BOOT CAMP 334 (13/07/04)



In the bad old days when a PC suffered a fatal crash there was usually little that you could do other than cross your fingers and hope that Windows would reboot. If you were unlucky and an important system file was corrupted often no end of tinkering would fix the problem and the only solution was to wipe the disc and reinstall Windows.


Computers still crash, fortunately not as often as they used to, and recent versions of Windows have an extra safety net in the shape of System Restore.  This very useful feature is often overlooked in times of trouble but it should be your first port of call when Windows throws a wobbly, especially if it occurs following the installation of new software or hardware. This week we’re taking a close look at System Restore and over the next few episodes of Boot Camp we’ll consider some of XP’s other troubleshooting tools.


System Restore works by constantly monitoring and recording changes to critical system files. ‘Restore Points’ (RPs) are created automatically once a day, usually in the background when the system is idle so that it won’t disrupt your work. Restore points are also recorded whenever new software or hardware is added and users can create RPs manually. However, clever and useful as it is, it is important to understand that System Restore is not a backup system and it does not protect data, such as open documents and so on, so you must still save your work regularly, and make proper backups.


The information recorded by System Restore includes the vital Windows Registry and system files called DLLs; for the record it also stores the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Windows File Protection (WFP), Component Object Module and Internet Information Services (IIS) databases. You don’t need to know what they do and in any case you can’t change the way System Restore works but you can take it as read that these are vital (and vulnerable) files that are likely to cause trouble if they are damaged.


System Restore is enabled by default in Windows XP so there is no need to do anything, however it is worth checking that it is operating properly. Go to Programs on the Start menu then Accessories and System Tools. System Restore should be a the bottom of the list, click on it and if all’s well you’ll see the options to ‘Create a Restore Point’, or Restore my computer to an earlier date’. If System Restore doesn’t start there’s a fair chance that it has been accidentally disabled, so go to Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance (or Administrative Tools in XP), in the left pane click Services then scroll down the list on the right and click System Restore Services. Check that Startup Type is ‘Automatic’ and Service Status is ‘Started’. If it still doesn’t work select ‘Disabled’ on the Startup Type drop-down menu, click Apply then OK, reboot, go back into the System Restore Services dialogue box, select Automatic and reboot again. If you still can’t get it to work it is worth taking a look at the section on troubleshooting System Restore at:


System Restore files typically stores RPs for up to 90 days, on drives larger than 4Gb it occupies up to 12% of hard disc space. You can adjust this value but unless you are desperately short of space I wouldn’t recommend it (see also Tip Of The Week), but if you want to tinker with it right click My Computer; select Properties then the System Restore tab, click the Settings button and adjust the slider as required.


So much for the theory, but how do you actually use System Restore? There are two common scenarios, Windows boots but with a serious-looking error message, and Windows refuses to boot.


If Windows boots go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools and click System Restore. Note that if the PC is used by a number of people you will need to be logged on as Administrator. Select ‘Restore My Computer to an earlier time’ and click Next. On the calendar that appears choose an RP a day or two before the mishap occurred, click Next and follow the prompts. Windows chunters away and reboots and with a little luck everything will be back to normal. Programs or hardware installed after the nominated RP will probably have to be reinstalled but all of your data files created after the RP – documents, images etc. – are preserved.


If Windows will not boot then start your PC in Safe Mode by pressing the F8 key immediately after switch on. Select Safe Mode from the list; when Windows starts click ‘No’ for ‘Restore my PC to an earlier time’ and follow the instructions. This procedure also gives you the option to undo a Restore Point.


Next week – More XP troubleshooting tips





Dynamic Link Library, a data file containing data or information needed by a program. DLLs may be shared by a number of applications, in which case they are stored in a central location, such as the System folder in Windows



A large, constantly changing Windows System file containing details of how your PC is set up and configuration information for all the programs stored on the hard disc



Special Windows diagnostic mode used to help trace faults by loading a minimum configuration, avoiding sometimes-troublesome start-up files and drivers




The Restore Points created by System Restore use a lot of space, a gigabyte or more in the case of large hard drives. One simple and safe way to claw back some of this space is to delete old redundant RPs. To do that go to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools and click Disk Cleanup. Your system drive (usually C:) should be selected by default, click OK and when it has finished scanning your system click the More Options tab then the Clean Up button next to System Restore and all RPs, with the exception of the current one, will be erased



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