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I have a Windows 7 Ultimate computer. No bizarre software or services installed: drivers, Office, LogMeIn, Steam, Dropbox, Eclipse, PyCharm--pretty standard stuff. I use it for software development, managing files on NAS network drives, and gaming. The "startup" section in msconfig has literally four programs in it: iTunes daemons and the ATI driver utility.

The computer has a Core i7 processor and an ATI/AMD Radeon 6950 graphics card. No weird hardware devices or configuration.

Recently (though not after any major update or software install), Windows Explorer stopped working on boot. When I power the computer on, I get to the logon screen, enter my password, and then arrive at a black screen with my mouse pointer. Most common keyboard commands do not cause anything to occur.

The workaround to start explorer is to tap SHIFT 5 times, at which point a "Sticky Keys" prompt is presented, navigate to the control panel from the link in that prompt, from there navigate to and open the Task Manager, get a "Run" prompt, and run "explorer.exe". After this, my desktop appears normally. There are a few problems using this workaround:

  • It's a massive hassle.
  • No Aero or OS-level graphical effects (games and other acceleration-requiring programs work normally).
  • Control panel "All Items" screen is empty. I have to locate control pannel widgets myself (by path or "Run" command).
  • No task tray icons for programs that are running but backgrounded.

The problem does not occur in Safe Mode.


Short of binary-searching through my services, or reinstalling the OS, how would I go about isolating/addressing the cause of this problem? Are there any likely culprits?

What I've Tried:

  • Hard disk error check. None found.
  • Memtest86. All good.
  • Microsoft/Windows update. Installed all driver/OS updates. No change in symptoms.
  • Checking the Services control panel for anything that looked odd: disabled things that shouldn't be, unfamiliar services that were running. Everything looks normal, nothing unrecognizable or strange.
  • Checked the startup items tab in msconfig. Very little there, nothing strange, no important services disabled.
  • Rebooted from Safe Mode. In Safe Mode, Windows Explorer starts properly. Rebooting from there into normal mode does not resolve the issue.
  • Rolled back my graphics driver, test booted (same symptoms), reinstalled latest version of graphics driver. Issue still occurs.
  • BIOS settings inspection and reset. No change in symptoms. The BIOS is the latest version.
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