Wednesday, August 02, 2006

How to solve Computer startup problems?

Surviving Startup Blues

If you have not experienced yet, then be prepared to have a taste of it. One fine ultimate day, your PC is going to refuse to boot. Besides, you may not be in a position to figure out the exact reason behind this cruel act of your PC. There may be numerous reasons such as- hardware or software failure that includes- you tried a new application, installed a new hardware, played a new game, opened a file attachment or deleted some files. Now what do you do? The first thing you should do - avoid pressing panic button on your mind, and keep your calm. You can definitely work out ways and your PC will start get going again. Here, some work around for software related glitches are given that you can yourself do to rectify some boot problems. Hardware related problems that may need some professional help will be discussed some other time.

If you are using earlier versions of Windows then it is fairly easy to work out solutions for software related boot failure. But if you are using Windows 2000 / WindowsXP or Linux / UNIX then there may be tricky solutions and simple work around may not work always. Let us take each case separately.


Windows9x runs on top of DOS, the ancient operating system of PCs. During booting, these OS processes some configuration files such as Autoexec.bat, Config.sys, Win.ini, Boot.ini, System.ini etc. If any of these files got corrupted or point to a failed device or application, then your PC may refuse to boot. If these files are corrected by manually editing the missing links and faulty entries, system can be restored. These OS also have Registry database, that also tends to get corrupt since every device and nearly all application tries to insert entries in to it for proper functioning of Windows. A corrupted registry may lead to boot failure. In any case, follow these simple steps and you can easily make your PC bootable again.

Play it Safe

Restart your PC, keep pressing F8 function key. You will be presented with boot menu. Try booting in Safe Mode. If you are able to boot in to Safe Mode, then half your worries are gone. Some programs or devices that start in normal mode are disabled during Safe Mode. You have to identify the culprit and either try to remove or reinstall it. If your PC refuses to boot in to Safe Mode, then something is more serious. Reboot again and this time, try booting in to step by step confirmation, command prompt only or Safe mode command prompt only options with the help of F8 function key. In step by step confirmation, you can confirm for loading individual device drivers and startup applications. You may be able to pin point the source of fault by trial and error. Now, what to do if your PC still refuses to boot even in to command prompt? The problem, it seems, is even more serious, but still, there is no need to worry. In all probability, you will be able to repair your Windows and recover your Data.

Start it up with Startup Disk

If you are not able to boot even in to command prompt, then you need Windows Startup disk that you may have created during the installation of Windows. If you don’t have such disk in your hand then borrow one from your friend or prepare one from your friend’s PC. To prepare Windows startup disk, put Windows installer CD in CD ROM drive and then click Start button, go to Control Panel’s Add Remove Program, click Startup Disk tab then click on Create Disk button. Put a blank floppy on your PC’s floppy drive and follow further on screen instructions. It is advisable to use Windows98 startup disk since it has more tools and support for CDROM drive. To boot from startup disk, put the Windows Startup floppy disk in floppy drive and power on your PC. Make sure that in your BIOS setting, the first boot device is selected as Floppy Drive. You can check it and make appropriate setting from BIOS setup by hitting DEL key during System Boot up. If your Windows startup floppy disk is good (floppies tends to get corrupted without any reason or warning), then you will be able to boot in to command prompt. Now see that you are able to detect your hard disk and access its contents. If yes, then you can retrieve your data and repair your Windows.

Reinstall it

Finally, if everything else fails, try to reinstall Windows9x over existing Windows installation. Most of the problems regarding Windows startup gets resolved this way, however, if reinstallation of Windows over existing location does not solve your problem; then try to install a new copy of Windows9x at a new location. But you have to reinstall all your applications and devices once more. And remember, with new copy of Windows, all your system settings, user accounts, preferences will go and you have to start afresh. However, if you can’t access your hard disk with the method mentioned above, (it says invalid drive specification if you try to access your hard disk) then there is problem in your hard disk that include corrupt partition table or hard disk failure, which require professional help, special tools and applications to restore the contents of hard disk.

