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The Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

Nobody likes to have to reinstall Windows. Nobody. In the past it has been a major headache, with finding or creating the recovery / installation media and if you can find and / or read the product key from the Certificate of Authenticity (COA). But with the Windows 10 online upgrade, things just got a whole lot easier.

 Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

There may come a day when you may need to repair or reinstall Windows 10. In previous versions of Windows, you had to create the manufacturers branded recovery disks or use the hidden recovery partition to reinstall Windows. Or maybe you were one of the luckily ones that got an OEM disk. Either way, you had to have the same media that originally installed the operating system to do a reinstallation.

The really big problem was allot of people didn't know they needed to make the recovery disks. They only found out after their hard drives crashed. At that point, they have only two choices; contact the manufacturer to find out if they sell the recovery disks. Some do, some don't. But the cost for replacement recovery disks is going to be less than the second option, which is to purchase a new installation disk.

Now if you're one of the millions that have upgraded from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 online, you now have a digital license. You can use the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft to create either a bootable USB drive or an ISO file that can be burned to a blank DVD. And the cool thing is that you can make the installation media on another computer, just in case your Windows 10 computer needs to be repaired.

All you need for hardware is a USB drive (8GB or larger) or DVD burner and a blank single-side or double-side DVD. What you need to know about your version of Windows 10 is what language, what edition (Home, Pro, etc.) and what architecture (32-bit or 64-bit). Most consumers use the Home edition as the Pro edition does cost more. Unless you specifically order your computer with the Pro edition or your computer is part of a domain, it's probably the Home edition. And most computers nowadays run 64-bit versions of Windows.

The next thing is the product key. In previous versions of Windows, once the operating system was installed the product key was stored on the hard drive. With Windows 10, once the operating system is installed, the product key is stored on the cloud. So if you're doing a clean / repair installation of Windows 10 on a system that has already been activated, you will not need to enter a product key when prompted for one. You can just click on the Skip button and Windows 10 will automatically activate when it gets online. It's one of the coolest features of Windows 10 you hope you never have to use.

For more information on the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool from Microsoft, just follow the link below.

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

My digital toolbox 2

My Digital Toolbox

When it comes to computer repair, every technician has a collection of software that they use on a regular basis. Whether it is on a CD, DVD or USB drive, these programs are essential to diagnosing different computer related issues. Here are just a few of my favorite programs that I keep in my digital toolbox.

Junkware Removal Tool (JRT)

The main screen for the Junkware Removal Tool

JRT stand-alone (requires no installation) program is essential for finding and removing all sorts of known malware, spyware and adware. It is very simple to use, as it has no user interface. It just opens up in a command prompt window. But don't think for a minute that this program just a collection of scripts, it is quite powerful. And now that it is part of the Malwarebytes collection of tools, it has some major support behind it. If you're looking to clean up some adware or junkware, look no further than JRT.

Click here for more information on JRT

Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD)

The Ultimate Boot CD main menu

Another of my favorite diagnostic tools is UBCD. It contains a bunch of useful programs that run from a Linux based CD. All of the programs contained on the UBCD are free of charge. The programs included in it range from memory diagnostics to hard drive erasers. And it has the best selection of hard drive manufacturer's diagnostic programs you will ever find. UBCD does come as an .ISO file that you can burn to a CD or you can load it on to a USB drive. Their website has all of the instruction on how to do it. UBCD is a privately fund project, so if you find it useful, please make a donation.

Click here for more information on UBCD

Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

The main screen for the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset

My all-time favorite set of diagnostic tools is DaRT. It is not just one program but a complete set of diagnostic tools that boots up on a version of Windows (depending on what version of Windows you build it on). It is similar to the system recovery disk you can make inside of every version of Windows, but it also includes various programs that you can use for diagnostics.

DaRT has quite a few programs straight out of Windows like File Explorer, Registry Editor and Computer Management. It also includes Crash Analyzer, SFC (System File Checker) and Locksmith (resets passwords for local accounts). When you create the DaRT media you have the option of configuring what programs are going into your DaRT build.

Now here is the downside. DaRT is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) and is only available to Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service, MSDN or Action Pack subscribers. But if you or your company has one of these subscriptions, DaRT is one tool you'll be glad you have in your digital toolbox.

Click here for more information on the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

When it comes to repairing Windows based computers, there seems to be a couple of problems that I get allot of requests for help with. One of them is when a computer cannot get updates to Windows. So here are a few of my favorite resources for fixing Windows Update.

