Windows 7 : Troubleshooting and Repairing Problems - Using Problem Reports and Solutions, Black Magic of Troubleshooting

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1. As a Last Resort

You can reinstall Windows 7 over a damaged Windows 7 installation. Doing so might be time-consuming, but reinstalling is useful if other repair attempts do not solve your problem.


If you do a fresh install, Windows 7 will try to preserve your documents and settings by creating a folder called Windows.old that contains the old Windows installation. After the installation is complete, check in this folder for the folders that belong to each user and retrieve files from those folders.

You should attempt an upgrade install first. (Start the installation by booting your system and starting the install from within Windows.) If this works, you will have repaired your OS and retained your installed applications and most system configuration settings.

If upgrading fails, you must perform a fresh (custom) install, which means you have to reinstall all your applications and remake all your settings changes. Unless you format the drive, your data files remain unaffected by the upgrade or fresh install process.

However, it is always a best practice to back up your data.Keep in mind that if your system fails to boot, you can’t get access to the Windows Backup and Restore tool to create a backup. Although you can copy data from your system (assuming the hard disk is still readable), you won’t be able to get back to work until you re-create your work environment.

More on Recovering Data

If you need to recover data, there are ways to reclaim your data from the hard drive. These techniques assume that the files or folders you want to reclaim did not use NTFS encryption. First, if you have a dual-boot system, look for the \Users\ folder on the boot drive. Drill down until you find the files you want. Keep in mind that all subfolders of users are hidden except for Public. Of course, this assumes that the OS you boot into can read the file system that your user files are stored under. Second, you can try to connect the drive to another computer that boots an OS that is capable of reading the volumes and folders in question. Then, go looking for the files. Find them and copy them where you’d like.

If you still can’t access your data, you might have to use (and pay for) a data recovery service to rescue your hard disk. Ontrack Data Recovery offers this type of service, in addition to many other companies that may be in your local area.

2.Using Problem Reports and Solutions

Many versions of Windows have offered assistance in the form of troubleshooters. For example, in Windows XP, you could choose from the following 12 troubleshooters that would walk you through solutions to common problems:

  • Games and Multimedia Troubleshooter

  • Display Troubleshooter

  • Sound Troubleshooter

  • DVD Troubleshooter

  • Internet Connection Sharing Troubleshooter

  • Modem Troubleshooter

  • Home and Small Office Network Troubleshooter

  • Hardware Troubleshooter

  • Input Device Troubleshooter (keyboard, mouse, camera, scanner)

  • Drives and Network Adapters Troubleshooter

  • USB Troubleshooter

  • Printing Troubleshooter

These troubleshooters often didn’t solve your problems, though they at least walked you through a logical train of investigation for your malady, possibly leading you to a conclusion or avenue of thought you hadn’t previously tried.

Troubleshooters still exist in Windows 7, but they offer more intuitive, detailed assistance. When Windows 7 detects a problem, you are asked if you want help with it. If your problem doesn’t trigger a dialog box, open the Troubleshooting applet in Control Panel. The main Troubleshooting screen is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. The Troubleshooting tool in Windows 7.

Windows 7 groups troubleshooters into categories for your convenience. Each category offers links to tasks that help you fix common computer problems. If you don’t see your specific problem/task displayed, you can click a solution category, such as Programs, if that’s the area in which you’re experiencing a problem. Windows 7 checks the Microsoft website for solution packs to problems with your computer.

Click View All in the Tasks list of the Troubleshooting tool to display a long list of the troubleshooters available in Windows 7.


You should not clear the Troubleshooting History list if you have unresolved problems. If you do, you may not be notified when solutions are discovered.

Click View History in the Tasks list to display a list of detected problems. Figure 25.9 shows a typical listing. Note that problems are listed by product and in newest-to-oldest chronological order.

To clear the Troubleshooting History list, click the Clear History button in the toolbar just above the Name column of the history list.

By default, Windows 7 automatically checks for solutions when problems are detected. To change this behavior, click Change Settings in the Tasks list of the Troubleshooting window, click the Off radio button in the Computer Maintenance section, and click OK. You can still run troubleshooters manually at this point, but it’s recommended you leave this setting on to let Windows 7 do the work for you.

New to Windows 7 is the Get Help from a Friend link in the Tasks list of the Troubleshooting window. This opens a window that lets you invite a person to connect via Remote Assistance to help you with your computer problem. Just click the Invite Someone to Help You button, which opens a Windows Remote Assistance window in which you can save the invitation as a file you attach to an email, send an email invitation (Windows 7 opens your email client, if it’s compatible), or use Easy Connect. 

3. Black Magic of Troubleshooting

It often seems like many professional technophiles have some sort of black magic they use when resolving problems. If you blink, you miss whatever they do to get the system back in working order. It’s often as if you are working with a Technomage (for you Babylon 5 fans).

Yes, it is true that some of our skills in resolving problems seem like hocus pocus. But in reality, it’s a mixture of experience and knowledge, both of which you can gain with time and effort.

