Microsoft

Diagnose boot problems in Windows XP using MSCONFIG

Getting to the bottom of a Microsoft Windows XP boot problem doesn't have to be a lesson in patience. The MSCONFIG utility will help you identify the possible problem area. Steve Pittsley explains all the features.
Original article by Steven Pittsley

Among all the wizards and utilities in Microsoft Windows XP is one great utility that has its roots in the Windows 9.x product line: the System Configuration Utility, or MSCONFIG. This handy utility allows you to make changes to boot files and startup parameters when troubleshooting boot problems. I'll teach you all about the features included with MSCONFIG so you can eradicate pesky boot problems from a Windows XP workstation.

Launching MSCONFIG

To use MSCONFIG, click the Start button and select Run. In the Open box, type MSCONFIG and click OK. The utility will open, as illustrated in Figure A.

Figure A

You must be logged on to the computer using an Administrator account before you can run MSCONFIG.

The MSCONFIG window contains six tabs: General, SYSTEM.INI, WIN.INI, BOOT.INI, Services, and Startup. We'll take a closer look at each of these tabs in the following sections.

The General tab

The MSCONFIG General tab gives you some basic options for starting a computer. As shown in Figure A, the default setting for the utility is Normal Startup. The other two options for starting the computer are Diagnostic Startup and Selective Startup.

Diagnostic Startup allows you to start the computer with only the most basic devices and services that are needed for the computer to run. This startup gives you a clean environment for troubleshooting.

Selective Startup provides a variety of startup options that you can use for troubleshooting. By default, all the options under Selective Startup are chosen. However, deselecting one of these preselected options allows you to prevent one or more of the Selective Startup options from running.

For instance, if you think one of the programs that launch on startup is causing a problem, you can deselect the Load Startup Items option to prevent any startup program from launching. While this won't help you determine which program is causing the problem, it will help you isolate the problem to a certain area. Please note that you're unable to select the Use Modified BOOT.INI file unless you make a change on the BOOT.INI tab, which I'll discuss later.

Finally, the Launch System Restore button provides easy access to the System Restore function, and the Expand File button is a very useful feature if you encounter a corrupted file and want to restore it.

The SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI tabs

The SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI tabs are included for legacy compatibility, and you may not need to use them very often. 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.

In Figure B, each line of the SYSTEM.INI file is displayed in the window. Sections of the file, such as drivers, are expandable to allow you to work with the lines of code in those sections. You can also deselect a section to prevent the entire section from being executed.

Figure B

Deselect a section to prevent the entire section from being executed.

The Move Up and Move Down buttons allow you to move lines or sections to other locations in the file. The Find button is used to search the file; the New button lets you add new lines; and Edit lets you change the value of a line. The Enable All and Disable All buttons at the bottom of the window will select or deselect all the lines of the program. Using these buttons to alter these files is much easier and safer than using a text editor to perform the same tasks.

As you can see in Figure C, the WIN.INI tab provides the same functionality as the SYSTEM.INI tab.

Figure C

Same as before, select and deselect.

Boot options using the BOOT.INI tab

The BOOT.INI tab, shown in Figure D, gives you many options for starting the computer. The top portion of the window contains the BOOT.INI file that the computer is currently using. You cannot edit this file using MSCONFIG. You can change the timeout value for the boot menu. Even if you can't edit the file, it is easy to view the file when you use MSCONFIG.

Figure D

Microsoft recommends that you don't attempt to use MSCONFIG to edit BOOT.INI unless you're directed to do so by a Microsoft support professional.

Three of the four buttons provided in this window are for editing purposes and 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.

