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Configuring Startup and Troubleshooting Startup Issues : What's New with Windows Startup

5/23/2013 5:54:17 PM

Windows 7 includes a few improvements to startup. Most significantly, setup now automatically installs Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). WinRE, which includes the Startup Repair tool, was available for Windows Vista, but it was not automatically installed. IT professionals could configure the required partition and install the tools to the computer's hard disk, but this was not done by default. Therefore, most users started WinRE from the Windows Vista setup DVD. With Windows 7, users can start WinRE directly from the hard disk if Windows cannot start, and Windows startup will automatically open WinRE if Windows fails to start. If the hard disk is damaged, users can still start WinRE from the Windows 7 DVD.

Several aspects of the Windows Vista and Windows 7 startup process have changed when compared to Windows XP. Most significantly, Ntldr (the feature of Windows XP that displayed the boot menu and loaded the Windows XP kernel) has been replaced by the Windows Boot Manager and the Windows Boot Loader. The Boot.ini file (a file that contains entries describing the available boot options) has been replaced by the boot configuration data (BCD) registry file. Ntdetect.com functionality has been merged into the kernel, and Windows Vista no longer supports hardware profiles. In fact, hardware profiles are no longer required: Windows will automatically detect different hardware configurations without requiring administrators to explicitly configure profiles. Finally, the command-line recovery console has been replaced by the graphical WinRE, which simplifies troubleshooting.

Boot Configuration Data

The BCD registry file replaces the Boot.ini files used in Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows to track operating system locations, and it allows for a variety of new Windows Vista and Windows 7 features, including the Startup Repair tool and the Multi-User Install shortcuts. The BCD is stored in a data file that uses the same format as the registry and is located on either the Extensible Firmware Interface (EFI) system partition (for computers that support EFI) or on the system volume. On BIOS-based operating systems, the BCD registry file is located at \Boot\Bcd on the active partition. On EFI-based operating systems, the BCD registry file is located in the \EFI\Microsoft\Boot\ folder on the EFI system partition.

The BCD registry file can contain the following types of information:

  • Entries that describe Windows Boot Manager (\Bootmgr) settings

  • Entries to start the Windows Boot Loader (\Windows\System32\WinLoad.exe), which can then load Windows Vista

  • Entries to start Windows Resume Application (\Windows\System32\WinResume.exe), which can then restore Windows Vista from hibernation

  • Entries to start Windows Memory Diagnostic (\Boot\MemTest.exe)

  • Entries to start Ntldr to load previous versions of Windows

  • Entries to load and execute a Volume Boot Record, which typically starts a non-Microsoft boot loader

Additionally, you can add more entries to load custom applications, such as recovery tools.

You can modify the BCD registry file in several different ways:

  • Startup And Recovery With the Startup And Recovery dialog box (available on the Advanced tab of the System Properties dialog box), you can select the default operating system to start if you have multiple operating systems installed on your computer. You can also change the time-out value. This dialog box has changed very little when compared to Windows XP; however, it now changes the BCD registry file instead of the Boot.ini file.

  • System Configuration utility (Msconfig.exe) Msconfig.exe is a troubleshooting tool that you can use to configure startup options. The Boot tab in Windows 7 provides similar functionality to the Boot.ini tab in Windows XP, such as starting in safe mode, enabling a boot log, or disabling the graphical user interface (GUI).

  • BCD Windows Management Instrumentation provider The BCD Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) provider is a management interface that you can use to script utilities that modify BCD. This is the only programmatic interface available for BCD; you should always use this interface rather than attempting to access the BCD registry file directly. For more information, see "BCD WMI Provider Classes" at http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa362675.aspx.

  • BCDEdit.exe BCDEdit.exe is a command-line utility that replaces Bootcfg.exe in Windows XP. BCDEdit can be run from within Windows 7 at an administrative command prompt, from within Windows RE or even from within earlier versions of Windows (if the BCDEdit.exe file is available). BCDEdit provides more configuration options than the Startup And Recovery dialog box.

  • Non-Microsoft tools Third-party software vendors have released tools to simplify editing the BCD registry file, including:

You cannot use Bootcfg.exe to modify BCD. However, Bootcfg.exe will remain in the operating system to support configuring older operating systems that might be installed on the same computer.

For EFI computers, BCDEdit also replaces NvrBoot. In previous versions of Windows, you could use NvrBoot to edit the EFI boot manager menu items.


BCD Stores

Physically, a BCD store is a binary file in the registry hive format. A computer has a system BCD store that describes all installed Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems and installed Windows boot applications. A computer can optionally have many non-system BCD stores. Figure 1 shows an example of how the BCD hierarchy is implemented in a typical BCD store.

The BCD hierarchy allows for multiple boot options.

Figure 1. The BCD hierarchy allows for multiple boot options.

A BCD store normally has at least two (and optionally, many) BCD objects:

  • A Windows Boot Manager object This object contains BCD elements that pertain to the Windows Boot Manager, such as the entries to display in an operating system selection menu, boot tool selection menu, and time-out for the selection menus. The Windows Boot Manager object and its associated elements serve essentially the same purpose as the [boot loader] section of a Boot.ini file. A store can optionally have multiple instances of the Windows Boot Manager. However, only one of them can be represented by the Windows Boot Manager well-known globally unique identifier (GUID). You can use the GUID's alias, {bootmgr}, to manipulate a store with BCDEdit.

