When and why to use Windows Advanced Startup

Whether you need to access your BIOS, reset your PC, boot from an external drive, restore a system image, or perform many other important boot-related tasks, the advanced boot menu of Windows is the place to go, especially if you’re trying to fix a BSOD or other error. You access it 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 need them.

(Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)

The warning is real: it will restart your PC

Do not click the “Restart now” button until you are ready to restart your PC. Why say that? Because as soon as you click this button, you can’t go back. Your PC will restart and when it does, it will present you with the “Choose an option” on-screen menu:

Advanced Windows Startup

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

On this screen, two of the options are easily explained. The “Continue” option starts Windows normally, as if you had never used this restart option. The “Turn off your PC” performs a shutdown operation and leaves your PC inert and shut down. Obviously, you could have done both of these things without ever entering Windows advanced start menu. Things get more interesting with ‘Use a device’ and ‘Troubleshoot’, which each lead to subsidiary menus.

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

Troubleshooting leads to two choices. First, Reset This PC reinstalls Windows, but lets you keep or delete your personal files. This is exactly like the operation of the same name in the recovery menu that appears first in the same Settings window as shown in the intro graphic for this story. The advanced options page is where the live action is and appears below:

Each of these options deserve a bit of exploration and explanation, so I’m going to list them and do exactly that now:

The advanced options menu (Image credit: Tom’s Hardware)
  • System Restauration: This option runs the built-in Windows System Restore utility and allows you to choose a restore point to which you want to return your PC. As I write this story, my test machine gives me the option to choose restore points that are between 1 and 7 days old. I don’t recommend this option except in extreme cases, as restore points aren’t as reliable or as 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 don’t recommend (it’s called “Backup and Restore (Windows 7)” in Control Panel because it hasn’t been improved or improved since. long enough. Not even Microsoft does not recommend this tool anymore). But if you have used the tool to make Windows image backups, you can use it through this menu option. Again, I prefer (and use regularly) Macrium Reflect bootable rescue media and its backup images – they’re faster, smaller, and more reliable.
  • Startup Repair: Automatically restarts the PC and runs a preset sequence of Startup Repair diagnostics (and fixes, if those diagnostics find something they can address). Also saves a log of its activities in C: Windows System32 Logfiles Srt SrtTrail.txt, where srt stands for Startup Repair Tools. Sometimes these tools can help. My own experience has been that Macrium Reflect Startup Repair is more capable (and likely to fix real world issues) than these tools.
  • Command prompt: Opens a Command Prompt window from Windows Recovery Environment (WinRE) that allows you to do anything and everything on the command line of Windows Setup on your normal boot / system drive (C: on most systems). I use it all the time to manage and delete otherwise inaccessible operating system files, and to perform offline image management on bad, failing, or damaged Windows images. You can tell this is different from a normal command prompt because WinRE runs from drive X: (a RAM disk that it configures) and the prompt reads “X: windows system32” accordingly.
  • Boot parameters: This provides access to the same types of startup options that appear in the msconfig.exe tool while Windows is running. The options on the screen of my test machine are as follows:
  1. Enable low resolution video mode (msconfig.boot.base video)
  2. Enable debugging mode (enables debugger at operating system level, rarely used except by developers)
  3. Enable boot logging (msconfig.boot.boot log) tracks all actions during Windows startup and writes them to C: Windows ntbtlog.txt
  4. Enable Safe Mode (msconfig.boot.boot options.safe boot) starts a variety of minimized runtime environments for Windows to block third-party applications and startup items
  5. Disable driver signature enforcement: Prevents Windows from blocking unsigned drivers and allows them to run (good option when troubleshooting faulty drivers)
  6. Disable early launch malware protection: Prevents anti-malware software from interfering with Windows startup 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 post-crash data collection activities are completed. This option allows you to keep the BSOD message on the screen for as long as you want.
  • UEFI Firmware Settings: This option appears on systems with UEFI boot environments (most PCs purchased after 2010 will include this option). This gives you access to the modern equivalent of the basic input / output system (BIOS) known as the Unified Extended Firmware Interface (UEFI) which defines the basic startup and runtime behavior of your PC.

    Use it to enable or disable devices, enable or disable boot security, and manage your PC’s boot behavior, boot disk selection and order, and more. On my Lenovo PCs, if I hit “Enter” before the Windows boot balls start spinning, that also takes me to the UEFI settings. The methods vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but there is almost always a way to do this during the first few moments of booting 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 find the right timing. On particularly fast PCs, this can otherwise be difficult, if not impossible.

  • Go back to the previous version: This will read the contents of the Windows.old folder (it only lasts 10 days after an upgrade by default, so this option still won’t do anything for you) and revert your Windows 10 runtime environment to the state it was in. had before you upgraded. Undoing an upgrade takes about the same time as performing an upgrade, so be prepared to wait 15 minutes or more while this continues. YMMV, depending on the CPU and I / O capabilities of your PC.
  • Uninstall updates: If your PC was recently updated and the previous Windows installation is outdated, you will get this option instead. It will allow you to uninstall the latest quality update or the latest feature update (if available). You will be prompted to enter a password for a valid login account before this option is allowed.

This boot option in Windows is incredibly useful. It provides access to a wide variety of repair and recovery tools for the operating system. This environment is worth knowing and experiencing, so that you can understand how it works and what it can do. Then when a system gets weird, you’ll be able to implement it without increasing the learning curve at the same time as you try to solve real world problems.

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