10 Tips To Follow When XP Isn’t Booting

It happens so very often, you switch on your computer and ‘BOOM’ – blue screen of death! Now this may not always be the case, sometimes u may not even get a screen with cryptic error codes. On occasion, Microsoft offers a lovely ‘White-on-Black’ style error screen. None the less, there are some steps you may follow to, hopefully, get back on track.

Step 1: Startup Disk

One of the first things you should reach for when troubleshooting a Windows XP boot problem is a Windows startup disk. This floppy disk can come in handy if the problem is being caused when either the startup record for the active partition or the files that the operating system uses to start Windows have become corrupted.

To create a Windows startup disk, insert a floppy disk into the drive of a similarly configured, working Windows XP system, launch My Computer, right-click the floppy disk icon, and select the Format command from the context menu. When you see the Format dialog box, leave all the default settings as they are and click the Start button. Once the format operation is complete, close the Format dialog box to return to My Computer, double-click the drive C icon to access the root directory, and copy the following three files to the floppy disk: Boot.ini, NTDLR and Ntdetect.com.

After you create the Windows startup disk, insert it into the floppy drive on the afflicted system and press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] to reboot the computer. When you boot from the Windows startup disk, the computer will bypass the active partition and boot files on the hard disk and attempt to start Windows XP normally.

Step 2: Last Known Good

Using the Last Known Good Configuration feature will allow you to undo any changes that caused problems in the CurrentControlSet registry key, which defines hardware and driver settings. The Last Known Good Configuration feature overwrites the contents of the CurrentControlSetregistry key with a backup copy that was last used to successfully start up the operating system. Basically, this eliminates conflicting registry keys or any key that may have become corrupt during your, surprisingly, not so destructive use of the machine.

Using the Last Known Good Configuration feature is simple, first restart the computer by pressing [Ctrl][Alt][Delete]. When you see the message Please select the operating system to start or hear the single beep, press [F8] to display the Windows Advanced Options menu. Select the Last Known Good Configuration item from the menu and press [Enter].

Keep in mind that you get only one shot with the Last Known Good Configuration feature. In other words, if it fails to revive your Windows XP on the first attempt, so sorry for you. Your backup copy will now also be fried.

Step 3: Systems Restore

A tool that is very helpful when Windows XP won’t boot is System Restore. It runs in the background as a service and continually monitors system-critical components for changes, while your computer is running. When it detects an impending change, System Restore immediately makes backup copies, called restore points, of these critical components before the change occurs. In addition, System Restore is configured by default to create restore points every 24 hours.

To use System Restore, first restart the computer by pressing [Ctrl][Alt][Delete]. When you see the message Please select the operating system to start or hear the single beep, press [F8] to display the Windows Advanced Options menu. Now, select the Safe Mode item from the menu and press [Enter].

Once Windows XP boots into Safe mode, click the Start button, access the All Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu, and select System Restore. Because you’re running in Safe mode, the only option on the opening screen of the System Restore wizard is Restore My Computer To An Earlier Time, and it’s selected by default, so just click Next. Then, follow along with the wizard to select a restore point and begin the restoration procedure.

Note: The following steps should not be done by home users. It may cause even more damage to your PC.

Step 4: Recovery Console

The Recovery Console is the ‘Fat Cat’ of Operating System repairs and reconciliation. The CD used to install Windows XP is bootable (In case you did not know) and will provide you with access to a tool called Recovery Console.

To boot from the Windows XP CD, insert it into the CD-ROM drive on the problem system and press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] to reboot the computer. Once the system begins booting from the CD, simply follow the prompts that will allow the loading of the basic files needed to run Setup. When you see the Welcome To Setup screen, press R to start the Recovery Console.

If you followed the steps correctly then you should now have a Recovery Menu displayed. It shows the folder containing the operating system’s files and prompts you to choose the operating system you want to log on to. Just press the menu number on the keyboard, and you’ll be prompted to enter the Administrator’s password. You then find yourself at the main Recovery Console prompt.

Step 5: Fix a corrupt Boot.ini

During the load process of Windows, the Ntldr program refers to the Boot.ini file to determine where the operating system files reside and which options to enable as the operating system continues to load. So if there’s a problem rooted in the Boot.ini file, it can render Windows XP incapable of booting correctly.

If you suspect that Windows XP won’t boot because Boot.ini has been corrupted, you can use the special Recovery Console version of the Bootcfg tool to fix it. Of course, you must first boot the system with the Windows XP CD and access the Recovery Console as described in Step 4.

