How to Troubleshoot Computer Startup Problems in Windows XP and Vista

No matter how well you maintain your computer, there's a chance it may have problems at startup at some time during its lifespan. The computer may be very slow to start or fail to boot the operating system entirely. If you experience startup problems, there are free Windows tools you can use to get your computer running smoothly again. These tools are very effective at removing software programs and system settings that can prevent your computer from starting up properly.

Troubleshoot Computer Startup Problems with the System Configuration Utility

The System Configuration Utility comes with both Windows XP and Vista. Using this utility, you can boot Windows in safe mode, disable startup items that are in the Windows registry without editing or deleting them and control which Windows services load at startup. If you can get Windows to start, click Start > Run and type "msconfig" to start the utility (in Vista, type "msconfig" in the search box).

In Windows XP, click the "BOOT.INI" tab ("Boot" in Windows Vista.) Check the box next to "/SAFEBOOT" ("Safe boot" in Vista). Check "MINIMAL" to restart Windows in Safe Mode. Check "NETWORK" to restart Windows in Safe Mode with network support. Choose "DSREPAIR" ("Active Directory repair" in Vista) to repair the directory services. Select "ALTERNATE SHELL" to boot Windows with a command prompt window. Select "/NOGUIBOOT" to avoid loading the graphics driver that shows the splash screen. Select "/BOOTLOG" to save error messages in a text file for later troubleshooting. Click "/BASEVIDEO" to load a standard Windows graphics driver instead of the one that came with your graphics device. Click "/SOS" ("OS boot information" in Vista) to see drivers as they're loaded during startup. Restart the computer when Windows prompts you. Once Safe Mode has loaded, you can use the troubleshooting tools in Windows to find out what was causing the problem.

If you can't find anything wrong with the computer, the problem may be caused by programs that are being loaded at startup. To solve this problem, reopen the System Configuration Utility. In the "General" tab, click "Selective Startup." Click the "Startup" tab. Browse the list of the files that are set to load at Windows startup. If there's any program in the list that you don't recognize, search on the file name on a file library website such as the process library. Uncheck the name of any file you don't want to load at startup. Click "OK." Restart your computer when prompted. When the computer boots up again, you should notice an improvement in speed. If not, try running "msconfig" again.

Troubleshoot Computer Startup Problems with Windows Defender

Windows Defender comes with Windows Vista and can be downloaded from the Microsoft website for Windows XP. Windows Defender contains a tool called "Software Explorer" that you can use to find what programs are running on your computer. It's very helpful for finding spyware, adware and other programs that have been installed without your consent. Since many of these unwanted programs load at startup, you can resolve many startup problems by removing them.

Click on "Tools" at the top of the Windows Defender window and click "Software Explorer." Select "Startup Programs" from the drop-down menu to see which programs are loading at startup. Browse the list to see the software file names and publishers. Click on each file name to get more information about the program. Click "Remove" or "Disable" for any file you don't want to load at startup. Be very careful not to remove any program that is essential to the proper functioning of your computer. If you're uncertain, just click "Disable" so that you can re-enable the program if its failure to load causes a problem.

Troubleshoot Computer Startup Problems with Windows System Restore

If you can identify a specific moment when your computer began experiencing startup problems, you can troubleshoot them with Windows System Restore. The program is very simple to use. However, you must have valid restore points on your computer for System Restore to function properly.

In Windows XP, click Click Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System Restore. Click "Restore my computer to an earlier time" and then click "Next." In Windows Vista, click Start > Control Panel > Backup and Restore Center > Repair Windows using System Restore. Select "Choose a Different Restore Point" and click "Next." Choose a restore point from the list. In Windows Vista, you may need to click "Show restore points older than 5 days" to successfully restore your computer. Finish the wizard and wait for your computer to start up again. If the problem startup hasn't been repaired, run System Restore again to restore your computer to an earlier date.

If these solutions don't work to solve your startup problems, there are other solutions you can try, like running an anti-virus or spyware scan or backing up your data, uninstalling problem software or formatting your hard drive and reinstalling the operating system. However, using these free Windows troubleshooting tools should solve the majority of startup problems that you can have with your computer.


"How to troubleshoot configuration errors by using the System Configuration utility in Windows XP" "How to use the System Configuration utility to troubleshoot configuration errors in Windows Vista"

Published by Jennifer Claerr

Jennifer Claerr is an online writer who has been published on prestigious sites such as,,,, Demand Studios and Associated Content. She publishes on a wide range of top...  View profile

System Restore regularly creates backups of your system settings. You can use it to troubleshoot startup problems if they are caused by a change to your computer's software or settings.

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