reboot -> reboot -> reboot
May 13, 2007 12:06 AM   Subscribe

Scary windows boot problem: why does it reboot in the middle of every boot cycle all of a sudden? How can I save my computer without tearing it apart first?

So yesterday, like a good little boy, I was running through my periodic spring cleaning of our laptop (windows XP home) here. As I usually do, I ran SpyBot Search & Destroy, and deleted everything it found. One of the things it found looked vaguely Windows-like (I think it had Microsoft in the name) but I presumed to myself that it was just disguised SpyWare. I also did a few other things. I don't know if any of that has to do with what happened next.

The computer was working quite nicely... until I turned it off. Now, it won't boot; it just runs through bios, and then gives me that "We apologize for the inconvenience, but Windows did not start successfully" screen that offers you options: Safe Mode, Safe Mode with Networking, Safe Mode with Command Prompt, Last Known Configuration, and Start Windows Normally. Choosing any one of these options leads to reboot, and I get the same screen again.

I've tried booting from the Windows XP install CD, but it seems that I have to reinstall Windows for that to work.

This really frightens me, because I'd rather not lose the contents of the hard drive. Now I'm thinking that I'll have to remove the hard drive and stick it into another computer that I have, back up all my data, replace the hard drive into the laptop, and reinstall Windows. I'd like it very much if someone could tell me that this could be avoided. Please? Pretty please?
posted by koeselitz to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Does the computer have a cd or dvd burner? You can boot into linux using a livecd and backup all your data using that.
posted by Firas at 12:26 AM on May 13, 2007

Best answer: "...Please? Pretty please?"

OK. This could be avoided.

Run a Repair Install of Windows, to replace missing system files. If you deleted a driver file for your hardware, you'll have to separately obtain that file (probably from your laptop manufacturer), and supply it at the appropriate time during the repair process. In the future, don't delete things willy nilly in the name of "spring cleaning." Keep written notes of maintenance procedures, so you have an understanding of what landed you in the soup, when things go wrong.
posted by paulsc at 12:27 AM on May 13, 2007

Response by poster: Ah! I appear to have stumbled into a solution. Booted from the Windows XP Install CD, got somewhat different options this time (I think), and used the Windows XP Recovery Console, ran CHKDSK /P to recover errors. Suddenly, my computer shut off. Why? I don't know, and I was very confused, but now everything boots right.

This all sounds like strange mojo, I know. My hunch is that the power cable wasn't plugged in fully enough, and the battery (old and bad) died just after CHKDSK stopped running. Either way, for posterity, if you're in this bad place, read up on and use that Recovery Console thingy.

Firas: "Does the computer have a cd or dvd burner? You can boot into linux using a livecd and backup all your data using that."

That's just about the coolest thing I've ever heard. I hope I get a chance to try that some time.

Saw the Repair Install thing, paulsc, when I was searching around, but it sounded scary, and I wanted to try everything else first.
posted by koeselitz at 12:39 AM on May 13, 2007

Best answer: I'm a little late to this conversation, but every Windows user should know these:

- run a full, five-stage check disk and attempt any necessary repairs (this may require you to insert your Windows disc)

- run an immediate scan to ensure that critical system files are uncorrupted and in their original forms

Try the "Last Known Good" boot option-- it will revert your system settings to those that worked most recently

I'm wary of repair installations. They wipe out the registry and so require you to reinstall any software not included in Windows. Worse, they may leave provide only temporary relief. Data corruption and malware often escape unscathed. It's preferable to do a backup, reformat, and reinstall of all data and programs.
posted by nilihm at 1:32 AM on May 13, 2007

"... They wipe out the registry and so require you to reinstall any software not included in Windows. ..."

That's incorrect. A Repair Install doesn't wipe the registry, but it will delete previous System Restore points. It is the recommended procedure for repairing XP installations that won't boot to Safe Mode.

If user data is corrupted, why on earth would you want to nuke and pave Windows? Clearly, to fix corrupted data you'd restore from backup. To repair programs, you'd generally Remove Programs and re-install.
posted by paulsc at 2:01 AM on May 13, 2007

I'm sorry, you're right, I misspoke. A repair installation will not delete third party keys as I suggested. I've just encountered too many problematic in-place upgrades to take them seriously. We don't know that this is an issue with user data, though, so we're both being a bit hasty.
posted by nilihm at 2:35 AM on May 13, 2007

I had a similar problem - which I isolated to a WD external hard drive I had installed - if the drive is switched off, the system boots....if its switched on, I get the same symptoms as you.
posted by mattr at 5:05 AM on May 13, 2007

If it continues shutting off unexpectedly and intermittently while already at your desktop, I would suspect a hardware issue.

Usually when XP reboots suddenly prior to loading the GUI, it is having difficulty with its known essential hardware drivers. (This can be replicated easily if you take an XP HD out of a AMD machine and pop it in one with a different chipset).

A repair does the trick in this case. However continued, unexpected, shutting down should lead you to the BIOS next to see if any hardware configuration is causing an issue. Depending on how it powers off, it oculd be more of a physical HW problem from the CPU, a peripheral drawing too much juice (as the WD could have in the last example)..having an address conflict (which is rare..usually it'll just cause a crash), or the power supply.
posted by samsara at 5:40 PM on May 13, 2007

Just a guess but this is the third instance of this behavior I've seen recently & the other two were caused by malware, probably SmitFraud. Apparently its fake BSOD routine can go wrong, causing the machine to reboot like you describe.
posted by scalefree at 6:01 PM on May 13, 2007

Had a client with very similar issues, including running Anti-Virus and Spybot scans that found something.

However, somewhere along the way he corrupted his disk pretty badly, probably the worst NTFS corruption I've seen. CHKDSK /R found quite a few problems and the system was still unbootable after that, even a repair installation failed.

We ended up with a fresh hard drive and a fresh installation of Windows and his software. Also a nice new backup solution.
posted by mutagen at 12:07 AM on May 14, 2007

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