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I have several problems with a laptop... When I try to boot it doesn't act deterministcally but goes randomly into one of several modes:

  1. Restarting every 4 seconds
  2. Boots up and gets a bluescreen instead of the Windows login screen that demands the password
  3. Starts up normally.

How do I find out what's wrong? Does anyone know what the problem could be?

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Can you boot into safe mode? Try to go into safe mode by pressing F8 repeatedly shortly after you see BIOS messages on the screen. – CoffeeBean Sep 19 '09 at 2:29
wow nondeterministic hardware .. are you using some quantum encryption device perchance? maybe schroedinger's trying to tell you to feed the cat! – quack quixote Oct 4 '09 at 3:25
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The details are a bit sketchy, but maybe these tips will help.

  1. Make sure your RAM is seated securely.

  2. Make sure your system fans are running as expected.

  3. Try running the laptop just using the power adapter without the battery installed.

If you can find any patterns, they can be a big help in determining the issue. For example, if the machine tends to run fine in the morning and tends to have issues after running for a while, that may indicate a heat related failure.

You mention that sometimes the machine starts normally. When it starts normally, does it run without issue until you attempt to reboot it? When it does run into issues, do you just reboot it until it works correctly, or do you have to turn it off for a while?

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See the answers to my question on BSODs - they point to some tools you can run that might reveal what's caused the last crash.

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Need a bit more data before I can give any good advice. In 1), does it get through the bios post before restarting, or does it reboot before it ever tries to start Windows?

Can you try booting with some flavor linux live cd, which may give you a clue to if it's a hardware or software problem? I like to rule out software problems before trying to debug a hardware problem.

Update: Ok, so we can rule out software at this point if it occasionally won't finish post. Because it's a laptop, that makes a few of the common steps impossible.

What I would try is

  1. Reseat your RAM. Depending on the type and number of modules, you could also try with with only one module, then the other, to see if that's part of it.

  2. If you have any modular components such as an ExpressCard or removable wifi module, take it out and see if it does the same thing.

  3. The third would be heat. If this is the culprit, you'll probably find that time of use correlates to the errors you're receiving. Like first thing in the morning it works fine, but after you use it a lot it BSODs. To test this you can use it in a cool place with lots of air flow and see if it makes a difference. Like right in the path of an air conditioning vent.

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As I said above, it doesn't work deterministically. When it does 1), I can't go into the bios. When it does 2) or 3) I can get into the bios. – Christian Sep 19 '09 at 13:55

Use a better OS :)

Now, seriously, you know Windows doesn't have a consistent behavior over time, and any fix you could use would only last temporarily until it gets all wrong again.

You should try to make a strategy to move from it to one of the other two viable options (so far): GNU/Linux and MacOS:

  • First decide which system will you be changing to (personally I love GNU/Linux but it's up to you)
  • Then switch to multi-platform apps on your current system, so you can still get things done when you get to the new one
  • Then try getting used to the new one, Linux has LiveCD you can try, or you can install it or MacOS on a virtual machine
  • And when you are sure you can handle it, make the switch and forget about those blue-screens and windows virus forever.

That's the only long term viable option for your problem.

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-1 ... while another OS from a Live CD might be an option to determine whether we're dealing with faulty hardware, this sort of answer is not appreciated at SU. – Molly7244 Oct 2 '09 at 1:30
Live Linux CD didn't boot either consistently. – Christian Oct 2 '09 at 11:15
Seriously, that's an answer? Learn a new OS because of an isolated problem? – CAD bloke Oct 15 '09 at 2:54
@CAD-bloke isolated? getting bluescreens out of the blue (no pun intended) is a problem that is always hitting Windows. – solarc Oct 18 '09 at 13:56

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