Windows XP automatic restart. Stuck in a continuous restart loop

This would normally be a very long subject, very detailed and hard to cover, without even mentioning the fact that it would need a lot of documentation as the implications and possible causes to trigger this are in such a big number that it would take me hours each day to present a decent number out of the entire picture, which would cost me both time and resources. The bad part is that I wouldn’t even be able to simulate all of the possible causes and errors even if I had the time and the resources. Also, some of them are also pretty hard to simulate, generate or predict in test environment.

If you got to this article, and the title matches your problem, you have a Windows XP operating system which actually restarts as soon as the Window XP logo startup screen goes away, which in normal conditions should generate the login window if you have other username than the Administrator created on the computer or if it is a part of a domain.

By this time you’ve probably tried booting into safe mode or the last configuration that worked and you noticed the same behavior happening. For safe mode it would work until it reaches a certain file (usually mup.sys) where it continues with the restart of the system, and will continue with the same restart loop as in normal conditions. If safe mode failed, you also know that it is not related to drivers and you have a more serious problem. Attention, if the safe mode is stuck at the mup.sys file, and it doesn’t automatically restart and it just stays there, then you have a different problem than the one we address and in most cases the file will still load (sometimes will take even as much as 5 minutes), but it just takes longer and you have to search it on a different article or source.

What you can assume now is that the problem is caused by one of two possible reasons:

–          A corrupt boot.ini file

–          Bad hard drive

The fact that it restarts without any further error it actually means that the option to execute an “Automatic restart” when a system failure happens is checked. If this option wouldn’t be set, you would get a blue screen instead of the restart, which would actually guide you to a more specific problem that would lead you to a faster solution. This checkbox that I am speaking of was located under “Startup and Recovery” section, in “Advanced” tab at the “Properties” of your computer (“My computer”). Easy way to access it, if you still had access to your operating system was to type in “sysdm.cpl” at Run and confirm it, which would open “System Properties” and you can follow “Advanced”, “Startup and Recovery”, “Settings” and the checkbox for “Automatically restart” under “System Failure” would be by default marked, meaning that when critical system fails, like the one you encountered now happen, the computer restarts instead of providing a Blue Screen of Death with more details and the actual error which is the output of the main problem.

Windows XP automatic restart. Stuck in a continuous restart loop - Startup and Recovery

This can also be done from the boot up options according to below instructions.

Get the error message

First step is to disable the “Automatically restart” option, so you can get a more specific error that would point you to a solution.

To do this, follow the next steps:

1. As soon as computer starts, usually also announced by a short sound or beep, press repeatedly but discontinuously the F8 key (upper key located in the top section of your keyboard), the same instruction key that you would use to display the different boot mode options like for example “safe mode” or “last configuration that worked”, if it wouldn’t be automatically triggered by the system failure. You will have to press F8, until the dialogue with all the different boot modes will be displayed. If it fails, try again when the computer restarts, I assure you that this process works and is embedded on all systems.

2. In the dialogue present in the window which will result out of you pressing the F8 key, you will have some or most of the below options:

Safe Mode

Safe Mode with Networking

Safe Mode with Command Prompt

Enable Boot Logging

Enable VGA Mode

Last Known Good Configuration (your most recent settings that worked)

Directory Services Restore Mode (Windows domain controllers only)

Debugging Mode

Disable automatic restart on system failure

Boot Normally

Reboot

Return to OS Choices Menu

3. You will select the above bolded option “Disable automatic restart on system failure” to do what we also explained above, and disable the “Automatically restart” on system failure.

4. As soon as you confirm step 3, and disable that option, at next restart you will get a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD) with a more detailed error and a few additional information regarding the problem.

Now we can start to troubleshoot. At this point, it all depends on the error message you get in the Blue Screen of Death. In most cases, you will have the main problem with upper case letters, followed by some error codes in hex. The best you can do is to ignore the hex code (not always recommended, but sometimes it saves time to go after the easiest possible solution). Ignoring the hex code will provide you with a much faster solution if already present on the web, but it can also make you chase rainbows. Your best option is to troubleshoot the error and just use the hex code for confirmation (to see if it is the same for multiple users with the same error, by using web searches) or use it if the main error doesn’t help you much, and you don’t get any real solution out of it.

