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Reload this page Troubleshooting Computers

This page is for frustrated computer users. Get any ideas to fix your computer?

Sound: Frustrated woman


Topics this page:

  • Boot Sequence 
  • Troubleshooting Process Steps 
  • Windows 2000 Debugging 
  • Boot Diskettes 
  • Disk Management and
  • Recovery
  • Proactive Coding Practices 
  • Problem Report Form 
  • Is Your Computer a Male or Female? 
  • Start or Stop, Haiku Error Messages 
    on this page Your comments???


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    Set screen The Windows Boot Sequence

      Screenprint by Damien Hirst. On 40 inch square paper from Eyestorm.

      After power-up, the BIOSanother page on this site goes thru a POST (Power on Self Test). The BIOS reads the master boot record (MBR)-the first sector on the first hard disk. The MBR reads the boot sector —the first sector of the active partition.

      Then, Windows goes through this boot sequence:

      1. Ntldr loads the Advanced RISC Computing (ARC) pathname specified in Boot.ini to find the boot partition.
      2. Kernel Load: The “Starting Windows” progress bar is shown at the bottom of the screen when Ntldr loads the Windows 2000 OS kernel: Ntoskrnl.exe and
      3. HAL.DLL Hardware Abstraction Layer for the processors (I386 or Alpha) Machines with more than one CPU run a different HAL kernel. Uniprocessor computers contain simpler PIC (Programmable Interrupt Controller) hardware, referred to as a “Standard PC” in Device Manager.
      4. SYSTEM configuration settings for devices and services
      5. Service startup: When a window with Please Wait in the title bar, Ntoskrnl.exe is loading the Session Manager (Smss.exe), which in turn loads the high-order services-those necessary for a user to log on.
      6. Windows loads into memory generic ATAPI drivers to read from most CD's and DVD's.
      7. Ntoskrnl.exe takes over and launches Winlogon.exe, which in turn starts Lsass.exe (Local Security Administration), the program that displays the Welcome To Windows dialog box.
      8. When you see the desktop, you should hear the “Microsoft sound” (composed by Brian Eno of U2 fame). If you don't check your cables, external speakers, etc.
      9. Applications assigned to a computer are installed automatically before user logon.
      10. User Logon

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    Set screen Troubleshooting Process Steps

      Collect (1. detect a failure & 2. diagnose cause)

    1. Identify the caller. If you're on the phone, get the user's name and phone number where he or she is calling from. Write this down on a template.
    2. Identify the context. Some people are better than others at summarizing their problem. What machine. How long they've had the machine.

      Describe the approach you're taking. Get permission to proceed.

    3. Identify the symptoms. Tip: Ask open-ended questions to help identify symptoms. Instead of asking “can you log in to the network?”, ask “what happens when you try to log in?”

      Use a systematic approach to eliminate possible causes. Some start with the most obvious cause and work back through other causes. But I personally think that it's better to avoid jumping to conclusions with an accusatory tone and work to layers of the system architecture.

      Prioritize the likely causes of the problem and the solutions for each. Prioritize based on: relative ease of solution, time required to implement solution, likelihood of success, and cost of solution.

      Swap parts out.

    4. Re-create the problem. Start from the source (of power and information), such as whether each component is plugged in or input data is actually available.
    5. Isolate the cause. To prevent the problem from re-occuring in the future.

      Never blame the user for the problem, even if it's really his/her fault. The goal is to have a happier, more productive user at the end of the call.

    6. 3. Determine possible solutions

    7. Formulate a correction. Depending on the cause you've isolated, identify all the possible corrective actions before taking action. Confer with colleagues to come up with possible corrections. This prevents another call on what seems like a similar situtation.

      For example, if you've isolated the cause as a corrupt spreadsheet file, one correction would be to restore the file from a backup. Review other spreadsheets that may also be corrupted.

      Consider both costs and benefits of each possible action. Identify side-effects of each potential action. Prioritize possible actions according to their likelihood of success and ease of implementation.

