When your computer hardware appears to power upokay, but the Windows XP operating system won’t boot properly, you have tobegin a troubleshooting expedition that includes getting into the operatingsystem, determining the problem, and then fixing it. To help you getstarted on this expedition, here are 10 things you can do when Windows XP won’tboot.
#1: Use a Windows startup disk
One of the first things you should reach for whentroubleshooting a Windows XP boot problem is a Windows startup disk. This floppydisk can come in handy if the problem is being caused when either the startuprecord for the active partition or the files that the operating system uses tostart Windows have become corrupted.
To create a Windows startup disk, insert a floppy disk intothe drive of a similarly configured, working Windows XP system, launch MyComputer, right-click the floppy disk icon, and select the Format command fromthe context menu. When you see the Format dialog box, leave all the defaultsettings as they are and click the Start button. Once the format operation iscomplete, close the Format dialog box to return to My Computer, double-clickthe drive C icon to access the root directory, and copy the following threefiles to the floppy disk:
After you create the Windows startup disk, insert it intothe floppy drive on the afflicted system and press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] toreboot the computer. When you boot from the Windows startup disk, the computerwill bypass the active partition and boot files on the hard disk and attempt tostart Windows XP normally.
#2: Use Last Known Good Configuration
You can also try to boot the operating system with the LastKnown Good Configuration feature. This feature will allow you to undo anychanges that caused problems in the CurrentControlSet registry key, whichdefines hardware and driver settings. The Last Known Good Configuration featurereplaces the contents of the CurrentControlSet registry key with a backup copythat was last used to successfully start up the operating system.
To use the Last Known Good Configuration feature, 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 KnownGood Configuration feature. In other words, if it fails to revive your WindowsXP on the first attempt, the backup copy is also corrupt.
#3: Use System Restore
Another tool that might be helpful when Windows XP won’tboot is System Restore. System Restore runs in the background as a service andcontinually monitors system-critical components for changes. When it detects animpending change, System Restore immediately makes backup copies, calledrestore points, of these critical components before the change occurs. Inaddition, System Restore is configured by default to create restore points every24 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 singlebeep, press [F8] to display the Windows Advanced Options menu. Now, select theSafe Mode item from the menu and press [Enter].
Once Windows XP boots into Safe mode, click the Startbutton, access the All Programs | Accessories | System Tools menu, and selectSystem Restore. Because you’re running in Safe mode, the only option on theopening screen of the System Restore wizard is Restore My Computer To AnEarlier Time, and it’s selected by default, so just click Next. Then, followalong with the wizard to select a restore point and begin the restorationprocedure.
#4: Use Recovery Console
When a Windows XP boot problem is severe, you’ll need to usea more drastic approach. The Windows XP CD is bootable and will provide youwith access to a tool called Recovery Console.
To boot from the Windows XP CD, insert it into the CD-ROMdrive on the problem system and press [Ctrl][Alt][Delete] to reboot thecomputer. Once the system begins booting from the CD, simply follow the promptsthat will allow the loading of the basic files needed to run Setup. When yousee the Welcome To Setup screen, shown in FigureA, press R to start the Recovery Console.
You’ll then see a Recovery Console menu, like the one shownin Figure B. It displays the foldercontaining the operating system’s files and prompts you to choose the operatingsystem you want to log on to. Just press the menu number on the keyboard, andyou’ll be prompted to enter the Administrator’s password. You’ll then findyourself at the main Recovery Console prompt.
#5: Fix a corrupt Boot.ini
As the Windows XP operating system begins to load, the Ntldrprogram refers to the Boot.ini file to determine where the operating systemfiles reside and which options to enable as the operating system continues toload. So if there’s a problem rooted in the Boot.ini file, it can render WindowsXP incapable of booting correctly.
If you suspect that Windows XP won’t boot because Boot.inihas been corrupted, you can use the special Recovery Console version of theBootcfg tool to fix it. Of course, you must first boot the system with theWindows XP CD and access the Recovery Console as described in #4.
To use the Bootcfg tool, from the Recovery Console commandprompt, type
Where /parameteris one of these required parameters:
- /Add–Scans the disk for all Windowsinstallations and allows you to add any new ones to the Boot.ini file.
