System Recovery Options

Free Recovery Tools in Windows

The System Recovery Options menu is a group of Windows repair, restore, and diagnostic tools.

It's also referred to as Windows Recovery Environment, or WinRE for short.

Beginning in Windows 8, this menu was replaced by Advanced Startup Options.

What Is the System Recovery Options Menu Used For?

The tools available on the System Recovery Options menu can be used to repair Windows files, restore important settings to previous values, test your computer's memory, and much more.

A screenshot of System Recovery Options in Windows 7
System Recovery Options (Windows 7).

System Recovery Options Menu Availability

The System Recovery Options menu is available in Windows 7, Windows Vista, and in some Windows server operating systems.

Beginning in Windows 8, it was replaced with a more centralized menu called Advanced Startup Options.

While Windows XP has no System Recovery Options menu, a Repair Install and the Recovery Console, both available when booting from the Windows XP Setup CD, are similar to a Startup Repair and the Command Prompt, respectively. Also, Windows Memory Diagnostic can be downloaded and used independently on a PC running any operating system.

How to Access the System Recovery Options Menu

This menu is available on both the computer's hard drive and on the Windows installation disc, so it can be accessed three different ways:

  • The easiest is via the Repair Your Computer option on the Advanced Boot Options menu.
  • If for some reason you can't access that menu or the Repair Your Computer option isn't available (as in some Windows Vista installations), you can also access System Recovery Options from a Windows Setup disc.
  • Finally, if neither above method works, you can create a system repair disc on a friend's computer and then start it using that system repair disc on your computer. Unfortunately, this only works if both computers are running Windows 7.

How to Use the Menu

The System Recovery Options menu is just a menu, so it doesn't actually do anything itself aside from offer choices you can click to run a specific tool. Choosing one of the available tools on the menu will start that tool.

In other words, using System Recovery Options means using one of the recovery tools available on the menu.

System Recovery Options

Below are descriptions and links to more detailed information on the five recovery tools you'll find on the menu in Windows 7 and Windows Vista:

List of Tools in System Recovery Options
Tool Description
Startup Repair

Startup Repair starts, you guessed it, the Startup Repair tool which can automatically solve many issues that prevent Windows from starting correctly.

See How Do I Perform a Startup Repair? for a full tutorial.

Startup Repair is one of the most valuable system recovery tools available on the System Recovery Options menu.

System Restore

The System Restore option starts System Restore, the same tool you might have used before from within Windows.

Of course, the advantage of having System Restore available from this menu is that you can run it from outside of Windows, a handy feat if you can't get Windows to start.

System Image Recovery

System Image Recovery is a tool you can use to restore to your computer a previously created complete backup of your hard drive.

It's a good if-all-else-fails recovery option, assuming, of course, you were proactive and created a system image at some point when your computer was working properly.

In Windows Vista, it's referred to as ​Windows Complete PC Restore.

Windows Memory Diagnostic

Windows Memory Diagnostic (WMD) is a memory test program created by Microsoft. Since problems with your memory hardware can cause all sorts of Windows issues, having a means to test RAM from the System Recovery Options menu is incredibly useful.

It can't be run directly from the menu. When you select Windows Memory Diagnostic, you're given the choice to either restart the computer immediately and then have the memory test run automatically, or have the test run automatically whenever you next restart your computer.

Command Prompt

The Command Prompt available from the System Recovery Options menu is essentially the same Command Prompt you may have used while in Windows.

Most of the commands available from within Windows are also available from this Command Prompt.

System Recovery Options & Drive Letters

The drive letter that Windows appears to be installed on while in System Recovery Options may not always be the one you're familiar with.

For example, the drive that Windows is installed on might be identified as C: when in Windows, but D: when using the recovery tools in System Recovery Options. This is especially valuable information if you're working in the Command Prompt.

System Recovery Options menu drive letter in Windows 7

Like in the screenshot example above, instead of being able to execute a simple dir c: command to list files and folders on the primary hard drive, you might have to replace the "c" in the dir command with another letter (e.g., dir d:) to see the correct data.

System Recovery Options will report the drive that Windows is installed on under the Choose a recovery tool subheading on the main System Recovery Options menu. It might say, for example, Operating system: Windows 7 on (D:) Local Disk.