    8. 4. Take Corrective Action

    9. Implement the correction. This step is where you actually fix the problem. Before you do so, however, you need to ensure that productivity doesn't suffer and that downtime is minimized. For example, you might need to provide a "loaner" workstation to a user whose machine needs to be rebuilt.
    10. Verify solution. Make sure that the solution that you've implemented actually solved the problem and didn't cause any new ones. Use several options and situations to conduct your tests; for instance, try the task yourself, then have the user try the task while you observe the process, or test the workstation both before and after it's connected to the network. Sometimes you'll need to test over time to ensure that your solution is the correct one. Remember to verify that the user agrees that the problem is solved before you proceed.
    11. Document the problem and the solution. Take notes as you go so people won't have to say “I already told you”
    12. Follow-up promptly. Make sure that promises are kept.
    13. Verify user satisfaction. Ask whether the person feels the problem is solved to his/her satifaction.

      I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that. —Computer HAL in Arthur C. Clarke's film 2001: A Space Odyssey

      “Prescription without Diagnosis is Malpractice”

      “For Every Obstacle There is a Solution - over, under, around, or through" —Dan Zadra

      Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won't work.
      —Thomas Edison

      Diagnostic Tools

    • Microsoft's Diagnostic Solution Guide for Windows NT and 2000 helps you find Technet articles.

    • illustrates the bottlenecks causing your ISP to have routing problems in California

    • HP's user forums is where HP engineers and other users gather to solve problems, exchange ideas, and learn lessons related to HP's products (servers, peripherals, OpenView, etc. for Microsoft, Linux, and HP-UX)

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    Set screen Windows 2000 Debugging

      Proactive Steps for a rainy day

    • Store your data on a different physical hard drive than the one used by the operating system.
    • Copy the Windows 2000 Install CD onto a hard disk.
    • Create a new Emergency Repair Disk (ERD) after every time you apply a Windows Service Pack.
    • Backup data to a different media, before you install or upgrade a new application
    • Use a (RAID-1) mirror drive for redundancy on the boot partition.
    • Install Recovery Command Console [Q216417] so that it's an option presented from Boot.ini. Example:
        X:\ENGLISH\WIN2000\PRO\I386\winnt32.exe /cmdcons

      Stuck in boot-up Text screen

    • Boot-up from CD-ROM or diskette created from Windows installation CD's.
    • Press F6 and load third-party SCSI drivers

      Responses to problems

    • Look at the ntldr.txt
    • If your system does not boot, at the black screen, press F8 and choose Last Known Good
    • If your system boots, boot up in Safe Mode to start the operating system with basic drivers and services
    • Safe Mode Advanced Options

    • Enable Boot Logging
    • Enable VGA mode
    • Directory Services Restore mode
    • Debugging mode
    • Uses for Safe Mode

    • Incompatible driver or setting for the video card
    • Corrupted Windows Explorer shell
    • Run msinfo32

      In the Recovery Console

    • Almost all previous DOS commands are available.
    • FIXBOOT to restore a damaged boot sector.
    • FIXMBR to repair a Master Boot Record.
        Or from a boot up disk: FDISK /MBR
    • Replace damaged system files, drivers, and registry hives from floppy or CD.
    • Remove Active Directory from Domain Controller
    • For security reasons, the Recovery Console allows reading from but NOT writing to diskettes.

    'Valium' by Damien Hirst (On 48 inch square paper from Eyestorm)

      Archived Tech Republic article Understanding Windows Safe Mode options, Aug 21, 2001

      another page on this site Windows 2000 Installation lists the proactive steps to make troubleshooting easier.

      tool The Windows SDK provides the WDEB386 program for Kernel Debugging (WKD). 386SWAT is a similar tool. They use a low-level debugging interface to obtains control early in the Windows startup sequence. During Windows startup, while still in RM/VM, Windows tells the WKD as it loads the real mode portion of all of the VxDs to be used during a session.

      MSDN subscribers receive Checked builds that contain separate copies of various system DLLs containing more messages and checks on Windows execution.

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      Set screen Make Network Boot Diskette

