Here is the Windows XP utility that help you troubleshoot those pesky boot problems -- the System Configuration Utility, or MSCONFIG.
Among all the built-in Windows XP wizards and utilities, the System Configuration Utility, is probably one of most useful. This handy utility, which has its roots in the Windows 9.x days, lets you modify boot files and startup parameters when troubleshooting boot problems.
Now, there's no way I can cram a complete examination of the System Configuration Utility into a 5-minute video. So, I'll show you how to launch the utility and then give you a general overview of those parts of the tool most useful for troubleshooting boot problems.
To launch MSCONFIG, click the Start button and select Run. In the Open box, type MSCONFIG and click OK.
The MSCONFIG window contains six tabs: General, SYSTEM.INI, WIN.INI, BOOT.INI, Services, and Startup.
Let's look briefly at the first three tabs.
First, the General tab gives you some basic options for starting a computer -- the default being Normal Startup. The other two options are Diagnostic Startup and Selective Startup, which you can use to help isolate and troubleshoot specific problems.
This tab also includes the Launch System Restore and Expand File buttons.
Next, the SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI tabs are included for legacy compatibility. These tabs give you the ability to modify the SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI files or prevent lines of code from executing when the computer is started.
Now, let's take a closer look at the BOOT.INI tab, which gives you many options for starting the computer.
At the top of the window you see the current BOOT.INI file that is in use. Although you can't edit this file using MSCONFIG, you can view it, and you can change the timeout value for the boot menu.
Three of the four buttons are grayed out by default. The Check All Boot Paths button is used to verify that the boot paths in the BOOT.INI file are correct. When you click this button, you'll receive either an error message you can use for troubleshooting or a window alerting you that the boot paths have been verified.
The most valuable functions on the BOOT.INI tab are the boot options. For example, clicking the first choice, /SAFEBOOT, gives you suboptions for starting the computer:
MINIMAL starts it in Safe Mode, NETWORK starts in Safe Mode with networking support, DSREPAIR is used to repair Directory Services on Domain Controllers, and MINIMAL (ALTERNATESHELL) starts the computer in Safe Mode with a Command Prompt.
The Advanced Options screen offers even more choices, such as /MAXMEM, which limits the amount of memory that Windows XP can use if you believe that your system has a bad memory chip.
Also among these options, clicking /DEBUG allows you to choose between different debugging configurations for your computer.
Now, the last two tabs, Services and Startup, can be extremely useful when troubleshooting boot problems caused by third-party applications or hardware drivers.
The Services tab shows you which services are on your machine and whether they are currently running or not. Each service is listed on a single line along with the manufacturer and current status. You can sort the list alphabetically on each column by clicking the column heading. There's also a check box which lets you hide all the Microsoft services.
Now, you can stop and start services from this tab, but I highly recommend you use the Services snap-in for the Microsoft Management Console to do this. You can access the Services snap-in by open the Run dialog box and entering services.msc. This utility gives you much more detail about each service than you'll find on the System Configuration Utility. From the Services snap-in, you can enable and disable services by simply double clicking their entry and modifying Startup type or Service status.
Now let's look at the Startup tab. Here you'll find a list of all the items that are launched when Windows boots. Each item appears on a single line showing the item's name, the actual command used to launch the item, and the command's location within the registry. As with the Services tab, you can sort the list by clicking on the various column headings. You can also expand each column by clicking and dragging the heading's edge.
Many startup items have rather cryptic names. Looking at the item's command can often help you identify the application to which the item belongs.
For example, this item corresponds to Quicktime.
To prevent an item from starting when Windows boots, remove the check from the box next to the item's name and click Apply. You can do this with one or more items at a time.
When you exit the System Configuration Utility, you'll be prompted to reboot your system. When you do, the unchecked startup items should not launch.
To re-enable a startup item, just place a check in the box next to the item's name and click Apply. The next time you reboot the item will launch.
The System Configuration Utility is easy to use and will help you troubleshoot a wide variety of Windows XP boot problems.
In my opinion, the best troubleshooting features are the boot options located within the BOOT.INI tab and the ability to stop and start individual startup items on the Startup tab. Just remember to be careful when manipulating the boot parameters and make sure you document any changes that you make in case you need to undo them.
For more information on the System Configuration Utility, check out Mark Kaelin and Steven Pittsley's post in our Microsoft Windows Blog. I'll link to it from the IT Dojo blog.
And as always, for more teachings on your path to becoming an IT Ninja, visit itdojo.techrepublic.com. And please let us know if this tip was helpful.
I'm Bill Detwiler. Thanks for visiting TechRepublic's IT Dojo.