Boot option pane

The most valuable functions on the BOOT.INI tab are the boot options, which are explained below. You can use these choices for a variety of troubleshooting techniques:

  • /SAFEBOOT gives you suboptions for starting the computer.
    • /SAFEBOOT with MINIMAL starts the computer in Safe Mode.
    • /SAFEBOOT with NETWORK starts the computer in Safe Mode with networking support. Note: /SAFEBOOT with NETWORK does not load the normal network configuration; instead, it loads a generic TCP/IP network configuration.
    • /SAFEBOOT with DSREPAIR is used to repair Directory Services on Domain Controllers.
    • /SAFEBOOT with MINIMAL (ALTERNATESHELL) starts the computer in Safe Mode with Command Prompt.
  • /NOGUIBOOT starts the computer without the VGA video driver that displays graphics during the boot process and Blue Screen crash information.
  • /BOOTLOG enables boot logging to help you debug and troubleshoot startup problems.
  • /BASEVIDEO starts the computer using a standard VGA video driver, as opposed to the one installed for the graphics card.
  • /SOS causes the driver names to be displayed when they're loaded. You can use this switch to diagnose driver-related issues.
The BOOT.INI Advanced Options screen, shown in Figure E, offers you more options for starting your computer:
  • /MAXMEM limits the amount of memory that Windows XP can use. You can use this switch if you believe that your system has a bad memory chip.
  • /NUMPROC limits the number of processors used in a multiprocessor system.
  • /PCILOCK stops Windows XP from dynamically assigning system resources to PCI devices. The devices will use the BIOS configuration instead.
  • /DEBUG starts the computer in debugging mode. It allows you to configure the machine with three additional suboptions, as follows:
    • /DEBUG with /DEBUGPORT specifies the communications port to be used for debugging.
    • /DEBUG with /BAUDRATE specifies the baud rate to be used for debugging. The default baud rate is 9600 with a modem and 19200 with a null-modem cable.
    • /DEBUG with /CHANNEL specifies the 1394 communications channel for debugging.

Figure E

These are the advanced options.

Working with the Services tab

The MSCONFIG Services tab, shown in Figure F, allows you to prevent specific services from starting when the computer is started. This is extremely useful when you're troubleshooting service-related problems.

Figure F

Microsoft has designed the majority of services in Windows XP. To make it easier to find a non-Microsoft service, you can select the Hide All Microsoft Services option.

Troubleshooting using the Startup tab

The Startup tab lets you prevent items in your startup folder from starting when you log in. As you can see in Figure G, you can simply deselect the service to prevent it from starting. If you want to disable all the services, click the Disable All button. To enable all the services again, click the Enable All button.

Figure G

These are the startup choices.

My favorite feature

The System Configuration Utility is easy to use and will help you troubleshoot a wide variety of Windows XP boot problems. The ease with which you can temporarily modify the boot files, system services, and startup files makes MSCONFIG an extremely useful troubleshooting utility. The best troubleshooting features I have found are the boot options located within the BOOT.INI tab. Remember to use caution when manipulating boot option parameters and always write down any changes you make in case you get stuck.

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About

Mark Kaelin is a CBS Interactive Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He is the host for the Microsoft Windows and Office blog, the Google in the Enterprise blog, the Five Apps blog and the Big Data Analytics blog.

56 comments
Hooch1
Hooch1

I have XP Pro installed by a French person, from whom I bought this system. It is now after six years of perfect service, not starting properly. It only runs in Safe Mode. I have tried reinstalling from the CD provided at the time (2006) and it has installed a parallel XP Pro, but in French. How do I (a) restore the original and (b) how can I get the new system to speak English. ???? I live in France.

geom100
geom100

The obvious question. OK you modified the boot sector, you wrote down what you had done but then the machine won't boot. If it does not boot up you cannot use MSCONFIG so how do you undo what you had done?

czc61307659
czc61307659

Slow problem is a common event for Windows user. "No matter how fast or shiny computers might be when they're new, they all seem to get slower over time." Microsoft claimed that on their technical forum(Windows 7 forum). In fact, Windows built-in a lot of services and startup item start with system. So if you want a faster computer, you need to disable some of them first. I saw an article before. It descripe how to make your windows faster. -------> How to speed up computer If you still don't know how to disable services safety, Click here to fix Windows SLow by professional tools. Any problems? Welcome to discuss with me! Enjoy it ! ------------------------------------------------------------------- Keron Chew ------- A Computer Technication.

xerok pening
xerok pening

SETUP DID NOT FIND ANY HARD DISK DRIVE INSTALLED IN YOUR COMPUTER.... i get this message when i want to boot my computer form my windows CD

thugss2000
thugss2000

Hi all, I'm not able to bootup my Winxp in normal mode. All I can do now is to boot it up in Safe Mode. I want to backup my stuff by transferring the files in the HDD to another computer using external HDD or thumbdrive. However, the laptop could not detect the USB drive. Can I choose to bootup to Safe Mode and using MSCONFIG to enable only USB drive?