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

There are several reasons why Windows Update can fail. There could be corrupted files and/or folders, the different services that Windows Update require are not starting, registry errors, etc.. The following is a list of some of the procedures I use in repairing Windows Update.

Note : Remember to always restart your computer after running any of these procedures before try Windows Update again.

Windows Update Troubleshooters

This is probably the easiest and most common way to repair Windows Update. Microsoft has a Windows Update troubleshooter for every version of Windows. The following link is a general page for troubleshooting Windows Update. Just select the version of Windows you are trying to repair and then click on the Windows Update Troubleshooter link. If you are prompted to run or save the file, I recommend saving it to your hard drive. That way if you need to run it again, you will already have it ready to go.

Repair Windows Update

So if the Windows Update Troubleshooter (repair) did not fix the issue, you can try resetting all of the Windows Update components. The following link has both the automatic Microsoft Fixit troubleshooter and manual instructions for resetting Windows Update components. I recommend using an automatic troubleshooter unless you are comfortable with going through all the of manual procedures. Again, when prompted to run or save the troubleshooter, I recommend that you save it to your hard drive, just in case you need to run it again.

Reset Windows Update components

Check your drive for errors

Now, if you have run both of the Windows Update troubleshooters (repair / reset) and Windows Update is still not functioning correctly, it's time to do some general system checks. Sometimes there can be an error(s) with the file system that is not allowing the troubleshooters to fix the issue(s). I have had this problem many times before. Nothing worse than feeling like a dog chasing his own tail. At this point, I recommend checking your hard drive for errors by running checkdisk.

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7 / Windows Vista

Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 10

Once you are done with a checkdisk, go ahead and run the Windows Update Troubleshooters again. First run the repair troubleshooter and try checking for updates. If it doesn't fix it, run the reset troubleshooter. If Windows Update still won't work, then it is time to check to system files.

Check system files

SFC

Windows has a built-in program called System File Checker (SFC) that can check system files for corruption and incorrect versions. SFC is run inside of an administrative command prompt. Just follow the link below for your version Windows for instructions on how to bring up an admin command prompt.

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows Vista / Windows 7

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows 8 / Windows 8.1

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows 10

SFC is basically the same in all of the currently supported versions of Windows, Here is the link to the most detailed instructions for SFC (Windows 10).

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

Once you are done running SFC and have corrected any problems it may have found, go ahead try running Windows Update. If it still won't work, try running the troubleshooters (repair / reset) one at time, running Windows Update in between. If you still cannot run Windows Update successfully, it may be time to run the most advanced system corruption repair tools.

DISM (Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10) / SUR (Windows Vista, Windows 7)

Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) and System Update Readiness tool (SUR) are the most complete way of checking for file corruption in Windows. The link to the instructions on how to run both is below. DISM and SUR are meant to be used by advanced users, so if you don't feel comfortable running either one of these programs, please contact a local computer repair technician for assistance.

Fix Windows Update errors by using the DISM or System Update Readiness tool

After running either DISM or SUR check again to see if Windows Update will work. If Windows Update still will not work, it may be time to reset or reinstall Windows. The instructions on how to do this can be found online. If you require assistance with this process, please contact a local computer repair technician.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

I was thinking the other day about what program I use the most in doing computer repair. The one program I use the most on Windows based computers would have to be System File Checker (SFC). SFC checks for system files that may have gotten corrupt or replaced with incorrect versions. Here's how to check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker.

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

SFC has been included in every version of Windows since Windows XP. In fact, you can also build it into the Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (DaRT). There is no shortcut or link to SFC in Windows 10, as it runs inside of an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

SFC running inside of Windows 10 Administrative Command Prompt

The following is the syntax and switches for SFC. The most commonly used syntax / switch is: sfc /scannow.

SFC [/SCANNOW] [/VERIFYONLY] [/SCANFILE=<file>] [/VERIFYFILE=<file>] [/OFFWINDIR=<offline windows directory> /OFFBOOTDIR=<offline boot directory>]

/SCANNOW (Scans integrity of all protected system files and repairs files with problems when possible.)
/VERIFYONLY (Scans integrity of all protected system files. No repair operation is performed.)
/SCANFILE (Scans integrity of the referenced file, repairs file if problems are identified. Specify full path <file>.)
/VERIFYFILE (Verifies the integrity of the file with full path <file>. No repair operation is performed.)
/OFFBOOTDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline boot directory.)
/OFFWINDIR (For offline repair specify the location of the offline windows directory.)

