WIN XP Tips

© Brooke Clarke 2005

Background
Log
Symptoms
msconfig
    Boot.Ini Log File 
chkdsk
    Chkdsk Needed Improvements
    CHKDSK /F Not much use
Win XP Repair
Service Pack 2
Ghost
Back Ups

Background

For the last couple of weeks I have been having problems with my WIN XP Home SP2 computer.  There were two main causes of these problems:

Log

23 Sep 2005 - using the methods below the 160 GB C: drive appeared to be working, but the next day it was not.
24 - 25 Sep 2005 trying to recover the 160 GB drive. 
            
26 Sep 2005 Using 80 GB drive for this update.   A few days ago my thinking was that the 160 GB drive had been damaged some months ago and once repaired would be OK.  Now it looks like the damage has caused an application to be corrupted and that application is doing more damage to the NTFS when it runs.  The two most likely applications are Norton System Works and/or Starbnad, since these are running all the time.
Plan is to boot into Safe Mode and remove Starband and Norton System Works and set msconfig for a clean boot.  Then in normal mode boot and reinstall NSW and Starband.

After 3 passes through Recovery Console CHKDSK /R the 160 GB drive passes, but locks up during Windows repair at "saving settings".
Will try the repair again.

26 Sep 2005 5:09 pm - After a number of passes with WinXp Recovery Console CHKDSK and a WinXP Repair install from the CD I'm now up and running in SP1a (the CD-ROM version).  To get here I have used Add/Remove programs to remove Norton System Works and Starband (plus a number of other programs).  This does not mean the boot freeze problem is fixed.  To find out the computer needs to be run for a number of days and CHKDSK used to see if errors come back.

27 Sep 2005 - Problem Solved.  After buying a new 200 GB hard drive the install frooze at about 80% of the file coyping.  My computer dealer had the same result, but by connecting the drive directly to the cable (i.e. not using the drawer) it worked OK.  When I got the computer home it locked up.  After trying a number of combinations I changed the hard drive cabling to be:
Primary -----[no connection]--------C: drawer (and installed a new drawer)
Secondary ----[CD-DVD]---------E: drawer
After this change the 160 MB drive started working.
So all these problems were probably caused by a bad electrical connection between the drive cable and the drawer.  For more on what goes wrong see Hints and Tips.

28 Sep 2005 - still working.

Symptoms

Computer freezes during normal operation or freezes during boot.

Microsoft Configuration (msconfig)

In msconfig if you do a clean boot and can boot into the disktop but without the Clean Boot you can not get to the disktop, then there's a problem in one of the msconfig files.  To work with msconfig when you can not get to the desktop, use "F8" during startup to get into Safe Mode (administrator).  Do a Clean Boot in msconfig by turning off , SYSTEM.INI, WIN.INI and Load Startup Items, and in the Services tab click "Hide all Microsoft Services" then click on "Disable All".  This leaves only the microsoft services.  Then Apply, Close, Restart.  See:
Microsoft - How to perform a clean boot in Windows XP -

If you can boot in "Clean Boot" mode and can not boot otherwise, then one of the items that was turned off is causing the problem.  Try turing on SYSTEM.INI and try again, if you can boot then try turning on WIN.INI, if you can boot then try turning on all services by clicking on the grayed out check box to clear it and again to place a check mark there.  If you can still boot try turning on startup services (since this is the last one, doing this will put you back to normal startup).  Once you know which file is causing problems you can edit that file (click on the tab with the same name) and only turn on half the items and try again, then half of those, etc. until you find the one causing the problem.  In my case it was a file associated with Acrobat in the startup items list that was the problem. 

The fix for me was to upgrade to Acrobat 7 (full version).

Boot.Ini Log File

In msconfig under the Boot.ini tab you can turn on a log file.  The name of the file is ALWAYS:
NTBTLOG.TXT
This means that after a failed boot, if you boot again the log file gets overwritten.  In order to see the log file you need to:
  1. write down the time you start or restart your computer so that you can confirm that the log file is the correct one
  2. Use the WinXP install CD to get into Recovery Console (which does NOT overwrite the NtBtLog.txt file) and look for the log file using the DIR command in the (default) Windows: folder.  The date-time stamp should be very close to the start time of the failed boot attempt.  My file size was about 10.7 MB.  I renamed (REN file.old file.new) the file BootLog09262005_1558.txt.
It would be nice if the Boot.Ini file was named with a date-time stamp and put in a folder called Boot_Log.

Check Disk (chkdsk)

The problem with running chkdsk (or Norton Disk Doctor) from Win XP is that it will not check files that are being used by Windows.  You can get around this problem by using the chkdsk that's part of the Recovery Console on the WIN XP install CD-ROM.

WARNING - do not get creative in the Recovery Console since you can do damage here that you can't do in other places, so if you're not a programmer don't fool around with Recovery Console.