- /Scan–Scans the disk for all Windowsinstallations.
- /List–Lists each entry in the Boot.ini file.
- /Default–Sets the default operating system as themain boot entry.
- /Rebuild–Completely re-creates the Boot.inifile. The user must confirm each step.
- /Redirect–Allows the boot operation to beredirected to a specific port when using the Headless Administration feature.The Redirect parameter takes two parameters of its own, [Port Baudrate ] | [UseBiosSettings].
- /Disableredirect–Disables the redirection.
#6: Fix a corrupt partition boot sector
The partition boot sector is a small section of the harddisk partition that contains information about the operating system’s filesystem (NTFS or FAT32), as well as a very small machine language program thatis crucial in assisting the operating system as it loads.
If you suspect that Windows XP won’t boot because thepartition boot sector has been corrupted, you can use a special RecoveryConsole tool called Fixboot to fix it. Start by booting the system with theWindows XP CD and accessing the Recovery Console as described in #4.
To use the Fixboot tool, from the Recovery Console commandprompt, type
Where [drive] is the letter of the drive towhich you want to write a new partition boot sector.
#7: Fix a corrupt master boot record
The master boot record occupies the first sector on the harddisk and is responsible for initiating the Windows boot procedure. The masterboot record contains the partition table for the disk as well as a smallprogram called the master boot code,which is responsible for locating the active, or bootable, partition, in thepartition table. Once this occurs, the partition boot sector takes over andbegins loading Windows. If the master boot record is corrupt, the partitionboot sector can’t do its job and Windows won’t boot.
If you suspect Windows XP won’t boot because the master bootrecord has been corrupted, you can use the Recovery Console tool Fixmbr to fixit. First, boot the system with the Windows XP CD and access the RecoveryConsole as described in #4.
To use the Fixmbr tool, from the Recovery Console commandprompt, type
Where [device_name] is the devicepathname of the drive to which you want to write a new master boot record. Forexample, the device pathname format for a standard bootable drive Cconfiguration would look like this:
#8: Disable automatic restart
When Windows XP encounters a fatal error, the defaultsetting for handling such an error is to automatically reboot the system. Ifthe error occurs while Windows XP is booting, the operating system will becomestuck in a reboot cycle–rebooting over and over instead of starting upnormally. In that case, you’ll need to disable the option for automaticallyrestarting on system failure.
When Windows XP begins to boot up and you see the message Please select the operating system to startor hear the single beep, press [F8] to display the Windows Advanced OptionsMenu. Then, select the Disable The Automatic Restart On System Failure item andpress [Enter]. Now, Windows XP will hang up when it encounters the error and withany luck, it will display a stop message you can use to diagnose the problem.
#9: Restore from a backup
If you can’t seem to repair a Windows XP system that won’tboot and you have a recent backup, you can restore the system from the backupmedia. The method you use to restore the system will depend on what backuputility you used, so you’ll need to follow the utility’s instructions on how toperform a restore operation.
#10: Perform an in-place upgrade
If you can’t repair a Windows XP system that won’t boot andyou don’t have a recent backup, you can perform an in-place upgrade. Doing soreinstalls the operating system into the same folder, just as if you wereupgrading from one version of Windows to another. An in-place upgrade willusually solve most, if not all, Windows boot problems.
Performing a Windows XP in-place upgrade is prettystraightforward. To begin, insert the Windows XP CD into the drive, restartyour system, and boot from the CD. Once the initial preparation is complete,you’ll see the Windows XP Setup screen (shown earlier in Figure A). Press[Enter] to launch the Windows XP Setup procedure. In a moment, you’ll see theLicense Agreement page and will need to press [F8] to acknowledge that youagree. Setup will then search the hard disk looking for a previous installationof Windows XP. When it finds the previous installation, you’ll see a secondWindows XP Setup screen, as shown in FigureC.
This screen will prompt you to press R to repair theselected installation or to press [Esc] to install a fresh copy of Windows XP.In this case, initiating a repair operation is synonymous with performing anin-place upgrade, so you’ll need to press R. When you do so, Setup will examinethe disk drives in the system. It will then begin performing the in-placeupgrade.
Keep in mind that after you perform an in-place upgrade orrepair installation, you must reinstall all updates to Windows.