nalinarora
nalinarora

You should have also mentioned the work of these basic files like in SYSTEM.INI tab

pgit
pgit

Oh yeah, I give a buggy box about three seconds to straighten up or it's msconfig for you. Two complaints, related actually: you can't resize the window, full screen would be useful, and because of this the path to a given executable often can't be fully displayed. You can resize the field to give the path the bulk of available space but still can't see the whole line. Thankfully it's often enough to see a folder somewhere in the path, eg. C:\blah\blah\blah\symantec\blah ... ok, shut that one off.

haywood.blogger.charles
haywood.blogger.charles

MY PC STARTS ONLY WITH NORTON 14.0, NO BLUE SCREEN, NO START UP OS FOR HP WINXP HOME EDITION

berniemalin
berniemalin

Hey genius, If system wont boot how do I do what you recommend

reisen55
reisen55

MSCONFIG is a nice tool but only one of perhaps 50 boot issues I can think of. Just had a pci.sys failure at a client site, have to see that one tomorrow. I have seen endless login-logout-login loops caused by malware. And if you cannot even GET to Windows XP, well then msconfig is totally useless. Winternals ERD Commander BART PE Boot disk and a good GHOST image of critical systems are also good protective tools. Testing failure is rarely done - DO IT. On servers too.

robert
robert

Do you have any suggestions for debugging a boot problem, when the boot process (normal mode & safe mode) always ends with a blue screen?

jensham
jensham

My System Configuration Utility screen does not have a BOOT.INI tab and this is a source of a problem at start up. Where might it be?

tryonQc
tryonQc

Sysinternals has a program named "autoruns" which is even more usefull for selecting which app/service run at startup. It is MUCH better than msconfig/taskmgr as it gives all the inforamtion aavilable for a particular program helping us detecting unwanted applications.

jamesburns00
jamesburns00

Before your post i did not know how to open system configuration utility but after reading your post , i know how to open I have also one question , How can i give only installation rights to a ordinary user.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

I use often to turn off QuickTime, which insists that it must startup every time I boot. How often do you use MSCONFIG?

smaancona
smaancona

Hello there ! I need some help to fix a problem with the boot.ini file I do not have the tab: BOOT.INI (as figure D) when I launch msconfig.exe to display the system configuration utility When I start up my PC, a message is shown : Invalid boot.ini file What can I do to fix it ? Thanks !

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

rather than a 4 year old discussion Try re-posting in the Q&A section.The 'Discussion' forum is for matters of general discussion, not specific problems in search of a solution. The 'Water Cooler' is for non-technical discussions. You can submit a question to 'Q&A' here: http://www.techrepublic.com/forum/questions/post?tag=mantle_skin;content There are TR members who specifically seek out problems in need of a solution. Although there is some overlap between the forums, you'll find more of those members in 'Q&A' than in 'Discussions' or 'Water Cooler'. Be sure to use the voting buttons to provide your feedback. Voting a '+' does not necessarily mean that a given response contained the complete solution to your problem, but that it served to guide you toward it. This is intended to serve as an aid to those who may in the future have a problem similar to yours. If they have a ready source of reference available, perhaps won't need to repeat questions previously asked and answered. If a post did contain the solution to your problem, you can also close the question by marking the helpful post as "The Answer". . .

bobp
bobp

Boot from a Live Linux CD and drag everything (or anything from the hard drive to the USB drive). I use PCLinuxOS. Works great when I am dealing with a Windows system with problems. I have a backup for safety so if something goes wrong it is not the end of the customer's data. I don't have to fix the Windows system before backing up.

