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How to Set up and Use Automated System Recovery in Windows XP

By: Arie Slob

Windows XP's Automated System Recovery (ASR) is an extension to the conventional backup-and-restore. It provides a framework for saving and recovering the Windows XP operating state, in the event of a catastrophic system or hardware failure. Windows XP ASR recovers the target system in a two-step process. The first step, termed the boot recovery process, requires a new copy of Windows XP to be temporarily installed on the target system using the original distribution media. The second step, called the OS restore process, restores the files of a previously saved Windows XP installation using a backup-and-restore application (this will delete/overwrite some of the files installed by the boot recovery process).

Note: Users of Windows XP Home are out of luck: ASR is not available on their system. While mentions of this feature do exist in the backup utility of Windows XP Home, ASR is only functional in Windows XP Professional. Please click here for some other options.

ASR Backup

The backup portion of ASR is accomplished through the ASR Wizard located in Backup. The wizard backs up the system state, system services, and all disks associated with the operating system components. It also creates a file containing information about the backup, the disk configurations (including basic and dynamic volumes) and how to accomplish a restore.

To start the process, click Backup under All Programs > Accessories > System Tools.

Backup or Restore Wizard

By default, backup will start in Wizard mode. In this case it's easier to start in the Advanced Mode. To do so, just click the link Advanced Mode.

Backup or Restore Wizard

On the Welcome tab, click Automated System Recovery Wizard. This will start the Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard.

Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard

The wizard will prompt you for a location and name for the media to store the backup file.

Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard

By default drive A:\ will be selected, but for obvious reasons this isn't a good choice. You want to change the location to another disk-location. The backup will typically be around 1.5-2.0GB (but could be more, depending on the amount of software installed), and since Microsoft's backup won't "span" a backup across multiple CDs, you'd have to find another media to store this backup on. You could use anything from ZIP or Jazz drives, to a second hard disk drive, either internal or external. Please note: you can't save the backup to the system drive (usually drive C:\), since this drive will be formatted when you do an ASR restore.

Completing Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard

When you have selected the location and name for the backup, press Finish to end the Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard. When you do this, backup will create a list of all the files to backup, and then continue with the backup process

Making Backup

ASR only makes a backup of your files on your System drive (usually drive C:\). If you use other hard drives, you will need to make a separate backup of your documents & files to make a complete "recovery" after disaster!

ASR Diskette

Once the disk-backup is done, ASR will prompt you for a blank, 1.44MB, formatted floppy disk to store some recovery data.

ASR Diskette

When ready, label the diskette. Pressing OK ends the backup portion of ASR

You will need to keep your ASR backup up-to-date. If you make any changes to your OS, you'll need to make a new ASR backup. When installing updates from Microsoft, most will prompt you to make a new ASR backup after installing the update.

ASR Restore

ASR will read the disk configurations from the file that it saved on the ASR diskette and restore all of the disk signatures, volumes and partitions on, at a minimum, the disks required to start the computer (It will attempt to restore all of the disk configurations, but under some circumstances, it might not be able to).

To use Automated System Recovery to recover after a system failure, you need to have the following items before you begin the procedure:

  1. Your Automated System Recovery floppy disk
  2. Your previously created backup
  3. Your original operating system CD

You should only use the ASR backup to restore your system if all other methods to start your Windows XP system have failed. Your system drive (usually drive C:\) will be formatted and you will lose any information that was not backed up recently!

To start the restore process, insert the original Windows XP CD in your system's CD-ROM drive, and reboot your computer (make sure that the option is set in your computer's BIOS to boot from CD-ROM. Check your computer's or motherboard's manual on how to do this). Usually you'll get a message to Press any key to boot from CD...

Press F2 to run Automated System Recovery (ASR)...

Once Windows Setup starts, you'll be prompted with the following text at the bottom of the screen: Press F2 to run Automated System Recovery (ASR)... so be prepared to hit F2 as soon as you see this.

Insert Windows Automated System Recovery Disk

Next you will be prompted to insert the Windows Automated System Recovery Disk into the floppy drive. Insert the disk, and press any key.


The ASR process will be started, and without any further prompts, your system drive will be formatted, after which setup will start copying its files to the hard disk.

Copying files

System reboot

When ready, the system will prompt you to remove any floppy from the floppy drive, and will reboot the system automatically (this time do not press any key to boot from the CD-ROM!).

Windows XP Setup

Windows setup will now continue much like a normal Windows setup would, but it will not do a complete installation.

Automated System Recovery Wizard

After a few minutes, the Automated System Recovery Wizard will start. After 90 seconds it will automatically continue, if you want to speed this up, just press the Next button.

Data Recovery Source

Next the ASR wizard will ask you for the location of your backup file. By default it will list the location you saved the backup to previously, but if you since moved it to a different drive, you can use the Browse button to point to the new location.

Completing Automated System Recovery Wizard

This will close the ASR wizard, after which backup is used to restore the previous backup of your system drive. After the restore phase is completed, your system will be rebooted, and you'll have it back in the same state as of the time when you created the ASR backup.

Microsoft Knowledge Base Articles Relating to Automated System Recovery

How to Install Additional Files During Automated System Recovery
How to Re-Create a Missing Automated System Recovery Floppy Disk in Windows XP
An Error Message Is Displayed When You Attempt to Use the Automated System Recovery Wizard