XP Boot Blues

bsod The community college where I teach issued me a laptop. Actually, a Tablet PC, the HP 2710p. I use it for teaching and as the chair of the college’s Technology committee.

The 2710p’s OS is XP. College IT has stayed away from Vista. Can’t say I blame them. However, XP isn’t perfect either.

Recently the 2710p would blue screen during start up. I tried safe mode and last known good configuration. Neither worked. Same result; blue screen of death during start up.

I could ask the college’s IT department to fix this problem. They’re certainly competent to do so. However, due to California state budget issues, we have only 9 IT staff for a college with almost 20,000 students, hundreds of faculty, hundreds of staff, and millions of administrators (just kidding about the last part, but there’s lots of them too). Obviously the IT staff is overwhelmed. And let’s face it, my problem would be a low priority. It just affects me, while there are other problems that affect tens or hundreds of students or employees. Besides, I’m a computer science professor. I’m supposed to know how to fix these issues.

One problem at the get go. I did not receive from the college the XP discs with the 2710p. I understand why, but the lack of XP discs remained. Fortunately, I have lots of computers, and some came with XP discs. Not exactly the same one that came with the 2710p. However, I figured “XP is XP” so “close enough for government work.”

How to Perform a Windows XP Repair Install is a classic resource. I tried the recommended procedure of choosing setup rather than repair. I got to Step 5: “Select the XP installation you want to repair from the list and press R to start the repair. If Repair is not one of the options, END setup.” Guess what? Repair was not an option. So I ended setup.

Plan B was choosing repair instead of setup. I tried bootcfg from the command prompt with the /list switch. Nothing listed as bootable. I then tried the /scan switch. Error message: “Failed to successfully scan disks for Windows installations. This may be caused by a corrupt file system, which prevents boot.cfg from successfully scanning. Use chkdsk to detect any disk errors.” I then tried bootcfg with the /rebuild switch. Same result.

I ran chkdsk. However, I wasn’t very hopeful. I had already ran SpinRite at level 2 and that excellent utility reported zero errors. So there likely was not a problem with the hard drive. Sure enough, chkdsk reported no problems, but bootcfg still didn’t list any bootable partition, and couldn’t scan or rebuild.

This pointed to a problem with the boot sector or file. My choices were fixboot or fixmbr. fixboot writes a new boot sector onto the system partition. fixmbr repairs a master boot record (MBR). Since no boot options were listed, I chose fixboot. When that completed, I tried bootcfg /list. That didn’t list anything. But bootcfg /rebuild now worked. I rebooted, and in the words of our immediate past President, “Mission accomplished!”

I still don’t know what corrupted the boot record or file. Probably never will know. Actually, I was lucky. The articles listed below under Resources indicate it could have been much worse.

Waxing philosophical in the afterglow of my victory (albeit temporary) over the forces of corruption (boot corruption that is), I had two final observations.

First, what does the average user do in situations like this? This wasn’t that easy for me, and this is my profession. Even if you have an IT department, they’re often overburdened like ours is.

Second, I found all of the necessary information quickly through Google searches. The ability to research solutions is an important skill. Indeed, it is one I try to teach my students. When they have a computer question, I often won’t answer it directly. Instead, I will help them research it. Often my students will ask me, with some frustration, why I won’t just tell them the answer rather than make them go through the extra time and work of researching. I respond with the famous quote of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism: “Give a man a fish; feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; feed him for a lifetime.” To which one student replied: “I don’t want to fish. I want to fix my computer.” Whatever.


Windows XP Crashed? Here’s Help
Langa Letter: XP’s No-Reformat, Nondestructive Total-Rebuild Option
10 things you can do when Windows XP won’t boot

10 Responses to “XP Boot Blues”

  • Jeff,

    Excellent analysis, better then in any books “For dummies”.
    I would use it, but unfortunately I need to do all other tasks such as reviewing TechPlan, filling out the tables, dealing with the Management Company, etc.

  • Hi Yefrem. For everyone else, Yefrem is the beleaguered head of our college’s IT department. What Yerfrem is alluding to is that, in addition to his other duties, he also has to fill out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork, which obviously takes away from his time to do his actual job. However, I’m not sympathetic. As the chair of the college’s Technology Committee, I too have to fill out a bunch of bureaucratic paperwork. So on the theory of misery loves company, if I have to suffer, so does he 🙁

  • Jeff,
    An inspiring tale of courage and tenacity in the face of technological challenges! Bravo!

    I was most impressed at the applied andragogy at the end and your use of the Zen in teaching. When all of our students have laptops and our IT departments are well-staffed (both eventualities not in the realm of the impossible, I hope), we can really move forward with teaching and learning.

    Thanks for the great read.

  • Hmmm … wasn’t sure what to make of “andragogy.” Following my advice to my students, I did a Wiki search and found:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andragogy. So I guess it’s OK 🙂

  • Jeff,

    I too apply Zen to teaching. “Whatever my students learn in my class, is what they were supposed to learn.” Or is it, “Whatever I was able to cover in class was what was supposed to be covered.”

    In any case, I seem to blame Zen for my shortcomings.


  • Jim, you may wish to switch from Zen to Dan Quayle, in whose immortal words: “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind.”

  • As a Power User I would have run spinrite.
    Then backup and restore.:)
    Advise; Run Linux.

  • SpinRite is a great product. As my post reflects, I ran it at Level 2 and there were no errors. This time a different solution was necessary. But last night I ran into a situation that SprinRite may solve. But that would be another post …

    As for Linux, that too may be another post … stay tuned.

  • I found your blog doing a search for PC repair.

    Interesting. I wish I could help more with the discussion.
    I solved my problem so my systems are working fine at the moment.

  • Interesting. Just pulled up your blog post doing a search for XP repair.

    I like XP but it can be tough to fix sometimes. (But it is still easier for me to understand than NT!)

    Thanks for posting.

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