This document describes some simple steps for dealing with Windows XP system and start-up problems. These procedures require no technical expertise but the instructions (and occasional warnings) should be followed with care. Just work through the sections in turn until you find something relevant to your problem.

1. Backing Up Your Own Files

If you computer has system problem, you first priority should be to make sure you have up-to-date backup copies of all your own files. Some advice is given on doing this in a separate document. If your Windows system is working sufficiently well, you can just follow the section on What to Back Up.

2. Broken Internet Connection

If your system has had an adware or spyware infection removed, or you have deinstalled certain anti-virus products, you may find that the machine will no longer successfully connect to the internet. This may be because The Windows ‘Winsock’ communications software has been damaged. In some cases, the network connection may look as if it is partly working, for example it gets assigned an IP address from the DHCP service, but application software such as a web browser cannot retrieve web pages.

Various free utilties can be used to quickly repair corrupt Winsock problems, for example LSP-Fix available from http://www.cexx.org/lspfix.htm. (This particular utility easily fits on to a 1.44Mbyte floppy disk.)

3. The Windows Advanced Options Menu

The Windows Advanced Options Menu provides some alternative ways of running Windows when it won't start up normally. To display this menu, you need to power off your computer and then restart it. Immediately start tapping the <F8> key until the Advanced Options Menu appears as shown below. You may find it requires several restart attempts to get this menu to come up.

Windows Advanced Options Menu
Please select an option:
  
  Safe Mode
  Safe Mode with Networking 
  Safe Mode with Command Prompt 
  
  Enable Boot Logging 
  Enable VGA mode 
  Last Known Good Configuration (your most recent settings that worked) 
  Directory Services Restore Mode (Windows domain controllers only) 
  Debugging Mode 
  
  Start Windows Normally
  Reboot
  Return to OS Choices Menu
 
  Use the up and down arrow keys to move the highlight to your choice.

If your computer's problem is so serious that it won't get as far as the Advanced Options Menu, skip to the section below on Windows Repair Installation.

4. Last Known Good Configuration

The Last Known Good Configuration option on the Windows Advanced Options Menu starts your computer using the configuration it stored at the last successful closedown. If your machine starts OK using this option, no further action may be needed.

5. Safe Mode

If you choose Safe Mode on the Advanced Options Menu, Windows will attempt to start up in a special mode where only its most basic components are loaded. It also bypasses any programs that normally run at system startup. You may find that some minor problems can be cured immediately by just doing a normal Windows Restart from within Safe Mode.

Other things you can try in Safe Mode are:

  • Running a Windows System Restore to undo recent system changes.
  • De-installing problem software via the Add or Remove Programs control panel or, if applicable, temporarily disabling it by deleting its entry in the Startup folder.
  • Disabling auto-running software using the Windows MSCONFIG utility (run via [Start/Run]).
  • Removing or disabling recently added hardware (via the Hardware/Device Manager section of the System control panel.
  • Running anti-virus software or adware/spyware removal software that you were unable to run (or was ineffective) in normal Windows mode

When you log into Windows in Safe Mode, use the Administrator username or another administrator-level username

As well as the basic Safe Mode, there two other variations:

  • Safe Mode with Networking - this loads the additional Windows components to let you access the network - e.g. to let you download software updates or an anti-virus scanner such as Stinger.
  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt - provides you with a command prompt instead of the graphical user interface. Use of this option is beyond the scope of this document.

6. Windows XP's System Restore Facility

If your Windows system has suddenly started misbehaving, for example after you perform a software installation or update, the Windows System Restore facility lets you restore the system to a previous state. System Restore automatically creates Restore Points whenever you install or update your system. You can also, if you wish, manually create additional Restore Points at any time.

Note that performing a System Restore will only affect Windows system and application files. It will not change any of your own files or documents.

If you are unable to start up your XP system normally, you can try running System Restore with Windows running in Safe Mode as described above.

