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One of the most severe problems afflicting Windows 10 users: system corruption. Corruption manifests in a variety of ways, ranging from random blue or black screens of death How To Troubleshoot And Fix Windows Black Screen Issues How To Troubleshoot And Fix Windows Black Screen Issues The B in BSOD doesn't always stand for blue. Sometimes you'll experience a Black Screen of Death. This can be even more troublesome because it provides no error message. Let's troubleshoot together. Read More (BSOD) to driver errors. If you’ve tried everything else, you might want to experiment with three tools that come pre-installed with Windows.

In my case, I ran into an entirely unresolvable corruption of system files on my Windows 10 installation. Fortunately, my misfortune now translates into your gain.

Three Native Tools: SFC, DISM, and Troubleshooters

The best free tools come packed by default with Windows 10: System File Checker (SFC), Deployment Imaging Service and Management (DISM), and the Windows Troubleshooters. All three tools offer straightforward and quick paths for repairing some of the most common Windows 10 corruption issues. If you’ve ever suffered from a reoccurring computer problem that’s not related to driver errors, file system corruption is a likely culprit.

System File Checker

The best tool for repairing damaged Windows installations is System File Checker (SFC). Like many of Microsoft’s most powerful repair tools, SFC runs from the command line. After executing the program, it inspects Windows for signs of damage. When it detects damaged files, SFC automatically repairs them. It works most efficiently when used in Safe Mode (how to boot into Safe Mode How To Boot Into Safe Mode In Windows 8 How To Boot Into Safe Mode In Windows 8 In Safe Mode, you can troubleshoot and fix Windows issues. When you enter Safe Mode, Windows loads a minimal environment that ensures a stable system. Read More ). Users may wish to restart the computer in Safe Mode, before beginning — although this step isn’t required.

To use SFC, open an elevated command prompt by typing CMD into the Windows 10 search bar, right-clicking on Command, and choosing Run as administrator. Here’s what it looks like:

elevated-command-prompt

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Once you’ve launched a command prompt, type in the following text and hit enter:

sfc /scannow

It should look like this:

sfc-scannow

On my 4th generation Intel Core i7 processor, the process takes around 10 minutes. After it finishes running, I get the following results, which indicate corrupted system files:

sfc-scannow-found-corruption

SFC.EXE repairs most issues. However, when SFC fails, a second tool called Deployment Imaging Service and Management (DISM) must be used. DISM sometimes requires the original installation medium, such as a USB flash drive or optical disc. For this article, we will not cover the more extensive options that are available for DISM, but you can read them yourself over at TenForums.

Deployment Imaging Service and Management

If SFC fails to repair Windows, the next tool is DISM. DISM, like SFC.EXE, offers a tremendous number of command line options. It interacts primarily with Windows system images (.WIM files). DISM can scan, repair, and clean up problematic WIM files. Once repaired, users can run the SFC.EXE command (if it failed on the first try). Rarely does SFC fail — but when it does, DISM offers the easiest repair method.

DISM includes several diagnostic features which can determine whether or not corruption exists and if the damage is repairable. To scan your installation for errors and repair them, open an elevated command prompt (as explained above) and type in the following:

DISM /online /cleanup-image /RestoreHealth

The process can take around 15 minutes to complete. It will hang at around 20% complete, which is normal.

dism-restorehealth-scan

After DISM completes, it should create a report detailing any Windows system file issues. Unfortunately, repairing Windows doesn’t seem to work on my system. DISM informs the user whether or not the repair operation was successful. If it fails, the utility generates an error log.

windows-dism-fails

I received an uncorrectable error (code 0x800f081f). For those unfamiliar with the error code, it means that Windows suffers from system file corruption. The source of the problem could originate from a corrupted installation disk CDs Are Not Forever: The Truth About CD/DVD Longevity, "Mold" & "Rot" CDs Are Not Forever: The Truth About CD/DVD Longevity, "Mold" & "Rot" The digital age has revolutionized the way we handle information. Never before could humankind record and store so much information and in such diversity. While the amount of data has increased exponentially, the predicted life... Read More , bit rot, or some other unknown cause. Unlike some of the more common issues afflicting Windows users, corruption can sometimes occur invisibly, particularly on older installations. Fortunately, other tools inside of Windows offer additional options.