In Recovery Console when I just ran: chkdsk with no parameters, it looked at my C: drive and said there were no problems so it did not acutally run any tests. 

By using the /p switch like this: chkdsk c: /p it forces tests to be run.  Looking close at the test report there are lines that said something like:
. . . .
CHKDSK is performing additional checks or recovering...
CHKDSK is performing additional checks or recovering...
CHKDSK is performing additional checks or recovering...
CHKDSK found one or more errors on the volume.
160000000 kilobytes total disk space
80000000 kilobytes are availble.


Note that the error report is almost hidden in the results!  Now running chkdsk with the Repair switch like this:
chkdsk c: /R  (implies /p and) makes repairs.  On my 160 GB drive this took about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

Note you can NOT use a WIN98 floppy version of chkdsk becasue that's for the FAT16 or FAT32 file systems and Win XP uses the  NTFS file system.

CHKDSK in Recovery Console Needes Improvements

The main problem with CHKDSK in Recovery Console is that you can not tell if it's locked up.  My computer has 3 external fans and 2 internal fans and there's no way to hear a track to track disk change.  You can hear massive changes.  CHKDSK has the disk access LED turned on solid so there's no blinking light to let you know it's alive.  As far as I can tell you might need to wait 15 minutes for the display to change by 1 %, but in some cases I've waited 30 minutes without any change to the display, and have at that point powered down Recovery Console.
Need #0 - A way to tell that CHKDSK is running
Need #0 - A wat to abort CHKDSK without using the Power switch.
Need#1 - Some indication of the URL/file.name being worked on to get a clue as to where the problem is.  A good way to do this would be to have a /F option that would write a File whose name contained the date+time the file was written prefixed by Chkdsk. 
Need#2 - a Verbose mode that would tell more about what was being done.

CHKDSK /F Not much use

When you run ChkDsk from Win XP normal mode or Safe Mode it will check but NOT repair.  The message says something like set the /F Fix flag so that ChkDsk will run in Fix mode at the next startup.  But there are problems:
  • If the next start up is in Safe Mode ChkDsk runs without any on screen display so you will not know what happened.
  • If the next start up is normal mode the screen showing the results will disappear before you can read it.
So there's not much point in setting the /F flag for Fix.  Better to just go into Recovery Console and use ChkDsk there with the /R switch.

Win XP Repair

Prior to running Recovery Console or Win XP Repair disconnect the printer, LAN and any other digital I/O device.  You can leave the mouse, keyboard, monitor, speaker and audio/telephone cables connected.

You should run chkdsk from the Recovery Console prior to running this repair.

When you boot with the Win XP install CD-ROM, it loads a minimal operating system, similar to DOS, but compatible with Win XP.  At the first screen you select install Win XT (not Recovery Console) and at the next screen it will find  that you already have Win XP and offer to attempt a repair.  This repair should not touch your applications, it just reinstalls the Windows files.  This is great because when it works you don't need to reinstall all your software. 

If you have problems with the repair you can run it again and again.  If it appears too have a problem you might be able to fix it by starting over and entering the Recovery Console (select R on the first page), on my system there was only one system entry like:
1. Windows XP
for my case the administrator password is not defined, so just press enter works.
so I entered 1 <return> and then
exit
to restart.  After the restart try the repair install again.

During the installation of devices you may be asked for some file.  The dialog box has a drop down menu with a number of possible paths to the desired file.  Also note that the file name is predefined so that when you open a folder instead of seeing a bunch of files, you will only see the desired file if it's there.  A simple thing to try is to select each of the already existing paths that start with C: and most of the time you will find the file.  Otherwise you will need to use the installation disks that go with your hardware.

You will need your Win XP product key as part of this process.  In my case it was on a sticker on the computer.  I copied it to the envelope holding the CD making it much easier to read then crawling under the table an using a flashlight to read the sticker.

You also may need to "activate Windows" and this can be done over the phone by speaking the required numbers.

Note:  I was running the repair with a bad NTFS file system and had all kinds of problems that probably would not have been there if I had run chkdsk in Recovery Console first.

Service Pack 2

My Win XP install disk was done for SP1a but I'm running SP2.  After the Win XP Repair a convenient way to update to SP2 is to have a great majority of the SP2 files on your hard disk.  This can be done by downloading the SP2 file from:
Microsoft - Windows XP Service Pack 2 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers
file name: WindowsXP-KB835935-SP2-ENU.exe
Then just execute the file.  Since I did the repair a number of times this came in very handy.

After installing SP2 and rebooting, then go to START \ Windows Update and get the automatic update notification software, install it, and restart.  Then the update icon will come on and you can get the updates that are not in the large file above.

Note if you have downloaded updates but not installed them, when you restart or shut down, Win Xp will install the updates as part of the shut down process, so pay attention to the messages and do NOT force a power down while this is going on.