To restore your system to a previous Restore Point:

  1. Log on to Windows as Administrator (or as any other administrator-level user).
  2. Click [Start] then [Help and Support] then [Performance and Maintenance] then [Using System Restore to undo changes] then [Run the System Restore Wizard].
  3. On the Welcome to System Restore screen, select Restore my computer to an earlier time (if it is not already selected), and then click Next.
  4. On the [Select a Restore Point] screen, click the most recent system checkpoint in the On this list, click a restore point list, and then click Next.
  5. A System Restore message may appear that lists the configuration changes that System Restore will make. Click OK.
  6. On the Confirm Restore Point Selection screen, click Next. System Restore restores the previous Windows XP configuration, and then restarts the computer.
  7. Log on to the computer as Administrator or other administrator-level user. The System Restore Restoration Complete screen appears.
  8. Click OK.

If performing a System Restore did not solve your problems, the you could try the Windows Repair Installation described below.

7. Windows XP Repair Installation

If your system came with a Microsoft Windows XP installation CD, you can use this to perform a Windows Repair Installation. This tries to repair Windows by replacing the Windows system files on your hard disk with fresh copies from the CD. A Repair Installation will leave your own documents intact and, in most cases, your installed applications should also still work. If your machine came pre-installed with Windows XP and has not had XP Service Packs 1 or 2 applied, you may find that some applications need reinstalling after doing a Repair Install. If you are able to install the latest XP service pack prior to doing a Repair Install, you may may prevent this problem. Any Windows updates will need to be reapplied after running a Repair Installation.

Do not confuse a Microsoft Windows XP installation CD with the computer manufacturer's own System Restore CD(s) often supplied with laptop machines. The latter will fix your system by restoring it to exactly how it was when it left the factory - all your own files and any new software that you installed will be destroyed. If you do use the manufacturer's own System Restore CDs, they normally give you a clear screen message that that is what will happen.

If your machine did not come with a Microsoft Windows XP Installation CD, try contacting the supplier or manufacturer for one. Ultimately, you might need to buy a new Windows XP installation CD if you want to do a Repair Installation. Please note that OUCS is unable to supply Windows XP Installation CDs to individuals.

To perform a Repair Installation:

  1. If at all possible, first make a backup copy of your own files if you don't already have one. Although a Repair Install should not affect your own files, it's better to be safe than sorry.
  2. Disconnect your computer from the network.
  3. Boot (i.e. start up) the computer with the Windows XP CD in the CD drive. You may need to change the 'boot order' via the system BIOS so the CD boots before the hard drive. Check your system documentation for how to access the BIOS and change the boot order. If the system is set to boot from CDs, you may see a startup message saying Press any key to boot from CD....
  4. When you see the Windows XP Welcome To Setup screen, you will see the options below:
    This portion of the Setup program prepares Microsoft
       Windows XP to run on your computer:
    
       To setup Windows XP now, press ENTER.
    
       To repair a Windows XP installation using Recovery Console, press R.
    
       To quit Setup without installing Windows XP, press F3.
    
  5. Press <Enter> to start the Windows Setup.
    Note - DO NOT press <R> to choose the option To repair a Windows XP installation using the Recovery Console, press R
  6. Accept the License Agreement. Windows will then search for existing Windows installations.
  7. Select the XP installation you want to repair from the list (there may only be one) and press <R> to start the repair.
    If Repair is not one of the options, you should press <F3> to Quit. This usually means that the version of Windows on the CD does not match the one already installed. If you do proceed to install a fresh copy of Windows rather than repairing an existing one, you will lose access to all the applications you previously had installed (although your own files should be preserved). You will also need to supply the correct Windows licence key for the CD.
  8. Setup will copy all the necessary files to the hard drive and then reboot the system. Do NOT press a key to boot from CD when that message appears.
  9. Reapply all the Windows updates or service packs applied since the initial Windows XP installation. A Repair Installation will remove any service packs later than the ones included in the installation CD. If you are installing Windows XP Service Pack 2, you should do this from a CD rather than by online download (your local IT staff should have a CD for this). Connecting to the network (even for a few seconds) without having reinstalled Windows service packs will immediately expose you to attack. You should also install up-to-date antivirus software before connecting to the network.

8. Reinstalling Windows

If your Windows system is still not starting up correctly, you may need to consider completely re-installing your system. This is a fairly time-consuming exercise as it will probably require you to:

  • Back up your own documents and data
  • Re-install and update Windows
  • Re-install all your applications
  • Restore all your own documents and data

Separate documents are available which cover: