hardware problems.
For anything short of hardware, however, my recommended approach will be the
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System Restore is not System Restore
I have to start by clarifying something extremely important.
Restoring your system to manufacturer’s defaults using the System Restore
discs that were provided by the manufacturer is not the same as
using the System Restore feature in Windows.
They are completely unrelated.
The System Restore feature in Windows, which I don’t like
either, is basically a glorified registry backup and restore that resets
certain files back to a prior point in time depending on when restore points
were taken. When it works, that is.
Restoring your system to factory defaults, on the other hand, basically
wipes out your system completely and replaces it with the copy of Windows and
applications that were originally installed on the machine the day it was
delivered from the factory.
Typically, all of your data and subsequently installed applications are lost
in the process.
When it works, that is.
How restoring your system to factory settings probably works
In an effort to save money (and perhaps licensing costs), most computer
manufacturers don’t actually provide a copy of Windows on installation media
like CDs or DVDs when you purchase your machine. Instead, they pre-install Windows
In case you ever need to start over, they also provide a copy of Windows in
an often hidden partition on the computer’s hard disk. The theory is that a
“restore to factory settings” is nothing more than erasing the primary
partition and copying the recovery partition into the primary partition. (In
practice, it’s not that simple but conceptually at least, it is.)
So what’s with that “System Recovery disc” that came with your system? Well,
it doesn’t have Windows on it, that’s almost certain. What is does have is a
small program, unique to your computer’s manufacturer, that does what I just
described. After warning you about the consequences, it copies the System
Restore partition over the main partition, handling all the pesky details
relating to booting properly and what not along the way.
That’s how a CD with only a small amount of data actually on it can restore
a system that’s typically so large, it needs to be distributed on DVDs these days.
And of course, I have to say that this is how it “probably” works, as of
course, there is no standard. Each computer manufacturer decides how they want
to handle this situation and each provides its own tools and techniques to do
Why restoring your system to factory settings might fail
The most common failure that renders this hidden-partition approach useless
is a hard drive failure. If the hard drive goes bad, it takes all of the partitions
with it. Your primary partition is lost as is your recovery partition. There is
nothing for the system recovery disc to recover and it fails.
Some manufacturers will only send you a complete Windows installation disc
if in fact your hard drive has failed and they provide you with a
Another, less common scenario involves malware.
If your machine is infected, it is possible that the malware could
infect or damage the hidden system recovery partition. In fact, sufficiently
aggressive malware would try to do just that so as to keep your machine
infected even after you’ve attempted to restore to factory settings.
While the process of restoring your machine to its factory default settings
might appear to work, it’s very possible that the net result will not be
factory default at all.
I’m honestly not saying that this is what’s happened to you. There’s no way
for me to know, but I have to say that it sure does feel that way.
Fixing it after the fact
If your recovery partition is lost or damaged, either actually (hard disk
replacement or clear failure) or empirically (things don’t work right after a
reset to factory settings), there’s really only one solution:
Reformat and reinstall from scratch.
That means you’ll need actual Windows installation media, not system
recovery media, that can be used to install Windows onto a completely empty
If all you have is a System Restore disc provided by the manufacturer, you
may not have what you need. You’ll need to either contact the manufacturer for
an installation disc, or go out and purchase one.
There is a better way
Recovery partitions, as you can hopefully see by now, are not something to
be relied on. Even if you believe your chances of contracting malware that
would damage it are small (and they are), the simple fact that a hard drive
failure could render it useless should be an important realization.
Regular image backups kept on an external drive and/or elsewhere.
Take and save an image backup as soon as you get a new machine, and that
becomes your System Restore media. If you ever need to restore your
system to its factory default settings, simply restore to that backup and you’re
Take periodic image backups and there’s a good chance you won’t need to take
that drastic a step.
In a situation where you’ve encountered malware that refuses to be removed,
simply restore your system to an image backup that was taken before the
infection, and you’re done. No complicated removal instructions to follow, no
questioning whether or not, it’s really gone, just a restore from a backup
And of course, if your hard disk dies, replacing and restoring to the most
recent backup image has you up and running again quickly.
There’s a reason I frequently say, “Nothing can save you from almost any
problem like a proper and recent backup.”