Section 11.2. Startup

Advanced Boot Options

Starts Windows in advanced troubleshooting modes to fix computer problems.

To open

Reboot Windows and press F8 before Windows starts.


This text menu, which you can invoke before Windows starts, lets you troubleshoot Windows problems. You can use it to restart Windows in Safe Mode, where only the Windows essentials are started. If Windows starts properly in this mode, you will know the default settings and minimum device drivers are not causing problems, and you can then proceed to further troubleshooting. The menu has these options:

Safe Mode

Starts Windows with the minimal drivers and services.

Safe Mode with networking

Starts Windows in Safe Mode, including network drivers and services.

Safe Mode with Command Prompt

Starts Windows in Safe Mode with a command prompt instead of the Windows interface.

Enable Boot Logging

Creates a text file, ntbtlog.txt, that lists the drivers that load during startup, which can be helpful for advanced troubleshooting.

Enable low-resolution video (640 x 480)

Starts Windows using low resolution and refresh-rate settings. Use this to start Windows if there is a problem with your display settings. After you start in this mode, you can change your display settings in Windows itself.

Last Known Good Configuration

Starts Windows with the last Registry and driver configuration that worked properly.

Directory Services Restore Mode

Used by IT staff and administrators, this mode starts Windows domain controllers running Active Directory so that a directory service can be restored.

Debugging Mode

Starts Windows in advanced troubleshooting mode.

Disable automatic restart on system failure

Stops Windows from automatically restarting if an error causes it to fail. Use this only if Windows is stuck in a loop where it fails, attempts to restart, and then fails repeatedly.

Disable Driver Signature Enforcement

Allows drivers that contain improper signatures to be loaded.

Start Windows Normally

Starts Windows as it would normally.

Boot Configuration Data Store Editor: \windows\System32\bcdedit.exe

Configure the way Windows Vista boots.

To open

Command Prompt bcdedit


In Windows versions before Windows Vista, the way a PC booted was controlled by the system file boot.ini, which contained startup configuration information. boot.ini was a plain-text file and could be edited using a text editor or tools built into Windows, such as the System Configuration Utility. It was used for booting multiple operating systems on the same PC, or to customize how Windows started.

That's changed in Windows Vista. Instead of the boot.ini file, the Boot Configuration Data (BCD) file controls system startup. Microsoft made the change because it says the file is more versatile than boot.ini and can be used by hardware that starts up without a basic input/output system (BIOS) to start.

That may be true, but the change also makes it more difficult to customize Windows startup. Once you learned the basics of boot.ini, you could relatively easily configure startup to your liking. BCD, by contrast, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and quite confusing; even power users will usually be stymied by it.

There are three ways to edit BCD: using the System Configuration Utility, using the System startup screen in Startup and Recovery, and using the command-line tool Boot Configuration Data Store Editor. (See "System Configuration Utility" and "Startup and Recovery," later in this chapter, for more details.)

The Boot Configuration Data Store Editor includes many features and options, and a full explication of it is beyond the scope of this book. But here are the primary commands.

Commands that operate on a store:


Creates a new, empty boot configuration data store


Exports the contents of the system store to a file, which can be used to restore the state of the system store


Restores the state of the system store using a backup file created with /export

Commands that operate on entries in a store (you'll have to use these commands along with identifiers, which identify entries in the store; for details and help, use the /bcdedit /? ID command):


Makes copies of entries in the store


Creates new entries in the store


Deletes entries from the store

Commands that operate on entry options (run bcdedit /? TYPES for a list of data types used by these commands):


Deletes entry options from the store


Sets entry option values in the store

Commands that control the boot manager (note: you'll need the identifier to use these commands, as well as a list of additional switches; for details, type bcdedit /bootsequence /?, bcdedit /default /?, and so on):


Sets the one-time boot sequence for the boot manager


Sets the default entry that the boot manager will use


Sets the order in which the boot manager displays the multiboot menu


Sets the boot manager time-out value


Sets the order in which the boot manager displays the tools menu


  • If you have a multiboot configuration for multiple versions of Windows, you can change which Windows operating system opens by default, and other settings, by using the Startup and Recovery dialog box.

  • A third-party utility, VistaBootPRO, lets you customize and control how Windows Vista starts up, without having to use Bcdedit.exe. Get it from

See also

"Advanced Boot Options" and "Startup and Recovery"

Startup and Recovery

Control system startup, including configuring multiboot options for running multiple operating systems, and logging system failures.