Windows Troubleshooters

On top of SFC and DISM, Windows includes a troubleshooter for some of the operating system’s most error-prone systems. Troubleshooters often off the first line of defense against malfunctioning software. For anyone suffering from networking, audio/sound, Internet, driver, or — really — any problem, the Windows Troubleshooters should be the first step in tackling the problem.

First, press Windows key + Q, type in troubleshooting, and select the respective result.

windows-10-troubleshooter

After the Troubleshooting window opens,  you may want to choose View all from the left pane. View all exposes the entire range of Windows 10 troubleshooters, which cover the majority of Windows subsystems, such as sound, printer, and network (all very troublesome subsystems). There’s even an upcoming Windows Activation Troubleshooter (our Windows Activation guide The Ultimate Windows 10 Activation & License FAQ The Ultimate Windows 10 Activation & License FAQ One of the big confusions surrounding Windows 10 concerns its licensing and activation. This FAQ will shed some light, explain what has changed with Windows 10 version 1511 (Fall Update), and translate activation-related error codes. Read More ). Alternatively, if you’re only experiencing sound problems, you can pick one of the options dealing with audio troubleshooting from this menu.

windows-10-troubleshooter-find-all

Here’s what the troubleshooter looks like after clicking on View all:

windows-10-troubleshooter-manifest

Running each of the troubleshooters requires clicking on it. For example, I’m having Windows corruption issues. But because none of these deals with corruption issues, I tried using System Maintenance. Windows then ran some basic maintenance routines, such as synchronizing the system clock. Unfortunately, it didn’t help. Running the SFC command returned the same discouraging results. Something was seriously wrong.

Nuclear Option: In-Place Upgrade

If all else fails, the best choice is to re-download a copy of Windows and perform an in-place upgrade of the operating system, rather than a restore or a reset/refresh.

An in-place upgrade offers several advantages over performing a Windows 10 refresh Should You Refresh, Reset, Restore, or Reinstall Windows? Should You Refresh, Reset, Restore, or Reinstall Windows? Ever wanted to reset Windows 7 without losing personal data? Between a factory reset and a reinstall, it was tough. Since Windows 8, we have two new options: Refresh and Reset. Which one is right... Read More or reset. An in-place upgrade of your operating system rewrites the system files, which is almost guaranteed to eliminate any corruption of the operating system.

There are two disadvantages, though: First, while users retain their data, they lose their updates and may suffer through a tedious download and installation process. Second, if you suffer from malware issues, an in-place upgrade won’t work. Even so, an in-place upgrade fixes most corruption issues.

Upgrading from Windows 10 to Windows 10 requires the following:

  • A downloaded copy of Windows 10, identical to your current operating system. You can acquire another copy of Windows through the Windows GWX tool (below).
  • Enough free space on your hard drive to support downloading another copy of Windows 10.
  • The Get Windows 10 (GWX) installation and upgrade tool — download link.

After meeting the above requirements, run the Windows GWX tool. Users then accept the licensing terms. When prompted, select Upgrade this PC now then choose Next.

windows-gwx-tool-upgrade

The upgrade process takes a very long time, as the tool must download a complete copy of Windows 10. Expect to wait several hours, at the minimum. The process requires almost no effort from the user. Windows should completely overwrite the original installation with a fresh copy of Windows, leaving behind the user’s files, settings, and applications. After the upgrade tool finishes running, the computer should restart.

Unfortunately, even rewriting the operating system failed to repair my issue. The corruption continued.

Giving Up: Reinstalling Windows

After considering the matter further, I realized that the most direct route is also often the best path: a complete reinstallation of Windows 10 using a freshly downloaded copy of Windows. Fortunately, Microsoft made reinstalling Windows 10 easier than with other versions of the operating system. In fact, you need only download the Windows GWX tool and image it onto a USB flash drive.