      You'll need a Windows 2000 bootup diskette access to recover from a failed system volume that is mirrored. This takes the place of your system partition. After formatting the diskette with “/S” system files, copy these files to the diskette:
      • The Boot.ini text file displayed by the Boot Loader menu during boot-up. It identifies the physical location of the operating system files. So, it must adhere to ARC Path conventions Some values in this file can be changed from GUI: Computer properties, Advanced tab, “Startup and Recovery” dialog.
      • The Ntldr which reads Boot.ini. It displays the “Starting Windows” progress bar at the bottom of the screen. It calls file Ntoskrnl.exe, the Windows 2000 OS kernel that manages all remaining boot functions. Note: Ntldr takes the place of file BOOTSECT.DOS which loads non-Windows 2000 OSs. Ntldr uses interrupt (INT) 13 BIOS calls to locate Ntoskrnl.exe and other files that it loads at startup.
      • NTDETECT.COM, which builds a (“Plug and Pray”) hardware list for Ntldr to add to the Registry.
      • NTBOOTDD.SYS, a device driver for SCSI disk controllers if BIOS SCSI is disabled.
      • If you want to Microsoft Knowledge Base article make a network boot-up diskette [Q142857]
        • Create on the diskette a Net folder
        • Copy the driver file (such as epos.dos), System.ini, and Protocol.ini files obtained from the manufacturer of your NIC card. They may also be in the Server installation CD folder Clients\Wdl\Update
        • Make sure the Protocol.ini file refers to the name of the driver file. For example, if driver file Epos.dos is used, the file should contain “[EPRO$]” and “drivername=EPRO$”.
        • Make sure the System.ini file refers to the name of the driver file. For example, if driver file Epos.dos is used, the file should contain “netcard=Epro.dos” under the “[network drivers]” section.

      Troubleshooting Windows under Safe Mode

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    Set screen Disk Management

      Type Technology Purpose Limits Recovery Process
      Basic (from NT4) - - No fuss - Restore from backup
      RAID-1 disk mirroring sets Redundancy (faster parallel data transfer) 50% overhead. Can't be extended. Resynchronize Mirror.
      Regenerate Mirror.
      Dynamic (Windows 2000 only) Simple - Fast - Restore from backup
      RAID-0 disk striping volumes. No redundancy / fault-tolerance. Faster transactional access. 2-32 drives Restore from backup.
      Create a new striped volume.
      RAID-1 disk mirroring volumes Redundancy 50% overhead. Can't be extended. Reactivate Mirror.
      Remove mirror, replace hardware, Add Mirror.
      Regenerate Mirror.
      RAID-3 spanning extensions across disks (Volume sets) Bulk transfer of big files spread across several hard disks Coordinated transactional reads slow Restore from backup
      RAID-5 striped volume with parity Up-time and Redundancy - Reactivate Disk,
      Repair Volume

      RAID-6 protects data from the failure of two concurrent hard drives (such as during a rebuild) — an increasingly more likely with larger disk array sizes, increasing disk densities, and use of Serial ATA (SATA) drives (which some say have lower reliability). RAID 6 can rebuild bad data blocks discovered during RAID rebuilds because it stores a second independent distributed parity stripe. Until recently, it been available only in proprietary devices.

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      another page on this site About FAT

      In Windows 2000, the Disk Management MMC is used for both basic and dynamic disks. Dynamic disks are unique to Windows 2000. RAID sets upgraded from NT4 remain as "basic disks". So a new basic drive is needed to repair such sets. New RAID sets must be dynamic.

      Only basic disks can be bootable or partitioned (to a limit of 4) -- a legacy of NT4. Dynamic disks (not available on removeable media). "Revert Back to Basic Disk" requires a backup, disk deletion, and restore.

      NTFS Formatting: Only NTFS supports extending volumes. Logical drives and System and boot partitions are simple volumes in Windows 2000. However, Windows 9x on the same machine can't read dynamic disks.

      After installing hot swap hardware, click Action and Rescan Disk.


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    Set screen Disk Recovery

      Solve Disk Problems Before Volume

      On mirrored (RAID-1) drives:
      1. When the status of a disk is Online(Errors) it indicates I/O errors have occured. If any disk within a volume is this way, the volume has a status of Healthy(At Risk).
      2. To fix this, right-click on the disk to Reactivate Disk.
      3. If this doesn't return the disk to Online and the volume to Healthy, replace the drive and Reactivate Volume or, for fault-tolerant volumes, Reactivate Volume.

      If a RAID-5 fails, don't Delete Volume or you'll delete the entire RAID array and its data.

      1. After physically replacing the drive,
      2. Rescan Disks to write a signature on the drive.
      3. Next, upgrade the basic disk to a dynamic disk so that its status becomes Unknown.
      4. Next, Repair Volume to change the status to Regenerating during formatting.
      5. Finally, logically Remove Disk on the failed disk.

    'Whirlpool (Eye of the Storm)' by Dennis Oppenheim. From Eyestorm.
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    Set screen Proactive Coding Practices

      What programmers can do to prevent problems:

      Differentiate the type of messages issued:

    • Notification of what triggered the message (what happened).
    • Explanation of what was expected.
    • Solution - the corrective action to correct the root cause of the problem.