Windows ME/2000/XP

These versions of Windows support a tool called System Recovery that enables you to backup your system’s state (everything including data, system settings etc. in Windows XP, if you want) at predefined time and that state can be recovered intact. It is exactly as going back to your good old days. You have to enable System recovery tool from Start Menu>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Restore and had created restore points to work this tool fruitfully. If you are able to boot in to Safe Mode, then go to System Restore from Start Menu>Programs>Accessories>System Tools>System Restore and select the restore point which you have created earlier, and follow onscreen instruction to restore your Windows. If you are not able to boot in to Safe Mode then you can directly boot in to Last Known Good Configuration through the boot menu that appears after pressing F8 function key while Windows is starting. If Safe Mode and other startup options failed to boot your Windows machine, then you have to use advanced methods such as Emergency Repair Disk (in Windows2000) or recovery console (can be installed separately in Windows 2000/XP or accessed from Installation CD) or Automated System Recovery Disk (WindowsXP).

Emergency Repair Disk

If you are using Windows2000, then during setup, you are given option to create startup floppy disk similar to Windows9x. These disk can be used to start corrupt Windows2000. A better option is to prepare an Emergency Repair Disk that can be used to repair your corrupted Windows2000. To create Emergency Repair Disk, click on Start button, go to Programs > Accessories > System Tools and then select BackUp. Click on Welcome Tab in the window that appears and then click on Emergency Repair Disk. Put a blank floppy disk on your floppy drive and follow on screen instructions. Your Emergency Repair Disk is ready. Keep two sets of Emergency Repair Disk handy and in order to repair your Windows 2000, boot your PC through Windows 2000 installation CD or run Windows 2000 setup from command prompt. Select Repair option and follow on screen instruction to repair your Windows 2000. If repairing Windows2000 does not give you desired results, try to reinstall Windows2000. Most of your glitches in Windows2000 will be solved this way, but remember, your service packs that you had painfully collected and installed will be lost and you have to reinstall them. Reinstalling WindowsXP is not recommended, since it is not designed so and may give you strange result. Besides, you have to obtain a fresh set of product activation KEY from Microsoft since your old key may not work.

Recovery console

If Safe Mode and other Startup options fails, then you can use a nice tool called Recovery Console that you can find in Windows 2000 and WindowsXP. Though you can use it directly from Windows2000/XP installer CD, it is advisable to install it in your PC so that it will be available to you always. To install Recovery Console in your PC, put Windows2000/XP installation CD in your PC’s CDROM drive then click Start button, Click on Run, and in input box that appears, type D:\i386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons, click OK (assuming your CD Drive letter is D). Recovery Console installation program starts and ask for your confirmation. Say yes, and it adds an additional boot menu item called Microsoft Windows Recovery Console that you can run during system startup. With Recovery Console you can copy or replace important system files, disable or enable devices and you can repair Boot Sector and Master Boot records.

Automated System Recovery Disk

Windows XP gives you option to backup all the contents of hard drive including data, preferences and settings at a predefined safe location that can be restored later through a single Automated System Recovery floppy Disk. To prepare Automated System Recovery Disk, click on Start Menu, then go to All Programs > Accessories > System Tools and then Click on Backup menu. You will be presented various options, but click the option Automated System Recovery Wizard that backup all data and information to a predefined media and finally prepare an Automated System Recovery Floppy Disk. In the event of system failure, the backed up copy can be restored from that media with the help of said Floppy Disk.

Bypass MBR

At times, need to bypass Master Boot Record arises, particularly if it is damaged and can’t be restored. Try this tip for Your WindowsXP machine. Get a Floppy, and format it with Windows XP format tool. For this, open My Computer, right click Floppy drive icon and click on format. After format completes, copy following three files that is installed in your hard disk with WindowsXP installation.

1 Boot.ini

2 ntldr


Usually you can find them in your C: drive, but since they are hidden and system files, you may get difficulty in finding them. However you can easily find them if you make Show all files in your Windows Explorer’s folder option’s settings. Now boot through this floppy. Your original MBR from Hard Disk will be bypassed, and you will be able to boot in to WindowsXP, provided other things are normal.

The Advanced Step

Windows XP provides you some 70 odd tools that support you on various aspects of system administrations that include system repair and recovery. There is a nice utility called Disk Probe that is a Disk Sector Editor. It is designed to help you to recover corrupt data structure. With this tool, you can directly access each and every sector of your Disk and can edit Master Boot Record, Partition table etc. A word of caution! Do not use this tool unless you know what you are doing, since a wrong step may damage your disk and it will then permanently inaccessible. However, with this tool, you can backup your Master Boot Record, partition boot sectors as disk files in emergency repair disk that can be replaced later in the event of failure, and the system can be easily be restored. You can install Disk Probe along with other 70 odd tools from your WindowsXP installer CD that is available under Support\Tools directory.


