Computer boots to blank screen many times before loading - help!
August 12, 2012 12:37 AM   Subscribe

When I start my computer, it loads to a blank screen and freezes. It has to be restarted anywhere from 2-20 times before it finally boots up. It has been F-Disked and still does this. What could be causing this and what could I do about it? It's a PC running Windows Vista. I've had it 3 years and it's done this the whole time I've had it. Thank you!
posted by Melsky to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I had this regularly on my old laptop and it gradually got worse. My old IT dept had purchased a bunch of laptops with half the RAM they should have had. I bumped up the RAM a lot and the problem went away.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:51 AM on August 12, 2012

What could be causing this and what could I do about it?

I don't know, and start backing your stuff up, respectively.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:04 AM on August 12, 2012

Response by poster: I have 8 GB of RAM. I should have mentioned that this is a computer I bought so I wouldn't have performance problems when I made movies or played video games - it's very fast. As soon as I can get it on, it works fine.

It is a gaming computer I had custom made, and the person who sold it to me wasn't very responsive and I didn't trust him to bring it back if he picked it up to fix it.
posted by Melsky at 1:08 AM on August 12, 2012

I'm not an expert with Vista, and if not for the fact you say it has been doing it three years (really?) I'd say it was symptomatic of a HDD failure.

First thing I would suggest is download some sort of Linux distro (Ubuntu Live CD, perhaps, or use USB) and see if the boot error happens with another OS.

That should give you an idea if it's a Windows issue or hardware.

Have you checked 8GB is actually installed?

Have you seen any other issues?

The easiest solution is a back-up, re-format and re-install Windows, but I understand that's not idea.
posted by Mezentian at 1:36 AM on August 12, 2012

How quickly does it go to a blank screen? Immediately, or does it display anything first?

Do you have a techy friend who can physically disconnect your harddrive to see if it still does it? (I'm not saying that the harddrive is at fault -- I'm just trying to isolate the problem)
posted by holloway at 1:42 AM on August 12, 2012

Long shot, unplug it, open it up, touch the metal frame to minimize any static charge you might have, and then... gently wiggle and press to reseat any cards, cables, socketed chips, memory, etc. It almost sounds like a thermal issue. It doesn't work quite right until it's been powered long enough to get a bit of heat into it. It's only having problems when it's been sitting turned off for a while and cooled down. It could also be flaky RAM or something like that that fails when it's cool.

What happens when it has been running well for a while and you reboot? Does it come back up the first time or do you still have to reboot a few times? If it comes back immediately, how long does it have to be off before it takes multiple boots to work? Next time it fails to boot, leave it powered on for a while before rebooting, does this make it more likely to boot the next time or does it still take a random number of tries to work.

The booting from a LiveCD is a good idea, so would be listening to the HD as it turns on (a trick is to put a screwdriver on the non-circuit board part of the drive and put your ear down to the handle of the screwdriver, you can really hear the drive spin up this way). Also check that any fans are spinning up properly.

If you boot from a Linux LiveCD, most of them have a Memory Check boot option that can run for a couple of hours and test the memory.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:49 AM on August 12, 2012

In order of likelihood as I would judge it:

1. RAM gone bad. Remove the RAM sticks, one at a time (or if only one then replace with another RAM stick).
2. Overheating or something similar. Not consistent with the eventual-start scenario but could be related to the culprit. Make sure all fans are running (CPU and GPU fans included).
3. Drawing too much power. If you're close to your power supply limit, you could use too much power on startup when disks are being spun up etc. Unplug marginal peripherals (DVD drive, etc) and see if this helps. Check your power supply rating.
4. Operating system. A boot from an Ubuntu LiveCD may settle this for good.
5. Unless it's some other peripheral. Unplug everything except for the monitor and see if this helps.
6. Dust. I've had dust cause problems once.
posted by haykinson at 1:55 AM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I started out with 4 GB RAM and had it increased, and had a more powerful fan added about 6 months ago. It was also F Disked and cleaned at this time. The tech who did it claimed to have no problems starting up the computer.

It has the starting problem at all times, whether it's cold or been running for hours and restarting.

Occasionally, it does start up on the first or second time. I'd say 5 times is average.

Sometimes the screen comes up where it says windows didn't shut down properly and asks if I want to start in safe mode, and sometimes it just goes to the blank screen right away.

I only have a keyboard, monitor and mouse hooked up to it. The printer is on wireless.

The 8 GB ram shows up on my system information so I'm assuming it's installed.

I've had this computer for 3 years and the mouse, keyboard and monitor have been replaced. I will try to boot it from another operating system and see if that helps.
posted by Melsky at 2:24 AM on August 12, 2012

Intermittent issues can be difficult to pin down, my initial focus would be on the RAM and internal connectors. You could also have bad blocks on the disc which are corrupting system startup

Check that your RAM is the correct type and is properly seated, check for thermal issues and try a Linux distro. If Linux works, I'd start to suspect the disc.

You say it freezes, have you tried leaving it alone (for an hour or two) to see if it just being slow?

