Thursday, October 29, 2009

Blank Screen, Ultimate Boot

The three-year old HP Slimline started acting up on Monday evening. Eventually the whole works seized, locking up stiffer than an ice fishing zombie dangling a line in Coldwater Lake in late January. I mean, frozen st-st-stiff.

Now this is the machine D. uses for everyday stuff: work documents, email, trafficking photos of Is. The last piece--baby photos--explains why this freeze-up was an Instant Crisis: three years' worth of digital images aren't backed up anywhere.

Because the usual solutions (Ctrl-Alt-Del) weren't working, I had no choice but to unplug the frozen PC. When I rebooted, it cycled through the HP welcome screen (with the full spread of startup function-key interruptions available) and the Windows XP startup screen before landing on a blank screen. The blank screen included the mouse cursor, but nothing else, none of the desktop icons or navigation options.

Various troubleshooting forums reported this problem is fairly widespread. Lots of people have suffered through Windows XP booting to a blank screen with a mouse cursor. And yet, the supposed causes were numerous: viruses, flawed hardware, glitchy service pack stuff, and so on. I had a PC Doctor CD burned, and I ran it through its cycle to at least confirm that all of the hardware checked out.

More than anything else, I needed to gain access to the baby photos, access that would permit me to back them up before I attempted to run Windows through a repair process. After talking through options with my brother, I used my VAIO laptop (along with ĀµTorrent and InfraRecorder) to download Xubuntu and burn its .iso image to a CD. Xubuntu worked fine, but it wouldn't give me access to the Windows files.

I rooted around in more forums, and I found that, unlike the lighter Linux OS, Ubuntu running from a CD would allow me to access all of the computer's files. I downloaded it, burned the .iso to another CD, booted the troubled computer from the disk, and easily navigated to find the precious files. Next, I simply connected the Maxtor external hard drive I typically use to backup the aging VAIO, created another folder, and dropped 23GB of stuff from D.'s HP onto the drive.

With the data rescued, I only needed to restore the operating system. I could manage this either by A) reinstalling Windows XP or B) (a long shot) following instructions for a Registry Restore Wizard available as part of Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, which I read about in a forum as a solution to the blank-screen startup in XP Home. Figured it was worth a try.

Seems miraculous in retrospect, but option B went smoothly. I downloaded the UBCD4Win .exe, also copied the contents of the XP installation CD into a folder, then ran the UBCD4Win executable, built the .iso, and burned the Ultimate Boot CD. Within a few minutes, I was able to run the Registry Restore Wizard, pick a restore date from two weeks ago, and reboot the HP Slimline as if today was October 15 and nothing ever happened.

Of course, I went ahead and cycled through a few more steps, running cleanups and virus/ad-aware scans. AVG found a virus called "Defiler," which may or may not have been the culprit. I didn't bother to search beyond the "lazy 1-10" Google results for a backstory on the Defiler virus. Had no trouble assigning it to quarantine and, thus, putting an end to Windows XP "defilings" for the near future.

Bookmark and Share Posted by at October 29, 2009 9:30 PM to Technologies

Good to hear.

Next step: establish regular backup routine, and/as Flickr Pro account.

Posted by: cbd at October 30, 2009 12:23 AM

Nothing like surviving a scare to move up in rank small things like regular backups. While writing the diss, I developed a backup routine for my PC, but I never took the time to do the same for the machine D. uses. Also, I have the Flickr Pro account, but we're obviously not all that coordinated with collecting all photos into a single location. That might just be this year's early winter project.

Posted by: Derek at October 30, 2009 7:21 AM