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When and Why to Use Windows Advanced Startup

Windows Startup
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you need to access your BIOS, reset your PC, start from an external drive, restore a system image or perform numerous other important boot-related tasks, Windows’ Advanced Startup menu is the place to go, particularly if you are trying to fix a BSOD or other error. You get there by navigating to Start -> Settings -> Update & Security -> Recovery and clicking the Restart Now button. And below we’ll explain all the powerful things you can do from Advanced Startup and when you’d need to do them.

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The Warning is For Real: It WILL Restart Your PC 

Don’t click the “Restart now” button until you’re good and ready to restart your PC. Why say this? Because as soon as you click that button, there’s no going back. Your PC will restart, and when it does it will present you with the “Choose an option” on-screen menu shown:

Windows Advanced Startup

 The Choose an option menu  (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

On this screen, two of the options are easily explained. The “Continue” option proceeds with a normal Windows boot, as if you’d never used this restart option. The “Turn off your PC” performs a shutdown operation, and leaves your PC inert and turned off. Obviously, you could have done both of those things without ever entering the Windows Advanced Startup menu. Things get more interesting with “Use a device” and “Troubleshoot,” each of which lead to subsidiary menus.

“Use a device” will depict all of the potentially bootable devices on your PC, and attempt to boot from that device. You must plug in any device from which you plan to boot beforehand. That said, it’s generally a good idea to disconnect all other devices you (a) won’t boot from or (b) won’t otherwise need when exercising this option.

Troubleshoot leads to two choices. First, Reset this PC reinstalls Windows, but allows you to keep or remove your personal files. It’s just like the identically named operation in the Recovery menu that appears in first position on the same Settings window shown in the lead-in graphic for this story. The advanced options page is where the real action is, and appears below:

Each of these options is worth a little exploration and explanation, so I’ll list them out and do just that right now: 

 The advanced options menu  (Image credit: Tom's Hardware)
  • System Restore: This option runs the Window’s built-in System Restore utility and lets you pick a restore point to which you’d like to return your PC. As I write this story, my test machine gives me the option of picking restore points that are between 1 and 7 days old. I don’t recommend this option except in dire cases, because restore points are neither as reliable or robust as a good image backup from a third-party tool like Macrium Reflect.
  • System Image Recovery: This option is based on the built-in Windows backup utility, which I also do not recommend (it’s named “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” in Control Panel because it hasn’t been enhanced or improved in quite a long while. Not even Microsoft recommends this tool anymore). But if you’ve used the tool to make image backups of Windows, you can use it through this menu option. Again, I prefer (and regularly use) the Macrium Reflect bootable rescue media and its backup images instead: they’re faster, smaller, and more reliable.
  • Startup Repair: Automatically reboots the PC and runs a canned sequence of startup repair diagnostics (and fixes, if those diagnostics find anything they can deal with). Also records a log of its activities to C:\Windows\System32\Logfiles\Srt\SrtTrail.txt, where srt stands for startup repair tools. Occasionally, these tools can help. My own experience has been that the startup repair from Macrium Reflect is more capable (and likely to fix real-world problems) than these tools.
  • Command prompt: Opens a Command Prompt window from the Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) that lets you do anything and everything you might want to at the command line to the Windows installation on your normal boot/system drive (C: on most systems). I use this all the time to manage and delete otherwise inaccessible OS files, and to run offline image management on troubled, misbehaving or damaged Windows images. You can tell this is different from a normal command prompt because WinRE runs from the X: drive (a RAM disk it sets up) and the prompt reads “X:\windows\system32” as a result.
  • Startup Settings: This provides access to the same kinds of startup options that appear in the msconfig.exe tool while Windows is running. The options on my test machine’s screen read:
  1. Enable low-resolution video mode (msconfig.boot.base video)
  2. Enable debugging mode (turns the OS-level debugger on, seldom used except by developers)
  3. Enable boot logging (msconfig.boot.boot log) tracks all actions during Windows boot-up and writes them to C:\Windows\ntbtlog.txt
  4. Enable Safe Mode (msconfig.boot.boot options.safe boot) boots a variety of reduced runtime environments for Windows to block out third party apps and startup items
  5. Disable driver signature enforcement: stops Windows from blocking unsigned drivers, and allows them to run (good option when troubleshooting wonky drivers)
  6. Disable early-launch malware protection: stops anti-malware software from interfering with the Windows boot and startup processes
  7. Disable automatic restart on system failure: causes Windows to pause when a BSOD or system crash occurs. Normally, Windows will restart as soon as the post-crash data collection activities complete. This option lets you keep the BSOD message on screen as long as you like.
  • UEFI Firmware Settings: This option appears on systems with UEFI boot environments (most PCs purchased after 2010 will include this option). This gets you into the modern equivalent of the Basic Input/Output System (BIOS) known as the Unified Extensive Firmware Interface (UEFI) that defines your PC’s basic startup and runtime behavior.

    Use it to enable or disable devices, turn boot security on or off, and manage your PC’s startup behavior, boot disk selection and order, and much, much more. On my Lenovo PCs, if I strike “Enter” before the Windows boot-up balls start spinning, it also takes me into UEFI settings. Methods vary from maker to maker, but there’s almost always a way to do this during the first moments of boot-up on a Windows PC. This technique is handy (and I use it frequently) because this option puts me directly into UEFI without having to get the timing right. On especially fast PCs, this can otherwise be tricky to impossible.
  • Go back to the previous build: This will read the contents of the Windows.old folder (it only lasts for 10 days after an upgrade by default, so this option won’t always do anything for you) and return your Windows 10 runtime environment to the state it enjoyed before you upgraded. Undoing an upgrade takes about as long as performing an upgrade, so be prepared to spend 15 minutes or longer waiting while this operation proceeds. YMMV, depending on your PC’s CPU and I/O capabilities.
  • Uninstall updates: If your PC has been updated recently, and the previous Windows installation has aged out, you’ll get this option instead. It will let you uninstall the latest quality update or feature update (if available). You’ll be prompted for a password for a valid login account before this option is allowed to proceed.

Advanced Startup Grants Access to Important Tools 

This boot option in Windows  is incredibly useful. It offers access to a large variety of repair and recovery tools for the OS. This environment is worth getting to know, and experimenting with, so you can understand how it works and what it can do. Then when a system gets weird, you’ll be able to put it to work without climbing a learning curve at the same time you’re trying to fix real-world problems.