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The startup process of Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Windows 8.1 and Windows Server 2012 R2 is different from previous versions of Windows. (In this article, unless otherwise specified, "Windows Vista" refers to any of these operating systems.)
For Windows Vista, the boot sector loads the Windows Boot Manager (hidden system file BOOTMGR in the System Reserved Volume), accesses the Boot Configuration Data store and uses the information to load the operating system.
Boot Configuration Data are stored in a data file that has the same format as the Windows Registry hives and is eventually loaded at registry key [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\BCD00000]. The file is located either on the EFI System Partition (on machines that use Extensible Firmware Interface firmware) or in \Boot\Bcd on the system volume (on machines that use IBM PC compatible firmware).
Boot Configuration Data may be altered using a command-line tool (bcdedit.exe), using Registry Editor (regedit.exe), using Windows Management Instrumentation, or with third-party tools such as EasyBCD or BOOTICE.
Boot Configuration Data contain the menu entries that are presented by the Windows Boot Manager, just as boot.ini contained the menu entries that were presented by NTLDR. These menu entries can include:
Boot Configuration Data allows for third-party integration, so anyone can implement tools like diagnostics or recovery options.
The Windows Boot Manager invokes winload.exe—the operating system boot loader—to load the operating system kernel (ntoskrnl.exe) and (boot-class) device drivers. In that respect, winload.exe is functionally equivalent to the operating system loader function of NTLDR in prior versions of Windows NT.
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