Argh when your Windows machine dies

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I haven’t used Windows much these last few years. Most development has been on the Mac and Linux. But getting back to it because of gaming and I had completely forgotten how delicate Windows can be.

We have a Dell Alienware Aurora R8 computer and it tries to work like a sealed box. I got it because with all my home built computers, I just wanted a reliable “Mac-like” experience. And let’s face it over Christmas it was 30% off so basically I got a nVidia RTX 2080 Ti with a $700 computer thrown in.

The startup is very integrated and it has it’s own update system and so forth. Things are working fine with a few games and things, but on the last system update. I only use the machine once or twice a week when I need my Modern Warfare fix.

However, on the last boot things really started to go downhill. The system failed to startup. Windows somehow figured this out and showed me an inscrutable screen that says “System failed” and I then ended up in a boot loop. I couldn’t even figure out how to get to the BIOS. No amount of spamming F2, F8, F12 (these were all internet suggestions worked).

Finally, the thing failed with “System Process Failed” which means that it couldn’t even get it together enough to show the Blue Screen of Death. That is some sort of screwed up.

I tried the System Restore feature where it had the last four configurations. That didn’t work.

But, it did have a “Restore from Factory Image” and that actually did work. I was shocked I thought I was on my way to a USB key and trying to figure out the OEM Windows key (where is that by the way in all the documentation?!).

So main word of warning is:

  1. If you have an OEM machine, make sure you can find the Windows Product Key. Apparently this is now deep in the BIOS somewhere and you have to find a utility to access it.
  2. Know how to get to the BIOS so you can look at things. This is still a mystery to me. The manual claims F2 does the trick, but it doesn’t for me. Not enough spamming I think.
  3. Get into safe mode. This requires some real contortions, but on the third reboot failure, you enter Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE). Then you got to Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Advanced Options Startup Options > Startup Settings > Restart I actually tried that and never quit got it. It is silent, but restart does not mean restart, it should show you a menu and you can hit F5 or select option 5.

Anyway, I didn’t do any of this, I just recreated the whole system image, but here’s the bread crumb trail for the next time this happens 🙂

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