JCitizen
JCitizen

in safe mode, I don't think your USB will work. You could use safemode to configure MSCONFIG to do a diagnostic boot and perhaps then move your files to USB. I can't remember if I've ever opened MSCONFIG in safemode, but it would make sense, so you could finally get to normal mode to finish tech-ing the problem. I disable all startup files,and then just start services and programs I need only to get what I need done. This can take some fiddling, but heed the warnings in this article. Then reset everything to normal startup when done.

pdr5407
pdr5407

Good article about this utility, especially about how to use the Boot.ini tab. If your PC will not start select F8 during bootup and then select Safe Mode. After XP starts opens Msconfig and select the diagnostic startup option to troubleshoot the issue.

zerounderscore
zerounderscore

I think Macrium reflect free is the best backup software.

RoseBud301
RoseBud301

The title says Diagnose boot problems in Windows XP using MSCONFIG NOT Diagnose won't boot problems in Windows XP using MSCONFIG

marcos_madera@hotmail.com
marcos_madera@hotmail.com

You might want use Hiren cd http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd for troubleshooting in case of windows dont start. For windows started normally i use Ccleaner, Advanced Windows care and Glary utilities, Sysinternals. (none of them are completely perfect so i combine them) By the way you can edit boot.ini directly from c:\

randy65
randy65

I agree with you reisen55, backup Os, and personal data,

husserl
husserl

Yes, the imaging thing is crucial. I find Acronis TI is better, not least because images can be mounted as a virtual disc from within Windows; judicious imaging on failure means you cannot forget to recover a file, because you have a disc image. This saved some data for me only the other day. Further, I've started using UBCD win PE instead of Bart PE, on which it is based. Lots more tools as standard. Also useful are the Hiram boot disc and UBCD (DOS/not win), which have a lot of handy tools, including one for uncovering Windows user passwords which I've tried and found work. I've never been in the position of needing one, but I'm glad I have it to hand. In my travel pack; Acronis TI, Bart PE, UBCD Win, Hiram boot, UBCD DOS, a bootable USB with DOS including the ability to manipulate Win XP files (Readntfs I think it's called), repair partitions and such, a bootable USB Bart PE, and a couple of Linux forensics discs. I've not come across a problem I cannot solve. Yet. There's always a first time.

berniemalin
berniemalin

I cannot boot therefore icannot use msconfig Any suggestions Please help 76 yr old retired Thank You Bronislaus Malinowski berniemalin@msn.com

travellingpolander
travellingpolander

Some viruses or malwares disable one of those Sysinternals programs (like Autoruns and Process Explorer). In that case, I have to rely also on other free tools out there like DTaskManager, HiddenFinder, Kill Process and Process Lasso. Actually, you can also use CCleaner to enable/disable your startups.

berniemalin
berniemalin

Sorry to bother you I cannot Boot Win XP. So I cant use msconfig Any other suggestions. Icant use the system Any help would be appreciated Thank You Bernie Malinowski berniemalin@msn.com

berniemalin
berniemalin

how do you use msconfig if sys wont boot Thank you Bronislaus Malinowski

mcleod_andre
mcleod_andre

Sometimes a stubborn virus may hit a machine, and the process runs as soon as the machine boots. I use MSCONFIG (startup tab)to find out if this is the case. Also, whenever doing routine maintenace on computers. Advanced system care has a built in feature to check what programs run at boot time as well. But MSCONFIG is a useful tool.

bilal32
bilal32

Whenever I install new applications and/or performing system maintenance, I want to make sure certain appl's don't run during system startup.

travellingpolander
travellingpolander

Why not use Process Blocker? (see http://www.processblocker.com/downloads/processblocker32.msi) and specifically indicate the QuickTime "EXE" that needs to be blocked or prevented to be run. What you can also do is rename the file (example: filename.exe to _filename.exe), then use Crap Cleaner (Ccleaner) to filter a registry cleanup specific to that file, then finally renaming it back (example: _filename.exe to filename.exe), or in my case - making the rename permanent. By next bootup, it won't run anymore. Either which you can use.