Were it a Linux/Unix system I would also suggest looking at the log files for boot error messages, does Vista preserve information from historical boots somewhere? Failing that open it up, blow out any dust, change any batteries and tighten anything which is loose.
posted by epo at 2:37 AM on August 12, 2012

Bear in mind Sod's Law (that man Murphy was a shameful plagiarist), when you start systematically looking for boot issues it will work flawlessly until you drop your guard.
posted by epo at 2:47 AM on August 12, 2012

Lots of good advice above, if you're burning a boot disk you could use something like which includes some handy hardware diagnostics to run.
posted by samj at 3:22 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does the freezing happen before or after the POST screen?

Sounds kind of like a problem I had which led me to sell a computer as scrap on Craigslist.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:50 AM on August 12, 2012

This is going to sound odd, but in addition to the suggestions above, try disconnecting the keyboard, mouse, monitor, any peripherals and see if it makes a difference. I've seen a keyboard prevent booting before. You want to get down to just CPU, RAM and startup disk to ensure you're chasing the right thing. If it still has trouble, try a different startup disk. If it still has trouble, pull half your RAM. If it still has trouble, swap the RAM with what you pulled. If it still has trouble, pull the heatsink, reseat the CPU, apply new thermal grease. If it still has trouble you may have some decisions to make.
The other thing is the power supply. If you have another one to try (make sure it has enough wattage - I would hope whoever built it gave you enough extra to account for upgrading) that would be good, but at least reseat the power connections. Also try to get a read on what kind of power your system is demanding. Insufficient power can not only give unstable performance, it will damage your parts. It's better to have too much going unused than to underpower.
Generally though, with intermittent issues, it's not a lost cause, it's a flaky connection.
posted by hypersloth at 8:08 AM on August 12, 2012

Oops I see it was mentioned above.
Good luck.
posted by hypersloth at 8:11 AM on August 12, 2012

Can't hurt to run Memtest to see if any of your RAM has gone rotten.

Does it freeze before or after POST, does the computer make any beeping noises?

First thing I'd do is to pull all the RAM and reintroduce one stick at a time.
posted by porpoise at 11:16 AM on August 12, 2012

Just a few things I can think of:

1. Are you seeing any event log messages pertaining to hardware or driver problems? (right-click manage computer -> events -> system)

2. Have you tried running the PC without the original 4gb of ram?

3. Would you be able to try an alternate video card?

4. Probably most important. Where exactly is the freezing occuring? (if it gets past POST then it could defintiely just be OS/driver related.) What does this freezing look like? Can you see the mouse cursor? Is it a black background? Does it happen when trying safe mode?

5. What do you mean by F Disked? Was the OS reformatted/reinstalled?

6. Since this was custom built by someone else, I'd be very curious as to how the motherboard is mounted. A common mistake with novice computer builders is to put more riser screws than needed prior to mounting the MB...this can sometimes lead to electrical shorts that cause intermittent problems (ok I did this once 15 years ago, and it caused the oddest audio problems until I finally pulled the thing back apart and discovered my mistake.)

My assumption is this could be caused by one of the following:

1. A faulty device driver (or software related)
2. Video card hardware/driver
3. A failing HDD
4. Faulty memory
5. A bulging capacitor (see here for an example, these are notorious for causing strange issues like yours)
6. A BIOS setting slightly beyond hardware limits (if you have one that allows overclocking/custom timings)
7. Shoddy hardware installation (where screws could be causing shorts etc).
8. Residual malware/mbr rootkit/etc
9. Intermittent fan trouble
10. ??? (IRQ conflicts/bad cables/tiny gremlins/etc)

Ok the list can get to be pretty big. So the important thing for you to do is to narrow this down and use the process of elimination to rule out a lot of the possible causes mentioned above and in other's comments. The most important place to start, especially since you have a running OS a lot of the time, is to start with your event manager and look for any clues there. I would also take a look at your device manager to look for any devices that are reporting errors. From there I would check the BIOS, and consider resetting it to factory settings as well as disabling hardware that is not being used (LPT1, COM1, internal NIC, etc). I'd then try a bootable CD like the UBCD4Win mentioned above or Hiren's Boot CD to see if the same behavior can be seen when booting off of a CD.

Once the software side of the computer is no longer suspected, I'd dive into the hardware side, starting with the easiest components first (eg. try booting off of 2gb of the newest memory you have installed, try booting without keyboard, mouse, floppy, cdrom, etc attached, or if you have onboard video and a video card, try booting without the video card). From there it's a little more tricky as it's much better to have spare parts on hand (sometimes a friend can help if they have a similar chipset/build). I'd definitely try and look to see if an extra riser screw is in there, as well as look for any areas where metal could be causing a short. Put all of the wiring under scrutiny, and reference the MB manual if it was given to you (otherwise you may find the pdf version online). Best of luck!
posted by samsara at 12:27 PM on August 12, 2012

What do mean by "F disked"? Isn't the fdisk command just for formatting or repartitioning the drive? Do you mean chkdsk? In my experience, booting to a Linux distro from a live CD or flash drive will give you a better disk analysis to check hard drive health.
posted by stopgap at 6:07 PM on August 12, 2012

You haven't given us much to go on.

Try turning on boot logging, as described here. Save multiple logs from failed boots. Look and see what the last thing logged was each time. If it is the same thing, that's a good sign of where to look for the problem.

If it never gets that far, that's good to know too, but given that you are seeing the warning about an unclean shutdown, I think the OS is loading at least part way.

From the clues we've been given, my suspicion is the video card or video driver, but really, we need more data.
posted by Good Brain at 6:30 PM on August 12, 2012

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