Automated System Recovery
The Windows XP Automated System Recovery (ASR) component of NTBackup allows you to save and restore system files and configuration settings needed to recover from a system failure.
Automated System Recovery (ASR) is not a data recovery method; it is a method to recover a blown-up operating system into an at least bootable state, and it requires you to have made a copy of your system state, on floppy disk, before it blew up. If you rely on ASR as a recovery mechanism for your data, and if your system does a legs up, you may get what you deserve; trouble, and lots of it.
A number of potentially misleading statements are made in various Microsoft documentation sources that could cause you to make invalid assumptions about XP's backup and restore capabilities. And it isn't only there that the Microsoft marketing Borg have messed up with potentially misleading statements; on a plain reading of the text, the Borg's description of how product activation actually works is so wrong it's nigh close to a downright lie.
As you review the Microsoft documentation regarding backup and recovery, keep in mind that, apart from the ntbackup software included with XP (but not included in some OEM versions), any feature of XP that purports to offer recovery of any kind, such as the Automated System Recovery method, is only there because it might "come in handy" for some poor soul who didn't have the wherewithal to make a single disk image and create subsequent incremental backups.
The options that Microsoft present to you offer only a very limited and questionable view of emergency recovery which, in Microsoft's view, seems to mean using an emergency repair floppy disk and gadding about in the recovery console trying to wrestle with the Command Line Interface (CLI). There are far safer, more secure and more reliable methods available; free.
The best backup solution is disk imaging, supplemented by regular data backups. See Backup and Data Recovery.
Many of the Microsoft articles pointed to here discuss ASR as a viable recovery solution. Given the opinion above, it is best to deal with ASR as a non-solution now, even before you read the Microsoft articles at the end of this page.
Before you can restore from ASR, you must have first created an ASR floppy disk, which contains system settings. You must also have created a backup of your system files. Both of these are accomplished by using the ASR wizard in ntbackup. The presence of the Wizard in ntbackup will, to the cynical, smack of, "Oh! We need a recovery option. Let's drill a hole here and bolt one on!"
You will also need the original operating system installation CD.
It is vital that you appreciate that ASR will not restore your data files. ASR restores disk signatures, volumes, and partitions on the disks that are required to start the computer. ASR installs a new and simplified installation of Windows XP on your hard disk then attempts to restore the system state information and system files using the backup created by the ASR Wizard. If you are familiar with the word kludge, you may be forgiven for seeing the word in your mind's eye in huge, gaudy, flashing neon lights right now.
ASR should only be relied on in the direst of circumstances and only when all other recovery options have failed, but trying to use ASR will be a pointless exercise if you don't have an ASR floppy disk to restore the system state from. For information on the tools available to you in the event of disk failure or corruption, read the related article, Data Corruption and Hard Disk Troubleshooting, on this site.
If you are using a computer that an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) provided with a pre-installed copy of Windows XP, the Valueadd and Support folders may not exist on your hard disk or on the recovery CD-ROM that was included with your computer. That means ASR is not an option for you. See: VALUEADD and SUPPORT Folders Are Not Included on OEM CD-ROMs
Information on how to setup and use ASR is available in the Help and Support Centre, but you may also find these three Microsoft articles provide additional assistance and information:
Automated System Recovery (ASR) overview
Create an Automated System Recovery set using Backup
Recover from a system failure using Automated System Recovery
How to install additional files during Automated System Recovery
Ok, more accurately, given the low cost (free in some cases) of imaging software, there should be no reason to use it.