If Windows doesn't start or boot, you need a good repair tool that you allows to access the boot drive to rescue your Windows installation by recovering partitions, copying files, or resetting the admin password. SystemRescue is a collection of open-source utilities on a bootable ISO image, making it easy to download and mount directly to a virtual machine or "burn" to a USB drive. You can use them for both Linux and Windows computers, including desktops, laptops, and servers.

SystemRescue supports most major file systems, including EXT4, XFS, BTRFS, VFAT, and NTFS. You can also interact with network-based file systems, including Samba and NFS. It includes the following:

  • GNU Parted for creating, resizing, moving, and copying partitions and filesystems (and more)
  • GParted is a GUI implementation using the GNU Parted library and allows working with disk partitions
  • FSArchiver for system and data recovery
  • ddrescue attempts to make a copy of a block device that has errors and compensates for the bad spots in input
  • File systems tools: Various tools that allow formatting, resizing, and debugging hard drive partitions
  • Ntfs3g: When working with NTFS volumes, this utility enables read/write access to NTFS partitions
  • Test-disk checks for deleted partitions; supports reiserfs, ntfs, fat32, ext3/ext4 and others
  • Memtest is a good tool to run after a system crash to ensure memory is not the culprit
  • Rsync has long been used for remote backups
  • Network tools include Samba, NFS, ping, nslookup, and others to troubleshoot and back up your data to network storage

Booting from the SystemRescue ISO

Getting started with the SystemRescue ISO is simply booting from the ISO image on a virtual machine or writing the ISO image to a USB drive using a tool like Rufus. When the tool initially boots, you will see the default menu, allowing you to choose from multiple options.

Booting the SystemRescue utility

Booting the SystemRescue utility

When choosing the default option, it will first boot to a command line. You can type startx to initiate the GUI.

SystemRescue GUI

SystemRescue GUI

Copying files from a PC that won't start

If you simply want to copy your files off your Windows machine that won't start before performing a fresh install of the operating system, you can do so with SystemRescue. For Windows PCs, you can mount NTFS volumes and copy your files across the network.

First, you will need to find the device containing your Windows partition and mount it to a mount point. To find your Windows partition, use the following command:

fsarchiver probe -v

Finding a Windows partition using SystemRescue

Finding a Windows partition using SystemRescue

Finding a Windows partition using SystemRescue

After you find the device name of the Windows partition, you need to mount it. First, create a directory for the mount point, and then use the ntfs-3g command to mount the NTFS partition to the mount point.

Mkdir /mnt/windows

ntfs-3g -o ro /dev/sda3 /mnt/windows

Mount your Windows partition to a mount point

Mount your Windows partition to a mount point

Once mounted, you can browse your Windows files and folders.

Browsing Windows files and folders

Browsing Windows files and folders

Now that we have the Windows directory mounted, we need to ensure that the SystemRescue network settings are configured to copy files from the environment. Below, we are doing the following:

  1. Making sure SSH is running in SystemRescue:
    systemctl is-active sshd
  2. Turning off the firewall:
    systemctl stop iptables ip6tables
  3. Ensuring the firewall is off:
    systemctl is-active iptables
Setting up the SystemRescue network settings for network copy

Setting up the SystemRescue network settings for network copy

We should now be able to connect to the IP address autoconfigured with SystemRescue from DHCP. Below, we are using WinSCP to connect to our SystemRescue session, and we can browse to the mounted Windows directory on the crashed PC. Once connected, you can copy any files needed before reloading the operating system or restoring it to a previous state.

Connecting using an SCP program like WinSCP to back up your files using SystemRescue

Connecting using an SCP program like WinSCP to back up your files using SystemRescue

Using tools to troubleshoot crashing or inaccessible PCs

You may attempt to repair or troubleshoot your crashing PC before reloading it. For example, you can run the testdisk tool to attempt to repair a crashed drive due to file corruption, bad blocks, or faulty software.

Running testdisk to attempt data recovery due to failed software or corruption

Running testdisk to attempt data recovery due to failed software or corruption

Suppose a Windows PC is inaccessible due to a bad or forgotten password. In that case, SystemRescue allows mounting the SAM file and clearing the configured password for your account.

Listing user accounts in Windows using SystemRescue

Listing user accounts in Windows using SystemRescue

To get the username you want to reset, use this command:

chntpw -l /mnt/windows/Windows/System32/config/SAM

Now, you can use the following command to configure a specific user password:

chntpw -u <username> /mnt/windows/Windows/System32/config/SAM

SystemRescue also contains another powerful little open-source utility called GParted, which is a GUI disk and partition editor. It also has a feature to Attempt Data Rescue.

Attempt data rescue using GParted

Attempt data rescue using GParted

Once you launch the data rescue feature of GParted, it will run a full disk scan to find file systems. After the scan, you can mount the discovered file systems and then copy the data to another device.

Subscribe to 4sysops newsletter!

Scanning the file system with GParted in SystemRescue

Scanning the file system with GParted in SystemRescue

Wrapping up

The tools described are only a few of the ones contained in the disk for troubleshooting Windows that doesn't start. Using SystemRescue, you have access to many open-source tools that can help diagnose, repair, and copy data from an unbootable PC before resetting it to factory or reinstalling the operating system. You can download the SystemRescue disc here.

2 Comments
  1. Ramon Tan 2 months ago

    Hello Mr. Lee,
    I have enjoyed reading your article on SystemRescue, and having been impressed with what it can do, I proceeded to study the websites for downloading SystemRescue and installing it onto a USB flash drive for ease of use especially in a Windows 10 environment.
    Sadly, I found the instructions for running RUFUS (the recommended method of creating the USB on Windows) inaccurate: the menu does NOT prompt for where the downloaded ISO file is. I found out the hard way: by dragging and dropping from the file location. Next, the menu is unclear as to the decision for MBR or UEFI boot style. Then finally at the last minute rufus says there are 2 missing files that have to be separately kept because this ISO is a Syslinux based system which is incompatible with new releases. Contrary to my impression, it is NOT EASY — if even possible — to have SystemRescue in a Windows 10 setting. Perhaps I am missing some item(s) of detail, but I would be grateful for some guidance. I have Windows 10 64-bit Home edition. My laptop is high-end: 16GB memory, Intel i7 processor, 512SSD. Thanking you in advance. Sincerely, R. Tan

  2. Allan 2 months ago

    @R. Tan

    I was able to load System Rescue on a USB stick, but I used Balena Etcher as I usually do. Rufus has a new version, 3.2.2. Perhaps you could try that.
    I booted System Rescue, although I didn’t use it. It is a very powerful app.
    Hope this helps.

    avatar

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

*

© 4sysops 2006 - 2023

CONTACT US

Please ask IT administration questions in the forums. Any other messages are welcome.

Sending

Log in with your credentials

or    

Forgot your details?

Create Account