I can confirm that even after you use above settings to make the BSOD appear so at least you know what you fight against; you will still use Google or any other web search engine you prefer to search for the solution of your problem. As I said above, I can’t cover multiple problems that can arise from such behavior but I can help you with one that I met. However, if you detail me your problem along with the message you get, maybe I can help you more, based on your specific case.

This is the error message from BSOD that I met in my daily activity:

“Unable to mount <hard drive volume>”

In 90% of the cases when you get the above error followed by different hex codes, it can be fixed (when not a bad hard drive) by following below steps:

First of all, you will need a cd with a Windows XP copy and we will need to open “Recovery Console” mode.

There is also another way to fix this, easier indeed but it implies losing some data. This way which I don’t recommend but some might prefer, includes following the steps provided by a Windows XP installation CD until you reach the F8 agreement part, and you will need to repair the Windows XP installation using the provided options. That might cost you some files, in most cases you would get “my documents” and “desktop” files lost.

Let’s assume you don’t want to risk and we will try a more technical approach than the simple reinstallation. You will use your Windows XP CD and boot with it and the first step should be the one below:

Windows XP automatic restart. Stuck in a continuous restart loop - Windows Setup

Select to continue (press Enter), the next screen should be the “Agreement” when you will confirm with an F8, following that in the next screen you will have the option to enter “Recovery Console” mode. Just follow the instructions and select whatever letter it will load the “Recovery Console” mode (press R within Microsoft Setup menu when you see Recovery Console as an option). There might be some credentials required, but you should be able to provide those details, like the administrator password.

Now if the error you encountered when you disabled the “automatically restart” on “system failure” was “Unable to mount <hard drive volume>”, running the following 4 commands will fix your problem, without losing any data.

SOLUTION:

Step 1. Inside “Recovery Console” text dialog, type: “chkdsk /R” without the quotes. A process checking your system drive for bad sectors and corrupted files will follow. This is critical to finish, to the use of the next 3 commands that will fix your problem.

Step 2. Use “bootcfg /rebuild” command, without the quotes to rebuild your boot.ini. In here, you might be asked for a few additional details, like identifying the operating system and confirming it with Y for “yes”.

Step 3. Use “fixboot” command, without the quotes. This is optional but I would do it if I were you, just in case step 2 didn’t work as planned.

Step 4. Use “fixmbr”command, without the quotes.

As soon as you finish above steps and the additional requirements made by the above commands, type “exit” in recovery console and even “reboot” to restart it. Now, in most of the cases the computer will run another checkdisk automatically and as soon as that is finished, you got your computer to the way it was before the main problem.

However, there is also another possible scenario, representing the rest of the 10% times when you get the same behavior of “Windows XP restart. Stuck in a continuous loop” plus “Unable to mount <hard drive volume>” error. This scenario might need the replacement of the hard disk drive. If you get this error and you’ve did all the above and it still happens, it might be a case of broken hard disk, faulty one or something more than just a software problem which can only be fixed with a new one.

You can also use Google to try and do a little bit more of research, but in most cases nothing new regarding this error will be available, and the only thing left to do is to use some hard disk utilities to try and scan, check and possibly fix the problems with some dedicated programs, like for Maxtor and Seagate you have SeaTools. For both of these types of hard disk drives but also for the rest, you can use any other software available on the web, I personally recommend those present in Hiren’s Boot CD. You can scan for something more than bad sectors which should have been fixed by the solution presented by me, more like for physical bad sectors or faulty disk.

In any case, if you consider I could help or provide you with more answers, do tell and I will give my best to help you. The solution I wrote about in this article helps both to tie a problem with too few details (the continuous restart) to how to learn what is actually wrong about it but also to fix a common error.

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Author: bitpsychobyte

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21 Comments

  1. thanks… restarting problem is solved but my pc reboots very slowly and takes about 10-15 minutes please help me with this problem! thanks in advance

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    • Nice way to say exactly what I said. Appreciate the confirmation.
      By the way, anything after fixmbr command is just a waste of time, if the problem was the one discussed in this article, it is fixed as soon as you exit the console and reboot.

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      • I have 2 kind of Automatic Restart.
        The first one is solved by the first steps until fixmbr.
        The latter, no. Those step doesn’t work unless we do the other steps.
        That is what I have experienced. No offense.

