How To Install The Recovery Console in Windows XP

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Windows XP is an odd beast. Some have no problems using it, while others report little else but problems. If you often find yourself in the latter category, you may at some point have the need to use Windows XP’s Recovery Console, especially if your PC will no longer boot.

The Recovery Console is a special command-line interface for Windows XP which allows an administrator to identify and locate drivers and files which are problematic, as well as troubleshoot system settings. It’s recommended by Microsoft only for advanced users (in other words, that nerdy kid down the block), and only when Safe Mode (pressing the F8 key at boot-up) is not working.

To install the Recovery Console, you will need your Windows XP CD. The version of Windows XP on the CD must match or surpass the version installed on your PC, thus a Service Pack 3 disk is recommended. If you don’t have one, try to borrow one from a friend or co-worker. If you can’t find one, you can download setup disks or disk images from Microsoft.

For demonstrative purposes, we’ll assume that you have a Windows SP3 CD loaded into your CD drive at drive-letter D:

To install the Recovery Console, follow these steps (lifted from this Knowledge Base article):

  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.

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  4. A Windows Setup Dialog Box appears. The Windows Setup Dialog Box describes the Recovery Console option. To confirm the installation, click Yes.

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  5. Restart the computer. The next time that you start your computer, “Microsoft Windows Recovery Console” appears on the startup menu.

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The black screen with white text can be intimidating, but if you’ve ever played with the command line, you should feel right at home here. If you need help, just type “help”, and optionally, the name of the command you’re curious about, like “help fixmbr”.

I’ll run down the highlights of what commands you’ll most likely use:

Bootcfg“ recovers the Boot.ini file.

Chkdsk /r“ looks for bad disk sectors and attempts to recover any information which can be read from them.

Copy“ copies a file to a target location.

Delete“ deletes one file.

Disable“ disables a Windows system service or driver.

Enable“ restarts a disabled service or driver.

Diskpart“ manages hard disk partitions. Be very careful using this!

Expand“ decompresses a compressed file. This is good for getting files off the installation CD if needed.

Fixmbr“ repairs the boot code on a hard-disk. If your operating system “cannot be found” you’ll likely use this command, along with little brother “Fixboot”.

The Recovery Console is scary but helpful, and you’ll be glad that you’ve installed it on your hard disk before Windows gives you any trouble. If you have any system recovery tips, please leave comments below.

Image credit: Paul Boxley

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