How to troubleshoot Windows XP startup problems, Part 2

Determining the source of a Windows XP startup problem -- and fixing it -- is easier if you use a step-by-step approach. Find out what to do if a system will not start in normal mode or safe mode.

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 CHECKLIST       How to troubleshoot Windows XP startup problems

Second of two parts. (Click here to read Part 1.)

As mentioned in the first part of this article, one of the most common troubleshooting issues in Windows XP is the failure of a system to start up properly. These failures can be caused by a number of issues, including poorly written or malicious software, faulty device drivers, hardware incompatibilities, corrupt or missing system files and incorrect system configurations. Determining the source of the startup problem, and fixing it, is easier if you use a methodical, step-by-step approach.

If the system will not start in Normal Mode or Safe Mode

A Windows XP system that will not start in Normal or Safe Mode is not a good sign and may be the result of corrupt or missing system files, a corrupt registry, hardware drivers or failed services. Your first step is to press F8 during Startup and select the Last Known Good Configuration option from the Windows Advanced Options Menu. If Windows boots normally, check the event logs and hardware manager for clues as to what may have caused the failure. You may also want to check the Add/Remove Programs menu for any new applications that may have contributed to the failure.

If the Last Known Good Configuration fails, the next step is to start the Recovery Console by booting from the Windows XP Startup CD and pressing "R" to repair when the "Welcome to System Setup" screen appears, then press "C" to start the Recovery Console. The Recovery Console is a command line utility that can be used to identify and solve a number of issues in the event that Windows cannot start, including starting and stopping services and drivers. If you receive an error on startup stating that a system file is missing or corrupt, Recovery Console can be used to replace those files as well. For a list of available commands, simply type HELP at the command prompt. For more detailed information about the Recovery Console, check out Microsoft Knowledge Base article 307654.

Last-minute XP migration advice

Keep these five things in mind as Windows XP end of life approaches.

If you are unable to determine if a driver or service is responsible for the startup failure, you should run the Checkdisk utility from the Recovery Console by typing CHKDSK at the command prompt. This utility scans your hard drive and checks for problems with the disk or file system, which may result in corrupt or missing system files. You should also check the system CMOS and BIOS settings for configuration errors or corrupt data. Note: CMOS and BIOS data corruption can occur as a result of a dead or weak internal battery. Check your motherboard documentation for details.

 If you are still unable to determine the cause of startup failure at this point, you have the following options:

  1. Use System Restore to return your critical system files and some program files from a previous restore point. I've had mixed results with System Restore, but at this point, it is still worth a shot. System Restore can be activated from the Recovery Console. The advantage of using System Restore is that your personal files located in My Documents will not be overwritten or deleted. More information can be found in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 306084.
  2. Restore from a backup tape: While this method will recover your system, you will lose any data stored on your workstation that was created after the system was backed up. This method will also not help you identify the root cause of the startup failure, which may occur again.
  3. Perform an in-place upgrade (reinstallation): This process reinstalls the operating system but may result in data loss if not done correctly. The advantage is that it should return the workstation to a bootable state in which important files can be copied. Applications, service packs and system updates may need to be reinstalled for the system to function properly. For more information, see Microsoft Knowledge Base article 315341.
  4. Perform a parallel installation: A parallel installation involves creating a second Windows XP installation on the same workstation, either in a new folder or on a secondary (slaved) hard drive. The advantage of this approach is that it allows data to be recovered on the primary drive, assuming disk failure was not the cause of the startup issue. After any critical data is recovered, the original installation can be restored from backup source and updated with the new files.

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