  • At least one and optionally several Windows Boot Loader objects Stores contain one instance of this object for each version or configuration of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, or Windows 7 that is installed on the system. These objects contain BCD elements that are used when loading Windows or during Windows initialization such as no-execute (NX) page protection policy, physical address extension (PAE) policy, and kernel debugger settings. Each object and its associated elements serve essentially the same purpose as one of the lines in the [operating systems] section of Boot.ini. When a computer is booted into Windows, the alias {current} represents the associated boot loader object. When manipulating a store with BCDEdit, the default boot loader object has the alias {default}.

  • An optional Windows {ntldr} object The {ntldr} object describes the location of Ntldr, which you can execute to boot Windows XP or earlier versions of Windows. This object is required only if the system includes versions of Windows that are earlier than Windows Vista. It is possible to have multiple instances of objects that describe Ntldr. However, as with the Windows Boot Manager, only one instance can be represented by the {ntldr} well-known GUID alias. You can use the GUID's alias, {ntldr}, to manipulate a store with BCDEdit.

  • Optional boot applications Stores can optionally have BCD objects that perform other boot-related operations. One example is the Windows Memory Tester, which runs memory diagnostics.


MORE INFO For detailed information about BCD, see "Boot Configuration Data in Windows Vista" at http://www.microsoft.com/whdc/system/platform/firmware/bcd.mspx, and read "Boot Configuration Data Editor Frequently Asked Questions" at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc721886.aspx.

System Recovery

Windows Vista and Windows 7 replace the Recovery Console troubleshooting tool with the new System Recovery tool (part of WinRE). Typically, you will start the tool by pressing F8 before starting Windows and then choosing Repair Your Computer from the Advanced Boot Options screen. If that choice is not available because the hard disk has failed, you can start the tool by starting from the Windows 7 DVD and then clicking Repair Your Computer (after configuring the language options). This loads a specialized version of Windows Preinstallation Environment (Windows PE) and then displays the System Recovery tool.

The System Recovery tools provide access to the following tools:

  • Startup Repair The Startup Repair tool can solve many common startup problems automatically. Startup Repair performs an exhaustive analysis to diagnose your startup problems, including analyzing boot sectors, the Boot Manager, disk configuration, disk integrity, BCD registry file integrity, system file integrity, registry integrity, boot logs, and event logs. It will then attempt to solve the problem, which may involve repairing configuration files, solving simple disk problems, replacing missing system files, or running System Restore to return the computer to an earlier state. Because Startup Repair performs these tasks automatically, you can solve startup problems much faster than performing the analysis and repair manually.

  • System Restore Windows automatically captures system state before installing new applications or drivers. You can later use the System Restore tool to return to this system if you experience problems. Because System Restore is available from the System Recovery tools, you can use System Restore to repair problems that prevent Windows Vista or Windows 7 from booting. Startup Repair can prompt you to initiate a System Restore, so you might never need to access this tool directly. 

  • System Image Recovery You use this tool to initiate a complete restore of the system hard disk. However, because any files saved since the last backup will be lost, you should use this only as a last resort. 

  • Windows Memory Diagnostic The Windows Memory Diagnostics tool performs an automated test of the reliability of your computer's memory. 

  • Command Prompt From the Command Prompt tool, you have access to many standard command-line tools. Some tools will not work properly, however, because Windows Vista is not currently running. For example, because WinRE does not include networking capabilities, network tools will not function correctly. However, several tools in WinRE are useful:

    • BCDEdit.exe for making changes to the BCD registry file

    • Diskpart.exe for viewing and changing disk partitioning

    • Format.exe for formatting partitions

    • Chkdsk.exe for finding and resolving some disk problems (note that Chkdsk cannot add events to the event log when started from System Recovery tools)

    • Notepad.exe for viewing log files or editing configuration files

    • Bootsect.exe (available on the Windows 7 DVD in the \Boot\ folder) for updating the master boot code for hard disk partitions to switch between the Windows 7 Boot Manager and Ntldr, used by Windows XP and earlier versions of Windows

    • Bootrec.exe for manually repairing disk problems if Startup Repair cannot fix them

Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics

Sometimes, Windows might start correctly but might take an unusually long time to do so. Such a problem can be difficult to troubleshoot because there's no straightforward way to monitor processes while Windows is starting. To help administrators identify the source of startup performance problems and to automatically fix some problems, Windows 7 includes Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics.

You can use the Group Policy settings to manage Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics in an Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) environment. In the Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\System\Troubleshooting and Diagnostics\Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics node, edit the Configure Scenario Execution Level policy. When this policy is enabled, you can choose from the following two settings:

  • Detection And Troubleshooting Only Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics will identify startup performance problems and will add an event to the event log, allowing administrators to detect the problems and manually troubleshoot them. Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics will not attempt to fix the problems, however.

  • Detection, Troubleshooting, And Resolution Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics will identify startup performance problems and automatically take steps to attempt to alleviate the problems.

If you disable the setting, Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics will neither identify nor attempt to resolve startup performance problems. For Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics to function, the Diagnostic Policy Service must be running.

Settings for Windows Shutdown Performance Diagnostics, which function similarly to the Windows Boot Performance Diagnostics, are located in the Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\System\Troubleshooting And Diagnostics\Windows Shutdown Performance Diagnostics node.

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