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That was very strange. Last night, I shut down successfully, and I haven't installed any new software in days. In fact, the only thing I've installed recently was a Firefox update. This morning, I tried getting on my laptop and was met with a BSOD and the Windows 7 system repair utility.

Anyway, long story short, a system restore solved the problem (or the symptoms but not the underlying cause? I don't know). I would like to know what was giving me so much trouble.

What can I use to find out?

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Did you do a checkdisk? It could be that your hard drive is failing. I would check asap. –  Xavierjazz Oct 30 '10 at 16:32

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Chkdsk and some memtest-application could maybe give you some idea. If you are really lucky you can find some entry in the Event viewer.

My guess is that the registry got (more or less) spontaneously corrupt, which I've seen happen on other computers. This has the exact same symptoms as you describe.

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You're right, I used an application recently that did some work with the registry and the system restore went to a point before that happened. Whoops. Thanks! –  Corey Oct 30 '10 at 16:43

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