What happened to my windows\system32\config\system file??
July 12, 2008 1:44 PM   Subscribe

How do I remedy the error message I'm getiting on my laptop about the windows\system32\config\system file being missing or corrupt?

Yesterday while working on my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop, I got some weird blue screen about there being a system problem and needing to shut down the computer. I wish I could remember what it said other than it doing a memory dump, but I can't. So I shut down and restarted and now always get the "Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt :windows/system32\config\system" message.

I do not have system install disks. I found documention from Dell saying that they don't provide them routinely but that I can request them from their support group. I've done that but it could be days before I receive them. In the mean time is there anything I can do?

I tried pressing f8 as it was starting up and got the Windows Advanced Options Screen, but none of those options does anything except lead me back to the screen about my file being missing or corrupt.

I'm reasonably computer proficient but need things spelled out for me with regards to Windows (why is their support written so badly?). There is another computer in the house that I can use to download programs or get other support. I'd prefer not to have lose all the data on my laptop in order to make it work.
posted by otherwordlyglow to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
A similar question or two -really, the fix will be similar actions for your issue as well.
posted by kellyblah at 2:42 PM on July 12, 2008

Sounds like an issue with the registry file being corrupt. Boot into the recovery console and run a chkdsk with the /r switch.
posted by Diskeater at 3:01 PM on July 12, 2008

If you had google'd the error you would have seen that the first hit would be the microsoft article with the solution to the problem. Also if you had searched askmefi for the same error you would have seen that it has been answered here at least once a week for a long time. You need an XP install disk, end of story.
posted by Raichle at 3:25 PM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: Sheesh. I did see all those other questions and responses AND googled the error message extensively. They all seem to hinge on needing the XP Install disk which I mentioned not having. I was hoping there was some other solution but I guess not. That Microsoft article doesn't address my situation either. It also requires the install disk and truthfully is written in the usual MS language that consistently uses phrases and words that are meaningless to a non-tech person such as me:

Do not use the procedure that is described in this article if your computer has an OEM-installed operating system. The system hive on OEM installations creates passwords and user accounts that did not exist previously. If you use the procedure that is described in this article, you may not be able to log back into the recovery console to restore the original registry hives.

That's the initial warning from the article and since I don't know what an OEM-installed operating system is, or a hive, or the recovery console, I'm thinking it's a bad idea for me to proceed even if I did have the XP startup disk, which is called for in Part One Step One.

Anyway, I have a guy coming over to take a look at the laptop.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:46 PM on July 12, 2008

Here's your fix

I did this a number of times working for Dell. On the off-chance it doesn't work, you'll be stuck reinstalling Windows.

Best of luck.
posted by Dark Messiah at 5:18 PM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: Here's your fix

Thanks, but the first step of that one is:

1. Insert the Windows XP cd into the top cd drive

Which I don't have. Clearly, I need it.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 5:55 PM on July 12, 2008

sheesh. You also mentioned that you've gone ahead and sent for disks. First, fdisk mbr just requires a boot disk with win32 utilities. There are many place you can get such things from. Additionally, many OEM installs have a repair or restore parition. From a cursory googling, it appears that Inspiron 6000 may have such a thing. These often have (in addition to the wipe & setup) a windows repair option.
posted by kellyblah at 6:11 PM on July 12, 2008

As others have mentioned, you must have a Windows CD to do anything. The message means that one of your critical boot files has become corrupted. If you don't want to wait for Dell to ship you a CD, try going to a locally owned computer repair place (Best Buy prolly won't help) and ask if they can give and/or sell you a Dell windows CD. Odds are that they'll either give you one for nothing, or just a few bucks for the cost of the CD and the time to burn it for you.

Do *NOT* do system restore unless you want to lose all of your data. Dell, and most other OEM's, include a system restore option and it will generally quite nicely make your computer exactly the same as it was when you first got it. You can usually do a system restore without a CD, but it is not recommended To repeat:
Doing a system restore will wipe every bit of data you have.
The first procedure in Dark Messiah's link is, however, perfectly safe and will almost certainly fix your problem. If it doesn't don't do the system restore yet, at least don't do it if you have any data (pictures, documents, etc) that you want to keep.

The next step I'd try if the procedure Dark Messiah linked to doesn't work is to follow the same steps to get to the recovery console, then type:


That will rewrite your boot files. Its generally safe but in a few very odd circumstances it might keep you from getting to your data

If that doesn't work, use the boot CD and do a repair install. The repair install will replace your windows files with the windows files from the CD, but will leave your data, programs, settings, etc intact. You will, however, have to reapply the windows updates, which can take a bit. The repair install will look exactly the same as if you were installing Windows from scratch, don't worry, it won't wipe your data.