choward
choward

I too use msconfig - quite often - but for me it never gives a huge gain. I stumbled on something that changed the bootup time from night to day on a client's HP zd8000. It had a ridiculously long bootup time. I had upped the memory, tweaked msconfig, cleared the startup folder, scanned for viruses/malware, defragged, upgraded the bios, etc. The majority of the hang time was after the desktop picture appeared, then would have to wait forever for icons and taskbar to appear. On a hunch, I went into setup boot order, made sure the HD was first, and turned off all devices except the HD, rebooted, and, low and behold, desktop, icon, taskbar came up immediately. I can't give an explanation for what happened (maybe someone can give some insight) and don't know if it will work every time, but it definitely made a difference here. By the way, turning these devices off did not affect their function once booted up. For info, The latest version of Norton 360, v3, includes a startup manager that give total control over msconfig startups. You can turn off or on, delay or delete all the items at will. It also gives a real name to each item most of the time that is invaluable. I know many would gasp at the thought of using Norton, but 360 uses the same engine, so I've read, as Norton AV 2009 that has received some very good reviews for its leanness and speed. Great article!

Your momma.
Your momma.

i use msconfig daily. I also use a program called ccleaner to remove things and clean the registry after I'm done fixing or just to clean things.

Miata492
Miata492

Pretty much any PC I sit in front of to work on, I go right to MSCONFIG and uncheck all the unnecessary programs, reboot, and then work on the problems.

husserl
husserl

I don't like continually using MSconfig to stop such garbage as quicktime/boot/hide, ditto real's crud. I use it to find entries that I want to delete, I navigate to them in the registry using the find function, next I kill the associated programme using Mark Russinovich's marvellous current process, then I delete the registry entry; when Spybot S&D and other registry protectors ask if this is alright I allow it on a *one time basis*. Then I allow the offending programmes to run and when they ask I tell SpyBot S&D/others to absolutely forbid this registry entry from ever being made again, having first made sure the offenders are not in memory. It's possible to kill ctfmon like this, but there is a more effective and easy to use script out there. In short, I find MSconfig is good for identifying strings that run garbage, registry editor is good for deleting them, after checking the associated software is not in memory/killing it, along with a good dose of registry protection techniques.

pgit
pgit

A USB drive won't hot plug/recognize in safe mode, but if the drive is present during boot it will be available in safe mode. So just boot with the thing plugged in and turned on (if switched) and you're good to go. I'm not sure if this works for a device that obtains all it's power via the USB bus, like a thumb drive. Never tried that before but I imagine it would work. But a regular hard drive in a USB housing with it's own separate power does for sure.

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

What about those times when a Virus has wiped out Safe Mode? What a can of worms...but I DID choose this line of work!

bobp
bobp

Hiren's Boot CD looks great, but where on the page is the download link? I may be looking right at it and not seeing it. Wouldn't be the first time.

tryonQc
tryonQc

I don't really see how a malware can disable a portable instance of a program (especially since it is also executable from http://live.sysinternals...). In any case, I'd only use msconfig if a malware manage to stop mefrom launching sysinternal's program and I still think it would have been worth mentionning here.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I've fixed some machines by simply replacing the CMOS battery - this, if it doesn't do anything. Your situation depends on the symptoms - maybe the PSU is inop? Could be any number of things.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I used NIS 2009 because it came free with my computer and I didn't have a 64bit alternative at the time. I must admit, although I still don't think background scanning is the way to go, this AV suite seems to work pretty well. But then I bought a dual core quad with 6Gbs of RAM, so I guess that is an afterthought. NIS doesn't complain as much about working with other malware utilities out there but on examination of the logs, the conflicts are still there, just not as evident in effectiveness of operation. I'm getting spoiled rotten on the ID vault that comes with this version, so it will be difficult to discontinue use. There are plenty of freeones probably just as good, but I haven't learned to use them yet. The 2009 version has quite a bit of capability that the 2008 can't do. I doubt you could run this on an old computer with the same results. A good site advisor is one of them; I've found that it is better and more accurate that McAfee's! At least I can run SpywareBlaster without the Norton consol complaining about it. That was plain stupid anyway, as SB only uses hostfiles and registry hacks to provide it's fantastic real time protection. Symantec lost a lot of credibility along with Trend Micro on that one. I still say ESET is the best, but I'm getting spoiled on this one for now. It has only let a few spytrojans through and Adaware has slapped those down; so this is the best performance I've seen from Norton since 2004!!

canddsol
canddsol

I use MSCONFIG all the time. It's the first place I check when a user states they have a slow boot.

JCitizen
JCitizen

hopefully folks will catch on to that! =)

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