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


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.


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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