Failed WinXP SP3 upgrade sends PC into reboot death spiral
January 25, 2010 8:36 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, my husband clicked on that little balloon in the System Tray of his Windows XP desktop asking him to install unspecified "Software Updates." Windows proceeded to install XP Service Pack 3... and now his computer is unusable: stuck in an endless reboot loop. How can we snap the computer out of this?

Biographical data (for the computer, not the husband): It's a Sony VAIO with a 3.2 GHz Intel Pentium 4 CPU, 2 GB of RAM, and 2 hard drives (180 GB on the original, 640 GB on the one he added last year for music and video files). It runs Windows XP Media Center Edition, Service Pack 2 (or did, till he "upgraded" it into oblivion). It's almost 5 years old, but still performs pretty well. He had a nasty malware problem just recently, but was able to zap it with Spybot Search and Destroy and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

His files are backed up via but he says he turned off backups at the start of January, and had forgotten to turn them back on until very recently. So the most recent backup is incomplete. However, the data files on the hard drives are presumably uncorrupted... and we're crossing our fingers that he will soon be able to revert back to WinXP SP2 and access them without any problems.

Here's what his computer is doing now (I'm sitting here next to him): It tries to boot, but ends up at a black screen with white lettering, offering several different boot options: Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, Safe Mode with Command Prompt, Last Known Good Configuration, and Start Windows Normally. A 30-second timer defaults to trying to boot Windows normally... at which point the boot loop repeats, and ends up back at the same screen. No matter which option is chosen, it always returns to that screen.

When he repeatedly taps F8 during the boot cycle, he get a screen with those same options, plus others: Enable Boot Logging, Enable VGA Mode, Directory Services Restore Mode, Debugging Mode, Disable automatic restart on system failure, Reboot, and Return to OS Choices Menu.

When he chooses "Disable automatic restart...", there's a screen offering a choice of OSs... but the only option is WinXP Media Center Edition. When he tries to boot into this, he gets a blue screen that says, "A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer." The error code at the bottom of this blue screen reads as follows:

*** STOP: 0x0000007E (0xC000001D, 0x80536268, 0xBACC3508, 0xBACC3204)

I get the impression from Googling that some or all of this code is highly significant, but we haven't been able to figure out what to do with it.

He does not have a Windows XP boot CD -- the computer didn't come with one, and he never thought to make one. My computer is a Mac, so I don't have one either.

What can we do to get this computer working properly again?
posted by maud to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Boot into safe mode, then attempt to follow these steps from Microsoft:

In short, if you have a system restore point saved from a time prior to installing these updates you should be good. Windows 7 is pretty good about creating restore points automatically when it installs updates and such but I don't recall off hand how good XP was at that. Best of luck.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:47 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Elminster24: The computer won't boot into Safe Mode... it just loops back to the screen offering different boot options.
posted by maud at 8:50 PM on January 25, 2010

Did you try "Last Known Good Configuration"?

That is pretty bizarre that the computer did not come with a Windows CD. If I weren't getting anywhere with that I personally would try to gain access to the DOS prompt, copy all important files to an external harddrive through the command line and just buy a copy of Windows 7. It honestly will probably be the least hassle if the cost is not an issue.
posted by Elminster24 at 8:53 PM on January 25, 2010

this may be a good place to start: Jesper's Blog
posted by askmehow at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Unfortunately, none of the boot options work. They all lead back to the boot option screen... except for "Disable automatic restart on system failure", which leads to the blue screen and the error code described above.
posted by maud at 8:57 PM on January 25, 2010

Not that unusual that the computer didn't come with a rescue CD. UNusual that none was ever created.

But it sounds like your intuition that your data is safe is correct.

Seems the best thing to do would be to get everything on to the large disk, wipe the small disk, and install Windows 7. But you will likely need more RAM.
posted by dfriedman at 8:58 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: askmehow: Thanks. That guide seems to be mostly focused on AMD computers, and this is an Intel. But we're looking it over to see if there's anything applicable to our problems.
posted by maud at 8:59 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: dfriedman: Presumably what you describe would involve taking the drives out of the computer and installing them as extra drives on another Windows computer... correct?
posted by maud at 9:02 PM on January 25, 2010

Maud: well, that's one way to get the data off those drives, if you have another windows computer available.
posted by dfriedman at 9:04 PM on January 25, 2010

I guess the real question is this: do you want to try to fix the computer or just get the documents on the two drives onto a different, working computer? The latter is probably easier than the former.
posted by dfriedman at 9:05 PM on January 25, 2010

He had a nasty malware problem just recently, but was able to zap it with Spybot Search and Destroy and Malwarebytes Anti-Malware.

