Fixing a netbook's corrupt registry sans optical drive?
October 6, 2009 3:50 AM   Subscribe

How exactly does one go about fixing a corrupt XP registry or reinstalling XP on a device with no optical drive?

Okay, so out of the blue with no problems earlier, I start up my netbook (dell mini 10v) and find myself confronted with the lovely missing/corrupted system file error. Now I realize this is going to require some effort with a boot CD, but serendipitously, this laptop has no drive. Now I figure I have three options here for self repair, and I would love to be corrected on these

1) Hopefully there's some way to use my desktop to load the netbook as a target drive, much like holding T at startup on a mac, and fixing things up that way... I have no idea how to do this and googling/ aren't proving terribly useful

2) I can figure out how to boot from a thumb drive. I have a fairly speedy 16 gig one, a boot .iso, and my BIOS set to take it first, but I'm a little unsure if I need to do anything special. Do I unpack the ISO into the thumb's root directory? Do I attempt to install windows, onto it and try to use that boot to run a system restore? Again, provided instructions aren't very clear

3) I could force the target drive issue with brute force: ripping open the netbook and shoving the drive in my desktop for intense treatment. I don't want to do this. Please don't make me do this.

Am I being a drama queen here? Are there much easier ways to go about this?

This is a lot of question.

Also since Dell's kind enough to have stopped sending OEM discs with computers, my install discs and .iso are vanilla microsoft installs. I'm going to have horrible, awful driver issues aren't I?
posted by Teira to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
Are you sure there's no "system restore" partition on the hard drive? Look at the drive with Computer Management applet from the control panel. I don't know specifically how you'd access it (if it exists) but that's a common way to restore the OS and maybe there's info on the web.
posted by anadem at 4:04 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Well my main problem with that is even if there is one, I have no idea how to get at it. The system won't boot, and I have no method with which to boot a live disc. I'm working through a PeToUSB tutorial right now and hopefully it'll show some results. I cannot believe I honestly thought I could copy the files straight over.
posted by Teira at 4:20 AM on October 6, 2009

If you have another computer to use to prepare a USB flash drive for Windows XP installation, do that, following the first procedure here. You might want to go ahead and prepare a slipstreamed SP3 Win XP image, using nLite, if your install media is older, to avoid massive patch downloads and incompatiblities doing an XP repair install, if your Dell 10v is running a later Service Pack than your distribution media CD has. You'd use that slipstreamed image to burn to your USB stick, instead of the files listed in the first procedure, but that should be straightforward. You might also want to pay for and download a third party driver disk for your 10v, and put those files on your USB stick, as well, to make updating drivers easy, if you need to do that later. Setting your boot device to be the USB stick you just made, on your Dell 10v, you should then be able to do a repair install.

Basically, a repair install should just jack up your current installation, copy over any corrupted system files it finds from your USB stick, and set down your current installation, again, on the existing Win XP HAL kernel, ready to go, with all your registry entries, applications, settings and personalizations in place, untouched. You avoid detecting and rebuilding the HAL from scratch, and creating a fresh registry, so everything should work as it did before.

But if you get to that happy place, you should probably do some extensive disk diagnostics, to discover why your system files were corrupted in the first place. Sounds like you've got disk, memory, or power management hardware that is flaky.
posted by paulsc at 4:39 AM on October 6, 2009

Yes, if you have a desktop or any other computer available, invest some time in making a bootable Windows installer disk-on-USB-key, and/or an installed copy of Windows on a USB key, so that you can boot from it and run some disk-fixing or recovery applications.

There are instructions all over the internet to turn a valid Windows Install CD (any version) into a bootable USB version.

(This was the first thing I did when I picked up a netbook, and since I proceeded to bork the drive a few times immediately, it's very recommended.)

While you're at it you may wish to also make an Ubuntu Linux boot/install/recover key, or even a MacOSX install/boot/recover key. I had a dual-boot Windows/Mac netbook for awhile, but after finding how solid the OS X was, I turfed that, and my HP Mini 1000 is Mac-only now.

Anyway, essential netbook accessories = a handful of bootable USB key drives.
posted by rokusan at 4:49 AM on October 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the advice guys. It's currently doing... whatever the hell. I don't know, I'm exhausted and don't want to deal with this anymore. I can't believe I never made these keys when I first got the thing. I'm definitely going to get right on that. All three systems. Ounce of prevention and all that nonsense.
posted by Teira at 4:59 AM on October 6, 2009

You could just buy a USB CD drive.
OS-on-a-thumbdrive is damn handy (I use them myself), but it seems that external CD/DVD drives will be handy for a long time to come - even if it is just to save you reaching under the desk to put a disk in.
posted by Tzarius at 2:43 AM on October 8, 2009

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