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Troubleshooting Windows XP

I have had my share of failing, hanging, bluescreening Windows XP in my time.

My verdict used to be that Windows XP being the perfect desktop OS. Now I retire that verdidct for the favour of Linux. That is, if you need to work reliably and are demanding on what you expect from your desktop system, that is: speed, efficiency, accountability (it works now, it will work tomorrow) and security and transparency (what is my system currently doing, is it working for ME and looking after my interests, the way it should be)

Let me give it to you straight:
Windows XP will needs reinstalling, frequent reinstalling. On a regular basis. Depending how hard and how demanding your use of the OS is, it won't last long.
If you don't use many programs and don't install / remove anything, you might be able to use it a long time.

Deinstalling them after having used them (or tried them out) does not help. So far I have been unable to rejuvenate an install of XP and reinstalls also haunt me.

Out of the reason above, I have moved pretty much all programs that are possible to Linux, which does not require reinstalls and can be used as long as one likes.

What you can do

Here a troubleshooting guide to those that are unfortunate and cannot move their components off XP, this applies especially for gamers, since Linux is a joke when it comes to serious hard core gaming with fat graphic cards and top notch systems.

All these lines apply to Windows XP, other windows versions might be similar, but no guarantees:

Q: My system freezes while using it, mouse pointer is frozen, keyboard non responsive (caps lock light does not toggle) and sound is repeated in little intervals.

A: This is pretty sure a hardware defect. Nothing to do with the OS. Check your powersupply, your bios settings (overclocked CPU)

Q: My system freezes, I can still move the mouse pointer around, but nothing else works, not even the task manager appears.

A: This is a typical defect of XP. Hanging, terminal case. You have to hold the HW reset button, nothing else will work.

Q: My system suddenly restarts, sometimes during booting, sometimes during work.

A: This might be hardware (a too small powersupply that gets overstressed, when a DVD rom spins up) which in turn makes the system go bluescreen OR it might be a faulty driver or something else in XP that goes bluescreen. In order to look better (large billboards showing bluescreens does not look good to the public) Microsoft

[show billboard shot]

has changed bluescreens for a restart of the whole system. This can be switched off, so you can at least get the offending error code in the blue screen.

To do this, go to
settings / control panel / System / go to tab Advanced
click on Setting on Startup and Recovery
Deactivate Automatically restart

Q: My system does not start up, just after the BIOS, I receive
"no system disk"
"disk read/write error or no operating system found"
or some other cryptic error

A: This is a typical case of a misleading error message. BIOS cannot start your system, due to some defect, hardware (your harddisk has died) or software (Windows bootloader cannot be read)

Q: My XP is not starting anymore after installing Microsofts patches. It just keeps restarting endlessly.

A: Unfortunately, you are not alone. Especially older systems (age around 2 years) have this penomenon. Many less experienced users think that they computer has reached end of life and just buy a new one.
And it is just that your XP install has reached end of life and needs reinstalling.
But before doing this and spending countless hours, you can still try this:
1. try to boot into safe mode. Push F8 during startup if the prompt does not appear by itself (which it should) If you succeed, try to deinstalling the offending patch or any tool you might suspect causing trouble.
2. If that does not work, try to boot into safemode with command prompt. Sometimes this still works, you can still start up the GUI with entering explorer.exe and do what I described in point 1.
3. Use the windows CD and do a repair on the install. That sometimes works.

Missing seperation of userspace and kernel

Chances are that all these things will not work. Due to the in my oppinion lousy architecture of Windows, tools many times dig too deep into the OS (you can spot these by requiring a restart) and since nobody except Microsoft knows exactly how it works, things can conflict and get messed up.
Proper seperation of the system core (kernel) and the rest of the user space would not drag down the whole system in a blue screen when a program crashes. Linux shows how this is properly done and these days you hardly ever see a kernel panic anymore (equivalent of a blue screen).

Now if all these 3 points failed, you can use BartPE or Knoppix to rescue all your data from you "C:" drive, since you won't be able to get access through windows to them anymore. Make sure you get them, since a reinstall wipes the C: partition clean.
To me it seems many time that the typical Microsoft customer does not really care about his data much.
I don't know how many consumers loose their pictures when a XP machine goes belly up and gets trashed or reinstalled.

If you machine comes up again, you might want to take a look into the event viewer. It MIGHT be that there will be an entry showing which component or driver are giving trouble. Yet it might now, I have found it pretty useless.
Microsoft has not invented debugging and logging. If you are wondering what I am refering to? Just years ago I would have asked the very same question.
I did not know what proper logging leading to track down a problem was before I got around learning Linux.

Below you can see a typical start up log of Linux, recognizing all the hardware that you got in your system, showing comments and lot and lots of info.

Too much you might say, too cluttered. Yes, you are right, there is a lot.

[screen shot]

Trust me, more verbose is better than less trying to solve problems.
But next time you stare at that black Windows XP startup screen, waiting for it to start up and seeing it crash or hang, you might wonder what is going on behind it all and you will never ever know. [CUT OUTIn Linux you will not have to wonder, you will see it right there, right up to the point when it breaks, probably commented with a fatal or panic or whatever.]

One thing that I have also found interesting about Windows XP so far is, that it can become a possessed system [LINK] very easily. After a failed start, where it hanged, it will start up just fine.
I have never ever had that in Linux and I think that for a machine, it is very very odd to work and sometimes not work, depending on chance. It makes the software very undependable and unpredictable.

Now we all hope that Windows Vista will get rid of all these problems, but as of this writing (8. Apr 2007), users using Vista are official beta testers for software they have not payed little for.
So in short, you will invite yourself more problems that you tried to avoid by not using XP.

Now if you do have to reinstall XP, like I have done soo many times in my life, you are looking at the grueling work of hours and hours, fetching drivers for all your devices (if you know which ones, use lspci  [link to hotlist] in Knoppix [Link to knoppix distro watch] to see what is in your system) and doing reboot-o-rama after installing pretty much each one of them.

this document was created on:
8. Apr. 2007
updated on:
9. May. 2007