Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

A machine that fails on boot is hard to diagnose long distance. There are two typical problem areas to look at first.

I have Windows 7 Professional, SP 1, 64 bit. I do all of the recommended updates. At about 50% of the time when I reboot on startup, the process hangs. I get the normal blue Windows 7 screen, but it never goes all the way to the login. The mouse pointer will move around the screen, but I'm not able to take any other action. I know of no other way to escape the situation than to power off with a hard shut down and when I restart, things usually progress normally, although I often have to restart from the black screen, "You didn't shut down Windows normally" or something like that. My understanding is that it's bad to shut my PC down that way, but I've found no other method to get things up and running again. I run Avira and Malwarebytes so hopefully my problem isn't related to a virus or malware. Any idea what might be going on with my system?

In this excerpt from Answercast #38, I look at a machine that's failing on boot and offer a few suggestions that may help isolate the problem.

Hangs on boot

Unfortunately, this particular symptom turns out to be incredibly difficult to diagnose remotely. I am going to throw out a couple of guesses, but in reality, they are just that; semi-educated guesses. There are two things I would consider:

  • One is a failing hard disk or hard disk that's on its way out.

Disk repair

One thing you might want to do is grab a copy of SpinRite and run SpinRite on that hard disk.

Here's my thinking: If a sector on the hard disk is going bad, then sometimes what can happen is, if it's in the right spot, it can be an intermittent kind of thing that could impact your ability to start the machine.

We've seen machines, or I've heard of machines, that have experienced exactly what you're seeing that a run of SpinRite will actually resolve (I shouldn't really say that the hard disk is going bad because the hard disk itself may be just fine after a run of SpinRite). But that's one of the things that comes to mind.

The good news about SpinRite is that, even though it is a $95 dollar program, if it doesn't help you they have a money-back guarantee.

Device drivers

The other approach that comes to mind is:

  • What's going on, when Windows is starting at that point, is it's in the process of loading drivers.

  • It's basically firing up all of the software that would interact with all the different pieces of hardware that are included on – or attached to – your computer.

So, one of the things that I would typically do in a case like this, is disconnect everything that's optional. Particularly external USB devices (anything that you don't need to keep the computer running) and see if that makes the problem go away.

That doesn't necessarily implicate the device drivers for those pieces of hardware, but they certainly cast some suspicion.

  • One by one, I would reattach those devices and then see if the problem returns.

  • As soon as it seems to return, associated with one specific device, then I would take a look at both the drivers for that device and the device itself.

I certainly would make sure that you have the latest and greatest drivers for that specific device; if it turns out to be something that you can isolate that way.

Numerous other possibilities

Otherwise, unfortunately, there's a raft of other things that could be affecting your system at startup time. Everything:

  • From heating.

  • To the power supply.

  • To memory.

  • To intermittent connections on the machine's motherboard.

It's really, really difficult to say. My money is actually on something software related with respect to the drivers.

The hard disk is an easy one to test. But otherwise, I'll probably end up suggesting that you have a technician take a look at the machine in person.

Next from Answercast 38 – How do I get rid of this pop-up ad?

Article C5622 - July 25, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 25, 2012 5:30 PM

Hard shutdowns could damage or corrupt system files. A system file checker scan sfc /scannow from an elevated command prompt wouldn't hurt.

Jim de Graff
July 27, 2012 9:29 AM

While disconnecting external devices is easy, other devices might be more difficult. I would suggest using detailed boot logging. In both XP and Windows 7, this can be enabled via msconfig. Go to the "Boot" tab. Under XP select the SOS option. Under Windows 7 select "OS Boot Information". Drivers will be listed to the screen as they are loaded during boot. Typically the last driver listed (when everything grinds to a halt) will identify the problem device. Of course, that is if a device or device driver is the cause of the problem.

July 27, 2012 9:34 AM

Tough one - If it was me I would check the disk per Leo's instructions then backup and reinstall if the issue isn't resolved. If a bare install boots correctly, backup and start adding drivers and software making note of any changes in behavior. Good luck!

bob price
July 27, 2012 2:04 PM

Like Mary above, I would try to resolve this with msconfig. On the first tab, General, click the third circle, Selective Startup, and then UNcheck the boxes below that line. Unless you have a hard ware problem, this should help you find the problem. If this boots successfully a few times., then use the other tabs to disable things a few at a time until you find the culprit.

July 27, 2012 5:35 PM

I had this problem. I found out it was a mean ol' gremlin in an USB hub, not what was plugged in. I keep it unplugged until after the boot sequence is finished, then it works just fine. I just about went nuts before I figured it out.
My advice - try everything two or three times, maybe your tongue IS in the wrong corner of your mouth.

Jurgen Heim
July 28, 2012 5:49 AM

Tried it ! wiped my connections

I have a similar problem on more than one PC

Anyone with contacts should take it up with M/soft
Its software incompatability on Microsoft side
Win 7 64 bit sucks

July 31, 2012 7:06 PM

I also have the issue/problem of W7 not wanting to boot, it hangs on the Toshiba start-up screen. This happens about 25% of the time, and sometimes I get the VERY loud beeping sounds. This is probably not the best answer but (It works for me) if I tap the ESC key once, W7 fires right up.

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