Thursday, September 26, 2013

Windows XP hangs on startup

One of several things I'm working on at the moment is migrating people from Windows XP to Windows 7. There's various ways to go about this but we are in the main provisioning new PCs and manually bringing the data over - I'd rather not use Microsoft's tool to bring settings as we often take this sort of equipment change as an opportunity for a bit of a fresh start, with bookmarks and documents being re-imported later.

One particular PC (Dell Latitude E6420, BIOS A08) decided on the very morning it was to be replaced to stop booting, even in Safe Mode/Command Prompt. Diagnostics and a chkdsk /R found nothing. There were longer than usual delays to bring up an F12 (choose boot device) menu.

We had a backup of the data on it but it wasn't fresh because the user had been away from the office for a time. It seemed to me to be worth having a go at to get a better copy.

Booting to XP Recovery Console to try and knock out some services or drivers was abandoned because the CD hung at "Setup Is Starting Windows". My luck being what it was, none of my bootable media for DOS with HIMEM.SYS enabled were working so I could upgrade the BIOS. Here's what I did based on a survey of similar issues on the internet:

  1. Removed the hard drive
  2. Switched the disk mode from ATA to AHCI and installed Windows 7 on another drive (no problem there) and at the first opportunity upgraded the BIOS to A19 (step 1/2 not needed presumably if my usual boot media had allowed me to do the upgrade)
  3. Reinstalled the XP hard drive, restored ATA disk mode (the XP image wasn't built with the Intel AHCI driver)
  4. In BIOS - disabled USB, NIC eSATA, free fall accelerometer and so on
  5. At this point I was able to get the full F8 menu in Windows XP which I had not previously (just the "Windows did not start normally" basic options of Safe Mode, Last Known Config etc.) Again on the premises that a device driver might be at issue, I booted in VGA mode to bypass the display driver.

The laptop booted to Windows XP and permitted a logon. This left me with a bit of a quandary - I had disabled the NIC along with the other stuff. I opted to remove the data with a USB stick instead of chancing a reboot.

It would be nice to know what broke here but given that the machine is being deprecated anyway I don't have the time to invest. Hopefully someone will get some ideas for a similar future issue from the above.