Completely Repair Windows XP Without Losing Files

winFour years ago, when Windows XP was still king, and Vista was only a jester, I ran into an article by Fred Langa, which told me how to fix XP without losing personal files. I’ve been using this fix ever since to repair computers that have been crippled by spyware and trojans.

There’s one requirement that is a show stopper. You must have an official Windows XP installation CD. Sometimes computers either don’t come with one, or they come with a Restore CDfrom the manufacturer. The Restore CD may not work, or it may work differently.

If you don’t have an official Windows XP CD, you might be able to borrow one from a friend, but you’d better have the Product Key from your PC. It should be listed on a label which was placed somewhere on your computer. If you can’t find your Product Key, there are a few ways to recover the Key.

Another way to get an official CD is to buy one. A few years ago, I bought two copies of Windows XP from Just be sure to get your copy from a trusted seller.


Assuming you have a valid Windows installation CD, here are the steps to fix Windows XP. This should be done only if you have no other options to fix it. There are no guarantees that it will always work.

1. Insert the Windows Install CD and reboot.

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Clif Sipe

Promoting Freeware and Free information since 2004. Owner of with over 2000 pages of freebies. Please subscribe to my Google Feed or follow me on Twitter @clifnotes.

  • karthik

    hi after booting from cd we can use the repair option by pressing ‘R’..this will replace only windows setup files wit new one but NO personal stuff like documents are changed..
    if i follow the method above
    windows installs as C:/windows1 while the folder C:/windows contains files of prev install.
    i hav tried these many times in my own system.
    alternatively v can uses “files n settings transfer wizard” from “start-all programs-accessories-system tools”

    • Hi Karthik – OMG! You just showed me that I had left out one of the most important steps! Go back and look at step 5. I’ve added back in a screenshot that I accidentally left out. You can still repair the C:/windows installation by hitting R, as long as you have it highlighted.

      I’m so sorry – I hope this hasn’t caused problems for anyone else. Later if you want, I’m pretty sure that you can use the computer management console to remove the c:/windows1 install if you want to.

      I’ll email you so that you can contact me directly if you have any questions.

      Once again – sorry …

      • Andy Mcfarlane

        I have Windows Xp Home edition all original. It got virused. My friend put on bootleg copy of Windows XP professional, it is now virused. Can I put back on my original version without losing all my files?


        • Hi Andy – If the machine is nearly trashed, it won’t hurt to try it.

          Back up all the personal files that you can, before you do try to repair it. Usually, viruses don’t live in pictures, music and docs.

          So, if you try the repair and it doesn’t work, just stick in the boot disk and do a clean install to wipe it clean. See this link for instructions on clean installs.

          You should be able to bring the backuped files over to a clean machine, with little risk.

  • Would it (at least theoretically) wipe out SP3 or any updates/patches?

    • Yes, it would set the PC back to whatever service pack that the install CD had on it.

  • Shankar

    Thanks for timely help.

    • You are quite welcome Shankar

  • Artie Beezy

    Everything works great after following your instructions but the only problem is that I had to borrow a windows xp home cd to install and repair and I’m having problems with activating windows xp home. I can’t get on the internet because I’m using a Verison USB internet card and I don’t have a desktop available to see the icon for Verizon to turn on untill I activate windows. I called the phone number to activate but it says that my product key and id number key won’t allow me to activate. I’ve been working on this for a few days with no help. Hopefully this makes sense to you and you can help me. Very much appreciated!

  • alstedman

    i have bought a laptop off a friend and it is telling me that i have a non genuine copy of xp on it.i have queried this with the previous owner who insists that he bought it new from a trusted retailler but does nothave the installation cd as it was already setup. i dont really wantto spend loads more money on a newcopy of xp is there anything i can do