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10 things you can do when Windows XP won't boot

It was said that: When your computer hardware appears to power up okay, but the Windows XP operating system won't boot properly, you have to begin a troubleshooting expedition that includes getting into the operating system, determining the problem, and then fixing it. To help you get started on this expedition, here are 10 things you can do when Windows XP won't boot.

#1: Use a Windows 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 make 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

After you make 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.

#2: Use Last Known Good Configuration

You can also try to boot the operating system with the Last Known Good Configuration feature. This 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 replaces the contents of the CurrentControlSet registry key with a backup copy that 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 Known Good Configuration feature. In other words, if it fails to revive your Windows XP on the first attempt, the backup copy is also corrupt.

#3: Use System Restore

Another tool that might be helpful when Windows XP won't boot is System Restore. System Restore runs in the background as a service and continually monitors system-critical components for changes. 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 make 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.

#4: Use Recovery Console

When a Windows XP boot problem is severe, you'll need to use a more drastic approach. The Windows XP CD is bootable 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, shown inFigure A, press R to start the Recovery Console.

Figure A


You'll then see a Recovery Console menu, like the one shown in Figure B. It displays 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'll then find yourself at the main Recovery Console prompt.

Figure B


#5: Fix a corrupt Boot.ini

As the Windows XP operating system begins to load, 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 #4.

To use the Bootcfg tool, from the Recovery Console command prompt, type

Bootcfg /parameter

Where /parameter is one of these required parameters:

  • /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-make 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 ] | [UseBiosSettings].
  • /Disableredirect--Disables the redirection.

#6: Fix a 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 suspect that Windows XP won't boot because 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 #4.

To use the Fixboot tool, from the Recovery Console command prompt, type

Fixboot [drive]:

Where [drive] is the letter of the drive to which 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 hard disk and is responsible for initiating the Windows boot procedure. The master boot record 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. If the master boot record is corrupt, the partition boot sector can't do its job and Windows won't boot.

If you suspect Windows XP won't boot because the master boot record 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 #4.

To use the Fixmbr tool, from the Recovery Console command prompt, type

Fixmbr [device_name]

Where [device_name] is the device pathname of the drive to which you want to write a new master boot record. For example, the device pathname format for a standard bootable drive C configuration would look like this:


#8: Disable automatic restart

When Windows XP encounters a fatal error, 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--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.

#9: Restore from a backup

If you can't seem to repair a Windows XP system that won't boot 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.

#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, you can perform an in-place upgrade. Doing so 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 usually 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 (shown earlier in Figure A). 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, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C


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 in-place upgrade.

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

Restore from DOS



chkdsk /f

restore a:\ c:\diry\*.ext


Restore backed-up files with the extension .ext

in drive a: to the c:\diry\ directory.

XP won't Boot

Protect Yourself for Next Time

  1. NTFS is touted as the important grail for hard drives, but it has a huge drawback - you can't access the files with a boot disk !!  So you can't get out of trouble in many cases.  You can use FAT32 and it works just fine.  So use FAT32 for your Boot Drive instead of NTFS so that you can then Backup the 6 Registry Hives once a month - go Here Here for instructions on this
  2. then make the Backup Batch file from our "Backup WinXP Boot files and Hives" page and run it once a month or so
  3. if you have a floppy drive be sure to keep boot disks handy - both Win 98 (to access your FAT32 partitions) and WinXP.  BUT you still need boot CD's because today's viruses are too plentiful to kill with an antivirus program that can fit on a single diskette !!
  4. download and burn at least one emergency Boot CD's - EBCD (from ), Ultimate Boot CD (from ), and if you do not have a floppy, get a Win98 boot CD

Also Keep WinXP Boot Diskette/s

Get back Up and Running

A)  if the problem is Software-related  ( and 90% of the time it is ) :

Do these steps in this order, and stop if your system boots up OK:

  1. Boot to your "Last Known Good Configuration" - press F8 right after the beep, and select "Last Known Good Configuration"
  2. Boot into Safe Mode and do a System Restore - press F8 right after the beep, and select Safe Mode.  Usually it will be fast - BUT if the boot seems to be taking forever - WAIT !!  It migbt take a half hour because Safe Mode will check your hard drive and it will do it in the background with no indication, as you wait and wait and wait.  So be patient when booting into Safe Mode.  Then when you get into Windows, go to: Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools/System Restore, and restore the most recent Restore Point.  If that does not fix it, try again with the next older restore point, etc.
  3. check your drive - if you can get into Safe Mode but not into regular Windows, and you suspect a hard drive corruption - you can force the drive to be checked upon reboot.  Once into Safe Mode:

    Start/Run  .  .  .  cmd
    then in the DOS box, enter:   chkntfs /c drive:      For example, to check your C drive:   chkntfs /c c:
    - this will set the registry and tell Windows to check the drive using "autochk" (same as Chkdsk but it fixes errors) upon reboot
  4. try booting with your Emergency XP boot floppy - we show you how to make below.  If that gets you in - copy c:\boot.ini to c:\boot.bak - then copy all the files on the disk to the root of your C drive (in case some have become corrupted) and reboot without the disk.  If you have a specialized boot.ini, then open boot.bak and copy the lines of code into your new boot.ini

try the recovery console - you will need to go into your PC's setup (BIOS) and set it to boot from CD.  Then boot from your WinXP CD, and press "R" for repair.  Then do the following:

- run chkdsk /p  to repair any error on your hard drive - if that does not work try /r (takes longer
- run FixBoot (to see the simple directions on these commands just type "Help command" - for example:  "Help FixBoot"
- now type "Exit" to reboot and see if you can get into Windows  
- if still no worky - retry the Recovery Console, but this time run bootcfg to rebuild your boot.ini file - exit and reboot
- if still no luck - finally, run "fixMBR" - you will get warning prompts, but you have no choice - run it !!
NOTE: if you do not have a CD with the Recovery Console, then download the six disks from Microsoft (on another PC of course) and boot with them.  The WinXP Pro diskettes are available online.

