|"If I use the first option in the Recovery Console "to set up windows XP" (or as Tubesandwires expressed "Repair Install procedure")...."|
The choice isn't in the Recovery Console.
When you boot using the Windows CD and after the initial files are loaded from it, when you see the first screen that asks if you want to Repair Windows, you DO NOT press R to go to the Recovery Console - you choose to continue on to Setup. The second Repair choice you see later, IF it's available - it may not be.
If you DO NOT see the second Repair choice, "Repair your existing Windows installation" or similar, if you want to retrieve whatever you can, QUIT Setup at that point!!
"....would I lose my data on the harddrive? "
NO, for the most part. As I said
"...what it actually does is run Setup again without deleting the contents of the partition Windows is on (which is usually C) first."
"How to do an XP Repair Setup, step by step:"
link above to see how to do the procedure.
It's for XP Pro - but if you have XP Home it's very similar.
If you have XP MCE (Media Center Edition 2002, 2004, or 2005), Setup looks very much like that for XP Pro, BUT you need to boot using the orginal, or a copy of the, first of the TWO OEM MCE CDs, you need BOTH original CDs, or copies of BOTH CDs, and the Setup procedure is slightly different and has bugs you need to know about - if you have XP MCE on the computer let me know BEFORE you try the Repair Install (Repair Setup) procedure!
You can always try running it to the point where you see whether you have the choice "Repair your existing Windows installation" or similar, or not, and quit Setup if you want to chicken out at that point, without harming any data.
You will either see the choice, or you won't if there is too much damage to the existing registry, or possibly if the Windows CD you use is one without any SP updates.
Some Windows related things are deleted then rebuilt, but for the most part, all the data and personal settings you added after you got the computer will still be on the partition Windows is on (usually that's C) and will still be there.
It runs very much like a regular Setup, except you are asked fewer questions, and have to set fewer things. You have to supply the Product Key - use the one on the official Microsoft label on the outside of the case.
Windows is usually already Activated when Setup is finished.
A few precautions.
Make sure you have the Product Key - it's on the official Microsoft label on the case. If you quit Setup without providing the Product Key, you won't have the "Repair your existing Windows installation" or similar choice when you try booting with the Windows CD again after that.
During running the Repair Install (Repair Setup) procedure, you MUST have NO errors reading files from the Windows CD - if you DO have errors, and quit Setup because of them, the procedure will have trashed your existing registry, and you won't have the "Repair your existing Windows installation" or similar choice when you try booting with the Windows CD again after that.
(your files will still be on the hard drive if you quit Setup when you have problems reading the CD, and you can take steps to retrieve some of the stuff you don't want to lose, but if the second Repair choice isn't there, as far as restoring Windiows itself, you have no choice except to......
- run the Recovery procedure for your Dell model to restore the original data that was on C when you got the computer [which requires you have made a Recovery CD for that purpose, that uses the contents of the intact existing second partition that is there on the orginal brand name system drive]
- run the Recovery procedure for your Dell model to restore the original data that was on C when you got the computer, using a Recovery CD set [which requires you have made a Recovery CD set for that purpose, or you have bought one from Dell for your model, if available]
- or - use a Windows CD or a bootable copy of a Windows CD of the same version along with the Product Key found on the official Microsoft label on the case, to restore just Windows, then you will have to get and load additional drivers for your model, etc., etc.)
- whatever optical drive you have the Windows CD in and it's data connection to the computer MUST be working properly
- the ram must be working properly - don't fiddle with it if it was working fine just before this
- it is a very good idea to make sure the Windows CD is clean, and to use a laser lens cleaning CD in the drive to make sure it's clean, BEFORE you run the procedure.