The Automated System Recovery (ASR) feature in Windows XP Professional makes it easier to restore a Windows system if the operating system, Registry and related files on the system volume become corrupted. Like using a restore point, ASR rolls back the system to a known good state.
However, in XP Professional, ASR is much more powerful than restore points and requires careful use. In fact, Microsoft recommends that ASR only be used as a last resort before going through the process of wiping the disk and restoring everything from the installation CDs on up. ASR for Windows Server 2003 is related but different. For example, the procedure assumes you will be backing up over a network. Also, ASR reformats the system volume in the process of restoration.
Recovery with ASR in XP Professional is a two-step process. In the boot recovery process, a new copy of XP is installed on the system from the original CD. Next, restore a previously saved copy of the installation you're trying to recover. This overwrites some of the files installed in the boot recovery process and restores the system state.
To make this work, you need three things: an ASR recovery floppy (which you create and keep current yourself), an ASR backup and the original installation CD.
Use the ASR option in the Backup and Restore Wizard to create the ASR backup. This backs up not only the disks containing the operating system, but also the system state and related information. The ASR backup will amount to about 2 GB of data, so it is best done to another hard disk.
The ASR floppy is vital to the operation and needs to be kept current. Although there is a procedure for creating an ASR floppy from the backup media, it is much better to have a floppy with your current Registry and other system state information on hand.
Microsoft provides instructions on using ASR, but, the fact is, you're much better off if you can avoid ASR entirely. You should try other options such as system point restore, driver rollbacks and restoring from a regular backup before resorting to ASR.
Rick Cook has been writing about mass storage since the days when the term meant an 80K floppy disk. The computers he learned on used ferrite cores and magnetic drums. For the last 20 years he has been a freelance writer specializing in issues related to storage and storage management.
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This was first published in December 2005