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Windows XP/Recovery Console not finding current Windows installation


QUESTION: Hi, I'm having trouble using Recovery Console on my 8+ year old desktop Dell. Here is the situation...

The short version:  Using Recovery Console, it is not asking which Windows installation I want to log onto, it just gives me a C:\ prompt.

When restarting XP a week ago, I received black screen and error that “Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM”.

I found Microsoft’s article 307545 on how to solve this using Recovery Console.  (I just want to get in long enough to recover some files , then will wipe hard drive.)

I boot from XP cd, and it goes to blue screen “Windows Setup” loading files. I press “R” to begin Recovery Console.
Goes to black screen, three lines introduce Recovery Console.

This is where it’s apparently supposed to ask me which installation of Windows I wish to log onto.  Instead, I get only a C:\ prompt.

I can’t find any mention of this problem online.  Is there any way to make it find my current Windows installation?

Btw, it has SP3, running Norton Antivirus.
Thanks very much,

ANSWER: Hello Beth.

You can actually fix your Windows XP installation without using the recovery console. Use your Windows XP installation CD, load it up and let it get to the part where it detects previous installations of Windows (The is past the Recovery Console option, so just let it load and press no buttons). If it detects Windows at this menu, you should have an option to "Repair" with a key press (I believe "Enter" is the key for this particular menu, and then "Esc" is to not repair).

This repair should keep all your files intact and it will repair/replace and missing or corrupt files in the Windows OS. I've used this option before with Windows XP and it worked well. It took no more than a half hour on not the fastest of computers.

If for some reason it does not work for you, you could download and burn a Linux OS onto a CD and just boot onto that with the computer with the corrupted Windows XP OS. That would allow you to manage all your files and put them to another device in a graphic user interface without installing anything to the hard drive. You could then wipe the disk as you've mentioned and do a clean installation of Windows XP after you have all your files backed up.

Hope this helps, have a great day!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks so much for the quick reply.

I just loaded up the install disc, and at the Welcome to Setup screen, instead of choosing Recovery Console, I chose "set up Windows XP now."
I get a message that says "Setup did not find any hard disk drives installed in your computer, etc... Setup cannot continue."

That sounds really bad.

The only thing I'm wondering about is that I was running SP3 I believe, and I see that this disc is SP1. And this is not my original XP disc either.
Could that be causing the problem?

I'm willing to try using Linux, but I don't know where to get that download...

ANSWER: The service pack version of Windows XP installation is not the reason the hard disk can not be detected. The error you've received means that the Windows XP installation disk does not have the driver(s) to detect the hard drive or the IDE/SATA controller the hard drive is connected to.

You have two options:
Install said hard drive driver(s) along side the install CD by floppy drive--------
This option requires that you have a floppy drive, whether it is internal, or a USB floppy drive. You will then need to find the driver that works for your computers hardware on the appropriate website for said hard drive or hard drive controller. You would then load it to the floppy disk and then when you first start loading the Windows XP disk, you would almost immediately press F6 (when prompted at the bottom) and you can then load the extra driver(s) for the computer to use and load to properly use all the devices. A much longer process, but if it's all you can do, it is an option.


Acquire a newer Windows XP installation disk, say SP3 and it may have the drivers ready to go. Plus, running a repair/clean install on your current setup may be better since more drivers will be available during the install, you will have less updates to install when done, and because you are installing XP with SP3 included, you are providing your OS with a cleaner install.

Hope this helps, have a great day!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I'm sorry to keep bugging you, but...

I can't find a newer XP disk anywhere. And as for the 1st option, I have no idea how to go about finding what drivers I need, and can't find anything helpful online -- but I do have an old-fashioned floppy drive.

Is the Linux OS download still an option, with the error I got about not finding the hard drive?  
If so, can you tell me where I'd find that online?

I really, really appreciate your help!!

The Linux option is only an option for the data recovery. Linux will not provide any help to re-installing Windows XP. IF you have no other options for getting an OS onto your computer, you can install a Linux OS to the computer (after data recovery) and use your computer almost like you would have before.

Upsides to Linux would be that you'll never get a virus with the way the system is built (so you save time and money on not ever having to get an anti-virus program, and you'll probably never have any break-ins with hackers trying to get your personal info. Other upsides are a crash free environment and a huge range of programs available for certain OS's.

Major downsides to using a Linux OS is the level of user friendliness you may experience is very low. A very strong and fast system, just extremely hard to use if you are not good at learning things quick. You can not run .exe files in Linux, so downloading and installation programs is done in a completely different manner and if you have a hard time getting used to things, this OS is definitely not for you.

If you find that Linux will be your only option (at least for now), let me know and I will give you a simple guide (either me typing it or linking you to a better more detailed one of I can find one for a particular OS I would recommend in the Linux platform.

Hope this helps have a great day!

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I can answer most questions regarding installation of Windows XP, speed optimization, recommended minimal installation specifications, any hardware issues you may encounter, dual booting, best anti-virus software to go with without spending a dime, and much more. If you'd like to dual boot any Linux OS with your Windows XP, I can guide you through that as well. If it is not related to Windows XP, please choose another expert who can help you.


Experience includes repairing hundreds of desktops and laptops, upgrading some computers from Windows 7 or Vista to Windows XP (yes, this is actually an upgrade), using Linux operating systems for data recovery, diagnosis and more! I've also done capacitor repairs on motherboards with a high success rate. I regularly speed up customers computers to like new speeds or faster

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