Boot Failure: System Halted?
May 20, 2005 6:21 AM   Subscribe

XP, possible related issues/causes inside, but the short of it is a message that says "Boot Failure: System Halted" when I turn on the computer.

Disclaimer - I'm pretty good on the web and with software and minor system tweaks, but start talking about partitions or drivers or the C: prompt and I'm lost. So please understand my details will reek of a neophyte. Bear with me, and please be as basic in your responses as possible. Thanks!

I don't turn the computer (Gateway running XP, all the service packs) off as a habit, but a major storm was supposed to come through last night, so I shut it down and unplugged it. This morning I went to turn it on and:

First it "looked" in the floppy disc drive; it it never did that before, I don't think. Asked me to press F1 to continue, so I did, and it took me to a screen that asked me to select my language. Ok, I can do that; Enter/English. Hmmmmm. Arrow down, ah, ESC to exit. I'll pick that!

Wait. Gateway logo flashes across screen. Screen goes black. Boot Failure: System Halted

So power off, try to restart, and now (and subsequently) it goes to Boot Failure: System Halted.

What's going on? Can I fix this? I have all the discs and whatnot that came with it. It has been going through periods of running rather loudly lately. Not always, and it doesn't smell hot or seem to be slowing down, but the sound of the computer is just more noticeable, from another room, say.

I'm freaking out, because we have 4 years of photos (some backed up on CDs, but not in the past year or so), and tons of tons of iTunes on there, and nothing is backed up. We're also not in a situation to have to buy a new computer with a wedding and honeymoon on the way.

But, if it is hosed, what are the chances we can recover all those files??
posted by tr33hggr to Computers & Internet (23 answers total)
I'm assuming that either the storm didn't show up or you left it disconnected for the duration. If not, a power surge could've eaten the machine. Below is just a theory about what may have happened, but it seems most likely to me.

It sounds more like your CMOS battery is dead. The battery stores the BIOS configuration, which is like the lowest level between the hardware and the software. The first thing the machine does when it turns on is check the BIOS and basic parts of the motherboard with a Power On Self Test (POST). It sounds like your machine is failing at POST, porbably because the boot order is screwed up.

If the machine is fairly old the CMOS battery could have lost its charge, thereby causing you to lose your settings when you unplugged it last night. Go to Radio Shack or CompUSA and get one, shouldn't be more than five dollars. The install is easy too. If you can open the case it's no more difficult than changing the battery in a travel clock radio, or something like that.

Once you get the new battery installed you'll have to go into BIOS and reset the boot order so that it includes the harddrive. Right now it sounds like, for some reason, it's excluding the HDD from the boot order, meaning that it looks for the operating system on a floppy, then maybe a CD and then quits when it can't find anything. It's weird that it would do that, but that's the nicest option.

If it's not the BIOS/CMOS/Boot Order thing, the harddrive might be dead. That's a pretty random thing to happen though, and unless you can audibly hear it clicking or making another Not Good(tm) noise, it's probably ok.

So, yeah, operating under the assumption that I'm right about the battery thing, check the BIOS settings by hitting F2 or F12 or Delete when the computer boots and root around in there for the boot order, check that, and replace the battery.

Good luck.
posted by mmcg at 6:37 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Wow, holy crap. Does that sound right to others?
posted by tr33hggr at 6:44 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: The computer is about 5 years old.
posted by tr33hggr at 6:44 AM on May 20, 2005

It could be the CMOS, and it could also be the drive. I'd get a new CMOS battery and then boot from a live CD, like Knoppix, which can read NTFS, and see if your data is still accessible. (If it is, I'd copy it somewhere else stat.)

Does the computer beep when it's coming up? Usually there are beep codes for BIOS errors, the meanings of which ought to be explained somewhere in the PC documentation. (Not sure if this is true of new computers anymore, but it ought to be true of a 5-year-old one.) If there is a beep code, and you can figure out what it means, it might give you a better idea of what's going on.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:55 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks

like Knoppix, which can read NTFS

That lost me.

I'll have to check on the beeping at home. I don't think so though. Should I just call the freakin' Geek Squad?
posted by tr33hggr at 6:57 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Ha ha, I should have said "Bare with me."
posted by tr33hggr at 7:01 AM on May 20, 2005

In regards to getting this fixed on the cheap if the stuff above doesn't pan out: Do you have an office? Does anyone you know have an office? Do these offices have IT departments?

If the answer to those questions is yes, I'd just rip out the harddrive and take it to them. Or, frankly, anyone who's got some tech support experience. In about ten minutes they'd be able to tell you exactly where you stand in regards to your data. Buy them a six pack for their trouble, and you'll be set.

Otherwise I'd take it to a CompUSA, who'll do diagnostic and repair for 99.99usd flat, plus parts. Their tech departments run the gamut from awful to pretty good, though, so use your best judgement.
posted by mmcg at 7:20 AM on May 20, 2005

IshmaelGraves was referring to Knoppix which is a Linux "Live CD". This is a type of operating system which can be booted from CD - so you can get your computer up and running even if your HD is hosed.

It isn't too technically tricky - if you feel like tackling it yourself:

1) Download a Knoppix disc image from here.
2) Burn image to a CD using software like Nero
3) Put CD in drive, start up computer. If you get a message telling you to "press any key to boot from CD", do so.
4) Once Knoppix has loaded, you will be able to access your hard drive. Copy any important photos, music and documents onto CD.

It won't fix the problem but it will at least:
i) tell you if your HD is screwed
ii) let you get the important stuff off there and backed up

But, depending on your bios, you might not be able to do anything until you change the battery.