Note:  In general it's a good idea to download any file that's for updating your computer into it's own folder in the Downloads & Misc folder.  That way if you need it again you will already have it.  I have benefited from this many times.

Using Ghost "Disk to Disk" in Win XP

Win XP is not based on DOS like WIN98.  So when the BIOS finishes, it checks for floppy and/or CD/DVD disks and if there are none it starts Win XP.  I think in the first few milli seconds it looks at all the drives and if it sees two drives with Primary Active partitions the drive that is not the one that was used for the current boot has it's ID changed in such a way to make it non bootable.  This messes up other things.  I think that this is one of the problems I was having.

Star Band (2-way satellite internet connection) is constantly writing to the hard drive and if Ghost 9 is used from inside windows the results are unstable. Symantec recommends that if any application has disk write capability and it is in use that you use Ghost 2003 from DOS.  But there's a problem with Ghost 2003 and Win XP.  See the above paragraph. 

The solution is to use a floppy disk to boot into Ghost 2003.  It may be a good idea to not press "exit" but rather power down the computer to prevent Win XP from running.  The following web page suggests that after Ghost 2003 runs it will return to PC-DOS, which would be safe.  I'll know shortly.

Symantec  - How to perform a disk-to-disk clone - "WARNING: Do not start the computer after cloning until the instructions say to do so. Booting a computer from the hard drive when the computer has two hard drives with Primary Active partitions can damage program installations and trigger configuration changes on both source and destination that you might not be able to reverse without restoring from backups."

Warning - before actually trying a boot from a floppy disk with two hard drives with Primary Active partitions connected first try booting with only the C: drive connected.  This way if the floppy fails to boot you will not end up in Win XP with two drives causing a problem. 

Another thing that can be done is to use the "format" command from a floppy and with only the target hard drive connected, format it to erase everything prior do doing the clone.  This way if there is an accident and both drives are seen by Win XP there will be no problems.

For a belt and suspenders approach setup the BIOS boot order to be:  Floppy Disk, CD-DVD then hard drive.  Put in the Ghost 2003 floppy disk AND put in a bootable CD or DVD disk.  If the floppy fails to boot the CD will save you from going into Win XP.  I like this better than formatting the target drive.

No DOS

WIN 98 and earlier versions of home op systems were built on top of DOS.  WIN XP is it's own system and there's no underlying DOS.
This has all kinds of implications in that you can no longer run any DOS utilities.  The only thing that comes close is the "Recovery Console".
Maybe someone will make some utility programs that can be use with a WIN XP disk drive?

Thoughts on Back Ups

Over the years I have used a number of different methods for backing up computer data.  I looked into RAID and it's a transparent (read easy) way to protect against hard drive failures.  RAID also can double the bandwidth between the CPU and the disk drives.  BUT, it provides no protection from a virus erasing the C: drive.

112 July 2006 - A good friend has been running a RAID system for a number of years, but a few months ago had a problem and it turns out that he had a bad drive and a corrupt drive so really did not have a backup at all. 

The only way you know you have a backup is to actually use the backup.

On my WIN98 computer I had the C: drive installed in the desktop case and had a removable drawer for the back up drive.  The drawer has a key that's both a mechanical lock and an electrical switch.  When the key is "off" you can remove the drive and also the drive is electrically disconnected from the computer so no virus can get to it.  Every now and then I would use Norton Ghost by booting into DOS and then doing a Disk to Disk copy.  If all is well the backup drive can be installed into the computer if it's needed.  The problem is a hardware failure may cause the back up disk to be bad, but you only find out when you really need it.

So, in my XP computer I have two drawers, let's call the empty slots C: and E:.  In these are drives D1 and D2.  After backing up D1 to D2, D1 is put in a safe location removed from the computer and the building the computer is in.  D2 is put into the C: slot and D3 is put into the E: slot, BUT the key is turned off on E:D3.  You don't want a big hole in the computer case messing up the air flow and you don't want two active hard drives.

The great things about this backup system are:

WARNING
You can not have two hard drives both of which have a image of the WIN XP operating system
connected at the same time and be running WIN XP!
If you do the op system will think you are trying to make an illegal copy and trash one or both drives.
So to do the backup you need to power up the computer with both the primary and backup drive connected to the computer but with a floppy disk that boots you into some flavor of DOS and then runs Ghost 2003.  It may be that Ghost 2006 will work directly from WIN XP if you use the "image" type backup, but then you can not swap drives to "proof" the backup.

It seems strange to me that the hard drive makers, Symantec (Ghost) and/or Microsoft are not supporting this backup method with a bullet proof software to do it.  The hard drive companies would sell 2 or 3 times (or more) the number of drives and many other vendors would have less install support to do after either hardware or software caused disk crashes.


Back to Brooke's Products for SaleMilitary Information, Home page 

This is the  time this page has been accessed since 23 Sep 2005.