File Rescue Plus reviewed in ComputerActive Magazine.
Windows won’t start. There are faults on the hard disk. Files have disappeared and the computer says there’s no modem when it’s right in front of you! Here’s what to do
when disaster strikes.
Many of us have become more and more reliant upon a computer for work, hobbies
and home use, so when a major problem hits the PC, we can be left scrambling in the
dark for a solution. When the computer doesn’t show any signs of life after switching
on, or refuses to start Windows. If important files have simply disappeared into
cyberspace or been accidentally deleted, panic can set in.
If you’re afflicted by a PC problem you can’t resolve then you’d be glad you picked
up this issue because over the following six pages you’ll find the Computeractive
Essential files can sometimes go missing and be hard to find or retrieve. Accidentally
deleting a file is one of the common causes. Luckily, the versions of Windows dating
as far back as 95, to the latest XP, all store deleted files in a Recycle Bin that’s
displayed on the Windows Desktop. By opening the Recycle Bin, you can see any
files that have been deleted. To retrieve a file you didn’t want to delete, right click on
it in the Recycle Bin and choose Restore, or drag and drop it into a folder such as
If the missing file isn’t stored in the Recycle Bin, and you know you’ve accidentally
deleted it, there may still be a chance of recovering it. When a file is deleted, it isn’t
completely removed. The main contents of the file are retained, but this can be
overwritten if the computer stores another file over it. Older versions of Windows and
in the days of DOS (versions 5 to 6.22), a program called Undelete was used to find
deleted files and attempt to recover them. Windows 95 and later version don’t have
such a program, but there are plenty of similar programs available on the internet.
Programs such as Active Undelete and File Rescue Plus 3.0 can scan hard drives,
floppy disks, CDs and memory cards for deleted files. File Rescue can scan clusters
and recover pictures, music files and video. Once a deleted file is found, details
concerning its condition and whether it can be recovered are displayed. All you have
to do is select it and click on the recover button (see separate instructions on
recovering a file using File Rescue Plus 3.0).
Sometimes, a deleted file may be successfully recovered, but it cannot be opened.
Trying different recovery programs may result in a successful recovery.
Some recovery programs are designed to be installed after a disaster such as hard
drive errors have happened, whereas others are best installed first for use when a
disaster happens. Fortunately, most of these programs have a free trial option, so you
can try before you buy.
If a program refuses to open, displaying a message that a particular file is missing, a
recovery program may save the day. Also try a search of your computer using the
Windows Search or Find. There are several methods of opening this program. The
quickest is to right click on the Start menu and choose Search (Find for early version
of Windows). After the program has opened, enter a name for the file you are looking
for, make sure the correct drive is displayed and click on Search or Find Now. It may
take a few minutes to search your computer and find any files or folders with the
name you entered. Any files or folders found will be displayed in a list including their
location and date (last modified). If you want to take a file and copy it into a folder for
a particular program, right click on it and choose Copy. Then, use My Computer or
Windows Explorer to locate the folder of the program you want to paste it into. Once
you’ve found the correct location, click on the Edit menu and choose Paste.
If after retrieving a missing file, a program still won’t open, the simplest solution is to
either re-install the program or run a repair. Some programs, such as Microsoft Office,
can be repaired by inserting the installation CD into the computer’s CD drive. The CD
will automatically run and find that the program has already been installed. A menu
screen will appear with choices to remove programs, install more programs or repair
programs. By selecting the repair option, the CD should inspect the installed programs
and look for any problems such as missing files.
Windows XP also has a repair option. By inserting the installation CD, a repair option
will appear on a menu screen whereby Windows XP can be checked and missing files
repaired or reinstalled.
Where a program doesn’t have a repair facility, a reinstallation of the software is the
quickest answer. You may want to uninstall the software first and always backup any
files created with the program. To uninstall a program, click on the Start menu,
choose Settings, then Control Panel. From the screen that appears, open the icon
labelled Add/Remove Programs. A list of programs to uninstall will appear. If the one
you want is listed, select it, then click on the Remove button (Add/Remove for earlier
Windows versions). Follow the instructions on screen. Once the program has been
uninstalled, close the Control Panel, then use the program’s installation CD to
Reinstalling software can sometimes clear up problems such as error messages where
the program needs to close. If this doesn’t fix the problem, you can look into the
causes of the error by running a program called Dr Watson, which is supplied with
Windows. To start the program, click on the Start menu and choose Run. From the
box that appears enter drwtsn32 (drwatson for earlier versions of Windows).
