Troubleshooting Windows 95 startup problems

Do you still have Windows 95 machines running in your shop? Here are some tips for keeping those systems healthy.

Recently, I spent a few days at one of the sites my company supports, carrying out some routine server maintenance. While I was there, I was asked if I would take a "quick" look at a few "small" PC problems. Up for a challenge, and ahead of schedule, I found the following startup problems on Windows 95 PCs.

Cases in point
Here are the specific problems I encountered. As they were all startup problems, I used the same techniques to solve each one, and I thought they were worth bringing into the light again.
  • Case 1:The PC blue screened with an “Exception 0E has occurred in [hex code] Vxd NAVAP" message after logon and before the desktop appeared. The Vxd in question was often different on subsequent reboots, but usually NAVAP. Cause: the HP Print Monitor app that loaded at startup.
  • Case 2:The PC displayed a “Windows encountered an error when backing up the System Registry” error, after logon and before the desktop appeared, mentioning that it needed to be able to store three copies of the registry. Cause: an incompatible version of emm386.exe being called from the config.sys file.
  • Case 3:The PC booted into a blank, black screen and “hung.” The PC would happily boot into Safe Mode, though. Cause: a corrupt video driver.

The troubleshooting paradigm
Here are the steps I followed to diagnose and resolve these problems.
  1. When troubleshooting this kind of problem, know where startup programs are called from.
  2. Rule each source of error out methodically, in turn, one at a time.
  3. If you have access to Microsoft’s TechNet or other Knowledge Bases, then use them. If they do not have the fix written verbatim, they might give you a vital and timesaving clue.
  4. Use Safe Mode, Command Line mode, or Step-by-Step Confirmation mode to stop the full Windows OS loading while you track down the problem and make fixes.

Startup programs and device drivers come from a variety of locations. Make sure you check these:
  • The Config.sys and Autoexec.bat files
  • The Startup Windows group
  • The load= and run= lines at the beginning of Win.ini
  • The Registry
  • The WinStart.bat file if it exists

Remember to use tools like SYSEDIT.EXE command which opens up the config.sys, autoexec.bat, and main Windows .INI files, and MSCONFIG.EXE which will also pull up the startup programs and services from the registry. Without tools like these, you are going to need to grapple with a text editor, like Notepad or Edit, and the Registry editor. If you need to find the startup programs and services manually in the registry look at:

for the Run, RunOnce, RunOnceEx, RunServices, and RunServicesOnce keys.

Using these techniques, I found that REM'ing the load= line out from the WIN.INI file cured the blue screen in Case 1, even though it looked like Norton AntiVirus (NAVAP) was causing the problem (I reinstalled that first). I found a reference to the Registry Error in a TechNet article that suggested that corrupt drivers loaded from startup files could be the cause (and not disk space) in Case 2, and after finding Case 3 booted fine into Safe Mode, I reinstalled the video driver and rebooted into Windows successfully.

Windows 9x gets a hammering—from administrators installing all manner of utilities, users just going about their business, and the occasional hardware problem. Fact: startup problems are going to happen, so reminding ourselves of the sources of these problems is valuable.

David Parkinson lives and works out of the North West UK as principal Consultant for Control Key Ltd. Clients range from a Premiership Football Club to small manufacturing sites.

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