Restore Unbootable Windows System using Offline System Restore

Every time you install new software such as applications, drivers, games, Windows updates and hotfixes onto your computer, changes are being made to the system files and registry. These changes are now and again not 100% successful and can cause problems. Sometimes an unstable piece of software or beta version, or even a Windows update can make your system misbehave and cause various performance or stability issues after installation.

Since Windows ME, there has been the function built into Windows called System Restore that allows you to easily go back to the way the system was before the problem occurred. This gives users the option of repairing Windows files and registry settings quickly if they don’t have sufficient time or knowledge to look for solutions to any problems. If you’re able to boot into Windows, then using System Restore to set your computer back is easily achieved by going to Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Restore, and then selecting a restore point from before the issues started.

You might be unlucky enough for the problem to be severe enough for you not to be able to boot into Windows, and even Safe Mode doesn’t work. But before you think about restoring your PC completely using an image backup, the System restore option might get things going again. Getting to System Restore might not be that easy depending on your operating system. Windows Vista, 7 and 8 users have a few different ways to start a Restore if you can’t get into Windows, XP users have things slightly more difficult because System Restore isn’t officially available in an offline capacity.

Here’s how you can restore your system from a restore point if you cannot boot into Windows at all. There are different methods for XP and Vista /7, and another for Windows 8.

Offline System Restore for Windows XP

Windows XP’s install CD has no options to perform a System Restore, but another Microsoft tool can. The Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset (MSDaRT) is a bootable LiveCD that has a number of tools to perform various system repairs, an offline System Restore included. Some users may also know MSDaRT by another name, ERD Commander. This was on the popular Hiren’s Boot CD before they cleaned it up and took out the pirated commercial software.

1. Download and install the 30 day trial of MSDaRT. The program can only be downloaded from Microsoft themselves If you have a Technet or MSDN account, this supplied link is direct from Brothersoft but without their adware wrapper. MSDaRT has to be installed on a Windows XP/2000/2003 computer.


2. Once installed, go to C:\Program Files\Microsoft Diagnostics and Recovery Toolset\ and burn the erd50.iso image file to CD. Refer to our 10 Free Tools to Burn ISO Images article for software to do this.

3. Boot the computer using the disc that you’ve just burned. You may have to go into the BIOS and set the boot order so the computer can boot from CD/DVD.

4. The network setup option can be skipped, you will then be asked to select the install, keyboard and timezone. Your Windows install with a root of C:\Windows should be available and highlighted, select it if not, then click OK.

ERD Commander

5. When ERD Commander has booted up to the desktop, click Start -> System Tools and run System Restore. Click Next on the first window.

ERD Commander System Restore

6. Select “Roll back to an existing restore point created by Windows” and click Next. Do note the sentence underneath this which states that a restore through ERD is a partial restore and not fully complete like you would get through Windows. If this is enough to get you into Windows, you can perform a more complete restore if needed later on.

Roll back to an existing restore point created by Windows

7. Select a restore point from the list available and click Next. The days or months can be changed using the arrows and calender display provided.
Select a Restore Point

8. The next screen will display which areas of the system and registry will be restored, click Next and then Yes to confirm the rollback.

Confirm restore point selection

Once the ERD System Restore Wizard has completed, pressing the Finish button will restart your computer to complete the rollback process. Make sure to remove the CD or you could boot back into ERD.

If you want to perform an offline system restore for Windows Vista, 7 or Windows 8, refer to the guides on page 2.

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