      Store detected errors for future analysis

    • Store detected errors with sufficient detail:
      • The caller or thread ,
      • ADO error collection HRESULT structure defined in Winerror.h and translated through FormatMessage() API.
      • Designate a Severity level:
        • SQL_ERROR
        • Fatal error which causes disconnection between client and sever.
    • Store detected errors in a central location (across different releases, users, etc.) to correlate related errors.
    • Store detected errors in the Windows Application Event Log so that system (COM+ or network) errors are in the same place.
    • Store SQL Server database to correlate the application's other data.


    • Make sure that errors in a sub-module are passed up to the calling module.

      Developing Windows Error Messages by Ezzell, Ben. O'Reilly and Associates, 1998.

      Instead of a simple "Syntax error", this author suggests a less ambiguous message text:
      Syntax Error - invalid (non-numeric) characters found in entry: A numerical integer is expected here. You may enter a positive or negative value but your entry must not contain punctuation or alphabetical characters other than a plus (+) or minus (-) sign. To correct this error, re-enter the number in the highlighted cell.

      Windows DNA Error Handling 101 by Paul Bates

      A website external to this site Windows 2000 Error Messages

      Code Complete

      Jim Carlton reports on stupid computer stories in the Wall Street Journal

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    Set screen Computer Problem Report Form

      From Cyberhighway Humor

      Your Name: __________________________ Your Login Name: ____________________
      The date? __/__/__  The date the problem first occurred if different? __/__/__
      1. Describe your problem:
      2. Now, describe the problem accurately:
      3. Speculate wildly about the cause of the problem:
      4. Problem Severity:
          A. Minor__
          B. Minor__
          C. Minor__
          D. Trivial__
      5. Nature of the problem:
          A. Locked Up__
          B. Frozen__
          C. Hung__
          D. Shot__
      6. Is your computer plugged in? Yes__ No__
      7. Is it turned on? Yes__ No__
      8. Have you tried to fix it yourself? Yes__ No__
      9. Have you made it worse? Yes__
      10. Have you read the manual? Yes__ No__
      11. Are you sure you've read the manual? Yes__ No__
      12. Are you absolutely certain you've read the manual? No__
      13. Do you think you understood it? Yes__ No__
      14. If `Yes' then why can't you fix the problem yourself?
      15. How tall are you?  Are you above this line? __________________
      16. Is the equipment unexpectedly noisy?    Yes___  No ___
      17. If 'Yes", what sort of noise?
           Grinding ___    Rattling ___
               Whirring ___    High Pitched Whine ___
           Sound of disk head scouring disk ___
           Strange, out of tune whistling or humming ___
      18. Is there a smell of burning?            Yes___  No ___
      19. If "Yes", is the equipment on fire?     Yes___  No ___
      20. Is the fault repeatable?                Yes___  No ___
      21. What were you doing with your computer at the time the problem
      22. If `nothing' explain why you were logged in.
      23. Are you sure you aren't imagining the problem? Yes__ No__
      24. How does this problem make you feel? ____________________________
      25. Tell me about your childhood. ___________________________________
      26. Do you have any independent witnesses of the problem? Yes__ No__
      27. Which are appears to be at fault?
              Communications ___      Disk ___        Base Unit ___
              Network ___             Keyboard ___    Screen ___
              Mouse ___               Everything ___  Don't Know ___
      28. Can't you do something else, instead of bothering me? Yes_
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    Set this at top of window. Is Your Computer a Male or Female?

      As you are aware, sailing ships have long been characterized as being female (e.g. "Steady as she goes", or "She's listing to starboard, Captain").

      Recently, a group of computer scientists (all male) announced that computers should be referred to as female. Their reasons for drawing this conclusion follow:

      Five reasons to believe computers are female:

      1. No one but the Creator understands their internal logic.
      2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.
      3. The message "BAD COMAND OR FILE NAME" is about as informative as, "If you don't know why I'm mad at you, then I'm certainly not going to tell you."
      4. Even your smallest mistakes are stored in long-term memory for later retrieval.
      5. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

      However, another group of computer scientists (all female) think that computers should be referred to as male. Their reasons follow:

      Five reasons to believe computers are male:

      1. They have a lot of data, but are still clueless.
      2. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time they are the problem.
      3. As soon as you commit to one you realize that, if you had waited a little longer, you could have obtained a better model.
      4. In order to get their attention, you have to turn them on.
      5. Big power surges knock them out for the rest of the day (or night).

