Windows XP goes kaboom?

If you have ever experienced the famous error message: “Windows cannot start because” on your Windows XP machine you can hardly feel worse. You immediately go into panic mode and start to think about the files you have lost. Do not despair, there’s still hope.

There are different types and different definitions of Windows crashes. These are typically boot or startup problems. “Boot” in this context refers to hard drive partition or physical mechanism, and “startup” is software- or file-related. A crash typically happens during a working Windows session. For example, you are in the middle of something, and it crashes on you. A boot or startup error happens when the computer cannot load Windows and presents an error message. It does so either by showing you a black screen – a sign of a configuration or startup error; or a blue screen, a stop, a.k.a. an exception error, or a BSOD (Blue Screen of Death).

The most important thing to remember in a Windows crash is this: DO NOT FORMAT the hard drive. You may attempt to repair it using various third-party utilities or even with the Windows Recovery Console. Using the Recovery Console is a delicate process and you may end up losing your My Documents folder, other data or files. That is why you should avoid any repair attempts or recovery attempts at this point.

The safest root here is to use a data recovery company, like DriveSavers, which has data recovery service outlets in most major U.S. cities like San Diego, Denver, Boston or  Atlanta. See them all listed here. They also offer data recovery service by shipping worldwide.

Only consider the Windows Recovery Console option if you have exhausted other options first and cannot afford to use a professional data recovery company.

In rare instances, formatting the drive may be necessary if all else fails. Follow this list to determine your general course of action;

If Windows XP will not boot (configuration, boot, startup, exception or BSOD) error

If the Windows XP error message relates to a missing file – for example, “Windows could not start because … cannot locate c:\windows\system32” etc. …

If the error message states Windows cannot locate ntldr,

  • You may have success with a copy of ntldr.exe from another similar system (same version of Windows XP including the service pack version) to a floppy, CDR, or a USB memory stick. You will need to boot into Windows XP recovery to access a command prompt to execute the file copy.
  • Use a Windows XP boot CD, or floppy set ( to boot into a command prompt
  • Windows PE (Production Environment) CD. This is a version of Windows that runs entirely off a CD or a DVD. Your computer must have the BIOS set to boot from the CD or DVD drive, however. To access the BIOS, press one of the following keys at power on – DEL, F1, F2, F10, F12. Each manufacturer is different and may have a different BIOS key. This earlier TechnologyTips article can help you How to get into your computer’s BIOS. Look for boot options and set the CD/DVD drive to first in the sequence of devices. The BIOS has instructions on the bottom to allow you to make changes. Make sure you SAVE those changes to the BIOS (read the bottom of the BIOS to see what key to press to save and reboot.
  • Search Google for “Bart PE” and you can download a PE CD builder.
  • Hiren’s Boot CD – a third-party CD created by this individual that contains many utilities for hard drive repair, and file management – among others.

If Windows XP boots, but will not load into the welcome screen,

  • Attempt a safe-mode boot (press F8 repeatedly upon initial computer power on, then using the arrow keys on the keyboard, navigate to Safe Mode, and press ENTER). If Safe Mode fails, repeat the process and select “Last Known Good Configuration” if that still fails, repeat and try “GA Mode”
  • If that does not work, try the Windows XP Recovery Console. The Recovery Console is located on the Windows XP recovery CD. If you do not have one, you may need to contact the manufacturer of your PC and request one. Many brand names manufacturers do not include actual Windows XP CDs. They pre-load the files on the hard drive themselves, instead.

In this case, you may have alternative recovery options. These may be presented to you when you power on the PC.

You can access the typical recovery options by pressing one of the Function keys. Each manufacturer is different, F2, F10, F12 and so on. They will appear on the top, or bottom of the screen when you first turn on the PC. They sometimes go by really quickly, and you may have to power cycle a few times just to read the options available. You may investigate the recovery options, just be aware of the operative “RE” words – Reload, Recover, Restore. These are almost always detrimental to your data. They are designed to “blow away” the hard drive and restore it to factory condition. PC manufacturers create recovery partitions on your hard drive and hide them for emergency. Essentially, they take a portion of your hard drive and store a compressed version of your hard drive when it was new. This is called a recovery partition and is usually hidden from use.

When accessed (by pressing one of the F2, F10, F12 keys) , it decompresses all those files to the portion of the hard drive that you use. This means that the hard drive is formatted and everything is wiped clean. You end up with a factory-new system. All your Windows updates, driver updates, antivirus subscriptions, personal data, bookmarks, favorites, cookies, browsing history and preferences are gone. You are back up and running again – AND if you ran a backup, you could restore your personal data. If you didn’t run a backup, you have to rebuild and customize the computer again to your liking.

Accessing the Windows XP Recovery Console requires you to boot the computer from the Windows XP recovery CD and follow the prompts to “Repair your Windows XP installation using the Recovery Console.”

Note that you will need your administrator’s password to access your system. Have this written down somewhere beforehand, otherwise you’ll have to reset it. Resetting your Windows XP administrator password is an entirely different process. You can use third-party software to do so. It will require a bootable CD that you can purchase or download.

Once you have booted, and subsequently logged into the Recovery Console, you are presented with a DOS-looking command line. There are a number of commands that can assist in repairing startup problems. Here are some of the Microsoft XP Recovery Console Commands. Some examples are: bootcfg, fixboot, fixmbr, chkdsk. Each command has associated help reference. Type the command /? – example chkdsk /? – to access it.