Examples

sfc /scannow sfc /verifyfile=c:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll sfc /scanfile=d:\windows\filetobereplaced.dll /offbootdir=d:\ /offwindir=d:\windows sfc /verifyonly

Once SFC is done scanning the system files, it will give one of four possible results:

  • Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations.
    All system file are fine and you're good to go.
  • Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation.
    There may be another program preventing SFC from running. In this case boot the system up into safe mode and run SFC from there.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them.
    All system files are now correct and you're ready to go. If you want to view the repair details, see below.
  • Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them.
    If you get this message, SFC found a file or files that it wasn't able to repair. The next thing you will need to do is find out what the name of the file(s) are. Using the Find String utility, you can filter out the SFC results with only the components that were scanned and create a text file with that information on your Desktop called sfcdetails.txt. Just copy the following code into an Administrative Command Prompt:
findstr /c:"[SR]" %windir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log >"%userprofile%\Desktop\sfcdetails.txt"

Manually replacing a corrupt system file in Windows 10

Note: To replace a corrupt system file, you will need to have a known good copy of the file(s) in question. A good source for files is another computer or virtual machine running Windows 10. Since I do computer repair for a living, I have all of the versions of Windows that are still supported by Microsoft running inside of Oracle VirtualBoxes.

First thing to do is make note of the location (path) and name of the file(s) that need to be replaced from the sfcdetails.txt file. Once you have another copy of the corrupt file(s), you will need take administrative ownership of the file(s). To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

takeown /f path\filename

Example: takeown /f C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

Next you will have to grant administrators full access to file(s) being replaced. To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

icacls path\filename /grant administrators:F

Example: icacls C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll /grant administrators:F

Third thing to do is copy over the new file(s) and replace the corrupt one(s).To do this, modify the following command with the path\filename of the file you want to replace and then type it into an Administrative Command Prompt:

copy path\filename path\filename

Example: copy C:\Temp\FileToBeReplaced.dll C:\Windows\FileToBeReplaced.dll

Maintain your hard drive with SpinRite

When it comes to maintaining a hard drive, running a disk check will usually find any software related issues. But when I need to check the hardware inside of a hard drive, I will use SpinRite from Gibson Research Corporation.

Intro screen from GRC SpinRite
Intro screen from GRC SpinRite

SpinRite is a magnetic storage data recovery, repair and maintenance program and works only on HDD's (Hard Disk Drive) and not SSD's (Solid State Drive). SpinRite includes a feature called DynaStat that can reassemble missing data from bad sectors. SpinRite is a self-contained program that runs on top of a version of FreeDOS (Free Disk Operating System).

Graphic Status Display screen from GRC SpinRite
Graphic Status Display screen from GRC SpinRite

SpinRite has five (5) levels of operation, each building on the previous level.

  1. Examine the hard drive surface. This level will read every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface looking for areas that appear to be healthily but could possibly fail in the future.
  2. Recover unreadable data on drive. This level will read every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface looking for unreadable data. Spinrite will then attempt to recover unreadable partition data using the built-in advanced recovery technology.
  3. Refresh the hard drive surface. This level will read and write every sector of the selected partition(s) psychical surface, essentially exercising the hard drive. It basically test and verifies every sector on the partition(s).
  4. Locates surface defects. This level will read, write and invert every sector twice of the selected partition(s) psychical surface. This tests and verifies that every 'bit' on the selected partition can be successfully written to and retrieved.
  5. Restore known good sectors. This level does everything that all of the other levels do and restores any areas that may have been previously mark as defective, but now are found to be reliable.

DynaStat Data Recovery screen from GRC SpinRite
DynaStat Data Recovery screen from GRC SpinRite

To run SpinRite you will need to create a bootable media, either a CD or USB drive. Normally, if your computer is running Windows XP, Windows Vista or Windows 7, all you have to do is insert the bootable media and restart your computer. If your computer doesn't boot up to the SpinRite media, you may have to change the boot order in the system BIOS (Basic Input/Output System).

If your computer has Windows 8, Windows 8.1 or Windows 10, more than likely your computer has UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) enabled BIOS. To run Spinrite on one of these systems, you defiantly have to go into the BIOS and turn off the UEFI boot functions temporality.

Now, if in either scenario SpinRite doesn't recognized your hard drive, you may have to also change the drive mode in the BIOS from AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) to ATA (AT Attachment) temporarily.

SpinRite is available from Gibson Research Corporation for $89 (as of this writing). For more information on SpinRite, just follow the link below.

Gibson Research Corporation SpinRite

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Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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