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How to troubleshoot Windows XP startup problems, Part 1

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 workstation starts normally and fails after logon.

Troubleshooting Windows XP startup problems

First of two parts. (Click here to read Part 2.)

One of the most common troubleshooting problems 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 problem, and fixing it, is easier if you use a methodical, step-by-step approach.

The first question that should be asked when troubleshooting startup problems for Windows XP is: What changed? If a user has just loaded new software, added new hardware, updated drivers or made a change to the system configuration, you should assume this was the cause of the issue until you have ruled it out by undoing the change. This includes operating system updates from Microsoft, which have been known to cause an occasional issue. If a recent change is not a potential cause of the startup failure, you should suspect hardware failure, viruses or malicious software or data corruption. Troubleshooting the issue will depend on the point at which startup fails. The further along in the startup process the failure occurs, the easier it is to troubleshoot and repair.

If the workstation starts normally and fails after logon

The problem may be related to a user profile, network logon script, application, driver or service. If the system produces an error message or blue screen, copy the message and check Microsoft's Knowledge Base to see if it is a known issue and if a workaround or patch exists. If the issue is not in Microsoft's database, try searching technical discussion groups, third-party sites or Usenet.

If you do not receive an error message, and the system simply hangs or continually restarts:

  1. Try logging in with a different account. If this resolves the issue, the problem may be related to the user's profile, account profile, permissions or group policy settings. Start by checking the event log on the local machine by using the Microsoft Management Console.
  2. Try logging with a local account. If this resolves the issue, the problem may be related to authentication, networking, logon scripts, drive mappings or related issues. Again, the workstation's event logs may provide additional clues to the cause of the failure.
  3. Try booting into Safe Mode by pressing F8 during startup and choosing Safe Mode from Windows Advanced Options Menu. Safe Mode loads Windows with a minimal set of drivers and services. If the problem still occurs, it is most likely related to corrupt or missing operating system files or hardware. If the problem does not occur, it is likely to be a driver, service or startup application issue.
  4. Enable Bootlogging by pressing F8 during startup, and choosing Enable Bootlogging from the Windows Advanced Options Menu. Bootlogging is a diagnostic feature that will list every driver the operating system tries to load. It creates a text file named Ntdtlog.txt in the Windows directory that can be opened with Notepad. You can also check the status of your hardware devices using Device Manager, which can be accessed via the Microsoft Management Console, or by right clicking the My Computer icon, clicking Properties, selecting the Hardware tab, and clicking the button labeled "Device Manager." From the Device Manager menu, you can add, remove or disable hardware, as well as update or roll back drivers.
  5. Perform a clean boot. A clean boot is similar to Safe Mode, except that it offers greater control of the boot process. Here are the steps:
    • Logon onto the workstation using an account with Administrator privileges.
    • Click Start, click Run, type msconfig in the Open box, and then click OK.
    • On the General tab, select Selective Startup, and clear the checkmarks next to the Process System.ini, Process Win.ini File, and Load Startup Items. (Note: You will not be able to clear the "Use original Boot.ini" check box.)
    • Next, click the Services tab and check the option to Hide All Microsoft Services. This option will display only the services started by non-Microsoft applications. Select the Disable All option. Click Apply, then click OK and reboot. WARNING: If you clear the Load System Services option on the General tab of the System Configuration Utility, or if you disable all Microsoft services on the Services tab, then all of the restore points for the System Restore utility are deleted.
    • If the system starts normally, restart the msconfig utility, choose the General tab, and select the box to next Process System.ini File, click OK and restart the system. If the problem does not reoccur, repeat this step for the Process Win.ini File, Load Startup Items and Load System Services options. If the problem reoccurs, the last item enabled contains the source of the problem.
    • If the problem reoccurs after selecting the Load System Services option, you can use the msconfig utility to load each service one at a time until you discover the source of the problem. Services can also be enabled or disabled via the Microsoft Management Console, or via the Computer Management Console.

Should you upgrade to Windows 7 or 8?

  • Windows XP shops don't have to migrate to Windows 7 anymore, but there are several pros and cons to weigh before deciding on a Windows 8 upgrade.

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