In our experience, most computer problems are physical in nature—that is, some component is not connected properly or has become damaged. Of the remaining 5% or so, more than 4.99% of computer problems are caused directly by the user—whether through deliberate or accidental activity. User-caused problems are typically configuration changes, installation of new drivers, or deletion of important files and folders.

When troubleshooting a problem on your system, try to mentally walk backward through whatever actions you’ve performed on the system over the last few days or weeks. In many cases, you might remember installing some downloaded application or changing some Control Panel setting that you meant to uninstall or reverse but never got around to doing. If the brainstorming fails to highlight any suspects, check for physical issues. Is everything powered on? Are cooling fans still spinning? Are all the right cables still firmly connected?

If you don’t discover anything obvious physically, try a power-off reboot. The power-off reboot resets all hardware devices and, in many cases, resolves the problem (if it was device related). If possible, shut down the system gracefully. Then keep the power off for about 10 seconds before switching the system back on. You’ll be amazed by how often this works.

Your next steps should include a walk-through of the Event Viewer and any other types of log files you can find. Let the problem guide you in this process. For example, if the video system is failing, you probably don’t need to look through the security logs.

Problems are sometimes unique and may require a different resolution from any other problem you’ve tackled in the past. However, the following are some general guidelines:

  • Try only one change at a time.

  • Reboot twice after each change.

  • Test each change for success.

  • Try the least-invasive change first.

  • Keep a log of your changes. You might need to undo them to produce a result, or you might need to use the resolution process again in the future.

  • Consult vendor websites for possible solutions if the problem seems to be specific to one device or software component.

  • Be patient and take your time.

  • After a few attempts at possible solutions, step back and re-evaluate before continuing.

  • If you get frustrated, take a break. Anger and frustration are counterproductive when you need to be thinking clearly.

  • Try to undo any recent changes to the system, including new hardware or software patches. You can use System Restore to undo driver or application changes, even if you can’t start the system.

  • Review areas of the system that caused problems in the past.

  • Try to repeat the failure; knowing where, how, or why the failure occurs can lead to a solution.

Troubleshooting is both an art and a science. You need organized patience and outrageous ingenuity. Plus, knowing where to look stuff up never hurts. Keep in mind that the entire Internet is waiting at your fingertips and mouse clicks. Search as well the regular Web. Be precise in your search techniques to help find the exact messages you need to read. The Microsoft Knowledge Base is extremely helpful, too. In addition, lots of helpful information is included within the Help and Support system of Windows 7 and the Windows 7 Resource Kit. If all else fails, contact Microsoft technical support over the phone.

4. Recovering Data from the System Recovery Options Menu

If you decide that the only solution to a totally fouled-up Windows 7 installation is to wipe out the hard disk and start over, and if you discover that you don’t have an up-to-date backup of critical data, you can use the Command Prompt option in the System Recovery Options menu to save your data before wiping out your system.

Start by changing to the drive letter containing your Windows system. Don’t assume it’s the C: drive—for example, on a system that has been partitioned to use BitLocker, the Windows system drive might show up as the D: drive (even though you refer to it as the C: drive during normal operations).

Change to the Users folder:


For this example, let’s assume you need to retrieve files that belong to a user called Smith. Use the command cd smith to change to the Smith folder.


If you perform the dir command, you might see only the Public folder, because all user folders are hidden. Use the command dir /ah/p to view the hidden user folders.

The most important user data folders are generally Contacts, Documents, and Favorites. Copy each folder to the target drive using ROBOCOPY (a souped-up version of the venerable XCOPY utility). For example, to copy Smith’s Documents folder to a folder on the F: drive called Documents (along with any subfolders), use this command:

ROBOCOPY C:\Users\Smith\Documents\ F:\Documents\ /s

Use similar commands to copy Contacts, Favorites, Pictures, and other folders that contain irreplaceable data.

When you’re finished, type exit and press Enter to close the Command Prompt window. Remove the media or shut down the system, and disconnect the hard disk you used for copying the data.


If you decide to use CD or DVD media instead of an external hard disk, USB flash drive, or network share to copy the data, be sure you know what drive letter has been assigned in System Recovery Options Command Prompt mode. It might be D:, E:, or some other letter (and not necessarily the drive letter it normally has). Here’s how to tell: Insert a blank disc and type dir x: (substitute the drive letter you think is correct for x). You see an “incorrect function” error message if you entered the incorrect drive letter. When you format the media, make sure it says that the old file system is RAW and the new file system is UDF before you continue the format. If you don’t pay attention to these details, you could format your Windows system drive by mistake.

Go to another system, insert the media or connect the drive, and retrieve the information. If you stored it to a network share, log in to the network share to retrieve the information. You might need to use the Folder Options applet (in Small Icons or Large Icons view) in the Control Panel to enable the display of hidden files and folders to view and access the files from the other system.

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