Vista fails to boot - Windows Boot Manager


After running fine for 14 months, Vista woke up and gave the popular "C:\windows\system32\winload.exe" is either missing or corrupt error message.

I've been messing around with this thing for several days now, and I don't really think it's a winload.exe problem. It seems like my Windows boot manager is never getting updated with my changes. I've gone through all the usual steps.. deleted the BCD, rebuilt using BCDEDIT and BOOTSECT etc. When I display with BCDEDIT, my entries look fine, but when I boot, it doesn't look like the boot manager is seeing any of my changes. No matter what I put in for the path statement, it always says c:\windows\system32\winload.exe is missing or corrupt.

I used diskpart to check out the system. I've got a healthy C partition. A healthy D partition and a wonderful Lenovo hidden partition.

Since I have no experience with Vista, I'm not sure if one of these is supposed to say BOOT anywhere on the info line. I've insured my C partition is active, done the windows repair (which tried to work a couple of times) but still the same windows boot manager menu.

I tried to install another Vista in the empty D partition hoping that would crank up the MBR, but no such luck. Then I tried installing Ubuntu Linux hoping I'd at least see the GRUB boot loader, but I still end up with the same old Windows Boot Loader and the same default entry.

What am I missing? There is only 1 drive in this box so something should tell me where the boot manager is loading from.

Any assistance would be greatly appreciated!

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Hi Dave, welcome to NST.

In Windows
"boot" = you are running this OS
"system" = this is where the boot files are
"active" = MBR execute the PBR here

In Linux (and Gparted)
"boot" = this is what those people at MS call "system"

If you don't own a bootable Vista DVD, get our recovery ISO from here, then burn it to a CD with Imgburn, make sure that the "system" partition is set "active", boot the CD, select "repair your computer" then "startup repair" (do this 3 times till it's fixed all the possible problems with the Vista boot, one at a time)
Hey Terry,

Thanks for the reply. All I had was the El Cheapo dvd that came with the Lenovo, so I did download and burn the Vista Utilities DVD. I also grabbed a copy of VISTA from a friend to see if the utilities were any different (they were not).

So... I did the repair. My Vista OS is found, but nothing is found to repair. Tried to do a system restore from an earlier date - nothing there either.

But what was/is interesting is no matter what I enter in the BCD record, the Windows Boot Manager screen never changes. It has never given me the options I had entered. - Like adding the second vista partition, changing descriptive text etc. It's the same screen that has the "Winload.exe corrupt or missing". The descriptive text has not changed to what I had entered.

That's why I tried installing VISTA and LINUX on the empty partition. I wanted to see if they would update the boot loader screen. Hell, I would have been happy if they had just whalloped it - but nothing. No change to that screen whatsoever.

I can go to C:\Boot and see my new BCD as well as the backup entries that exist. But for the life of me, I just can't get the damn thing to see my changes to the boot manager.

I would just go ahead and use the Lenovo disk to restore the default C: partition (I did pull the harddrive and back up the user's data to a linux machine.) But I'm not convinced that restoring Vista will really change the behavior of this boot loader.

Yes... The partition was active. I went into DISKPART to insure it was active. I also tried to deactivate the hidden Lenovo partition in case it was causing me problems, but diskpart said it already was inactive.

There is no letter assigned to the Lenovo hidden partition. I have one NTFS (C) that's active and healthy. And also a RAW partition at D. That guy used to have the other Vista copy and I also used it to install Ubuntu linux. I removed both after each install and deleted the partition. I have not yet reformatted it, so it's still showing as raw.
You could try a chkdsk /f from the Command Prompt of the booted Vista DVD, then when it's finished, try the "startup repair" again.
(remember startup repair only fixes one thing per pass, you'll probably need to run it 3 times before Vista boots again - did you try multiple repairs before ?)

Thanks again for the suggestions, but I have already tried the chkdsk - it ran clean too. Multiple swings at startup repair yield the same results - no problems found.

I know some OEMs boot from a custom boot manager in their recovery partition, but I don't know whether Denovo is one.
I tried to look in their site, but it needs model number etc to be entered to access the correct info.
Have you searched through it ?
It could be that the Recovery partition should be active.
Do you have a live Linux you can examine the HDD with, to see if Vista boot files exist in the Recovery patition root ?
I think you're getting close to a factory reset now if you've already saved your data.
"Diminishing returns" and all that.
Terry, man, I really do appreciate your input. I fear I'm getting close to slam dunking this thing too. Pity there isn't a "Repair Install" like XP had. That sure would come in handy. I did dump the user data to a spare linux box I've got, but I like the suggestion of checking to see whether the hidden partition should be active or not.

I will say this, though. Although this experience has been a total PITA, I sure have learned a lot about how the Vista boot loader works, so it's not been a total loss. Experience is a good teacher, but it sure is one helluva way to learn.

I'll post back if I discover anything before reloading this puppy.


I did go to the Lenovo site, but unfortunately there wasn't anything useful. I did post a question to Lenovo support, but so far it's been radio silence.
FYI, best booting tutorial I know, is the first embedded link in the sticky.
It'll give you a real insight to the whole process if it's new to you.