When Windows NT is installed on an Windows NT file system (NTFS) formatted
boot drive, recovering from a boot failure can be difficult because you
cannot access the NTFS partition without a running Windows NT. If you have
both Windows NT 3.1 and 3.5 installed, recovery is even more difficult
because Windows NT 3.5 NTFS is not compatible with Windows NT 3.1.
This article covers a few boot-failure scenarios, and how to recover from
them, or at least gain access to the partition. This article does not
describe how to solve many specific problems, instead it is a general
guideline on methods of gaining access to an NTFS boot partition.
Simple (Non-Setup Related) Boot Failures
If you have been running Windows NT successfully, and it fails to boot, you
can use the following simple procedure to try and recover from the problem:
- Verify that the problem has not been caused by changes or failures in
the hardware. Loose cables, bad cables, new cards, new drives, and even
new settings on existing controllers can all cause boot problems.
- If Windows NT failed to boot after you installed a new device
driver, try pressing the spacebar at the OSLOADER screen and selecting
the Last Known Good option. If the boot process failed before you
logged on to the system, this should correct the problem.
- Try creating an NTFS boot disk as described in the article 119467
Creating a Boot Disk for an NTFS Partition. This will generally
only help in a situation where your basic boot files (NTLDR,
NTDETECT.COM, NTBOOTDD.SYS) or your BOOT.INI file are corrupted or
- Boot from the Windows NT Setup disk (or run SETUPLDR on a RISC-based
machine) and run the emergency repair process. For Windows NT 3.1, this
requires an emergency repair disk, for Windows NT 3.5 an emergency
repair disk may not be required but can help if the repair directory on
the hard drive is damaged. This will solve most boot problems that
involve bad system files or a corrupted registry.
If none of the above steps resolves the problem, or if you do not
have an emergency repair disk, you may need to try one of the more
drastic steps listed at the end of the article.
Setup Related Boot Failures
If you were in installing Windows NT (either a new installation or
upgrading from Windows NT 3.1 to 3.5) and Windows NT failed to boot, and
Setup was interrupted, the recovery steps listed above will generally not
work (unless you aborted setup at a very early stage). If you were
upgrading a Windows NT 3.1 installation to Windows NT 3.5, avoid using an
emergency repair disk created by Windows NT 3.1 if you reached the point in
setup where it was copying files to the drive (as that is when Setup
updates your file system to the 3.5 version of NTFS). Assuming that the
failure was not some easily correctable problem (bad installation media,
incompatible or malfunctioning hardware) there are two methods you can use
to gaining access to your drive and data:
- If you have enough free disk space, try installing Windows NT again into
a different directory. This will sometimes work when an upgrade failed,
and in any situation where you have to get access to the data but have
been unable to get your current installation of Windows NT to boot. This
also allows you to fix boot problems that involve bad drivers or other
configuration problems that the above methods did not help with. In many
cases you can simply boot the alternate Windows NT installation and
delete the bad driver in question (unless the driver is required to
booting the system).
- If all other attempts to gain access to an NTFS partition have failed,
including installing Windows NT to a new directory, try is removing the
hard disk drive and install it in a machine that is running Windows NT.
The machine you move the drive to must be running a version of Windows
NT that is equal to or greater than the one that failed. This allows for
changes in the file system drivers. Alternatively, you can install a new
boot drive in the machine that is failing to boot Windows NT, and then
install Windows NT on that drive. In either case, when you are moving
SCSI drives from one machine to another, make sure that both machines
use SCSI controllers made by the same manufacturer, and are configured
the same way. Different controllers can use different translation
schemes and different settings.
In any situation, it may be best to simply re-install and restore from a
recent backup. Most of the above instructions are for situations where you
do not have a recent backup and must either get your current copy of
Windows NT working or gain access to important data. None of the above
methods should be a considered a replacement for frequent backups or other
methods of ensuring data recoverability (such as strip sets, mirror drives,
Article ID: 129102 - Last Review: October 26, 2013 - Revision: 5.0
- Microsoft Windows NT Workstation 3.5
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