Super User is a question and answer site for computer enthusiasts and power users. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

My five-year-old HP desktop running Windows XP SP3 wouldn't boot from the hard drive yesterday afternoon. I would see the boot sequence begin, then nothing but a black screen.

Fortunately, I had just done an Acronis backup to my external drive in the morning, and I have a bootable USB key. I put the USB key into the drive, powered up the machine, and put the USB key first in line in the boot sequence. Voila! My machine came alive.

But now I'm confused as to what the problem is and what to do next.

I assumed that my hard drive was toast. But now that the machine is alive I can see files on my C: drive that have changes I made just yesterday. Clearly the drive is not dead.

Here are my questions:

  1. What could explain my inability to boot from the hard drive? What would a remedy be?
  2. What's my best course of action? Should I replace the hard drive with a new one?
  3. If I replace the hard drive, do I reinstall the OS and apply the backup I did yesterday?
  4. If I decide that re-installing Windows XP makes no sense, how do I get back the Acronis backup that I did yesterday? I don't want to lose that.

UPDATE: I just learned one more key fact. I'm having some work done on my house. I neglected to shut my machine down before the contractor came. My wife said he shut down the power to do some work on a circuit and then powered the house back up. I have a surge protector, but is it possible that cycling the power did some damage?

share|improve this question

migrated from Jun 27 '10 at 14:50

This question came from our site for system and network administrators.

I'm a bit unclear on the details. You booted from a USB key, what was on the key? The Acronis recovery agent? Where are the Acronis backups stored (on the same disk, on the network)? Did you ever try "Safe Mode" or "Last Known Good Configuration" boot options prior to USBing? – Kyle Smith Jun 27 '10 at 14:01
@Kyle - I created the USB key following this article: Acronis backups are stored on an external terabyte drive connected via USB. I didn't try either of those options prior to trying the USB. – duffymo Jun 27 '10 at 14:05

Most likely the hard drive was writing or doing something to a critical file, the power cut made it shut off in the middle and it became corrupt - there could be physical damage but it is unlikely and based on the timing of the other events.

As for repairing, this is awkward without knowing what is wrong - Acronis should give you a tool that allows you to make a bootable disk that you can then restore from backup - try installing and creating this on a spare machine, you should then take a backup of all new/changed files and then perform a restore from Acronis followed by copying back the changed files.

If you can't do it from Acronis, find a Windows XP disk and boot from that. At the first screen press R to go to the Recovery Console.

From the Recovery Cnosole you an try a few things. I would start with:

chkdsk /F

If it still doesn't boot, go back and try the following:

FixMBR \Device\HardDisk0

Fixboot c:

If after this it still doesn't work, it is still possible to repair, but personally I would rebuild/reinstall XP on the system.

share|improve this answer
Actually, after that, press Install, go all the way to formatting, even select the type of format, then Setup will ask you one more time, "Do you want to repair?" Click Yes. See if that works. – Hello71 Jun 27 '10 at 16:10
@Hello71 - You can do a repair install, but I always find it leaves relics all over the place and can cause other problems... but good if you just want to get running ASAP and no time to do a fresh install. – William Hilsum Jun 27 '10 at 16:30
Perhaps; I've never tried it myself, having lots of time. – Hello71 Jun 27 '10 at 17:11

Was the Acronis backup a Disk Image? or just files backed up?

If it is a Full or C drive disk Image, then you can use the Acronis boot CD to restore that image to a new hard drive, you should be back in business rather quickly.


share|improve this answer

If you are wondering about the viability of your hard drive, then download and run the diagnostics that your hard drive's manufacturer provides.

If you are wondering how to get XP up and running again, then try the steps suggested in Wil's answer first. If those don't work then do a Win XP repair install.

Note: The repair install should leave your current settings and installed app programs intact. You will need to download and apply a ton of Microsoft Windows updates though. For that reason I suggest you use an XP install disc which has been updated/slip-streamed with SP 3.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.