Windows 7 : Troubleshooting and Repairing Problems - Using Regedit to Repair a System That Won’t Start, Boot Options

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1. Command Prompt

The Command Prompt option in the Choose a Recovery Tool screen opens a command-prompt interface with all the power of the command prompt environment, instead of the limited features of the Recovery Console used in Windows XP. You can run disk management, copy, delete, and other commands, just as you would from within the Windows 7 GUI.

2. Using Regedit to Repair a System That Won’t Start

Another handy Startup Repair feature in Windows 7 is the capability to run the Registry editor (Regedit) from the Command Prompt window. If you cannot start your system because of driver or service problems or other Registry-related issues, you can use Regedit to work on your system and repair problems.

To start Regedit from the Choose a Recovery Tool screen in the System Recovery Options dialog box , click Command Prompt. When the command prompt window opens, type regedit and press Enter.

Before making any changes with Regedit, export the current Registry with File, Export so that you have a backup copy, in case of problems. By default, Export saves only the current branch. To export the entire Registry, select All in the lower-left corner of the Export Registry File dialog box. Provide a name for the exported Registry, such as the computer name and current date, and click Save. You can use USB flash memory drives and other types of storage to save the exported Registry. However, you should not save it to the hard disk, especially if you suspect that you might need to perform data recovery operations on it later. (You don’t want to overwrite any recoverable data.)

Sometimes, services running at startup crash, preventing a system from starting. Here’s how to use Regedit to disable these services:

Select the key HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE.

Browse into the System key, and then the CurrentControlSet subkey if it’s displayed.

Browse into the services key and look for the likely offending service. Most service keys have a value named Start, with one of the following values:

  • 0

Boot driver loaded by Ntldr (Boot)
  • 1

Driver loaded at kernel initialization by Windows 7 (System)
  • 2

Driver loaded at system startup by Session Manager or Service Controller (Auto Load)
  • 3

Driver or service loaded manually from Services, Control Panel, and so on (Load on Demand)
  • 4

Driver or service that is not running or started (Disabled)

Services with a Start value of 0 or 1 are used to boot Windows, and you shouldn’t touch them. Services with a Start value of 2 start about the same time as the Login dialog box appears in Windows. If your Windows system boots and then promptly crashes without your help, try setting the Start value of any suspected service(s) to 3 or 4. Be sure to write down the names of the services and their original Start values before you change anything.

Exit Regedit.

Type exit and press Enter to close the Command Prompt window.

Remove the Windows 7 DVD and click Restart to restart your system normally.

If your system restarts correctly, you’re finished!

You might need to repeat this process a few times, disabling a different service or two each time. In some previous versions of Windows, this procedure required installing a parallel copy of Windows and some loading of the old installation’s Registry into the new system’s Registry editor, but thanks to the integration of Regedit into the souped-up Command Prompt in the System Recovery Options menu, that’s not necessary in Windows 7.

3. Boot Options

If you are able to start your system but it doesn’t run properly, Windows 7 offers several alternate boot methods that can be used to bypass a problem or boot into a reduced environment so that you can solve the problem. For example, if you’ve recently installed a new device driver that caused a serious system failure (you can’t complete the boot process), you can use a boot option to boot without that driver. (This is called the “Last Known Good Configuration,” to be exact.)

The boot options of Windows 7 are accessed during the early stages of system startup. If you have more than one OS on your system, the Windows Boot Manager displays; you have until the counter reaches zero to press F8. If you have only Windows 7 on your computer, you’ll see a message about pressing F8 after the computer’s own Power-On Self Test and the display of the graphical booting screen. You have only a few seconds, so keep your finger over the F8 button and press it when the message appears.


Some systems and motherboards include a boot menu that uses the F8 key to select a boot drive. If your system includes this feature, check the documentation to determine which keys to press to display the Windows Boot Manager. For example, some motherboards require that you press F11, or F6 and then F8, to display the Windows Boot Manager. You can also try pressing the spacebar after the BIOS loads to access the Windows Boot Manager.

