One day – and it will happen – you'll sit down in front of your computer, press the on button and instead of the usual start up screens a scary error message will appear, informing you that today your PC is not going to co-operate. Of course it will be only a minor inconvenience because you have a tried and tested recovery strategy, all of your critical files have been backed up and there's a spare PC standing by. If so you are excused the next two episodes of Boot Camp, which are all about what to do if your PC goes on strike.

That's got rid of all those smug smarty pants… For the rest of us, even those of who religiously make copies of important files, backups are a fat lot of good if your one and only PC refuses to work. Rule number-one is to keep calm. Hitting your machine with a heavy object rarely helps and put down that screwdriver! If you've taken a few simple precautions, and the problem is confined to iffy software – as it usually is -- then there are several things you can try before resorting to helplines and the experts. Follow these simple steps and there's a fair chance you'll have your PC up and running again within an hour or two.

The first job – and do it now if you haven't already done so – is to create a Windows Start Up disc. Just pop in an empty floppy, click Start > Settings > Control Panel > Add-Remove Programs, select the Start Up disc tab and follow the instructions. When it has finished remove the disc, label it and put it somewhere safe. Your Start Up disc contains a collection of files and utilities that should get your PC started and help to diagnose and cure the most common problems.

Windows 95 users might also like to make an Emergency Recovery Disc or ERU; this saves important system files, including Autoexec.bat, config.sys,, win.ini and system.ini to a floppy disc. In the event of a crash they can be restored by running a program on the disc called erd.exe. The ERU program is on the Windows 95 CD-ROM. Use Windows Explorer to open the 'Other' folder then Misc and ERU. Double click the eru.exe icon to start the program and copy the files to a blank floppy. System files in Windows 98 can be backed up by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Information, click on the Tools menu, select System Configuration Utility, display the General tab and click the Create Backup button. The files are stored on the hard disc and can be recovered from the same window using the Restore Button window, assuming that Windows is running of course...

Next, make a backup copy of your PCs all-important Registry files. There is a utility on the Windows 95 CD-ROM called cfgback.exe (also in the Other folder) but it's just as easy to do it from the Registry Editor. In Run on the Start menu type 'regedit' then click OK. Go to the Registry menu and select Export Registry File. You will be asked to give it a name ('regbak' is traditional) and a place to store it. It's usually much too big for a floppy so create a new folder for it on the hard disc, or tuck it away somewhere you will remember to find it. This file is for Registry emergencies only, if Windows reports such a problem click on the regbak.reg icon to automatically restore the backup.

It's all very well having a Start Up disc, but what are you supposed to do with it? The first occasion most PC owners will need it is when their computer won't start, which is not the best time to learn how it works. The Windows manuals aren't much help either, so let's run through the basics.

We'll come to Windows 98 in a moment but first the Windows 95 Start Up disc, which leaves users pretty much to their own devices. If your computer fails to boot up or Windows won't start switch it off, insert the disc and switch it back on again. This time the PC will boot to MS-DOS from the floppy disc and after a few moments you will see an A:\ prompt.

By the way, this procedure should give you access to your hard disc, just type C: and you're in. From there you can view the contents of the drive by typing 'dir', and if necessary retrieve vital files (smaller than 1.4Mb) to a floppy by typing copy 'C:\ (path and file name) A:'. (eg: copy C:\ documents\insurance.doc A:)

A lot of boot-up problems are caused by disc errors or file corruption so the first thing to do is run Scandisk. Simply type 'scandisk' after the A: prompt and hit return.  When it has finished and if it has found and repaired any errors you might also want to take up the offer of a full surface scan, to seek out and fix any deep seated hard disc faults. It's also worth running Checkdisk (type chkdsk at the A: prompt). The disc contains two other resources, Uninstall, which will remove Windows, for a clean reinstall, and the absolute last resort FDISK, to wipe your disc clean, so you can start from the very beginning.

Windows 98 users get a lot more help from the Start up disc. It boots the PC and creates a temporary 'Ramdrive' in the PCs memory. This is a kind of virtual hard disc drive, used to hold all of the tools and drivers on the floppy disc. The Ramdrive becomes disc D: all other drives are moved up a letter. (Don't worry, everything returns to normal once the PC boots up under its own steam). The start-up disc gives a choice of opening a detailed help file, starting Windows in Safe mode (more about that next week) and accessing help and resources on the Windows 98 installation disc. The CD-ROM drive should be accessible since the start up disc loads the necessary drivers. Like the Windows 95 Start Up disc it also has scandisk, chkdsk, Fdisk and Uninstall plus a cab file extraction tool that can copy compressed 'cabinet' files from the Windows CD-ROM to your hard drive. If you're using Windows 98 have a look through the Readme file on the Start Up disc; you never know when you're going to need it!   

Next week – Crash Survival, part 2




Small programs that tell Windows how to communicate with internal hardware – such as disc drives -- and peripherals like printers scanners etc.


Microsoft Disc Operating System, a program, using text based commands that works beside Windows to control the way disc drives handle and process information  


Important files (Autoexec.bat, config.sys,, win.ini etc.) containing text-based commands, that set up and configure Windows and the programs running on the PC



Here's a quick and easy way to open Device Manager, without having to go through Settings > Control Panel > System. Right-click the Start button, select Open, right-click anywhere inside the open window and choose New and Shortcut. A new window will open, on the Command Line type the following: c:\windows\control.exe sysdm.cpl, system,1

Note the full stops, commas and spaces.  Now click on Next, accept the shortcut name and select Finish. An icon called Control Exe should now appear on the Start menu that will take you straight to Device Manager.

Search PCTopTips 



Boot Camp Index















Top Tips Index

Windows XP

Windows Vista

Internet & Email

Microsoft Word

Folders & Files

Desktop Mouse & Keyboard

Crash Bang Wallop!

Privacy & Security

Imaging Scanning & Printing

Power, Safety & Comfort

Tools & Utilities

Sound Advice

Display & screen

Fun & Games

Windows 95/98/SE/ME






 Copyright 2006-2009 PCTOPTIPS UK.

All information on this web site is provided as-is without warranty of any kind. Neither PCTOPTIPS nor its employees nor contributors are responsible for any loss, injury, or damage, direct or consequential, resulting from your choosing to use any of the information contained herein.