  1. copy in your backed up Hives - quite often a corrupt registry is the culprit - you should periodically backup your registry (it is composed of 5 hives, or files - see the Hives Backup section).  But for now, you probably have not backed any up - so get a set from the windows\repair folder as follows:
    NOTE: if you have XP on an NTFS drive (always use FAT32 for your XP disk - for this very reason) - sorry this won't work - so skip to step 7
    1. reboot with a Win98 boot disk into a DOS command prompt
    2. cd \windows\repair  (this is the backup set of hives that XP automatically keeps)
    3. copy the 5 hives to \windows\system32\config
    4. remove the diskette and reboot
    5. NOTE: the backed up hives may be old - so you may need to reinstall any software that you had added since that last set of hives was backed up
    6. try a WinXP reinstall "over" the existing copy (called an "in-place install" - or a "Repair" Installation) - this will retain all your files and programs, so don't worry about doing this.

l go into your PC's setup screen and set it to boot from the CD (set it to look for a boot CD "before" it looks to the floppy or hard drive).

l Boot with the XP CD - your system will say "Hit any Key to Boot from CD . . ." - so hit any key !!

l the screen will say "To setup Windows XP now, press ENTER" - so hit Enter (NOTE: at this point an option to press R to enter the Recovery Console is displayed. Do not select this option YET).

l on the Windows XP Licensing Agreement screen, press F8 to agree to the license agreement.

l make sure that your current installation of Windows XP is selected in the box
l now you can press the R key to repair Windows XP.

Completing the Re-Install -  follow the instructions on the screen to complete Setup - make sure to follow all the prompts - be ready with your WinXP serial number, and be prepared to "possibly" have to reactivate (but usually you do not have to).  Then be aware that this process will appear as if it is overwriting and installing a fresh copy of Windows - it is NOT.  It does take about a half-hour.

NOTE: also be aware that when it gets to the part where it is "Registering Components", it will seem to freeze at about 30%, but this is normal, and you will need to wait.  Some people have had to wait for more than an hour.  To speed this part up, cancel and disconnect all peripherals, and rerun the install.

  1. reinstall a fresh, new copy of XP - last resort - but try an in-place install first from step 5, so you can keep all your programs and settings.  For this step you will need a Win98 boot disc that has drivers for your CD drive, with deltree.exe on it - or if your drive is NTFS (horrors) then you will need an NTFS boot diskette.  Boot into DOS (if it is XP FAT32 use the Win98 boot disk, and if it is XP NTFS use an NTFS boot disk).  Then rename "Program Files" to "Progbak", and Windows to "Winbak" - of course if you do not have enough drive space, use Deltree to get rid of those folders (it takes a long time).  Then delete all files from the root of the drive except your own files  Go into your PC's setup screen and set it to boot from the CD (set it to look for a boot CD "before" it looks to the floppy or hard drive).  Then Boot with the XP CD.   The screen will say "To setup Windows XP now, press ENTER" - so hit Enter.  Follow all the prompts - be ready with your WinXP serial number, and be prepared to have to activate it.  This is the same method as installing over your existing WinXP, except since you renamed or deleted the Windows folder, it will do a fresh install.

B) if the problem is Hardware-related (rare but it happens) :

90% of "no boot" problems are caused by software.  If you are having a hardware problem, we will not address that in detail, since there are a millions of them.  But here are a few tips:

  1. you should listen upon startup for the Fan and the disks to be spinning up.  If not, then you know that either the disk, power supply, or motherboard is bad.  If you hear all the normal sounds, your system may be booting just fine and you may have a bad monitor (black) or a bad video card - try another monitor, and if still no video try another video card (I keep a cheapie lying around).
  2. if the PC is compltely dead (no sound or lights) - open the PC, unplug the power supply from the motherboard, and check it with a voltmeter (or goto and order their $9 power supply tester).
  3. If power supply OK but system seems dead except for power supply fan is running - check the power button connections and follow the leads to the mother board and check them there.
  4. open the PC and unplug and replug all connections, and then remove and reseat all cards - this will fix about 50% of hardware problems !!!
  5. no luck yet?  remove all cards except for the video card, and remove all extra memory except the one in the first memory bank.  Reboot - OK then add the cards and memory back in, one at a time, until you find the culprit. Also try swapping out the memory chip in Bank 1 with another.
  6. if still no worky and you do have a fan and hard drives spin up fine - then listen for an odd series of beeps during bootup.  Then consult your manufacturer website on another PC or call their support - additional beeps are codes that tell you what hardware is malfunctioning - common culprits includes the memory chips, and the video card.