Pressing F8 at the correct moment reveals the Advanced Boot Options menu, which contains several boot options, listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Advanced Boot Options
Repair Your ComputerRuns the Repair Your Computer scans.
Safe ModeStarts Windows 7 using only basic files and drivers (mouse, except serial mouse devices; monitor; keyboard; mass storage; basic video; default system services; and no network connections).
Safe Mode with NetworkingStarts Windows 7 using only basic files and drivers, plus network connections.
Safe Mode with Command PromptStarts Windows 7 using only basic files and drivers. After you log on, the command prompt is displayed instead of the Windows desktop.
Enable Boot LoggingStarts Windows 7 while logging all the drivers and services that were loaded (or not loaded) by the system to a file. This file, called ntbtlog.txt, is located in the %windir% directory. Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, and Safe Mode with Command Prompt add to the boot log a list of all the drivers and services that are loaded. The boot log is useful in determining the exact cause of system startup problems.
Enable Low-Resolution VideoStarts Windows 7 using the basic VGA driver. This (640×480) mode is useful when you have installed a new driver for your video card that is causing Windows 7 to hang or start and lock up halfway into the initialization process. The basic video driver is always used when you start Windows 7 in Safe Mode (Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, or Safe Mode with Command Prompt).
Last Known Good Configuration (advanced)Starts Windows 7 using the Registry configuration information that Windows saved at the last shutdown. Use this option only if you strongly suspect that a program has written incorrect or damaging information to the Registry. The Last Known Good Configuration does not solve problems caused by corrupted or missing drivers or files. Also, any changes made since the last successful startup are lost. If this option does not help, start your system with the Windows 7 DVD and run System Restore from the Startup Recovery Options menu. Select a recent restore point to reset your system’s configuration.
Directory Services Restore ModeValid only for domain controllers.
Debugging ModeStarts Windows 7 while sending debug information through a serial or USB cable to another computer.
Disable Automatic Restart on System FailureWindows 7 can be configured to restart the system automatically if a STOP error occurs. This behavior can make it difficult to determine the cause. Use this option to disable automatic restart; the STOP error stays onscreen, so you can record the error and research a solution.
Disable Driver Signature EnforcementWindows 7 can be configured to prevent the installation of unsigned device drivers. However, in some cases, an unsigned device driver might be the only way to get a system running again. Use this option to enable you to install and use unsigned device drivers if your configuration normally blocks them.
Start Windows NormallyBoots the system without altering the normal boot operation. Use this option to return to normal booting after you’ve made any other selection from the Advanced Boot Options menu. Selecting this option causes the normal boot to occur immediately; you are not returned to the boot menu.

After you’ve made a selection from the Advanced Boot Options menu, the system boots using the startup option you selected. If you want to run the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool before starting your system with Windows 7, press the Esc key to display the Windows Boot Manager.

If you installed Windows 7 as a dual-boot with an older version of Windows, the Windows Boot Manager displays both options. Use the up and down arrow keys to highlight the version of Windows you want to boot, and press Enter.

Whether you have a dual-boot installation or only Windows 7 installed, the Windows Memory Diagnostic option appears in the Tools menu on the Windows Boot Manager screen. To boot Windows 7 after running the Windows Memory Diagnostics Tool, press the Tab key to highlight Windows Memory Diagnostic and press Enter.

Using Safe Mode, you can start your system with a minimal set of device drivers and services. For example, if a newly installed device driver or software is preventing your computer from starting, you might start your computer in Safe Mode and then remove the software or device driver from your system. Safe Mode does not work in all circumstances, especially if your system files are corrupted or missing, or your hard disk is damaged or has failed.


If a symptom does not reappear when you start in Safe Mode, you can eliminate the default settings and minimum device drivers as possible causes.

In general, if you’ve just performed some operation that caused a system failure, the best first reboot action is to use the Last Known Good Configuration. If that fails to resolve the issue, use Safe Mode. If the problem is specific to the video drivers (or you suspect that it is), you might want to use Enable Low-Resolution Video instead of Safe Mode. If you’ve just recently changed video drivers or the video card itself, you might want to use the Enable Low-Resolution Video mode if things don’t act normally during the reboot.

When you are able to access the system through Safe Mode, you need to resolve the issue that is causing the boot problem. In most cases, this requires you to reverse your last system alteration, application install, driver update, and so on. If your system stops booting properly and you did not make any changes, you should probably call Microsoft tech support; they might help track down the culprit and get things back on track.

If none of these boot options results in a repaired system or enables you to boot the system, you mightneed to reinstall the operating system.

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