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Here's the problem-

I've got an Optiplex 740 running Windows XP SP3, and it's joined to a domain-- after you power it on, it goes through POST, goes thru the Windows XP logo booting screen... the screen blanks... mouse pointer shows up... then NOTHING. You can move the mouse, but there's no window that prompts you to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to login... nothing.

Tried rebooting in safe mode, same thing-- just get a mouse pointer, no prompts for user login information. Safe mode with command prompt? Nope, just get a mouse pointer.

I grabbed the Windows XP SP3 CD to try a windows recovery, but it keeps bluescreening during the attempt to enter the recovery console.

24 hours of Memtest+ show no apparent issues with the RAM.

How can I proceed in getting this thing to accept user login again?


Three hours of troubleshooting later, we just queued up the bootable DVD with the XP image from Dell ImageDirect. There comes a point where you just have to say move on...

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone. My best guess is corrupted sectors on the hard drive.

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Somehow windows seems to be broken. This could happen at several levels. Lowest is the hard disk. Since it boots somewhat the disk functions mechanically.

Next is the surface of the hard disk. This is my best guess where the problem is. The densities modern HD are so high they depend on features of the disk controller to do a lot of error correction. There is a level of degradation of the surface that is less than total failure but not consistently readable. Tools that correct this must boot from another device to run (USB stick, CD, floppy). The one I use is Spinrite ( Yes it cost money, no there is no demo, but there is a money back guarantee.

Drives at this level can be brought back into useful service depending on the number of errors. Considering how cheap hard drives are, if it does bring it back and you don't trust the drive change it.

Next level is window NTFS and OS themselves. NTFS could be detecting the errors of the level below but not fix it. Once Spinrite has forced drive to move the "bad" sector NTFS may just fix the rest.

If not there are several tools that work once you have bootable OS going. I rarely use them because I have had so much success at the levels below. Get the opinion of those people that us them.

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It's less than a month out of the box, the XP install was one done via Dell's ImageDirect. We're going to watch the drive for errors in the future, and write this off as a bad sector. – Bill B Oct 21 '09 at 0:42

Sounds infected to me. A couple of suggestions if you can:
1. Pull the hard drive and toss it into another computer for a full virus and malware scan. I suggest Avast Antivirus for virus and trojans and Malwarebytes, Spybot, and/or Ad Aware to scan.
2. If this is clean, do a Scandisk and defragment on the drive. Bad sectors may be causing problems.
3. Finally, if all is well for the first two, then likely you have a corrupted Windows install and should re-install with either a repair install to try to get up and running or get your data, or a full re-install to start fresh.

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Wasn't used for internet web browsing or email much, and even then-- only Firefox was used. – Bill B Oct 21 '09 at 0:46

Okay, this might be noobish but: Change the keyboard. Maybe Ctrl or Alt or Del is broken! ;)

Good luck!

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Heh, that happens enough at work that we keep known-good keyboards on a shelf ready to go.... – Bill B Oct 21 '09 at 0:41
It is one of the most frustrating things! ;) – Aaaaaaaaaha ERLEBNIS Oct 22 '09 at 8:08

This has been reported many times as the result of virus infection, but also of too-extensive virus cleanup.

Here is a last-ditch effort: When you see the black screen with the cursor, press the shift key 5 times.
You should hear a noise, and if you're lucky you will get a popup asking if you want to turn sticky keys on. If you do, click the link in the center that says "go to the ease of access center to disable the keyboard shortcut". This will open a new window. In this window, you can type c: into the address bar and you will get an Explorer window. You can either navigate to c:\windows and launch explorer.exe, or to c:\windows\system32 and launch cmd.exe.

If you manage to get to explorer, launch a virus scan (after updating the virus database).

If you can't, try a live-CD virus scanner : see this article for pointers to quite a few such CDs.

If all fails, but you can get to the cmd console, launch sfc /scannow, to scan all protected files and verify their integrity, replacing any files with which it finds a problem (be careful to give it a Windows CD that matches your service-pack).

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Safe mode w/command prompt wouldn't do anything. We're writing it off as a total fluke. – Bill B Oct 21 '09 at 0:50

Tested and working:

I boot with Hiren's Boot CD (or other live Win XP in my case) and Startcmdchkdsk [drive where windows is installed] /f. For example: chkdsk c: /f

This command will repair bad system files.

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