This is the kicker for me. That, plus your current problem means it's reinstall time. Unplug the secondary data drive to prevent fuckups, borrow a Windows disk from a friend and use the Product Key on the sticker on the computer (the key is what matters, not the disk.) Then whack the partition and start over. You'll be better off.
posted by Cyrano at 9:05 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: And here's another idea: There should be a disk image somewhere within the WinXP installation on the primary hard drive, that can be used to create a CD, right? Could we take this drive out, set it up as an external drive on another machine, and burn a CD from that disk image... then put the drive back into the original PC, and try to use the CD to help us fix Windows?
posted by maud at 9:06 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: dfriedman: Preferably fix the computer (if it's not too difficult) and save the data.

Cyrano: Oh, so we can use anyone's WinXP disc with this machine's product key? But I'm guessing we'd want to get the same version, right? Something other than WinXp Media Center, SP2 might not play well with this PC's hardware.
posted by maud at 9:08 PM on January 25, 2010

To get access to your data, you could boot the computer using a LiveCD Linux like Knoppix. More info here. Knoppix sits in your RAM so your computer is safe.

Get the ISO image to burn a CD for Knoppix here, you can make it on your Mac (here's how). Insert that disk in to your PC, and select boot from CD (you may have seen this menu, it's usually a F key). You can then access your hard drive and move items to a USB drive (you have one sitting around, right?).
posted by ALongDecember at 9:13 PM on January 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

What I would do is this:

(1) copy all the documents on the main drive to another drie
(2) wipe the main drive
(3) install a fresh copy of windows. Xp if you have the install disks, or 7 if you don't.

And run a backup regularly, to an external hard drive. SmartSync is great software for this. You can set a schedule and then forget about it.
posted by dfriedman at 9:14 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: Is our idea of getting the WinXP install CD image off the main drive, by temporarily installing the drive as a secondary drive on another computer, feasible?

My husband has a drive case at his office, which he can bring home and pop this computer's main drive into... and he has an old WinXP laptop that he could hook it up to.
posted by maud at 9:18 PM on January 25, 2010

A Long December provides info on how to boot your computer from a CD. This will let you get your data and copy it (to the larger hard drive? To a third hard drive?)

Then you can wipe the hard drive that has the OS (I think that's the smaller hard drive?) and either reinstall XP if you have the installation disks or else with a new copy of Windows 7.

However, if you go the Windows 7 route: make sure that the Windows 7 version you buy can be used by your PC. Based on the specs you give above I suspect RAM will be the issue. If you can add more RAM (another 2GB or so) then any Windows 7 version should be OK.
posted by dfriedman at 9:21 PM on January 25, 2010

Is our idea of getting the WinXP install CD image off the main drive, by temporarily installing the drive as a secondary drive on another computer, feasible?

I don't know.

Someone else may know.

Can't see why you shouldn't try it though.
posted by dfriedman at 9:22 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: OK, I think we will investigate that option first.

If it doesn't work, a Windows 7 install may indeed be in the cards.
posted by maud at 9:23 PM on January 25, 2010

The ISO bootable CD from Knoppix is a lifesaver. I always keep one in the toolbox of "oh holy hell what just happened to my machine" tools.

Most systems are configured to check the CD drive during their boot up routine, so you can probably put the disk in, boot up to the linux GUI and save your data.

I would try the things that ALongDecember recommended.
posted by dejah420 at 9:32 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: The Knoppix boot CD sounds good. We'll try that. While in Knoppix, we can presumably transfer any important data from the main drive to the second drive, then remove the second drive. Maybe we can also look for that WinXP install CD image and try to actually create a CD, then do a WinXP reinstall.

Thanks for all advice and suggestions!
posted by maud at 9:37 PM on January 25, 2010

What does the line after the "STOP:" error code say? It should give some indication of which driver or module is causing the crash.
posted by teraflop at 10:43 PM on January 25, 2010

Hi-- I had the same experience. I don't think that MS is trying to drive us insane, but you do have to wonder-- really, this has happened to a lot of people when installing that update.