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    Set this at top of window. Start/Stop: Abbott and Costello Meet Microsoft Windows

        Costello:  Hey, Abbott!
           Abbot:  Yes, Lou?
        Costello:  I just got my first computer.
           Abbot:  That's great Lou. What did you get?
        Costello:  A Pentium II-266, with 40 Megs of RAM, 
                   a 2.1 Gig hard drive, and a 24X CD-ROM.
           Abbot:  That's terrific, Lou.
        Costello:  But I don't know what any of it means!!
           Abbot:  You will in time.
        Costello:  That's exactly why I am here to see you.
           Abbot:  Oh?
        Costello:  I heard that you are a real computer expert.
           Abbot:  Well, I don't know-
        Costello:  Yes-sir-ee. You know your stuff. And you're 
                   going to train me.
           Abbot:  Really?
        Costello:  Uh huh. And I am here for my first lesson.
           Abbot:  O.K. Lou. What do want to know?
        Costello:  I am having no problem turning it on, but I 
                   heard that you should be very careful how you 
                   turn it off.
           Abbot:  That's true.
        Costello:  So, here I am working on my new computer and I 
                   want to turn it off. What do I do?
           Abbot:  Well, first you press the Start button, and then-
        Costello:  No, I told you, I want to turn it off.
           Abbot:  I know, you press the Start button-
        Costello:  Wait a second. I want to turn it Off. 
                   I know how to start it. So tell me what to do.
           Abbot:  I did.
        Costello:  When?
           Abbot:  When I told you to press the Start button.
        Costello:  Why should I press the Start button?
           Abbot:  To shut off the computer.
        Costello:  I press Start to stop.
           Abbot:  Well Start doesn't actually stop the computer.
        Costello:  I knew it! So what do I press?
           Abbot:  Start.
        Costello:  Start what?
           Abbot:  Start button.
        Costello:  Start button to do what?
           Abbot:  Shut down.
        Costello:  You don't have to get rude!
           Abbot:  No, no, no! That's not what I meant.
        Costello:  Then say what you mean.
           Abbot:  To shut down the computer, press-
        Costello:  Don't say, "Start!"
           Abbot:  Then what do you want me to say?
        Costello:  Look, if I want to turn off the computer, 
                   I am willing to press the Stop button, the 
                   End button and Cease and Desist button, but
                   no one in their right mind presses the Start 
                   to Stop.
           Abbot:  But that's what you do.
        Costello:  And you probably Go at Stop signs, and Stop 
                   at green lights.
           Abbot:  Don't be ridiculous.
        Costello:  I'M being ridiculous? Well. I think it's about time we
                   started this conversation.
           Abbot:  What are you talking about?
        Costello:  I am starting this conversation right now. Good-bye.

    Haiku Error Messages

    Tired of impersonal and unhelpful Microsoft error messages?

    Consider the graceful simplicty of Japanese haiku poetry, which are (by definition) 17 syllables each: 5 syllables in the first line, 7 in the second, five in the third.


    The Web site you seek
    Cannot be located but
    Countless more exist.

    With searching comes loss
    And the presence of absence
    You file is not found.

    Your file was so big
    And probably quite useful
    But now it is gone.

    You step in the stream
    But the water has moved on
    This page is not here.

    Having been erased
    The document you're seeking
    Must now be retyped.

    Serious error
    All shortcuts have disappeared
    Screen, mind, both are blank.


    Chaos reigns within
    Reflect, repent, and reboot
    Order shall return.

    ABORTED effort:
    Close all that you have worked on
    You ask far too much.

    Windows NT crashed
    I am the Blue Screen of Death
    No one hears your screams.

    Yesterday it worked
    Today it is not working
    Windows is like that.

    First snow then silence
    This thousand dollar screen dies
    So beautifully.

    A crash reduces
    Your expensive computer
    To a simple stone.

    Three things are certain
    Death, taxes, and lost data
    Guess which has occurred.


    The Tao that is seen
    Is not the true Tao until
    You bring fresh toner.

    Stay the patient course
    Of little worth is your ire
    The network is down.

    Out of memory
    We wish to hold the whole sky
    But we never will.

    Found on the website of Lattina Adams, MS

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