Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE)

You might play by all the rules. You might make regular backups, keep your antivirus software up to date, and floss twice a day. And then, one day, you get your reward: The PC won’t even start up. You can’t use any of Windows’ software troubleshooting tools, because you can’t even get to Windows.

In that most dire situation, Microsoft is pleased to offer what’s known to techies as WinRE (Windows Recovery Environment). It’s a special recovery mode, loaded with emergency tools: System Reset, System Refresh, System Restore, System Image Recovery, Safe Mode, and on and on.

Windows Recovery Environment is a pure, protected mode that’s separate from the normal workings of Windows—a place to do troubleshooting without worrying about changes that have been made by any software, good or bad.

If the problems you’re having are caused by drivers that load just as the computer is starting up, for example, then turning them all off can be helpful. At the very least, WinRE allows you to get into your machine to begin your troubleshooting pursuit. It’s a menu most people never even know exists until they’re initiated into its secret world by a technically savvy guru.

It used to be easy to open this screen; you just pressed the F8 key at the right moment during startup. But that trick doesn’t work in Windows 8.1. Some Windows8.1 machines start up so fast that you’d have only milliseconds to hit the F8 key at just the right time.

Instead, the Recovery Environment ( ...

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