What the Windows Recovery Console Does - dummies

By Dan Gookin

One of the most useful tools for fixing problems in Windows is the Recovery Console. Unlike Windows in its graphical glory, the Recovery Console is a text-mode operating system, similar to the old MS-DOS. Indeed, many of your old favorite DOS commands can be used in the Recovery Console, making it popular with nostalgic nerds.

The Recovery Console isn’t DOS, however. It’s a tool used to troubleshoot your computer. It’s run either from a recovery partition on your PC’s hard drive or from any Windows or system recovery disc.

Here is a list of some Recovery Console commands of note. Documenting the Recovery Console and doing it well would take an entire book unto itself.

Command Windows Version What It Does
bcdedit 7, Vista Boots configuration editor, used in Windows Vista rather than
the older bootcfg utility
bmrui 7, Vista Runs Windows PC Complete Restore (can also be run from the
System Recovery Options menu.)
bootcfg XP Edits the boot.ini file, used to set
start-up and other configuration options for older PCs. (This
command is available in Windows, but it merely runs the bcdedit utility.)
bootrec 7, Vista System start-up and repair utility
chkdsk All Checks a volume for errors and repairs them if it can
exit All Closes the Recovery Console window in Windows Vista and
restarts the PC for Windows XP
fixboot XP Re-creates the boot sector on a specific drive
fixmbr XP Writes a new master boot record on the named device
format 7, XP Formats a disk drive, preparing it for use
mbr Vista Starts graphical utility to manage the master boot record
recover 7, Vista Reads information from a troublesome disk
reg All Allows you to edit the Registry
sfc 7, Vista Runs the System File Checker

In addition to the commands available for Windows repair, all standard command-prompt commands and utilities are available in the Recovery Console. They include tools for file manipulation, such as copy and ren, the network configuration tool net, and commands for general system management.

The Recovery Console is just one of many tools available for repairing Windows.

You can glean more information about any text-mode Recovery Console command by following the command with a space and then /?. For example, to read all options for the chkdsk command, type

chkdsk /?

To see all options displayed onscreen at one time, add the pipe character and then the more command, as in

bcdedit | more

You can run and manage any Windows computer by using the command prompt alone. Most of the technical setup and configuration of your PC was most likely done by a command prompt script at the factory.

Of course, all this command prompt stuff is nerdy. One reason that most technicians don’t bother using the Recovery Console is that it’s just faster and cheaper to reinstall Windows.

On the subject of reinstalling Windows: Don’t. You do not have to reinstall Windows to fix minor problems.