Using Safe Mode and Chkdsk to Fix Windows XP Boot Problems

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Windows XP Safe Mode is basically a "stripped down" diagnostic version of Windows, and running it allows for easier trouble shooting and problem identification.

It can be really helpful if your computer won't boot into regular mode. You can use it in conjunction with a built in Windows program called Check Disk to help you recover the full functionality of your computer.

For instance, I recently ran across an issue with a customer's laptop. The laptop would boot up to the Windows login screen. But once the user put in his password and pressed enter, the computer would hang and never load the Windows desktop.

However, if I booted the computer into safe mode, it booted all the way in, and seemed to be fine. This led me to believe that some Windows driver file that loaded during the normal Windows boot process was corrupted.

I tried restoring the computer to the Last Known Good Configuration, but this didn't solve the problem.

I then tried setting the computer back to a previous System Restore Point. (A system restore point is basically a "snap shot" of your computer at some time in the past. If System Restore is turned on, your computer takes these "snap shots" whenever a major change in the computer settings happens.) However, this didn't work either.

Finally, I booted the computer into diagnostic mode. I started a check disk process with the repair option turned on. Check Disk found two corrupted files and fixed them. The computer then was able to boot normally.

Here's the step by step on how I fixed this particular problem:

  1. First, boot the computer into safe mode with command prompt. To do this, start the computer, and immediately begin pressing the F8 key at one second intervals. You may have to press several times until the boot menu comes up.

  2. Use your arrow keys to choose Safe Mode with Command Prompt and press enter.

  3. The computer will begin booting. Lots of weird looking white text will scroll by and then the computer will ask you to login or give you a box saying safe mode is running, etc.

  4. Click Ok to finish loading. A black command window will appear with a c: prompt.

  5. At that c: prompt, type chkdsk c:/r and press enter.

  6. Check disk will start to run but then it will say:

    Chkdsk cannot run because the volume is in use by another process. Would you like to schedule this volume to be checked the next time the system restarts? (Y/N)

    Type Y for yes, and press enter. Then reboot the computer into normal mode. Chkdsk will start when Windows begins loading again. Let all 5 phases run and don't use or turn off the computer. (The chkdsk process may take an hour or more to finish.)

  7. Chkdsk finds any corrupted files that are causing the problem and fixes them. Read the results of each phase as it finishes. During the final phase, it will notify you if it finds any corrupted files.

  8. When the Check Disk is done, it will finish loading Windows.
As you can see from this information, you can use built in Windows tools to easily troubleshoot and repair file corruption issues.
Done with Safe Mode, take me back to Computer Troubleshooting