Linux is designed as server Operating System with the concept boot once, run forever. Hence you rarely encounter startup blues in Linux. However, this may not be possible in your desktop PC to let run Linux for forever. Besides, like Windows OS, unsupported devices and applications, wrong system settings and Viruses, corrupted MBR may lead your Linux Machine in to non bootable state. Further, there are different distributions of Linux that have their different installation and Repair / Recovery procedures. For example, you can use RedHat / Mandrake installation CD as rescue disk, but if you have upgraded your Kernel, then it may not give you desired result. A better option is to prepare emergency Boot disk as and when you change / upgrade your Linux Kernel. For creating emergency boot disk with latest kernel, follow these simple steps:

  • Get a Floppy, put it in Floppy drive and give following command in Linux terminal to format it

# fdformat /dev/fd0

Watch for any error message, rectify it and try again. If there is no error message, your floppy is ready.

  • Now you want to know the name of your Linux kernel so that you can prepare boot disk for that kernel. For this, give following command:

# uname –r

It will show the name of your Linux Kernel. Note it down exactly as it appears keeping in mind that Linux commands are case sensitive, and any mistake will make your command invalid. Suppose it is 2.4.42-Mdk.

  • Finally, give following command for making Linux Boot disk:

# mkbootdisk --device /dev/fd0 2.4.42-Mdk

Assuming your Kernel name is 2.4.42-Mdk, replace it with your own Kernel Name exactly as it appears.

You can boot in to Linux with this boot disk in the event of damaged or changed MBR, but if you have installed more than one OS, third party boot loader or your Linux installation is not in the first boot device, upgraded to a new Kernel then you may encounter errors.

Screenshot descriptions:

  1. Start01.jpg A corrupt Win.ini file may prevent your computer to boot normally.
  2. Start02.jpg If your Autoexec.bat file in Windows9x installation has entry for illegal commands and corrupted applications, then Windows may not start normally. You have to remark them or delete those entries.
  3. Start03.jpg If your Config.sys file in Windows9x installation points to corrupted device, Windows may refuse to boot normally.
  4. Start04.jpg To create a simple boot up floppy in Windows XP, format the floppy in Windows XP and copy Boot.ini, ntldr and files in the floppy.
  5. Start05.jpg In Windows XP, you cannot prepare boot disk in traditional way. There is ridiculous option “Create an MS DOS start up disk” that does nothing if you have installed Windows in NTFS format.
  6. Start06.jpg To copy hidden, system files like Boot.ini, you have to enable “Show hidden files and folders” in Windows folder option.
  7. Start07.jpg Files ntldr and along with Boot.ini can be used to by pass MBR of hard disk.
  8. Start08.jpg A damaged Boot.ini file that contains information about installed Windows OS can lead to boot failure. What you see in boot menu is written in this file.
  9. Start09.jpg The simple start up floppy that is formatted in WindowsXP, contains Boot.ini, ntldr and files.
  10. Start10.jpg Recovery console installation program is available in Windows 2000 / XP installer CD’s i386 folder.
  11. Start11.jpg Windows XP has fair number of support tools that can be used effectively for variety of administrative purpose.
  12. Start12.jpg Windows support tool comes with complete, exhaustive help utility.
  13. Start13.jpg Disk Probe – the Disk Sector editor that can be used to back up, repair and edit MBR and Partition tables of disk.
  14. Start14.jpg Windows XP’s support tool has 70 different tools and can be accessed through command prompt.
  15. Start15.jpg Windows XP back up tool can back up everything so that you may never loose anything.
  16. Start16.jpg Windows XP’s Automated System Recovery Wizard lets you back up your hard drive’s contents and creates a recovery disk that will recover your system.
  17. Start17.jpg Automated system recovery preparation wizard is truly user friendly and you only have to answer some questions by clicking some buttons.
  18. Start18.jpg You can run backup utility in Advanced mode for more control over backup procedure.
  19. Start19.jpg Windows Recovery console that helps you access to your windows installations to replace damaged files and enable or disable services.
  20. Start20.jpg Recovery Console’s entry in Boot.ini files – it acts as a separate OS.
  21. Start21.jpg In Safe Mode, you can correct most of the problems that prevent you from booting Windows Normally.
  22. Start22.jpg The System Restore utility lets you restore your system to a last known good state.

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