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  2. I get the same thing

    STOP: c0000218 (Registry file failure)
    the registry cannot load the hive (file)
    \systemroot\system32\config\default or its log or alternate.
    it is corupt, absent, or not writable.

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  3. Did what you you recommended and finally got out of auto re-boot and the blue screen of death came up with:
    STOP: c0000218 (Registry file failure)
    the registry cannot load the hive (file)
    \systemroot\system32\config\default or its log or alternate.
    it is corupt, absent, or not writable.

    Says it’s collecting data for crash dump….
    initializing disk for crash dump….

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  4. Stop

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  5. Soo, how do i do this without a cd? i don’t care if i loose any data, i just want my laptop to start working again.

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  6. I experienced this problem (Boot loop, win XP on my laptop)…Prior to attempting the procedure outlined above, in your article I was able disable auto restart and run a full win hard drive scan, which found no errors on hard drive. When I attempt to use recovery console from the win XP CD, I get the message: Setup did not find any hard disk drives installed in your computer make sure hard disk drives are powered on and properly connected to your computer. I am not fully convinced yet, that the hard drive is bad, due to the conflicting information so far. Any advice as to how to proceed would be appreciated.

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    • I am sorry for the late reply. Did you fix the issue ?

      If not, if I were you I would check for the way HDD is configured to be used in BIOS, either compatible (IDE) or SATA. Most of the times, you get this message if your hard drive is connected on SATA and in BIOS you have it configured on SATA. You have two ways to bypass this if this is the case: the easy way is to change in BIOS under hard drive the operating way and select IDE (compatible), the other is to load drivers before windows setup during Windows initial prepare screen. It will ask something like press a key to install RAID/AHCI drivers and you will have to provide them from another storage device or you will have to create another Windows CD with the drivers embedded, but this is more difficult.

      If none of the above do apply and you didn’t fix it up yet do let me know and we will figure something out together.

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    • No I have not resolved the issue. I did nothing further as I was waiting for your reply. Background on this: The boot loop issue occurred when I attempted to start the laptop after it had not been used for about a year. This laptop is primarily associated with my photography business and is used for display when tethered to a digital camera and as an interface for downloading and storing digital files when required. No storage in done on the laptop and it is relatively uncluttered. I have never made any changes in the device in so far as configuration or hard drive changes. However, when new, it was supplied with Windows Vista installed. I had this removed and replaced with Win XP by a Micorosoft repair center. This change was made as all other machines (3) were running XP.The unit has functioned well for a number of years with no issues prior to this.

      While I understand the IDE and SATA issue that you mentioned, I do not see how the config could have changed in the Bios. I made no changes in the Bios or any config changes at all (other than those mentioned), nor do I understand why the Win XP disk does not find a hard disk. The only action initially taken was to enter setup, disable auto restart and run a full hard drive scan. This was done because it was recommended that it be done because of the failure to start properly. The results were positive with no problems found. Next I placed the Win XP CD in and attempted to use recovery console. This is where I got the message no hard drive found.

      I am not being resistant here, I am simply trying to understand exactly going on. I also logged the stop that was shown by Windows. I would include it, but it is not available at this computer.

      Your thoughts, help and patience will be very much appreciated.

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      • The Technical information displayed on BSOD is as follows: Stop: 0x0000007B (0xBA4CF528,0xC0000034,0x00000000, 0x00000000)

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      • Hello,

        Regarding the BIOS changes for SATA/IDE, I only mentioned them because I suspected a power failure that could reset the BIOS or a faulty battery to the BIOS that caused a loss of settings but I suppose you would have had noticed that as it would ask for some F1 config or something like that once your start the computer. It doesn’t matter now as I presume you already checked this. I would still have a second look into BIOS settings as the only other way I see for an error that says it can’t detect any HDD to come up is if some HDD/RAID settings are messed up in BIOS. All this with the only exception being if your hard drive is faulty ( which would probably have been discovered with the HDD test you said you run before ).

        Going further with your issue before you try to start the computer, unplug any device or media that might be seen as storage, even that digital camera and anything like an external USB storage device (USB stick, phone). Also, one more thing to check before you try to start Windows again, under BIOS, see if you have an option for Boot Sector Virus Protection and make sure it is set to Off.