Eventually, Dr Watson will appear. It looks complicated, but from the list of
Application Errors, the program causing trouble should be listed. If it is listed, select
it and click on the View button. Another box will appear with information concerning
the error that occurred. If you contact technical support for the program, the
information displayed here may help.
Programs that are possibly conflicting with others or causing problems for the running
of your computer, can be ‘switched off’ if they are running in the background. Some
of these programs are displayed as small icons next to the clock on the Windows
taskbar (usually in the bottom right corner of the screen). You can usually right click
on one of these icons and choose to Exit or Close. Holding down the Ctrl and Alt keys
on the keyboard, then pressing Delete, opens the Windows Task Manager, whereby
you can select a program and click on the End Task button.
Some of the programs that run in the background and always open when Windows
starts, can be switched off permanently, so you don’t have to manually close them
each time you switch on your computer. This may also help to resolve any conflicts,
which are causing program errors or other problems. To permanently switch off a
program, click on the Start menu and choose Run. From the box that appears, enter
the word msconfig, then click on OK. After a few seconds, a System Configuration
Utility box will appear. Click on the Startup tab. A list of programs will appear. Any
programs with tick marks are opened when Windows opens. Remove any tick marks
from programs you suspect are causing problems, but make a note of which ones you
un-tick. Click on OK then restart the computer to see if these changes have made any
When restarting a computer in Windows XP after making changes using the System
Configuration Utility, a message box may appear warning you have made changes to
the way Windows starts and consequently Windows is starting in Diagnostic or
Selective Startup Mode. Add a tick mark to the option stating Don’t show this
message… then click on OK. The message will not appear, but if you want to reverse
any of the changes made to the System Configuration Utility, return to the program
via the Start menu and choose Run.
When Windows struggles or even refuses to open, there are a couple of solutions to
get you up and running in the short run. The first suggestion is called Safe Mode. This
enables Windows to open, but most of your programs will not run, so you can rescue
any important files before taking further action.
The option to start Windows Safe Mode will sometimes appear if your computer has
crashed and you’ve had to restart it by switching it off, then on again. If such an
option does not appear and you cannot start Windows, try pressing F5 on the
keyboard when the computer starts (you may need to press it a few times). A list of
options on starting Windows will appear. Use the arrow keys on the keyboard to
select Safe Mode. There are various Safe Mode options (e.g. with networking for an
internet connection), but you may want to try the simplest one first. Press Enter to
continue and open Windows in Safe Mode. If successful, Windows will open and the
words Safe Mode will be displayed in the corners of the screen. For Windows XP, a
message box will appear with the option to use System Restore to revert the
computer’s settings to a previous time and hopefully resolve any problems caused by
recent changes. This may solve your computer problems, so click on the No button in
this message box and follow the instructions on screen. If you don’t want to use
System Restore, click on Yes instead.
Whilst running in Safe Mode, programs such as the System Configuration Utility
(msconfig) can be run to select or un-tick startup programs. Diagnostic programs such
as Dr Watson can be run to see details of any problems.
If your computer can only start in Safe Mode, there may be a virus, software or
hardware problem. Anti-Virus programs such as Norton can be run from the
installation CD after starting the computer to see if a virus is preventing Windows
from opening. Just insert the installation CD into the computer’s CD drive upon start
Software problems can be resolved using the suggestions we’ve supplied, but if the
problem still exists, a complete re-installation of Windows may be the answer. You
can use Safe Mode to backup any important files, then begin re-installing. Windows
XP enables you to insert the installation CD when starting the computer and begin a
new installation. For earlier versions of Windows, see the workshops in issues 108-
110 for re-installing Windows (issue 111 covers repairing and reinstalling XP).
Suspected hardware problems can be resolved in Safe Mode. When an internal piece
of computer equipment fails, such as a sound card, the computer may refuse to start
normally, but can start in Safe Mode. Suspect equipment can be disabled, then
Windows restarted to see if this equipment is to blame. This is often a process of
elimination so disable one piece of hardware at a time.
