When Windows 2000 won't boot - Page 2

A server crash is always a nightmare. Follow these techniques to track down the source of the problem and get back online as soon as possible.

 By Brien M. Posey
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The Error

Usually, when Windows 2000 won't boot, the OS goes partially through the boot sequence before failing. When the boot process fails, the system will lock up completely, go to a blank screen (or reboot), or generate a blue screen of death. The type of failure can help you to know what to look for. For example, if the system boots to a blank screen, it usually indicates a corrupt or incorrect video driver (or a video driver that's set to the wrong resolution).

If the system continually reboots, it often means that a PCI card has vibrated slightly loose. To fix such a problem, simply take apart the machine and reseat all the PCI cards. After you do so, the computer will usually restart correctly. However, when a card vibrates loose, some of the system's Plug and Play information may get messed up. To correct this problem, boot to Safe Mode and go to the Device Manager. Once in Device Manager, remove any references to the various PCI cards; then reboot the machine and let it redetect the cards.

If the system boots to a blue screen, it's often due to an incorrect driver or a hardware failure. Fortunately, each blue screen contains an error message that points to a specific condition. If you are experiencing a blue screen, your best bet is to check the Windows 2000 Server Resource Kit or to look on the Internet for the meaning of the error you're receiving.

Perhaps the toughest error to correct is one where the system locks up during the boot process. When this happens, it relates to the actual Windows system files. For example, a DLL file may have been accidentally changed to an incorrect version. In such a situation, you should use the System File Checker to correct the problem. We'll discuss the System File Checker in greater detail later on.

Last Known Good

The Last Known Good option is often handy for getting a damaged system up and running quickly. Every time Windows 2000 boots successfully, Windows takes a snapshot of its configuration. During the boot process, Windows presents a message that says Press the Spacebar for Last Known Good Configuration. Pressing the spacebar when you see this message causes Windows to boot using the same configuration it used during the last successful boot.

Safe Mode

When it comes to recovering a server, Safe Mode can be your best friend. If you've ever struggled through fixing a Windows NT 4.0 Server that won't boot, then you can truly appreciate Safe Mode. Safe Mode is an option that loads Windows 2000 using a minimal set of drivers. For example, instead of using your normal video driver, Windows 2000 loads using the standard VGA driver (just like VGA Mode). Safe Mode also disables features such as networking, the CD-ROM drive, and your sound card. You can access Safe Mode by pressing the F8 key as soon as you see the Starting Windows 2000 Server message during Startup. When you do, you'll see the Windows 2000 Boot Menu. The menu contains an option for Safe Mode and a few variations, such as Safe Mode with Networking or VGA Mode.

If Windows 2000 boots in Safe Mode, you can relax--the problem is usually not serious. If the system will boot in Safe Mode but not in Normal mode, it almost always indicates a bad device driver or a hardware conflict. The real trick is diagnosing which hardware device is causing the problem. Begin by looking in your event logs for a clue. If the event logs are no help, you can use the process of elimination. To do so, go into the Device Manager and disable every device that would normally be disabled in Safe Mode. Now, reboot the machine in Normal mode. If the machine boots properly, enable one of the devices that you disabled and reboot. Repeat this process, enabling one device at a time, until you find the device that's causing the problem.

If checking the devices doesn't cure the problem, you can try to use the System File Checker to test the integrity of your critical system files. To do so, go to a command prompt and enter the command sfc /scannow. Doing so will begin the process of testing your critical system files. You can access other System File Checker options with the sfc /? command.

Recovery Console

I discuss the Recovery Console in the article "Repairing Windows 2000 Through The Recovery Console", so I won't go into exhaustive detail here. Briefly, the Recovery Console is a utility that you can use to access the entire system from a command prompt. The Recovery Console is useful for tasks like replacing files that are missing or are the incorrect version. You can also use the Recovery Console to repair logical damage to the hard disk. Because the Recovery Console isn't installed by default, you must have previously installed it to access it, or you can use the Windows 2000 boot floppies to access it.

If you suspect hard-disk damage, simply load the Recovery Console and get to the command prompt. Several available commands are specifically designed for correcting hard-disk corruption issues. For example, the chkdsk /f command is an all-purpose utility that will correct most common hard-disk corruption problems. You can also use the fixmbr command to repair the master boot record. Another handy command is fixboot, which will repair the hard disk's boot sector. Other more potentially destructive commands, such as format and fdisk, are also available.

This article was originally published on Jun 13, 2000
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