        I would also recommend to perform another diagnostic with a different tool, for example download a HIREN’s Boot CD and burn it and try to use some HDD diag tool from it and see what that reports.

        I will dig more on the error reported by BSOD but I doubt it will help clear this out, as each time I had to deal with them I had to use Windows Debugging Tools to find out more on the error instead of the code provided by BSOD.

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      • Hello bitpsychobyte,

        Sorry for the long delay on getting back with a report on the problem. I was busy and then had some health issues which delayed my getting the laptop out and working on it. This morning I put it on the bench and was able to get into the bios. ( I had had only been able to do this once before and that is when I ran the HDD self test, which found no problem. The loop was so fast that I would repeatedly press the f-10 to no avail.)

        This morning, amazingly, I got into the BIOS on the first try and followed your instructions. Quote- “If I were you I would check for the way HDD is configured to be used in BIOS, either compatible (IDE) or SATA. Most of the times, you get this message if your hard drive is connected on SATA and in BIOS you have it configured on SATA. You have two ways to bypass this if this is the case: the easy way is to change in BIOS under hard drive the operating way and select IDE (compatible).” I changed the SATA setting in the BIOS, Saved the change, exited and it booted up flawlessly and immediately. Total time for the fix….4 mins.

        Problem solved…

        I am not sure how the BIOS error occurred, perhaps, as you said, through a power failure.

        Your answer was spot on, with a really easy solution. My thanks to you for your help

        Best regards,

        Paul

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      • I have the same issue.. have ur issue solved?? If yes, what is the solution??

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      • @ nithin….I have not resolved the issue yet, due to pressing business issues that have not permitted any time to work on this problem. However…I am going to proceed just as Bitpsycobyte has recommended above; I will run Hiren’s Boot CD on it, as a second diagnostic of the hard drive. As stated above, I was able to run a full Windows diagnostic of the hard drive and no problems were found. Attempts to repair with Win XP install CD find; no hard drive installed. I do think that Bitpsycobyte has outlined the correct procedures for this case.

        On Hiren’s, the current CD contains over 330 tools and, to me, is an issue in itself. First, as I see it, it really must be obtained from a trusted source, as it has been issued or provided by many third party sources with various, “virus classified additions” to it. Bitscyobyte may have a different opinion on this, but this is what my research has shown. Second, the sheer amount of content in Hiren’s is something that one must go through carefully. I am certainly not in the class of a specialist like Bitsycobyte and must proceed with caution when it comes to something like this. I plan on obtaining Hiren’s from Hiren’s site; but be forewarned that due to some of it’s content your anti-virus software will still indicate that it contains a virus.

        The answer to my problem with this computer may be simple thing, and i believe that it is, but getting there is not quite as simple as I, or we all would like it to be. I will certainly post any items of interest or the solution to my issue when it is resolved.

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  7. I’ve experience a similar issue after I powered my computer on after maybe 1 year of not using. Unfortunately I couldn’t not load any possible safe mode of last configuration setting to disable the auto-restart on system failure. Instead of the recovery option with the setup cd, I tried reinstalling fresh – got as far as up to 100% and then everything just shutdown. Power light would respond on the computer but nothing else (ie fans, booting up etc). I looked over the motherboard and nothing looks damaged. Could it be the hard drive gone bad as well? Thanks, any advice will be helpful.

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    • Looks like my first start might be to get a new power supply to the desktop and maybe get a hard drive dock to check the internal hard drive is working still. I now have no power light coming on

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      • Unfortunately you had the bad luck to get a power supply fail while troubleshooting another error. It happens.
        Nothing much can be said but I too agree your power supply is the culprit and you should replace it. I doubt your HDD will have anything broken, at most the operating system but you were already in the process of re-install so nothing could get worse from here on. Get a new power supply, install it on your computer case and everything should be ok.

        Do let me know if I can be of service with anything else. :-)

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  8. my case is a bit complicated , because i have changed my hard disc with another working one, but when i install in the motherboard , windows can not be started , it just restart boringly , i tried the solutions you give but no way. can you help me please ?

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    • I’m gonna need more details on this one. Describe me the steps you perform and when does it restart. Is it just a restart pr it will automatically restart as in a loop ?

      Could you tell me motherboard and HDD model and operating system ?

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