My girlfriend have a laptop running Windows XP – or, well, it used to run Windows XP. Right now it does nothing at all. When booting the machine, it gets past the Windows splash screen fine, and the user logon dialog is displayed. At this point, it seems like an elf within Windows starts an egg-clock, getting ready to freeze the image on the screen when it runs out of time.

If I login right away, the desktop will load, and I will have enough time to expand the start menu and hit a random button before Windows locks up. If, on the other hand, I am busy drawing unicorns on my sketch pad, the elf will get impatient and freeze the login dialog on the screen instead.

From the little I know about Windows troubleshooting, I know about the super-secret boot menu which can be called forth by tapping F8 repeatedly just before the Windows splash screen. This has allowed me to boot the machine into "safe mode" and "safe mode with networking". Apparently, the elf doesn't know about this backdoor.

So, I am in "safe mode" now. What can I do here? If I understand "safe mode" correctly, it avoids loading third-party drivers that might bring the system down. Are there any log files I can review, searching for elf nests or misbehaving drivers? Or should I simply pick a random device and uninstall it from the device manager, reboot into "unsafe mode" and repeat if it didn't help?

Formatting and reinstalling Windows is of course an option, but I would really like to avoid having to spend days installing and configuring software…

  • Does the mouse freeze too? Is everything frozen? Does the power button still work? – Mehrdad May 16 '11 at 7:23
up vote 6 down vote accepted

Yes, there are logs where problems are supposed to be recorded when they occur. Although in the case of a complete freeze, it is unlikely that the computer had any chance of recording anything.

Still, you can access these logs by right-click My Computer and clicking Manage. You will find the Event Viewer in the tree view on the left hand side.

There are 3 logs that you can look at, but you problably want to start with the System Log.

Normally in these cases, while in safe mode I use the msconfig tool to disable most things that would start automatically. You can access this tool by typing msconfig in the Run command. Start by disabling most things and see if you can boot in normal mode. If you can, start re-enabling some items until you can't boot anymore. Use this to find out which component is causing the issue.

  • Nothing interesting in the event log, but using the msconfig technique, I have managede to identify the problem: The "Windows Management Instrumentation" service. Windows seems to be happy again, now that the service is disabled. Thanks :) – Jørn Schou-Rode May 16 '11 at 19:33

If you have a potential bug it would be wise to boot into safe mode with network access and download an anti-virus package. I have used avast with some luck in the past - it is free and will prompt you to reboot the machine and allow it to do a pre-boot virus scan. This may be a good first step to fixing your freezing issue.

If you are certain that the issue lies with a bad driver you can boot to safe mode and check out your device manager to look for any windows alerts and uninstall any misbehaving device drivers.

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