Should I just call the freakin' Geek Squad?
You just did.
posted by blag at 7:40 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: LOL blag.

I'll try the battery thing, and if that doesn't work I'll have to take it to Best Buy or something; we don't have a CompUSA here in town.

Would it be worhtwhile to put the XP disc in and try to boot up with a CD in? Could I then change my, um, boot order?
posted by tr33hggr at 7:47 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Typos abound. My apologies.
posted by tr33hggr at 7:50 AM on May 20, 2005

FWIW I've never seen a dead CMOS battery prevent a machine that is plugged in from working properly. Usually only get minor problems with system time. Also, before turning on the machine make sure there is no floppy disk in the floppy drive and if there is eject it and try booting again. On most machines the floppy is the default 1st boot device before it tries the hard drive. If that wasn't the problem then try modifying the BIOS settings. I think to get to BIOS for a Gateway you need to press the F1 key when you turn it on. Once into the BIOS, hunt around until you find the screen that shows boot order and modify it till you get the hard drive as the 1st boot device. Then save and reboot and see what happens. If you get "can't find boot device" or some similar message then your drive is probably toast.
posted by white_devil at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2005

The only way that you can change your boot order, as far as I'm aware, is from your bios. You can access this by pressing a certain key as the computer boots up - in your case, when the Gateway screen pops up. I *think* you need to press F1 on Gateway machines but it might also be F2, Delete or F12.

Once you're in, you'll see a text-based screen which will let you set all sorts of options including your boot order. Look for a screen that says something like:

First boot device: FDD (this is your floppy drive)
Second boot device: CD-ROM (yup)
Third boot device: HDD or HD1 (this is your hard drive)

Though yours might not match that, exactly.
posted by blag at 8:03 AM on May 20, 2005

Yeah, what he said. I hadn't thought about a floppy in the drive... That would make sense.
posted by blag at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Cool, thanks. I'm sure there is no floppy; I don't even own a floppy disc anymore.
posted by tr33hggr at 8:18 AM on May 20, 2005

Also, unplug any USB devices like pendrives and iPods - the computer might be trying to boot from these.
posted by blag at 8:39 AM on May 20, 2005

Weird - this very thing happened to two people I know, both within the past month. Both times they unplugged everything (from the ports of their cpu), and then plugged everything back in, and everything was ok.
posted by iconomy at 8:51 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Maybe I'll try that first! Now that I understand!
posted by tr33hggr at 8:54 AM on May 20, 2005

tr33hggr - I wouldn't try booting from the XP cd. It will by default either want to repair your existing install (which you can't access anyway) or delete everything and start a fresh install (which would kill any data you might be trying to save).

If checking the CMOS battery doesn't pan out, and the drive shows up correctly in the boot order (check the physical drive itself for parameters - model number, etc. - to make sure the computer is identifying it properly) try the Knoppix disc. It's painless: Stick it in the CD drive, start computer, and BAM! you're running Linux. It won't touch your hard drive, it just lives in memory, but you will be able to open your hard drive (probably listed as hdd0 on the desktop) to see if it's readable or not.

FWIW, I've seen several instances of drives that get a screwed up master boot record, and as a result will not boot up. More often than not you can still get the data back, because the only messed up part of the drive is the little section telling the computer where the operating system lives, not the part that contains the index of all the files. You may have to pop in a new hard drive, move the existing one into a secondary spot, then install Windows on the new drive (actually, strike that: Physically remove the old one from the computer by unplugging the cables that go into it, next install windows on the new one, and then reinstall the old one as drive 2 - just to be absolutely sure you don't accidentally erase it during the install - I've done this before myself!).

Once you do that, you should be able to see the drive in Explorer, and copy all of the files you want to keep onto the new drive.

Good luck...
posted by caution live frogs at 9:21 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: I'm at home, and fixed it somehow based on your advice. YAY!!!! I changed some settings in BIOS and that's what did it. Something about erasing previously stored drive configurations, because it was telling me it wasn't detecting a hard drive after a few preliminary BIOS-fix attempts. Anyway, I'm on and the computer seems fine! Thanks!!!!

Side note - I know I should back up my data. Thing is, where? I don't have a ZIP drive or anything like it, or Web space. How would I go about backing up my iTunes and photos, what I care most about?
posted by tr33hggr at 10:04 AM on May 20, 2005

There are many choices for backups nowadays, but honestly, the easiest and quickest way to go (for a snapshot in time backup) is to buy an external hard drive in a USB 2.0 or Firewire enclosure (and if your system doesn't have a USB 2.0 or firewire port, then throw in a $15 PCI card for that, too) and just copy your data over. Then you can unplug the backup disk and store it in a drawer, safe deposit box, or wherever.

External hard drives run to about $150 for 200GB nowadays, which is just stupidly cheap.
posted by 5MeoCMP at 10:15 AM on May 20, 2005

If your computer is 5+ years old, you should be advised that with only a bit of looking around you can replace it for less than you would pay to repair it.
posted by shepd at 10:33 AM on May 20, 2005

Response by poster: Good advice; thanks everyone. You rawk!
posted by tr33hggr at 11:09 AM on May 20, 2005

This is so much easier that you're all making it.

Unplugged power + Dead CMOS battery = Lost BIOS settings.

Just go into the BIOS and tell the computer which drive to boot from. Done.

Oh, and replace that CMOS battery, or you'll have to do this frequently. It's a standard CR-2032. Should run you about a buck anywhere that has camera and hearing aid batteries.

Preview: Ah. Saw the post at 10:04. Well done. Now replace that battery. It's a piece of cake, and cheap.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:04 PM on May 23, 2005

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