So-- I ended up wiping the hard drive and reinstalling everything. I was furious, but what can you do. Now I'm conscientious about backing up.

Too soon old, too late smart. That's my motto.
posted by pippin at 10:44 PM on January 25, 2010

Response by poster: teraflop: There's nothing after the error code -- that's the last line of text on the screen.
posted by maud at 11:03 PM on January 25, 2010

I have been through this condition with my Dell Vista machine and I must say you can do nothing in this case. It drove me nuts and Dell support was totally useless. My recommendation is,

Use Ubuntu to recover your data to an external hard drive /USB stick (FAT32 formatted, NTFS may not work) first. If you don't manage to recover this data then tough luck and you lose your data.

If you don't have a copy of recovery discs then only option is get a copy from Sony at charge. Another option, which is not very legal, download Windows XP off the web and install it, once basic installation is done, invoke system restore from your restore partition so you are back with your genuine OS.

Just remember one thing, your machine is not set yo boot from CD or any drive by default as master boot record has been messed up so once you put Ubuntu CD, press F8 and choose boot from CD/DVD drive option for Ubuntu to load. Other has suggested Knoppix, thats good too but I have never used it.
Finally, you have to choose how much time you want to spend on this thing and whats your data worth. If you can afford to lose, I would just wipe it clean. If you can not afford to lose, I would contact an experienced technician. You are best judge of your knowledge in this case, so choose accordingly.
posted by zaxour at 12:03 AM on January 26, 2010

Response by poster: Addendum: We decided to look on the manufacturer's site, and found this procedure for performing a system recovery even when the OS won't boot.

Too late to try it tonight, but we'll give it a try tomorrow evening. But first, we'll boot into Knoppix, to get all data safely moved to the second hard drive.
posted by maud at 12:15 AM on January 26, 2010

I've seen this problem a few times. Invariably it's caused by an incompatible driver that is installed on the machine (for example, the Daemontools ASPI layer would guarantee a BSOD in this case).

As others have said, the data on the drive is fine, the OS is just unbootable. Booting from an knoppix or windows UBCD will allow you to recover the data fairly easily. In theory, you could fix the problem if you knew which driver was causing the problem by editing the registry... But, that has it's own risks and is not for the faint of heart.

In any event, I'd recommend recovering the data, then doing a format/reinstall. You can download new drivers from Sony for the machine (although odds are good that if you upgrade to 7, they'll be on built in) and this has it's own advantages.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:25 AM on January 26, 2010

The Windows install disk you are looking for is hidden in a recovery partition on your main (original) drive. Except it isn't going to be a CD image, it's going to be a compressed drive image. Please note that running the recovery from this is going to reset your entire system to factory settings, as it was when first purchased. All software, software updates, personalization and etc. will be removed completely. Any included software that you may have deleted will get reinstalled.

If it is at all possible, make a full backup copy of the C drive before running the recovery utility. A Knoppix or Ubuntu live CD will help with this. Remove the second hard drive prior to starting recovery (just as a precaution). You don't need to completely remove it, just unplug the IDE/SATA and power cables that connect it to the motherboard.

If you can get your hands on an XP install disk, unless it is an SP3 disk it may not help much. It is possible to take an older XP disk and "slipstream" in the updates to make it into an SP3 disk (I used this to make an SP2 disk years ago, starting from a 1a version, because I was tired of installing and then having to run the SP2 update.) But the registration code sometimes is tied to the specific XP version, so any old disk may not work to fix a Media Center version.
posted by caution live frogs at 10:54 AM on January 26, 2010

You may be able to get a restore disk from Sony. UBCD is a great rescue disk.

