Windows XP: Fix Startup / Shutdown Problems

My PC reboots by itself and warnings have appeared asking me to run Chkdsk, the Windows XP hard-disk-drive diagnostic utility

Problem

My desktop PC sometimes reboots of its own accord. Recently, at startup, dire warnings appeared asking me to run Chkdsk with a surface scan. It has quality components – a 350W power supply from quietpc.com, an Asus A7NX8 Deluxe motherboard and an AMD Athlon XP 3200+ processor. It seems to be getting worse with time. I have tested the AC mains power cable with a continuity meter, and removed and reseated the memory modules, the hard-disk-drive power connector and connection to the motherboard. The hard drive is a Samsung SP1213N, so I tested it with Samsung’s hard-drive diagnostic utility, which reported no problems. The surface scan performed by Chkdsk was successful. I have also removed and replaced the silicone heatsink compound between the processor and the cooling unit.

Answer

It is advisable to begin by removing all of the removable components connected to the motherboard (memory modules, modem, video, sound, network cards, etc.) so that you can clean their contact points and then reseat them. You should also inspect the motherboard’s capacitors, which are the large cylindrical objects wired to it, for any signs of bulging or leakage. The capacitors regulate the power supply to components such as the memory modules. If one or more of them are failing or failed, voltage drops can occur that make the computer reboot.

Spontaneous reboots can also be caused by software, such as a corrupt or bad device driver. To make sure that this is not the case, try booting the system from a CD/DVD with its own bootable operating system. To boot the system from a CD means having the CD/DVD drive set as the first boot device in the BIOS. You could try using the free Ubuntu Linux from ubuntu.com. Its boot disc is an ISO file that is burned to a recordable DVD disc and in that form becomes a boot disc or an installation disc. Ubuntu Linux can be run from its boot disc or installed from it. When Ubuntu is run from its disc it installs nothing.

Many brand-name PCs, including most Dell PCs, come with built-in diagnostics that bypass Windows. A particular brand-name PC’s diagnostic software can also be provided on a CD.

The Ultimate Boot CD from ultimatebootcd.com contains several diagnostic programs and is self-booting.

It could be difficult to determine the cause of the rebooting if the computer only reboots once a day. In any case, if you have the Ultimate Boot CD, run its memory tester. You might have to leave it running all day or longer to find out if the reboots were caused by hardware. Just remember to set the CD/DVD drive to the first boot device in the BIOS so that the system boots from the CD that you created. If necessary, visit the BIOS section of this site for information on how to do that.

If your computer reboots while running any of these options, you then know that the problem is hardware-related, not software-related. If the computer runs utilities without rebooting, then the problem is being caused in Windows by software, such as a bad device driver. If the cause is a bad driver, it could be fixed by downloading an installing the latest drivers for all of computer’s devices from their manufacturer’s sites. Some computers provide live driver updates. For example, laptop or desktop computers that are made by MSI, or which have an MSI motherboard, have the MSI Live Update feature that scans the system for updates and allows you to choose which drivers to install. You run the utility while online. It shows the version that is installed and the online version. If the online version has a higher number, an update is available that you should install. You can also make use of Microsoft Update, which provides Windows updates and third-party drivers, and and the free Belarc Advisor from belarc.com, which can be used to identify the hardware (and software) installed on a computer, including the Windows XP Product Key.

If one or more reboots occurs while the alternative operating system is running, you have to look for a hardware cause. If the power cable that connects the computer to the mains supply is old, replacing it may fix the problem. The connector that fits into the back of the computer can often be loose-fitting and not make good contact. Moreover, the fuse holder that holder a fuse in the 13A plugs used in the UK can be the source of another improper connection.

Since Windows was insisting on performing a surface scan on the hard disk drive, it could not read or write to a particular area or areas of the drive. During the scan, it marks any unusable clusters as bad so that the system won’t use them. It also attempts to move data from them. The Event Viewer logs should provide useful details. You can bring it up by entering eventvwr.msc in the Start => Run box.

You can use the MHDD utility on the Ultimate Boot CD to check the hard drive for intermittent lockups that Chkdsk or the drive manufacturer’s diagnostic utility didn’t detect. (You can also download MHDD as a free diagnostic utility from hddguru.com.)

However, note that it is possible but rare for a hard-drive problem to cause a computer to reboot; such a problem is far more likely to cause a computer to lock up. It is far more likely that faulty memory or a faulty motherboard or processor has created a corrupt command that has been sent to the hard disk drive, thereby creating an apparent but not actual disk error that is causing the computer to reboot.

The computer is getting into its old age, so a hardware problem of some sort is not unlikely. If the problem is being caused by a faulty power supply, motherboard, processor, or memory, the only way for a home user to find out which component is responsible is to take the computer’s base unit to a reputable computer repair shop, or swap those components with known good ones until the culprit is discovered.

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