To open

Control Panel [System and Maintenance] System Advanced system settings Advanced tab, click Settings in Startup and Recovery


The BCD file controls system startup and how multiboot systems work. The easiest way to configure multiboot systems is to use the Startup and Recovery tab (Figure 11-35) of the System Properties dialog box.

Figure 11-35. The Startup and Recovery tab, where you can configure options for multiboot systems

If you have a multiboot system, when your PC starts up a menu appears with all the operating systems that can boot. By default, the menu displays for 30 seconds, during which you can select any operating system to boot. After that time your PC will boot into the default operating system.

Choose the default operating system from the drop-down list in the Startup and Recovery tab. You can also select how long to display the menu, along with similar options. The screen also allows you to determine what Windows should do in the event of a system failure on startup (write the event to a system log, automatically restart, etc.).

See also

"Advanced Boot Options" and "System Configuration Utility"

Startup Repair

Fixes problems that can stop Windows from starting properly, such as missing or damaged files.

To open

Insert the Windows installation disk into your PC, restart the computer, and click "View system recovery options." After typing in a username and password of an account on the computer, click Startup Repair.


If you can't start Windows properly, this utility scans your system and automatically tries to fix the problem. In some instances, a computer manufacturer will install Startup Repair on your hard disk. If so, you can run it not only from the Windows installation disk, but also from the Windows Advanced Startup Options menu (Control Panel [System and Maintenance] System Advanced system settings Advanced tab, click Settings in Startup and Recovery).

System Configuration Utility: \windows\System32\msconfig.exe

Selectively enable or disable several startup options and get access to specialized tools to optimize performance, customize Windows Vista, and perform diagnostic/troubleshooting tasks.

To open

Command Prompt msconfig


The System Configuration Utility (see Figure 11-36) allows you to selectively enable or disable various settings that affect system startup, including the ability to stop specific programs and services from starting. In many instances, there is no other way to stop the programs or services from starting, so this utility is particularly useful. It can also help track down the causes of startup errors; use the utility to selectively disable programs or services from starting until you isolate the cause of the problems.

Figure 11-36. The System Configuration Utility, which helps you troubleshoot startup problems, stops programs and services from loading at startup, and offers diagnostic and customization tools

In addition, this utility gives you fast access to a variety of configuration toolsfor example, it allows you to disable (and then enable) User Account Control (UAC). The System Configuration Utility has the following tabs:


Lets you diagnose and troubleshoot startup problems by performing several different kinds of diagnostic startups. Normal startup loads all programs and services when you start up Windows. Diagnostic startup loads only basic programs and services, so you can see whether those basic Windows files are the cause of a startup problem. If they are not the cause of the problem, you know that another program or service is causing the problem. In that event, use Selective startup, which will let you turn on and off only system services, only startup services, or both. The Services and Startup tabs, detailed shortly, let you turn on and off individual programs and services at startup.


Lets you control how Windows boots by modifying the BCD store. (See "Boot Configuration Data Store Editor," earlier in this chapter, for details about the BCD store.) It lets you set a variety of options, including whether to use the Safe Boot option, which is a troubleshooting mode that starts your computer in a limited state, with only the basic files and drivers necessary to run Windows. You can customize how Safe Boot starts by booting directly into a Command Prompt (no GUI boot option), starting with or without network drivers, and so on. The "Advanced options" button lets you select from a variety of other options, such as how many processors your PC should use if you have a multiprocessor or multicore PC, whether to debug when you reboot, and so on.


Displays system services that run on startup. To disable any from running the next time Windows Vista starts up, check the box next to it and click OK. You can also view and control system services using the Services snap-in (services.msc) of the Microsoft Management Console, discussed in Chapter 10.


Shows some of the programs that are configured to run automatically when Windows starts. Although most startup programs are configured by placing Windows Shortcuts in the Startup folder in the Start menu, the Start tab shows those along with the seemingly hidden entries specified in the Registry (see Chapter 13) at HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run.


Gives you quick access to a variety of troubleshooting and maintenance tools, such as System Restore, the Registry Editor, the Task Manager, and others. Click the one you want to run and choose Launch. A useful feature is that each entry shows the path- and filename to the tool, or the Registry key.


  • Some security-related services cannot be disabled.

  • The Tools tab offers a way to turn off (and on) UAC, which can also be turned on and off from the User Accounts Control Panel.

See also

"Boot Configuration Data Store Editor," "Advanced Boot Options," and "Startup and Recovery"

Part II: Nutshell Reference