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'Cold boot' results in bad load for video card drivers

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computers exhibit strange behavior when booted "cold." (Booting "cold" means that you turn on the computer by using the power button rather than Windows manually rebooting the system.)

What may happen is after an apparently normal boot process, the proper video card drivers don't load. Instead, the system boots the fallback VGA driver, which has no acceleration support and a limited range of color/desktop size choices. When you reboot, the problem isn't fixed, but if you power the system down and unplug it from the mains, it is.

Sometimes the system needs to be power-cycled while unplugged to clear the problem. If you push the power button on a computer when it's not plugged into an outlet -- or when there's no current to the outlet -- then whatever residual current that remains in the computer from the last time it was powered on is cleared out. Clearing out this residual power seems to change the way some components behave the next time the machine is powered on.

This boot-problem behavior seems to be a by-product of the way some system BIOSes handle stateful information about hardware. When powered off but plugged in, certain areas of memory may remain as-is; when power is restored and the system booted, any remaining data not cleared out in those areas might cause the system to misreport installed hardware. Or, it may cause the host operating system to be unable to match a driver to that hardware. This is why cycling the power with the system unplugged alleviates this problem, since it clears any residual data that might still remain after the last off cycle.

It's possible to work around the problem with the above-mentioned trick -- cycling the power with the system unplugged -- but in the long run you will want a more permanent fix. You should check to see if an updated BIOS is available for the system in question, since a revised BIOS ought to forcibly clear any memory spaces that need to be zeroed before a proper boot (thus avoiding any misreporting or driver confusion).

I've personally witnessed an analogous problem on other computers, where on cold boot, the machine did not recognize half of the installed memory. The machine could only be forced to recognize all the installed memory after a power-cycle with the plug removed. A BIOS upgrade also fixed that problem.


Serdar Yegulalp is editor of the Windows Power Users Newsletter. Check it out for the latest advice and musings on the world of Windows network administrators -- and please share your thoughts as well!


This was first published in August 2005

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