Problem solve Get help with specific problems with your technologies, process and projects.

Common booting problems and remedies

Common booting problems and remedies

From Essential Windows NT System Administration by Aeleen Frisch, O'Reilly and Associates, 1998

When the system won't reboot, first check any changes that you or anyone else may have recently made to the system. An incorrect system configuration is by far the most common cause of boot failures, and hardware failures comprise the majority of the remainder.

When the system won't boot, try again to boot it with a minimal, vanilla boot process. There are several such methods available:

  • Boot using the Last Known Good configuration. The system automatically saves the system configuration whenever a user successfully logs in. (This means that the configuration is not updated if the system is merely rebooted). You can use the saved configuration by pressing the space bar when the message for the Last Known Good menu appears and the n entering L at the hardware configuration screen.
  • Boot using a saved hardware profile: Specifying a saved hardware profile rather than the current configuration at boot-time may allow you to back out recent changes that are causing problems. I generally update my saved hardware profile whenever I successfully add new hardware to the system, naming it something like: Just in Case 6/13/97.
  • Perform the early stages of the Windows NT boot process from disk, bypassing any suspect files on disk.
  • Boot from the Windows NT setup disks and examine and possibly repair the system using an emergency repair disk.

Obviously, the key to diagnosing and eventually correcting a booting problem is to locate the specific point of failure. Often, the point at which the error occurs indicates what component is causing the trouble. In addition, any item that you've added or reconfigured, and so on- is also likely suspect. We'll consider several specific types of failures individually.

System configuration errors

This problem usually occurs in the Boot.Ini file or in the system registry. If you suspect that the former is the problem, the first thing to try is booting with a different entry from the boot menu that you know will work. If you succeed in gaining access to the system, you can correct or back out recent changes.

If you cannot find a working entry in the Boot.Ini file, then try booting from disk. As a last resort, perform the system repair procedure to restore a good version of the file.

Registry-related problems should be approached in a similar manner. The Last Known Good system configuration uses a saved version of the registry rather than the current one. If this gives you access to the system, you can again roll back the changes you have made or restore backup copies of the registry files. If this approach fails, however, you will have to perform a system repair using the emergency rescue disk, which restores the registry information saved on that disk. The system will almost always boot from that, but it will probably need a fair amount of reconfiguration afterward.

For other specific booting problems and their remedies see the book Essential Windows NT System Administration, available at


Dig Deeper on Windows client management