If you were just now getting service pack 3, updates are way out of date, and the machine has been vulnerable to a number of exploits. This may be the culprit. UBCD has anti-virus tools; update them and scan.
posted by theora55 at 11:05 AM on January 26, 2010

To create a UBCD bootable CD, you'll need a copy of the Windows install disks.
Personally, I would use this as an excuse to perform a clean install of Windows - your notebook will thank you for this by running much faster! To answer your earlier question, you can boot or reinstall from any set of Windows XP install disks - but you'll need the Windows license key from your own PC. You are correct in thinking that you'd want to stick with the version that you had originally installed.
To avoid losing any data, I would remove your main and subsidiary hard drives from the machine NOW. Buy an external 2.5" USB enclosure, then you can read your data files back onto any new hard drive that you install. (or back these up to another computer).
Get a cheap hard drive of the type originally installed (probably PATA - a quick search on the model number and brand via Google will tell you what type of disk it is). Perform a clean windows install, then run all the Microsoft updates. THEN copy back your data files. You can use the original disk as a backup disk for the files that you should be backing up as you work ... :-)
posted by Susurration at 1:44 PM on January 26, 2010

Maud's husband here. I've managed to get Knoppix running on the PC... and I've transferred pretty much all the important data off the C: drive on to the data drive. I've also copied the i386 folder containing, as I understand it, the stuff that would go on a Windows install CD.

I've also figured out how to run the built-in system restore routine, which (if I do it) will take the computer back to the state it was in when I bought it.

My hope is to avoid going that route. For now, I plan to try to use my Knoppix access to the system, the Windows install disc that I now have the ability to create, and the brainpower of the internets to help me figure out exactly what went wrong, and to fix it in as minimally invasive a way as possible.

If I can't accomplish that in the next few days, then it will be time to take the more drastic route of doing a full system restore.

Thanks to everyone who suggested using Knoppix! It's incredibly reassuring to be able to see that all my data appears to be safe.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 8:31 PM on January 26, 2010

This is actually not as complicated as it seems. Find a windows XP install cd. Torrent one, whatever. Boot off of that cd. Do a windows 'repair' install. That's it. All your data will be there. It grabs the key off the current install. None of the service packs or patches since the build date of the install cd will be there, so you will have to run windows update for about 2 days, but you will have lost nothing. You can find XP w/ Service Pack 3 cd's on torrent sites, where somebody has already rolled in the SP3 update. Just install from that CD, and you will have SP3 as well. You will need to reinstall any drivers.

I would recommend that you reinstall windows clean, if you are comfortable moving your data off the drive. A bad malware problem etc. can leave thing not quite right.
posted by defcom1 at 9:35 PM on January 26, 2010

Oh, and be careful about the restore routine, make sure it only formats your windows drive, and not the data drive (I'm assuming it's a single HDD, partitioned to look like two drives)
posted by defcom1 at 9:36 PM on January 26, 2010

Again, my first preference is to get things working without a full reinstall. I think I'm actually narrowing in on the source of the problem.

Apparently many people have been thrown into a reboot loop after trying to install XP Service Pack 3. The culprit seems to be a file called gdi32.dll.

If I can replace this file, I may be good to go. I've looked in my i386 folder (where the install and recovery stuff is located), and found a file called gdi32.dl_ (that's an underscore, rather than a final lower-case L). It seems I am supposed to "expand" this into gdi32.dll.

If I could boot into Windows from a CD that would be easy. Still trying to figure out if I can do that while running Knoppix...
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 10:02 PM on January 26, 2010

OK, I replaced gdi32.dll. No dice.

Whatever problem that might solve, it's apparently not the problem I have. I'm going to see if my error codes can point me towards a solution.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:12 PM on January 26, 2010

GDI32 is the driver for the windowing system in windows. If it is failing to load or otherwise crashing, it would suggest that the video card drivers are the culprit. It's a good first place to start, anyway.

If you are intrepid, you can find guides on how to load and edit the registry. From there you can remove the video driver, or otherwise prevent it from running. Windows should then use the default VGA driver. Windows might try to autoinstall the offending driver again - to prevent that, you need to find the *.INF file that is being referenced and edit or delete it.

Good luck, and have fun :-)
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:39 AM on January 27, 2010


I tried to chase down my various error codes online, but none of the suggestions I found worked to restore my system. Ultimately I couldn't find a way to solve whatever driver conflict or other problem my machine was suffering from.

So I reinstalled WinXP, using the built-in system recovery function. It's been a bit of a hassle reinstalling my software (and getting rid of the archaic bloatware that I had forgotten my system originally came with -- Netscape ISP, AOL Broadband, Intuit 2005 Trial, etc.), but it's good to be up and running again.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 1:26 PM on February 14, 2010

« Older How do I schedule a Facebook link post?   |   Track Jacket Hunt Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.