Windows Error Recovery: How to Fix It When Windows Failed to Start

How to restart, troubleshoot, repair, refresh, and reinstall Windows

Windows failed to start could appear as a blue screen with an error, a continual reboot loop, or nothing showing on the screen at all. A computer might fail to start after being shut down or following a restart.

Instructions in this article apply to Windows 10 systems, Windows 8, and Windows 7.

Screen with question mark on it, blue background, surrounded by grey, and cables visible in background

Cause of Windows Failing to Start

When a Windows laptop or desktop system fails to start, the cause may be a disconnected device, a missing file, an unsuccessful update, or failing hardware.

How to Fix Windows Failing to Start

Follow the steps below in sequence to identify and fix the problem. In most cases, a bit of troubleshooting can get your system working again, but some issues may require you to replace failed hardware.

  1. Restart your computer. Restarting restores access if the problem was simply an unusual glitch during the startup process.

  2. On a desktop system, check your connections. If you use a keyboard or mouse with a cable, unplug and then re-plug each to confirm that the devices are connected. A disconnected keyboard, for example, can cause your system to halt during the startup process. Similarly, make sure the cable from the system to the display is connected.

  3. On a desktop system, look to make sure the power indicator light is on. If you can’t see the light, the power supply may have failed. If absolutely nothing happens when you press the power button, you may need to replace the power supply.

  4. Remove the battery. On a laptop system with an easy-to-remove battery, unplug all power cables, then remove the battery. Then, with the battery out of the system, plug in the AC power cable and connect it to your laptop. Try to start up your computer. If it starts successfully, then the problem was your laptop battery.

  5. Let updates complete. If you see any display on your screen, wait a bit longer. Windows often attempts to install system, application, and driver updates during the startup process. Especially if you have an older or slower system, these updates may take a significant amount of time to install. In some particularly problematic cases, you might leave your computer on overnight, then check it the next morning.

  6. Start Windows with the Last Known Good Configuration. This option attempts to start the system with any recent device, registry, and operating system changes reverted to settings that worked. This can allow your system to recover from a failed system or device driver update, or a misconfigured registry entry. (When Windows fails to start twice in a row, the system should give you access to the Advanced Boot Options Menu.)

    If your system successfully boots with this method, you may want to hold off immediately attempting to re-apply system or device driver updates, since these updates may be the source of the problem. Check with Microsoft Support or the device manufacturer’s site for recent news or information.

  7. Run Startup Repair (also known as Automatic Repair in older versions of Windows}. Startup Repair scans your system and attempts to fix missing or damaged system files. It can take more than a few minutes to complete and may require that you restart your computer. In some cases, you might need to run Startup Repair up to three times to resolve startup issues.

  8. Perform a System Restore. Use a recent restore point to recover your system. A System Restore will revert your system, drivers, and registry to an earlier point in time.

  9. Scan Your Computer for Malware for several ways to remove malware. Some signs that your system may have malware include virus warnings, notices, or other unusual messages displayed as your system starts.

  10. Reset your PC. A reset will leave you with Windows and the apps originally installed on your system. Most often, people initiate a Windows Reset when they’re ready to get rid of a system, but want to give the system to someone else. A reset wipes out system customizations and changes, removes installed applications, and deletes data. However, it can be an effective way to return a problematic system into a once-again usable computer.

    Make sure you have your personal files backed up elsewhere before you do a Reset. A Reset will erase your files.

  11. Test a noisy hard drive. A failed or failing drive may prevent Windows from booting correctly. Hard drives with spinning parts often emit grinding or clanking sounds when they fail, while solid-state drives (SSDs) typically stop working with no audible indicators. If a drive fails, you may install Windows on a new drive. If you don’t have your data backed up elsewhere, you might use data recovery software to attempt to retrieve your files from the failed drive.

  12. Perform a clean install. If none of the above steps has worked, you can try a clean install of Windows. This process will erase everything on your drive and replace it with a new installation of Windows.