How to Repair a Corrupted Windows 10 Installation
System corruption is one of the most severe problems that afflict Windows 10 users. Corruption manifests in a variety of ways, ranging from random blue or black screens of death (BSOD) to driver errors.
If you’ve tried everything else, you might want to experiment with three tools that come pre-installed with Windows.
The best free tools come packed by default with Windows 10: System File Checker (SFC), Deployment Imaging Service and Management (DISM), and the Windows Troubleshooters. All three tools offer straightforward and quick paths for repairing some of the most common Windows 10 corruption issues.
If you’ve ever suffered from a reoccurring computer problem that’s not related to driver errors, file system corruption is a likely culprit.
1. System File Checker
The best tool for repairing damaged Windows installations is System File Checker (SFC). Like many of Microsoft’s most powerful repair tools, SFC runs from the command line. After executing the program, it inspects Windows for signs of damage. When it detects damaged files, SFC automatically repairs them.
To get the most out of the System File Checker, you should boot your system in Safe Mode. Also, you may want to restart your computer in Safe Mode before beginning the troubleshooting process. However, this step isn’t required.
To use SFC, open an elevated command prompt by typing command prompt into the Windows 10 search bar, and selecting Run as administrator. Here’s what it looks like:
Once you’ve launched a command prompt, type sfc /scannow and press Enter.
It should look like this:
How long the process takes depends on your system resources. You can keep using your computer while SFC runs. Just don’t close the Command Prompt window.
Once the process is finished, you will get one of the following messages:
- Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations. SFC couldn’t detect any corrupted files on your computer.
- Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation. You might get this message if you didn’t run the SFC scan in Safe Mode.
- Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them. Your problem should now be solved.
- Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them. In this case, you can try to manually fix the corrupt files or move on to the next solution.
SFC.EXE repairs most issues. However, when SFC fails, a second tool called Deployment Imaging Service and Management (DISM) must be used. DISM sometimes requires the original installation medium, such as a USB flash drive or optical disc.
2. Deployment Imaging Service and Management
If SFC fails to repair Windows, the next tool is DISM. DISM, like SFC.EXE, offers a tremendous number of command line options. It interacts primarily with Windows system images (.WIM files). DISM can scan, repair, and clean up problematic WIM files.
Once repaired, users can run the SFC.EXE command (if it failed on the first try). Rarely does SFC fail — but when it does, DISM offers the easiest repair method.
DISM includes several diagnostic features which can determine whether or not corruption exists and if the damage is repairable. To scan your installation for errors and repair them, open an elevated command prompt (as explained above) and type in the following:
DISM /online /cleanup-image /RestoreHealth
After DISM completes, it should create a report detailing any Windows system file issues. DISM informs the user whether or not the repair operation was successful. If it fails, the utility generates an error log.
If Windows suffers from system file corruption, DISM will display an uncorrectable error (code 0x800f081f). The source of the problem could originate from a corrupted installation disk, bit rot, or some other unknown cause.
Unlike some of the more common issues afflicting Windows users, corruption can sometimes occur invisibly, particularly on older installations. Fortunately, other tools inside of Windows offer additional options.
3. Windows Troubleshooters
On top of SFC and DISM, Windows includes a troubleshooter for some of the operating system’s most error-prone systems. Troubleshooters often off the first line of defense against malfunctioning software.
For anyone suffering from networking, audio/sound, Internet, driver, or—really—any problem, the Windows Troubleshooters should be the first step in tackling the problem.
First, launch Control Panel, and from the View by menu, select Large icons or Small icons. Then, click Troubleshooting. After the Troubleshooting window opens, you may want to choose View all from the left pane.
The View all option exposes the entire range of Windows 10 troubleshooters, which cover the majority of Windows subsystems, such as sound, printer, and network (all very troublesome subsystems).
If you’re only experiencing sound problems, you can pick one of the options dealing with audio troubleshooting from this menu.
Running each of the troubleshooters requires clicking on it. For example, you are now dealing with Windows corruption issues. But because none of these deals with corruption issues, try using System Maintenance. Windows will run some basic maintenance routines, such as synchronizing the system clock.
When Windows finishes the troubleshooting process, try running the SFC command. If it didn’t fix the issue, move on to the next solution.
Nuclear Option: In-Place Upgrade
If all else fails, the best choice is to re-download a copy of Windows and perform an in-place upgrade of the operating system, rather than a restore or a reset/refresh.
An in-place upgrade offers several advantages over performing a Windows 10 refresh or reset. An in-place upgrade of your operating system rewrites the system files, which is almost guaranteed to eliminate any corruption of the operating system.
There are two disadvantages, though: First, while users retain their data, they lose their updates and may suffer through a tedious download and installation process. Second, if you suffer from malware issues, an in-place upgrade won’t work. Even so, an in-place upgrade fixes most corruption issues.
Upgrading from Windows 10 to Windows 10 requires the following:
- A downloaded copy of Windows 10, identical to your current operating system. You can acquire another copy of Windows through the Create Windows 10 installation media tool (below).
- Enough free space on your hard drive to support downloading another copy of Windows 10.
- The Create Windows 10 installation media tool
After meeting the above requirements, run the Create Windows 10 installation media tool. Users then accept the licensing terms. When prompted, select Upgrade this PC now then choose Next.
The upgrade process takes a very long time, as the tool must download a complete copy of Windows 10. Expect to wait several hours, at the minimum. The process requires almost no effort from the user. Windows should completely overwrite the original installation with a fresh copy of Windows, leaving behind the user’s files, settings, and applications. After the upgrade tool finishes running, the computer should restart.
Unfortunately, even rewriting the operating system could fail to repair the issue.
Giving Up: Reinstalling Windows
If you still haven’t fixed the problem, reinstalling Windows 10 using a freshly downloaded copy of Windows could be the only solution left. Fortunately, Microsoft made reinstalling Windows 10 easier than with other versions of the operating system. In fact, you need only download the Create Windows 10 installation media tool and image it onto a USB flash drive.
Once you’ve finished reinstalling Windows 10 on your computer, run an SFC scan. If the issues persist through a clean install, it strongly suggests hardware failure.
Pretty much everyone should scan their computer for system file corruption issues. If you have problems, a simple scan could expose them, without a lot of effort. If problems exist, and SFC and DISM can’t resolve them, the simplest method offers the most useful tool for dealing with Windows issues: the in-place upgrade.
Here are some key things to do after installing Windows 10, whether you’ve just reset or set up a fresh installation.
About The Author
(344 Articles Published)
Kannon is a Tech Journalist (BA) with a background in international affairs (MA) with an emphasis on economic development and international trade. His passions are in China-sourced gadgets, information technologies (like RSS), and productivity tips and tricks.
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January 14, 2022 at 12:16PM