To use the Bootcfg tool, from the Recovery Console command prompt type, ‘Bootcfg’ (without the inverted commas). And use one of the following switches:

/Add – Scans the disk for all Windows installations and allows you to add any new ones to the Boot.ini file

/Scan – Scans the disk for all Windows installations

/List – Lists each entry in the Boot.ini file

/Default – Sets the default operating system as the main boot entry

/Rebuild – Completely re-creates the Boot.ini file. The user must confirm each step

/Redirect – Allows the boot operation to be redirected to a specific port when using the Headless Administration feature. The Redirect parameter takes two parameters of its own, [Port Baudrate ] and [UseBiosSettings]

/Disableredirect – Disables the before mentioned redirection

 Step 6: Fix Corrupt Partition Boot Sector

The partition boot sector is a small section of the hard disk partition that contains information about the operating system’s file system (NTFS or FAT32), as well as a very small machine language program that is crucial in assisting the operating system as it loads.

If you reckon that the partition boot sector has been corrupted, you can use a special Recovery Console tool called Fixboot to fix it. Start by booting the system with the Windows XP CD and accessing the Recovery Console as described in Step 4.

To use the Fixboot tool, from the Recovery Console command prompt type, ‘Fixboot [drive]’ (Without inverted commas and [drive] represents the drive letter, E.g. C:\)

Step 7: Fix a Corrupt MBR

The MBR (Master Boot Record) occupies the first sector on the hard disk and is responsible for initiating the Windows boot. The MBR contains the partition table for the disk as well as a small program called the master boot code, which is responsible for locating the active or bootable partition in the partition table. Once this occurs, the partition boot sector takes over and begins loading Windows and its components. If the MBR is corrupt, the partition boot sector can’t do its job and Windows won’t boot.

If you suspect that Windows won’t boot because the MBR has been corrupted, you can use the Recovery Console tool Fixmbr to fix it. First, boot the system with the Windows XP CD and access the Recovery Console as described in Step 4.

To use the tool from the Recovery Console command prompt type, Fixmbr [device_name]. ([device_name] represents device path name, E.g. DeviceHardDisk0)

Step 8: Disable Auto Restart

When Windows XP hits a grey area, the default setting for handling such an error is to automatically reboot the system. If the error occurs while Windows XP is booting, the operating system will become stuck in a reboot cycle. This will cause the PC to begin rebooting over and over instead of starting up normally. In that case, you’ll need to disable the option for automatically restarting on system failure.

When Windows XP begins to boot up and you see the message Please select the operating system to start or hear the single beep, press [F8] to display the Windows Advanced Options Menu. Then, select the Disable The Automatic Restart On System Failure item and press [Enter]. Now, Windows XP will hang up when it encounters the error and with any luck, it will display a stop message you can use to diagnose the problem. Providing of course, you are a specialist in code breaking and possibly have the CIA somewhere in your background. The errors are often quite cryptic. This is why I would suggest contacting an IT Support Provider.

Step 9: Restore From a Backup

If repairing a Windows XP system that won’t boot does not seem to do the trick and you have a recent backup, you can restore the system from the backup media. The method you use to restore the system will depend on what backup utility you used, so you’ll need to follow the utility’s instructions on how to perform a restore operation.

Again this shows how important it is to keep your backups up to date and stored away safely. I cannot stress this fact enough; BACKUP YOUR DATA!

Step 10: Perform an In-Place Upgrade

If you can’t repair a Windows XP system that won’t boot and you don’t have a recent backup, then I have no sympathy. Always backup your System! Luckily, you can perform an in-place upgrade. Doing this reinstalls the operating system into the same folder, just as if you were upgrading from one version of Windows to another. An in-place upgrade will solve most, if not all, Windows boot problems.

Performing a Windows XP in-place upgrade is pretty straightforward. To begin, insert the Windows XP CD into the drive, restart your system, and boot from the CD. Once the initial preparation is complete, you’ll see the Windows XP Setup screen. Press [Enter] to launch the Windows XP Setup procedure. In a moment, you’ll see the License Agreement page and will need to press [F8] to acknowledge that you agree. Setup will then search the hard disk looking for a previous installation of Windows XP. When it finds the previous installation, you’ll see a second Windows XP Setup screen.

This screen will prompt you to press R to repair the selected installation or to press [Esc] to install a fresh copy of Windows XP. In this case, initiating a repair operation is synonymous with performing an in-place upgrade, so you’ll need to press R. When you do so, Setup will examine the disk drives in the system. It will then begin performing the upgrade/repair process.

Keep in mind that after you perform an in-place upgrade or repair installation, you must reinstall all updates to Windows.

Have fun repairing! Remember, however, we offer such services as well. LPF Systems is always there to help you!


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