Troubleshooting Windows XP Startup Problems

Several sequential activities take place when you push the Start button of your PC.

  1. The Power-On Self Test (POST) is the first activity that occurs. This process uses the BIOS firmware settings to run tests and ensure that your system hardware, such as power supply, RAM, storage media, and other peripheral devices are working fine. The test also ensures that an operating system is installed on your computer. If this test fails, a beep sound is generated to inform you of the problem.
  2. After POST some other tests are run on the hardware, such as video card and hard disk. These tests can display their own set of errors. After this, the process to upload the operating system commences.
  3. The boot loader program called ntldr (NT Loader or boot loader) program is run. This program loads startup programs, starts the files system and then checks the boot.ini file for information on where to upload the operating system. Errors may occur if problems such as a damaged Master Boot Record (MBR) or damaged hard drive occur.
  4. Next, is used to identify and configure various hardware, including keyboard, mouse, video adaptor, various ports, and storage mediums, such as hard disk.
  5. Ntoskrnl.exe is used next to load Windows kernel, which is the core of your Windows operating system. After ntoskrnl.exe and the hardware files are loaded, the registry is referenced to load essential programs and services that are required to keep your system up and running.
  6. Next, the Session Manager (smss.exe) program is run. This program enables your Windows to change to GUI mode from text mode.
  7. Finally, your Windows operating system is in control of your PC and now, if required, you may enter your username/password to log on and start using your system.

When your Windows XP PC is working normally, your computer will not take more than 2-3 minutes to boot up. If any of these activities fails, the startup process may take a very long time. At times, your computer may freeze up and refuse to boot. The following are some of the common things that occur when the startup process fails:

  • A beep sounds during POST (Power On Self Test) and your computer will shutdown or freeze.
  • The text that scrolls through during boot up freezes.
  • An error message is displayed during startup and the computer freezes.
  • Your computer screen goes blank and nothing displays.
  • Windows message ‘Windows is loading…’ continues to display and your system never actually loads.
  • A stop or blue screen error displays and the system halts.
  • An error message box is displayed and the boot process fails.

Because there are several processes involved in the Windows startup process, the key to troubleshooting startup problems lies within determining at what time during the startup process the error occurred and your system halted. The following are some of the tips and guidelines that you can follow to troubleshoot Windows XP startup problems:

  • If an error message is displayed in the form of a text error, blue screen error or a popup error message box, you may use the information, such as the text and error codes included in the message to search for a source of the problems. For example, you can use this information to search for a solution in the Microsoft Knowledgebase and other third-party PC help Web sites.
  • If your computer fails during the text mode of the boot process, then you may check the last couple of displayed lines to find out which process was successful. If you are lucky, you may even get information about what failed.
  • If your screen goes blank or if ‘Windows is uploading…’ message keeps displaying for a long time, you may perform the following:
    1. Try to wait for a couple of minutes and let Windows resolve the issue on its own.
    2. If nothing happens, try to press the ESC key 2-3 times.
    3. If you still fail, then hard boot your PC by hitting the reset button on your system.
    4. Next, try to boot your system in Safe Mode. To do this, just after POST, press the F8 key and then select Safe Mode from the displayed options.
  • If you see a mouse cursor displayed on the screen without any other action, try moving the mouse. If it moves, then Windows is probably loading in the background, if it does not move, then it might indicate a system freeze up and you may need to hard boot your PC.