WinXP boot process >:(

If you’re not a technical computer person this won’t mean much to you.

Worked on an installation of WinXP today that was running fine, but upon rebooting decided it wasn’t going to boot. Now WinXP itself, once it boots, is pretty stable and overall very good. But HEAVEN HELP YOU if it won’t boot.

First it was “Can’t find NTLDR.” Then it was “Can’t find \windows\system32\hal.dll” Or nothing. Sometimes it just went to a black screen and sat there. Real helpful. Give me a fucking clue!

One good place to try and fix problems like that is the Recovery Console. So I put the XP CD in, wait for the “Press any key to boot from CD”, hit a key, press F6 to load a special driver (THAT process depends on having a floppy disk and would be a subject for a whole other pitting) wait another couple minutes, and finally you’re at a menu where you can pick Recovery Console. Sheesh. Then another 10 seconds or so, pick your installtion of Windows, type the password and you’re finally at a rudimentary command prompt. There are a variety of things you can try there, none of which helped my boot problem.

So I decide to try repairing the existing installation of XP, I know all my files are there and I don’t want to reinstall all my programs and hardware. Only problem is, after going through the 2-3 minute process to get to THAT menu selection, the option to Repair isn’t there. And the XP install program doesn’t tell you WHY that option isn’t there!

Hours more fiddling around, running chkdsk alone takes 30 or 40 minutes each time, finally something I did gives me the option to Repair. Of course that doesn’t go smoothly, it’s complaining about RAID drivers. Finally I get the repair to go through the first stage, but then during the boot, Blue Screen of Death! Shit!

The whole XP install/repair process is so jumbled, slow, time consuming, and non-informative. I really miss the days where you could just boot to a fucking COMMAND PROMPT without needing a boot CD. And why XP is so secretive about boot errors? If something is wrong, don’t just crash, tell me what the fuck is wrong! And the default blue-screen error only flashes on the screen for a moment before XP AUTOMATICALLY REBOOTS!

There should be a command prompt running beneath Windows. Windows itself should be booted from within the command prompt unless there is a problem booting, in which case a LOG FILE should be written and you should be dumped back to a command prompt. All the repair tools should be in one place, in one consistent set of menus Is that asking so much?

The only reliable way to deal with big XP problems is to reinstall from scratch, and that just SUCKS.

This is where I could go, like:

…or something, but I won’t.

On the occasions when I’ve had to use Windows for an extended period of time, here’s what I’ve done:
[li]Create a ~2GB partition for the OS[/li][li]Create another partition for my files[/li][li]Create a custom installation disc with slipstreamed drivers, service packs, and applications[/li][/ul]

I’ve only done it with 2k, so I don’t know how well the XP methods work.

The reason that the boot error messages are so cryptic is that there is a hardware limitation on the size of the bootloader(the program that boots the machine into the operating system). Boot errors under Linux will be just as cryptic(although easier to fix, because you have a lot more control over the bootloader).

Anyway, are you sure that you’re hard drive isn’t dying? I’m very suspicious that sometime’s it can’t find the boot loader(NTLDR – NT loader) and sometimes it can. Bizarre on-and-off behaviour like that really suggests a hardware problem to me.

(I hope) You didn’t perform this operation during gainful, hourly-billed employment, did you?

The few times this has happened to me, it’s been either a bad hard drive or faulty cabling. YMMV.

I don’t have any indications the drive is bad, but that could be. It’s a mirrored 2-drive SATA RAID array.

I found you can install the Recovery Console on your boot menu so you don’t have to run it off the CD (which takes 2 or 3 minutes each time.) But the Recovery Console won’t work on that computer, it says “No valid system partitions were found.” So now I’m off to figure out what that means. Same sort of pattern, XP is just not recognizing that it’s a valid XP installation, but the machine once it booted ran perfectly overnight, serving mail and other tasks.

Looks like maybe the mirroring is causing the problem:

I think I’m going to get out of mirroring, that just doesn’t work smoothly with XP. I’m thinking of just using XXCLONE, Acronis Trueimage, Ghost, or something like that to just clone the first drive to the second on a regular basis. Then if I start to do something risky, like REBOOT THE FUCKING COMPUTER, I can first back up the drive.

I can tell you XP is total crap when it comes to dual core systems – at least, AMD ones anyway. (No experience on Intel) When I built my system a few months ago XP (SP2 slipstreamed) flatly, unequivocally refused to install the proper HAL. Of course this was something it took me bloody forever to discover since, despite XP loading and displaying two processor drivers in device manager, I assumed all was fine. But system instabilities and all sorts of crap forced me to continue searching until I discovered that it wasn’t actually using both cores. More tests ultimately failed so I had to reinstall XP and manually force a new HAL at pre-install time.

Whadda pain in the bum.

Have you ever tried diagnosing using a live CD? That is, a CD that boots into a ramdisk and allows you to diagnose problems of all kinds (or just run the OS) without involving the hard drive. All of the ones I know of (tomsrtbt, Recovery Is Possible, Damn Small Linux) are Linux systems, but there’s nothing stopping someone from creating a Windows or MS-DOS live CD.

tomsrtbt is purely a text-based system, but fits on a floppy. Damn Small Linux has a full desktop environment including Web browsers and fits in a 50 MB ISO image (so it can fit on a business-card-sized CD-ROM). I’ve never used Recovery Is Possible, but I hear good things.

I use Winternals – it’s based on WinXP so it works quite well. (It’s a commercial product however) I’ve also used DSL and Knoppix (which I used prior to getting Winternals).

XP is pretty good OS overall, however, the Windows XP Recovery module is a lot more limited than people think. When you have baseline binary corruption error messages like the ones you got, you are pretty much SOL until you solve the hardware glitch, format & re-install. People spend hours and days in some cases trying to recover or fix installs that have no hope of ever being stable or recoverable.

Yep, the repair console sucks every possible appendage you can think of.

As for the spontaneous reboots, the world would be a much saner place if everyone would right-click “My Computer” on the desktop, click the Advanced tab, click Settings under Startup and Recovery, then uncheck Automatically Restart under System Failure. Click OK, then click Yes to ignore the pagefile message.

From here out, if the machine ever dies, the BSOD message and any error codes should stay on long enough to read and be plugged into Google on a working PC for translation.

sounds like you’re more a networking guy than a machine guy :wink:

Admins…sure they can drive the car but anything goes wrong :rolleyes:

tap F8 during boot up, buried in the menu with safe mode, safe mode with networking, blah, blah will be an option called…

Disable automatic restart on failure

select that, next boot, it will stop on the blue screen giving you the details of the error.

That’s one of the first things I change on every system that I install XP on. Right click on MyComputer, click Properties, click the Advanced tab. Under ‘Startup & Recovery’ click Settings. Uncheck the box that says ‘Automatically restart’ and under ‘Write debugging information’ select ‘Small memory dump (64KB)’.

That way you can keep the stop error on the screen so you can write it and the status code down and look it up on Microsoft’s knowledge base.

You also have the option of hitting F8 during boot to get Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, and Safe Mode with command prompt, which can be a lifesaver when trying to fix stuff.

Although looking up an error code 21A Session Manager Initialization terminated unexpectedly with a status of 5 on Microsoft’s website doesn’t yield any interesting results, since all their help for that is for Windows NT 4.0.