If none of that works, and you have data you want to keep, I'd recommend taking the computer to a repair shop. Nothing I've suggested trying will wipe out your data, and at the very least they can clone your drive, format, reinstall, and copy your data back over. That solution will cost money, time, and afterwards you'll have to reinstall all your software, but again you won't lose data.
posted by sotonohito at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2008

First rule of computer reboot crashes: don't freak out about the worst case scenario. Even in the unlikely event that you cannot get the booting problem fixed, there is no way you need to lose data on your computer unless you encrypted all your data, or the crash physically damaged the hard disk, or the crash wrote crap over your data (which is pretty unlikely since the laptop is running well enough to give the appropriate error messages). And actually, none of these three worst-case scenarios are necessarily 100% assured of data loss, although fixing them can be spendy.

If you are contemplating performing or purchasing any repair that wipes out your precious data without recovery, stop right now, because that's a very high toll you do not need to pay.

OK, you don't have a Windows boot disk, you can't get one any time soon, and you are sure you don't have working repair options built-in? But you do have a another computer available that can burn CDs and has broadband access, and you know your way around a computer? You have a decent shot at fixing this without a Windows boot disk, if you want to try.

Basically, there are many free downloadable tools, to the extent of entire operating systems, one can boot up on a CD that will access your hard drive and allow you or someone else to save files and possibly effect repairs. Just about any computer made in the last ten years will boot from the CD/DVD drive, although you might have to set it to do so in BIOS (probably not, though, boot from CD on a laptop is a standard default setting).

Can you/are you willing to download large files, possibly running into several hundred megabytes, and spend an hour or two working with what you get? Walking you through them takes some patience and attention to detail, but it should only cost you your time and a CD or two. Plus, it depends on your level of proficiency. But before I blather on too much, I'll pause and see if that's what you want to try. Otherwise, the borrow Windows disk or wait approach might be better for your circumstance.
posted by mdevore at 8:50 PM on July 12, 2008

Do you have friends with computers? Who could lend you a Windows disk to use to sort out this problem?
posted by chairish at 9:05 PM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, so I just paid a guy $85 to come over and fix it. He backed up all my data and wiped the hard drive. Good enough for me. I guess it just really irritates me that without having a degree in computer science, I have no hope of solving this myself. It's all a totally alien language that to my mind, is designed to be incomprehensible. There are lots of things that I can figure out on my own with a manual and some good advice; this was not one of them. My next computer is a Mac.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 9:25 PM on July 12, 2008

All computers can crash to reboot failure requiring intervention, including Macs, as my brother-in-law has demonstrated multiple times, plus once by a seriously devoted Mac fanboy who's a friend of mine. Your laptop likely didn't need a wipe to recover, but it was like; the easiest and fastest fix and it worked, so mark it into the success column. On the bright side for you, $85 is pretty darn cheap for a home tech visit.
posted by mdevore at 10:03 PM on July 12, 2008

Response by poster: Yeah, I know. Things break and Macs break, too. But in my experience, at least the instructions for what to do about it are clear and meant to be read by "normal" people.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 11:12 PM on July 12, 2008

Well, the Mac is certainly going to cost you more than the $85 you paid to fix your computer... And, is likely to have a problem someday which you won't understand and will have to pay somebody to fix...It's an f'n computer, not a leaky faucet. It's not unreasonable to occasionally run into something with it that you know nothing about and have to pay to fix. It's unfortunate, but think about how frequently you have to pay much more to fix your car.
posted by Raichle at 5:32 PM on July 13, 2008

For future reference I managed to fix the same error using 'erd commander 2005' (an old program that has since been acquired by microsoft and stripped of much of its functionality).

It lets you boot into a windows like interface and I managed to patch my system by going to the last system restore point (C:\System Volume Information\_restore\RP### - pick the highest number). Then copy the five 'hives' (_REGISTRY_MACHINE_SYSTEM, _REGISTRY_MACHINE_DEFAULT, _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SAM, _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SECURITY, _REGISTRY_MACHINE_SOFTWARE) and paste them in C:\Windows\System32\Config.

Delete the old files there called system, default, sam, security, and software and rename the _REGISTRY files to those names.

After that I just restarted my computer and it booted fine.
posted by langeNU at 8:06 PM on July 13, 2008

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