How to Fix a Corrupted Windows 10 Installation

Kannon Yamada 11-08-2016

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 Fix a Black Screen of Death Error in Windows 10 What can cause the black screen of death on your computer? Troubleshoot the error in Windows 10 with these tips and solutions. 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.

Note: If you see a “missing operating system” or “invalid partition table” error, your Master Boot Record (MBR) might be corrupted How to Fix the Master Boot Record in Windows 10 The Master Boot Record can become corrupt, damaged, or simply disappear. Here are the fixes you can attempt to revive your system. Read More . And in case you’re facing an inaccessible boot device error How to Fix the Inaccessible Boot Device Error in Windows 10 Want to fix the inaccessible boot device error in Windows 10? Here are several different solutions you can try. Read More ,  a WHEA Uncorrectable error How to Fix the WHEA Uncorrectable Error on Windows 10 Some Windows crash errors are cryptic and therefore more difficult to troubleshoot. The WHEA Uncorrectable Error is one of those. Read More , the SYSTEM_SERVICE_EXCEPTION BSOD, or one of the many other Windows error codes How to Fix Error Code 0x800F081F in Windows 10 Error code 0x800F081F is one of four possible error codes that all point to the same underlying issue. Here's how to troubleshoot and fix it. Read More , like 0xC0000225 How to Fix Error Code 0xC0000225 in Windows 10 Seeing error code 0xc0000225 in Windows 10 when you try to boot your PC? Here's what this error means and how you can troubleshoot and fix it. Read More , we’ve got you covered.

3 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 in Safe Mode on Windows 10 Facing Windows booting problems? Safe Mode is a built-in Windows 10 troubleshooting feature you should try first. 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:


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

sfc /scannow

It should look like this:



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.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.



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.


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" 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.


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 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.


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


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? 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.


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 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.

Related topics: System Restore, Troubleshooting, Windows 10, Windows Upgrade.

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  1. Zach
    January 27, 2018 at 9:23 pm

    The in place upgrade worked for me!! THANK YOU SOO MUCH I have been dealing with this corrupted update file for about 3 weeks now and have tried everything, unable to restart my pc without it getting stuckon getting windows ready. I was ready to give up on it all when I saw your article and decided to upgrade in place and the update file that would not download, downloaded. Everything is working normally now again thank you so much your a life saver

  2. Cat
    April 9, 2017 at 11:56 am

    I am having a black screen of death with mouse cursor visible (but nothing else). Can get into safe mode so tried all your suggestions but none of the tools made any diff. Can't do any in place upgrade from safe mode so will have to try a reset and hope that works. Otherwise a fresh install it is. At least I can do a backup from safe mode. Such a pain.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 22, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      Hi Cat, I'm sorry that you had to do a fresh reinstallation. Are you certain you had a corrupted Windows 10 installation? Other recovery options might be more successful, for example, like a system restore to a previous configuration.

      • Cat
        April 23, 2017 at 7:21 am

        Hi Kannon

        I bought the desktop with windows 10 pre installed and I never could get the system restore point creation to work so that wasn't an option. Anyway in the end I did a reinstall from usb and opted to keep my files. It actually went better than I expected, and once it was done I copied my old profile back over. Other than the time I had to spend reinstalling apps apps nd programs I haven't lost anything. Also on the upside...I can now create restore points for my drive which I couldn't before and some other bugs (like my quicken login never working in quicken) are resolved so it was maybe a good thing in a way. Thanks

        • Kannon Yamada
          April 27, 2017 at 9:11 pm

          Oh, that does sound like corruption. Thanks for sharing! I'm glad you managed to fix the problem. Good job!

  3. David Brandt
    December 20, 2016 at 12:19 am

    I am on day 3 of dealing with this exact issue on a Dell. Been giving control to Microsoft customer support and I believe they have gone through all of these steps to no avail. Going to do the download to a USB and reinstall with them tonight. Very frustrating but glad to know it's not me being an idiot if Microsoft themselves can't fix it. We are on about the fifth guy to work on it. Thanks for the explanation, it's everything they have been trying.

    • Kannon Y
      December 20, 2016 at 1:32 am

      I'm sorry to hear that. This is easily the most frustrating experience that I've had as a technician. It must be even more ridiculous an experience for someone who upgraded their system that was previously working.

      Can I ask if you've reinstalled Windows yet? It sounds like you do not have the original installation disks. To Microsoft's credit, they now let us download and install fresh copies of Windows on our own, without needing a physical disk. But it still blows my mind that corruption issues can continue even after installing a fresh copy.

    • David Brandt
      December 20, 2016 at 2:06 am

      The MS tech is supposed to walk me through a Win 10 download and reinstall from a disc tonight but I think an earlier technician already tried and failed with that. They tried the in place one and it failed.

      • David
        December 23, 2016 at 9:32 pm

        Finally fixed with a clean install of Windows 10, all the Dell programs are gone though. Still trying to figure out what's necessary. Only took 4 days. Tech said to not look for updates, computer will just do them when it wants to

        • Kannon Y
          January 3, 2017 at 5:18 pm

          Congrats! It's ridiculous that they can't fix corruption issues without a clean install. Glad everything worked out for you.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Anonymous
    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

      • Anonymous
        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!