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What To Do When Windows Vista Crashes: Little-Known Recovery Strategies

Because Microsoft's new operating system is bigger than its predecessors, it's more of a pain to reinstall. Here are some backup, repair, and monitoring methods so you won't have to, even if you encounter fatal startup errors.

A big reason is my looming sense that Murphy's Law applies to Vista more firmly than to earlier Windows incarnations. That is, Vista is less tolerant of hardware glitches, either because its system-monitoring capabilities are beefier than, say, XP, or perhaps because it eats up more of a machine's processing headroom. A case in point: about a month after I built my Vista system, the OS told me my hard drive had gone bad. The "failure" -- an intermittent or soft failure at best, since it wasn't reproducible on another machine -- required that I replace the drive and reinstall Vista. Foolishly, I hadn't prepared my Complete PC Backup DVDs.

You'll need the Vista installation disk to bring you to the System Recovery Options menu

You'll need the Vista installation disk to bring you to the System Recovery Options menu.

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Now that you've created a set of Complete PC Backup disks, it begs the question: How do you use them to restore your computer? If your machine still boots up to some extent, and/or you've got your Vista installation disk, you're in better shape.

A word about installation disks: During the Windows XP era, PC makers mostly moved away from providing such disks to computer buyers and instead included annoying, vendor-specific "recovery" CDs.

I've noticed, since the advent of Vista, that most PC vendors -- Dell, for one -- have returned to the practice of including an installation DVD. That's good, because most of your Vista repairs will proceed much more smoothy with this in your position. As well, I always found the recovery CDs popular during the Windows 95/98/XP era to be pretty much useless; you usually ended up having to do a full reinstall.

Now, back to our program, already in progress.

Here's how to restore your system from your Complete PC Backup DVDs, when you have the Vista installation disk:

1) Insert the installation disc, and then restart your computer.

2) Click Repair your computer.

3) On the System Recovery Options menu, click Windows Complete PC Restore, and then follow the instructions. (This will involve inserting the DVDs as prompted.)

No installation disk? Then restart your computer, press F8. This will get you to an "Advanced Boot Options" menu, from which you can "next" your way to the "Systems Recovery Options" menu. See Step 3 of this Knowledge Base note from Microsoft for more.

When in doubt, if you can't get it to start, reboot, but don't hold down the F8 key; that won't do anything. Instead, repeatedly press "F8" as if you're an impatient person who can't wait for something to happen (which you actually are). This'll get you to the "Advanced Boot Options" menu.

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