To disable something, right click on My Computer and choose Properties. From the
dialogue box that appears, click on Hardware tab and select Device Manager (just
click on the Device Manager tab for earlier versions of Windows). A list of your
computer’s hardware will appear. Click on the plus symbols to expand sections of
hardware. Once you’ve found the suspect hardware, you probably won’t be able to
test it in Safe Mode, so right click on it and choose Disable (for earlier Windows,
choose Properties and look for a Disable option to select and tick).
After disabling a piece of hardware in Device Manager, a red cross will appear next to
it for Windows XP. You can now close Device Manager and try to normally restart
the computer. If the computer restarts normally, the disabled hardware is to blame and
needs replacing. If the computer still refuses to start normally, return to Safe Mode,
open the Device Manager and Enable (same steps) the hardware you disabled, then
choose another piece of hardware.
Simple Solution First
When it comes to hardware problems and equipment not working or recognised by
the computer, don’t forget the simple solutions, such as checking the equipment is
switched on and connected. Check all connections are secure and correct. A black on
off switch at the back of the computer (usually has I O markings next to it) has been
the cause of much colourful language when the computer won’t even flicker into life
and the start button has been jabbed several times. General electrical problems such as
a blown fuse shouldn’t be overlooked.
If your computer won’t connect to the internet using a modem, plug a normal
telephone into it and see if you can hear the dial tone. Check all the connections to the
modem. Also check the settings for dialing up to the internet (telephone number,
username and password). Some of these settings can be checked when trying to
connect to the internet (username and password). Other settings can be checked by
opening the Control Panel (click on the Start menu, choose Settings, Control Panel),
followed by the Internet Options icon. From the dialogue box that appears, select the
Connections tab, then select your internet connection account and click on the
Settings button. Check the details displayed are correct.
Recording sound through a microphone that’s connected to the computer often
doesn’t work because Windows has muted the mic! Yes, it happens and can be
resolved by clicking on the Start menu, choosing Programs, Accessories,
Entertainment and then Sound Recorder. From the program that appears, click on the
Edit menu choose Audio Properties, then check the settings for the microphone or for
In issue 159 of Computeractive, we covered cleaning your computer. Overheating
leading to component failure or equipment switching itself off, is often caused by a
build up of dust, which limits the cooling capabilities of hardware. Get the vacuum
out and see if it helps.
Drivers for hardware can sometimes be the cause of a problem. These are programs
used to operate a piece of equipment and can be viewed through the aforementioned
Device Manager. Right click on the hardware listed in Device Manager and select
Properties. From the dialogue box that appears, you can see if there are any problems
with the hardware. There is also an option to update the driver, which may help (a
connection to the internet is usually required). In issue 153 of Computeractive, we
covered a workshop on resolving problems with Windows 98 drivers.
Major problems such as the computer not showing a glimmer of life when switched
on should start with the obvious. Make sure the socket you are plugged into is
working. Has the fuse in the plug for the computer’s power lead blown? If you have
another cable, use that instead. Is the onn/off switch at the back of the computer
switched to on ( I )? A blown power supply unit is a common cause of computers that
refuse to start. It’s cheap to fix and if you’re familiar with opening up a computer –
warranty issues notwithstanding – you should be able to fit a new one. Otherwise,
most local computer shops can help you out for around £40.
Other hardware fixes such as changing a faulty or failing hard disk and replacing
RAM are similarly straightforward if you know your way around the insides of a PC.
Some of our workshops have covered replacing such items, but don’t take on
something you are completely unsure of. A local computer shop is a safer solution if
you are at all unsure.
I know there’s an awful lot that could be covered but the word count is limited and we
want to be able to sum up this feature’s content with a few bullet points that list the
major benefits within: Clear virus infections! Restore lost or damaged files! Repair
Windows! Fix faulty equipment!
When a major computer disaster hits you, you’re often left stewing over the many ‘if
only’ scenarios as you desperately try to recover lost files and get your computer up
and running again. Naturally, some disasters can be avoided with up to date virus
checkers, regular backups and regular maintenance. If your work is reliant upon a
computer, have a contingency plan at the ready such as a second computer, so you can
quickly transfer your files and continue working.
Some computer problems are unlucky and often difficult to resolve. Working through
a problem slowly and carefully is the best approach, making notes of errors, screen
messages and symptoms. You can then feed this information back to anyone trying to
Computer problems can be frustrating, but help is available and with this guide to
recovery, you should be able to find a solution.