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How To Fix Windows XP Error “Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt”

Screenshot by PC Remix

This lousy error happened to my sister-in-laws Acer Aspire One ZG5 netbook. Windows fails to completely boot everytime and returns this error.

Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

After frantically looking for someone to borrow an external DVD-ROM drive – the puny netbook doesn’t come with any – to enable me to go into troubleshooting mode with Windows XP’s Recovery Console, I made it to the console. I tried the first thing that crossed into my mind: CHKDSK /P. It didn’t work. It did repair some files or missing links or whatever, but the main problem still persisted.

God bless google; I tried to search for the keywords of the error and this particular page of a forum from hardwareanalysis.com came up to enlighten me. The discussion in turn pointed me to a Microsoft Knowledge Base article which clearly explains the trouble I was having. To quote the KB article, the problem was “a corrupted registry that prevents Windows XP from starting”. Swell.

The steps described in the KB did help me alleviate the problem, but it was too long and tedious. I have summarized the key points and switched some of the procedures to be a little faster.

  1. Prepare a USB flashdisk/pendrive/disk/external disk/whatchamacallit. Just let it be big enough to store the linux flavor described later. We’ll use this to manipulate your system’s main harddisk which contains your corrupted Windows XP installation. Oh, just one note, be sure that your system/BIOS supports booting from the USB whatchamacallit, kay?
  2. Follow the instructions from Pendrivelinux.com to install any version/flavor of Linux you are familiar with to the USB flashdisk. I recommend SLAX for its small size and GUI KDE interface, though. It just needs a 256MB USB flashdisk.
  3. Boot the system using the Linux-on-a-stick.
  4. Go browse the main harddisk drive to the folder C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG. This is me assuming that you installed your Windows in C:\WINDOWS, kay? If not, go adjust yourself.
  5. Using the Linux’ file manager, move these files in the folder to somewhere safe. I said “move”, kay?
    • system
    • software
    • sam
    • security
    • default
  6. If you just want to boot-up your Windows, not going all the way to restoring the last known good version of it, stop after doing this step. Copy these files from the folder C:\WINDOWS\REPAIR to the folder C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG. Doing this step will allow you to boot-up your system to the state it was first fresh-installed.
    • system
    • software
    • sam
    • security
    • default
  7. If you want to restore your system to its former glory, continue to do the following steps. Open the folder C:\System Volume Information.
  8. Open one of the sub-folders with a format similar to this: _restore{87BD3667-3246-476B-923F-F86E30B3E7F8}. There may be one or more folders like this. Be sure to pick the one not marked with today’s date but pick the latest date on which your system was still running.
  9. Open one of the sub-folders with the format of RPx. For example: RP114. Again, there may be one or more folders like this. These are restore points. Pick the one not marked with today’s date but pick the latest date on which your system was still running.
  10. Open the sub-folder snapshot. If you followed the last three steps carefully, you should have a folder tree similar to this opened: C:\System Volume Information\_restore{D86480E3-73EF-47BC-A0EB-A81BE6EE3ED8}\RP1\Snapshot.
  11. From the snapshot folder, copy these files.
    • _REGISTRY_USER_.DEFAULT to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\default.
    • _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SECURITY to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\security.
    • _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SOFTWARE to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\software.
    • _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SYSTEM to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\system.
    • _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SAM to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\sam.
  12. That’s it. Try and reboot your system, it should be running by now. That is, if you picked the right files to restore in step 11. If your system is still not working, try copying the files from another RPx folder dated earlier than the last one you picked.

2 Responses to “How To Fix Windows XP Error “Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt””

  1. […] How To Fix Windows XP Error “Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing … […]

  2. Thanks, random guy on the internet whom I have never met! It worked for me! I skipped step 6 because those files are overwritten by the following steps. The problem happened after XP did an automatic update which fried its own brain. I have no-one but Microsoft to thank for that.


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