Imagine this: after a long day of typing/shopping/dowloading/whatever, you decide it’s time for bed. You get a little notification on your computer that says the machine will have to be restarted in order to install automatically downloaded updates. You dutifully shut it down and go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning and stumble bleary-eyed to your computer so that you can check the weather and avoid flinging your hand out the window in an effort to ascertain the temperature, the thing won’t turn on. All you get is a black screen with “Windows Error Recovery” at the top. If you choose “Launch Startup Repair (Recommended),” you go into a boot loop. If you choose “Start Windows Normally,” you go to a blank black screen.
When this happened to a friend, I was eager to try my hand at fixing it. So I picked up his laptop, did some research on the issue, and dove in. Here’s what I found:
This type of error is not uncommon. It can hit any computer that comes pre-installed with Windows. So, in all likelihood, it applies to you, whoever you are. Windows pushes out a ton of updates all the time ranging from security patches to software updates. Any one of these updates has the potential to seriously mess up your machine. Every time these system updates are pushed out (which happens monthly), a bunch of computers crash. This is because the OEM Windows installs have specs that are tied to the machines they inhabit, and Windows isn’t going to test their updates on every machine that has ever come stock with Windows. Unfortunate, eh?
The first thing I did before mucking about with the system was make a full backup of my friend’s data. Luckily, I was able to boot into safe mode by holding down F8 at startup. If that doesn’t work for you, I recommend doing a live install of a lightweight Linux distribution, such as Knoppix. That will give you access to the filesystem. From there, it’s as simple as dragging and dropping the files to portable storage. I recommend you do the same. I’ll wait.
After that, I downloaded a fresh copy of Windows and burned it to a disc. You can download official copies of the Windows ISO files here. Once you have the right one (check your documentation to see if you need the 32 or 64 bit version), burn it to a DVD or USB drive. I recommend using the official Windows 7 USB/DVD tool. It just makes things easier. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
A full system disc has a host of repair options on it. I ran all of them. None of them worked. The hardware was fully functional and the memory was good. The problem had to be with Windows itself. I booted back into Safe Mode and attempted to restore the system to a time when it was fully functional. And here’s where I go off about how bad Windows is.
I hate Windows. Automatic updates are recommended and enabled by default. These things have the potential to break your computer, as happened in this case. What’s worse? Each of those updates creates a new restore point. I had six restore points available to me, all stemming back to November 13, 2012 when the update was first rolled out. The problem? The boot error evidently resulted from the earliest update. So I could only restore the machine to an earlier broken version!
So that meant that I had to do a fresh install of the operating system. Luckily, I already had the data backed up and had a system DVD for recovery purposes. I was ready to go, if a bit annoyed that I had to wipe all the installed programs from the machine. I popped my fresh Windows 7 disc in the drive and clicked “Install.” Very quickly, I was warned that I was missing a driver for the CD/DVD drive. Without that driver, I couldn’t continue. And here’s where I go off about how awful Microsoft is.
To make a long story short, I wasn’t missing any driver. The official ISO I downloaded was corrupt. I discovered this by doing a hash check and comparing the file I downloaded with the hashes of ISOs known to be functional. That sounds complicated, yes, but it was fairly easy to ascertain. For one, the ISO I had was .48GB smaller in size than the one I had selected to download. That’s a lot of missing data. The USB/DVD tool mentioned above won’t work with a corrupted ISO, so if it won’t copy the files to your USB or DVD, your file is probably corrupted. Simple, but frustrating. It takes a couple hours to download one of those ISOs. I did it twice (both corrupted) before giving up and just torrenting the file. But I have successfully gotten good ISOs from the official site before. Your mileage may vary. I wish Microsoft would take more care in this aspect of their service. If their product worked correctly, these files wouldn’t even be necessary. But since it doesn’t, they are and they should make them more accessible.
Okay, so I created a good bootable ISO and went through the install process. Everything went nice and smooth. I transferred the data back onto the machine and everything is fully operational. It was just a pain to get there.
So, if this happens to you:
***Update: Please see the comments for an alternative approach to this problem that may allow you to skip a full reinstall.
1. Back up your data.
2. Download and burn an ISO of Windows 7 and try the repair tools.
3. If that doesn’t work, boot into Safe Mode and try to do a system restore.
4. If that doesn’t work, do a clean install.
Lastly, if your computer came with Windows pre-installed (which is most of them), consider turning off automatic updates. That way you can do research ahead of time to determine whether or not the update would be disasterous to your specific computer model. The security patches come out the second Tuesday of every month. Just wait until Wednesday and google your computer model and “update crash.”
If you have read to this point, you probably happened across this post through a Google search. I hope it helps. Understand, though, that I am not responsible if your attempt to duplicate my efforts results in things not working. 🙂