Recovery disc

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A typical recovery disk for a new Acer PC.

A recovery disc is a general term for media containing a backup of the original factory condition or a favored condition of a computer as configured by an original equipment manufacturer or an end-user. OEM supplied recovery media are commonly shipped with most computers to allow the user to reformat the hard drive and reinstall the operating system and pre-loaded software as it was when it was shipped.

OEM system recovery[edit]

Most OEM recovery systems for a Microsoft Windows based operating systems involve booting from a separate hard drive partition, CD-ROM, or DVD, which in turn launches the recovery environment. After accepting the license agreements for the software and operating system in some cases, the recovery program will usually reformat the hard drive and then begin copying operating system and software files (although some recovery systems, such as the ones utilized by Hewlett-Packard and Gateway, do offer a "non-destructive recovery" option which backs up data before reinstalling the OS).[1] After the recovery process is completed, configuration such as the Windows Out-Of-Box Experience wizard is first run (along with any other additional setup the computer may perform), as it was on the initial startup of the computer. Most recovery systems use specialized software, though Toshiba and Dell licensed Norton Ghost technology for their recovery systems at one point.[2] As of Windows Vista, Dell uses a Windows Imaging Format based image on a partition along with a tool launched from the Windows Recovery Environment's command prompt.[3]

Some smaller OEM's instead ship sometimes customized Windows installation Disks with the computer in lieu of a dedicated recovery system (sometimes accompanied by "driver discs", or slipped into the installation media).

Recovery partitions[edit]

In recent years, bundled recovery CD-ROMs have become less common, as many large OEM's are now using hard drive partitions to store the recovery data. Accessing hard drive based system recovery is usually by pressing a specific key combination during or after the computer's Power-on self-test. An example of this was Dell's certain recovery procedure, which involved pressing Ctrl and F11 on the keyboard after POST on a program which was built into the Master Boot Record.[clarification needed] Partition based recovery systems are usually faster than their disc based counterparts since the data is directly on the hard drive and no disc swapping is needed. They are also generally cheaper for the OEM because they do not need to ship recovery discs with the computer, adding the price of creating them to the cost. However, if the hard drive fails, is fully reformatted, or is replaced, the recovery partition will be lost. (Some recovery applications would place the image data in the back of the hard disk, behind the original partition and under its own partition table. However, due to the customer using data on the hard disk, it was possible for the customer to accidentally overwrite the recovery image data. An example of this software was Dell's ZZ-TOP Recovery Software, which was shipped with many older Dell systems).

An application used to burn bootable recovery CDs or DVDs is sometimes offered in order to allow a backup of the recovery data.[4] For computers with Recovery Partitions, these recovery CDs can also sometimes be ordered directly from the OEM. If they are used to recover the system, the recovery partition can sometimes be recreated with the recovery CD as well. Other recovery systems, such as those included with recent Apple Macintosh models, permit users to download the recovery partition over an internet connection, enabling successful recovery even if the hard disk fails or is replaced.

Disk Image Recovery[edit]

Main article: Disk cloning

The advantages of OEM recovery media can be had, without some of their disadvantages, by using disk imaging software such as Mondo Rescue or Acronis True Image to create a bootable recovery CD containing an image of the machine in the desired initial state. For example, a user can install their operating system, install all device drivers for their hardware, install other desired software, and configure other personal settings. Some smaller OEM's even use bootable CDs generated by this software as the actual recovery CD or DVD itself.


Due to the recovery discs containing all the applications and drivers for a computer, many manufacturers are omitting copies of product CDs in favor of the single recovery system to prevent unauthorized distribution of preloaded software, as the recovery media is usually locked to the computer it came with. This complicates clean installation with a fresh copy of the operating system, as to perform such actions and get a setup close to the recovery disc's result, they would need to purchase new licenses for any software which came bundled with their system, just so that they could obtain an installation disc for that software, and would also have to download the drivers for their computer's components manually.

In addition, if the hardware configuration of the system changes, drivers and support for the additional hardware changes will not be on the recovery image, requiring users to reinstall their drivers.

Some OEM's however do ship copies of the version of Windows shipped on the computer, along with driver and application discs, sometimes alongside dedicated recovery Disc.

As mentioned earlier, if the system has a recovery partition, and if the hard drive failed, is replaced, or if the recovery partition is deleted, the recovery data will be lost unless the user has a recovery CD or DVD set.


Prior to the use of recovery discs, one would use a boot disk to boot the system, then reinstall software as necessary from the original installation media.

A contemporary alternative, particularly used in Linux, is the installation disc or discs for a Linux distribution, or a Live CD or Live DVD – a bootable disc. These can be used to boot the system and then either manually troubleshoot and repair problems (in the case of a live disc), or re-install or re-configure the operating system. In the case of free software, operating systems can legally be re-packaged and distributed, and thus there is no barrier to making the full installation available. However, in the absence of a backup of system-specific configuration, which is provided on recovery discs, a re-installed operating system may require re-configuration .

Windows 8 includes two built-in recovery options, Refresh and Reset; Refresh re-installs Windows while preserving most user settings, while Reset performs a full restore back to its default configuration, similar to a factory restore function.[5][6]

See also[edit]