A scan from SFC revealed that the corruption remained. When these kinds of issues persist through a clean install, it strongly suggests hardware failure. Fortunately, on a whim, I upgraded to Windows 10 Anniversary How to Get the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Now How to Get the Windows 10 Anniversary Update Now Windows 10 is receiving a major upgrade this month. The Anniversary Update is rolling out slowly. We show you how to upgrade now, how to delay the upgrade, and which pitfalls to watch out for. Read More edition. After running SFC, for the umpteenth time, it completed without detecting errors.

sfc succeeds wtf

I don’t advise upgrading to Windows 10 Anniversary edition as a means of fixing problems — but if you’re out of options, it might be worth checking out.

What’s the Best Windows Repair Tool?

Pretty much everyone should scan their computer for system file corruption issues. If you have problems, a simple scan could expose them, without a lot of effort. If problems exist, and SFC and DISM can’t resolve them, I’ve learned that the simplest method offers the most useful tool for dealing with Windows issues: the in-place upgrade. It didn’t work for me, but it should work for most people.

Does anyone else have software tips for repairing damaged Windows installations?

 

  1. ryan shewmaker
    September 7, 2016 at 10:26 pm

    Ultimate Tweaker finally did the trick! Hooray! Umpteenth try was my lucky number, too.

    • Kannon Y
      September 12, 2016 at 2:00 am

      Awesome! It sounds like you may have had a Windows Update problem. I don't think WUT does much more.

  2. john
    August 15, 2016 at 3:01 pm

    Cure Win 10 problems with you favorite Linux distro. No worries.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 22, 2016 at 5:49 pm

      That's probably the best solution.

  3. ryan shewmaker
    August 15, 2016 at 10:27 am

    I opted to install the insider build (forget exactly what it's named) and then decidede to restore it. The start button, reset, restore, and most anything that is 10 will not work. Dism, SFC, and other troubleshooters all bring back bad sector, corrupted files and error messages. I'm going to try an in-house reinstall and if that doesn't work it's bye Dell, hello Lenovo. It was going to be that way regardless. I read your post thinking that scannow might eventually work if tried enough times.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 22, 2016 at 5:51 pm

      Sorry to hear about that. Have you tried an in-place upgrade yet? Windows 10 AU seems to be causing a tremendous amount of problems.

  4. Paul
    August 12, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    ... And quite often errors like this are actually caused by cruddy Updates!
    that is , the left hand not talking to the right hand syndrome ! :/
    So, first course of action - check for the most recent software updates, and if you have the option to uninstall that update or revert to an earlier version of the particular driver etc. ...
    This method of attack can usually be less painful than a complete install or reload of the OS.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 13, 2016 at 5:58 pm

      Thanks for the tip Paul! Unfortunately, there were no updates for my computer.

  5. Ryan
    August 12, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    There are few websites out there that seem to amaze me with their blogs. This is one of them. I have an old Dell that has been with me through thick and thin. Microsoft came and said 'F you and show us the money.' So, here I sit with a flawless All In One Lenovo that rocks 10 and my old Dell that despite hardware and software manufacturer's warnings has managed 10 well. Until the Anniversary edition happened, that is. So, Kannon I ask you, Umpteenth? Trying sfc could eventually work? I'm hoping goodwil can find a new home for it if it's healthy.

    • Kannon Yamada
      August 13, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      Oh, that's bad writing on my part. I had to run SFC at each phase of the troubleshooting process to see if any method worked.

      I suspect in your case that the problem is caused by the anniversary update itself. Can you elaborate on what happened?

      • ryan shewmaker
        August 15, 2016 at 10:28 am

        I opted to install the insider build (forget exactly what it's named) and then decidede to restore it. The start button, reset, restore, and most anything that is 10 will not work. Dism, SFC, and other troubleshooters all bring back bad sector, corrupted files and error messages. I'm going to try an in-house reinstall and if that doesn't work it's bye Dell, hello Lenovo. It was going to be that way regardless. I read your post thinking that scannow might eventually work if tried enough times.

        • Kannon Yamada
          August 22, 2016 at 5:51 pm

          Thanks for the kind words, by the way Ryan!

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