Can't boot in Windows XP: missing or corrupt \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM. Other boot options not helping SO FAR. - Microsoft OS Forum - Software & Operating Systems - Dell Community

Can't boot in Windows XP: missing or corrupt \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM. Other boot options not helping SO FAR.

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Can't boot in Windows XP: missing or corrupt \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM. Other boot options not helping SO FAR.

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My Dell Dimension E521 desktop has Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 3. After being shut off a week, I get this message when I try to boot: “The following file is missing or corrupt \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM. You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.”


So I put in my 2007 CD labelled “OPERATING SYSTEM  Reinstallation CD  Windows XP Professional  Service Pack 2”. Then I booted from the CD and chose R for repair, which worked successfully for me once in 2009. I tried it twice now but it doesn’t permit me to reboot. After I select the C: drive for repair, it takes a few seconds and gives me a DOS-style prompt at C:\WINDOWS. When I exit and try to reboot (even in Safe Mode) I get the identical error message.


Then I tried a few troubleshooting features shown to me in the past by Dell Tech Support. My system is 3 years old, so warranties have expired. Even my Operating System CD is old enough to say “Service Pack 2” (though I’m not sure using Service Pack 3 interferes with my attempt to repair the file).


From the Boot Device Menu, I ran Hard Drive Diagnostics twice and the drive passed both times (no problem found). I tried Boot to Utility Partition but couldn’t; I get the error message “SYSTEM_ERROR  This system is not recognized as a supported Dell PC.” I’m not sure if that error message is because my system is out-of-warranty or because the system board was replaced soon after I bought the PC. In any case, I can’t access those utilities.


It seems to me there are 2 things Dell Support could do to help or fix the problem. First, get me access to the Utility Partition so I can run troubleshooting diagnostics. Second, if I need an updated Operating System CD to repair the missing or corrupt file, I can only get that from Dell. Is my approach productive or am I barking up the wrong tree?


I must recover my system because my backups are at least 4 months old. I realize I may eventually have to pay for support either from Dell or from a vendor I think is more helpful.

I hope I posted this information in the right forum.Thanks

All Replies
  • You did not run the Repair option, you started the Recovery Console by pressing R. To run the Repair, you need to select Install Windows instead of the Recovery Console. That does a "dirty install" to replace corrupted system files. Your personal files will be OK.




  • Hi fn1a


    Yes you have posted in the correct Forum


    But I’m a little confused about – quotes:

    From the Boot Device Menu, I ran Hard Drive Diagnostics twice

    I tried Boot to Utility Partition but couldn’t….. etc..


    Dell hardware diagnostics is an option in the Utility Boot partition??

    If not available you need to run diagnostics by booting from CD-ROM drive using the Dell OEM Resource CD


    Anyhow & unfortunately, Windows\system32\config\ type error problems usually mean:


    Hardware failure e.g. HDD (hard disk drive) problems, either bad sectors or HDD heading south &/or Windows OS corrupt registry hive(s) 


    If it’s definitely not a HDD problem then as advised by Mary G, you need to do an XP Repair Install


    Do NOT use the R key option (Recovery Console) to fix a system32\config\ type error for an OEM preinstalled OS


    Another problem is that, assuming you downloaded/installed XP SP3 at some time in the past?


    If the present OS is XP SP3 & you try to use an XP CD SP2 to do an XP Repair Install, you should receive an error message indicating a newer OS is installed & XP Install Repair will fail


    Options are:


    Remove SP3 from XP OS on HDD (not an option if you can’t access the HDD OS partition)

    Create a slipstreamed XP SP3 CD & use it for Repair Install




    If recovery of personal data is important, either connect the suspect HDD as a slave drive or buy a USB connected HDD enclosure, like one of these, click here

    Then reformat HDD XP Windows partition (result in loss of all personal data etc..) using either:

    Dell PC Restore (Ctrl + F11) – will only work if both Dell MBR & preinstalled image are intact

    XP Clean Install procedure (using original Dell OEM XP Pro SP2 CD & Resource CD)


    Reply if you need further clarification/help


    Edit: Another possible cause, check for loose HDD to mobo connections





  • According to my Windows XP screen, the Recovery Console IS (=) the Repair Option!  So I took the correct first step, which worked fine when I faced a similar error message in 2009.  BUT I think I see what you're suggesting. 

    A "dirty install" with a 3 year old Windows CD is riskier and more drastic than what I'm ready to do before I've tried other options. The cure's effects could be worse than the disease.

  • When in Windows Setup


    Recovery Console (command prompt Repair method) is not an XP Repair Install, click here