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Repair Windows XP with the XP CD-ROM

written by: Joli Ballew•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 9/17/2008

If you need to repair Windows XP because of repeated blue screens, error messages, or an inability to properly shut down or start up, you can try the Repair option. You’ll need to have a Windows XP CD, be able to boot to that CD, and know what options to select during the repair process.

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    Perform a Repair Installation of Windows XP

    If your PC is running poorly, producing error messages, producing blue screens, or otherwise seems buggy, you can perform a Repair installation of Windows XP. However, a repair of Windows XP won’t get rid of viruses, problems with hardware drivers, or other problems you’ve created that are unrelated to Windows system files. For these problems you’ll need to run anti-virus removal tools, uninstall or update unsigned drivers,  get rid of incompatible hardware and software, and/or repair problems related to things you’ve installed or acquired.

    If you’ve decided that it is most likely system files causing the problems (you get dll errors and the like), the Repair option just may work to solve your computer problems. It’s certainly a less time-consuming option than reinstalling your PC with a clean version of XP, and is well worth a shot.

    Note: To repair your system with the Windows XP CD-ROM, make sure you have a valid product key before starting. You can locate the product key from the Windows XP CD’s packaging materials.

    What If You Don’t Have an XP CD?

    If you purchased a computer that did not come with a Windows XP CD and you want to use the Repair option, you are probably out of luck, unless you can borrow an XP CD from a friend. Perhaps you purchased the computer secondhand and it didn’t come with a disk, or your new computer came with a restore CD instead of a Windows XP CD. Either way, you can’t use the Repair option if you don’t have the disk. (If you’ve broken or lost your disk and have a valid product ID, you can get a replacement from Microsoft.)

    Unfortunately the missing disk phenomenon happens to a lot of buyers, and the restore CDs that many people receive with their computers will only reformat the drive and revert the computer back to the state it was in the day you purchased it. If this has happened to you, the installation files might be stored on your computer or restoration CDs. We’d suggest calling the computer manufacturer’s technical support line to inquire. If worse comes to worst, and it probably will if you only received a restore CD, you might want to purchase an XP CD from your local computer store or online dealer.

    If none of these solutions works, do a complete backup of all of your files, settings, and system state; use the restore CD to reformat the computer; and then use the Backup And Restore utility to restore your data to the newly installed computer.

    TIP: To protest the missing CD phenomenon, make sure you insist your next computer comes with a real XP CD. If all computer buyers insisted, we’d all have the CDs we need!

    How to Boot to the CD

    If you use the Repair option, your computer will have to be configured to boot to the CD. Chances are good it already is configured that way, so before you go messing around in the BIOS, pop in the Windows CD and reboot the computer. If you see an option during boot-up telling you to “Press any key to boot to the CD” or something similar, follow the instructions to do so. If you do not see that option and you cannot boot to the CD, you’ll have to make a change in the computer’s BIOS.

    Changing the BIOS

    Entering the BIOS requires you to press the right key combination or the correct function key at the right time during boot-up, and it isn’t always that easy. Computer manufacturers would rather you not fiddle around in there, and they don’t make it that easy to find. If you don’t know your key combination and it isn’t listed at boot-up, try pressing the F1, F2, F3, or similar key at the splash screen. If that doesn’t work, you might have to visit the Web site of your computer maker and search through its knowledge base.

    Once you can access the BIOS, browse through the pages using the arrow keys and locate the page that offers a listing of the boot-up sequence. Use the arrow keys and follow the instructions listed to change the boot sequence to include the CD-ROM drive as the first option. Exit the BIOS saving the changes, and continue on to the next section.

    Repair XP Without Doing a Clean Install

    You can repair XP without doing a clean installation. This option is the first one you should try if you’ve been having serious problems with startup errors, boot errors, or hard-to-diagnose problems that no other technique has been able to solve (such as System Restore).

    Here’s how to perform a repair:

    1.            Put the Windows XP CD in the CD-ROM drive and reboot the computer.

    2.            When prompted to boot to the CD, perform the required steps. Generally this is achieved by pressing any key during the boot process.

    3.            Wait while Setup loads the files. At the Welcome To Setup screen, press Enter to select the option To Set Up Windows XP Now.

    4.            Press F8 to agree to the terms. At the next screen, use the arrow keys to select the partition that contains XP’s current files.

    5.            Press R on the keyboard to start the repair process.

    Caution: Do not press Esc. This this will start a clean installation of Windows XP and will format the drive.

    6.            Wait while the drive or drives are examined and follow the prompts as you work through the repair task.

    7.            The computer will reboot. Do not choose to boot to the CD again; the process will simply start over. Let Windows reboot on its own.

    8.            When prompted, set up Regional and Language settings and type in the product key located on the XP packaging.

    9.            After the installation is complete, work through the activation pages.

    I’ve found that the Repair option works really well in solving operating system problems, and on boot-up, errors are usually gone and the system is fully functional. With a repair, you don’t lose any existing files, data, applications, or settings, so it’s one of your best options as a troubleshooting technique.