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09 February 2010

AskMeCha: Is there another way to get to Safe Mode if F8 won't work? [More:]

My computer at work is playing hardball with me again. It was reformatted just last week, and today it crashed. Reformatted computers suck. Anyway, it's running XP and when I start it up, the Compaq screen flashes, and that's it. Tapping F8 does nothing. Once in a while, tapping F12 while the word Compaq flashes on the screen brings up some kind of configuration thing with a prompt, so I hit ESC and it goes to the F8 screen, where I choose Safe Mode. It usually reboots right then, or makes a half-hearted attempt to start in Safe Mode, and then reboots anyway.

So besides F8, is there another way? Obviously I cannot get to the Start menu to enter a command in Run.....

Hope me, please?
Oh and you won't insult me if you answer as if you're talking to a child. It's preferred, actually!
posted by iconomy 09 February | 16:39
If you have a USB keyboard, try connecting a PS2 keyboard - it could be that the USB driver isn't loading.
posted by essexjan 09 February | 17:09
Ooo good point. I do have a usb, and we have a slew of ps2 boards in our computer graveyard, also known as the extra office.
posted by iconomy 09 February | 17:17
If you can get to the safe mode screen, there are several safe mode options (networking, command line, etc.). Have you tried them all?

I've never heard of any other way to get into safe mode.

I recently worked on a PC that had a bad virus infection, which I got cleared up, but it will no longer boot into safe mode. Some viruses disable safe mode, and that was something I wasn't able to undo. It only boots so far into safe mode, then restarts. I figure if I ever have to work on it again, a restore install of XP will probably be necessary. But they aren't computer savvy enough to ever use safe mode, so it isn't a problem for them at the moment.

Does this computer boot at all or is just safe mode a problem?
posted by DarkForest 09 February | 17:35
If you can boot at all, you can tell it how to boot directly into safe mode in your next boot (and thus won't need the keyboard).
posted by Obscure Reference 09 February | 17:39
Starting, but not booting windows. Trying...the windows boot appears, and then the computer shuts itself off and on again. Does that make sense? It always starts with a screen that looks like this except it's compaq instead of dell.

≡ Click to see image ≡

and the F2 and F12 options work, I believe. So I try F8, nothing. I try F12 and it tries to boot, and then turns off.

So, no Windows. So... cannot access Run or Start or My Computer or any of those.
posted by iconomy 09 February | 18:12
Is there a cd drive? You may end up trying to boot with a CD with another operating system on it or a windows reinstall cd..
posted by Firas 09 February | 18:19
You could use a linux live disk to rescue your files to another drive. You could use ubcd4win (a live windows disk with some recovery software) to try to go back to a restore point. XP's recovery console (on the original XP disk) can also do this, I think. You could try to do a repair install of XP. I can't think of any quick fix for this sort of thing, though.
posted by DarkForest 09 February | 18:25
I would try an XP reinstall from the CD-ROM that XP came on. I did a number of them and it delayed the death of my Dell for a couple of years.

Put the disk in and then reboot and it should give you the chance to boot from the CD then follow the prompts to reinstall XP. I never lost any data doing this but your milage may vary.

Good luck ico!
posted by danf 09 February | 18:49
Speaking as a tech grunt of many years, F8 does not really work until you see the first glimmers of Windows actually loading. When you see the DELL or Compaq logos, it is still on the BIOS loading screen and won't pass the F8 on to Windows; if you tap F12 you are not in Windows at all, just the BIOS config.

Anyway, you say sometimes you are able to select Safe Mode but it doesn't work. This, I may say with experience, is not Good News. You are looking at a reinstall for best results, unless you enjoy mucking around with drivers, because it probably is a driver problem. Something last week wasn't done correctly, most likely, and your chances of getting a stress-free computer out of this are slim.
posted by dhartung 09 February | 18:50
Thanks a lot everyone. I think you're right, dhartung....not good news. I also agree that it wasn't done correctly. My boss bought in a teenager still in tech school to do some tech work, and he reformatted. My boss was trying to save some money. Well that's backfired, huh!
posted by iconomy 09 February | 20:30
Seconding dhartung. It's not even getting to the windows bootloader. Booting from something else like BartPE might get you in far enough to look at the smoking wreckage, but I'd not hold out hope for much more.

Rather that think the previous reformat was somehow done incorrectly, I'm guessing there's some low-level hardware problem, like the disk or it's controller.. those sorts of things tend to start as nearly unnoticeable glitches, bad sectors that the PC works around until the glitch happens to one of the boot sectors, whereupon all becomes paperweighty.
posted by Triode 09 February | 22:17
The tech just texted me on something unrelated and I told him what happened - he hasn't seen it yet but is convinced it's a RAM problem. He was almost excited - he said "Remember right before I left I told you you needed to install more RAM"? And so he did. He said something about bad RAM in a boot sector, or something similar...not sure what language he was speaking ;P

So he's coming over today, and told me he can fix it. We'll see!
posted by iconomy 10 February | 08:53
Rather that think the previous reformat was somehow done incorrectly, I'm guessing there's some low-level hardware problem, like the disk or it's controller
I agree with this. It sounds like it was loading Windows fine after the re-install, which indicates (but doesn't guarantee) that the install was at least done well enough to get the thing started.

My experience has been that, when you see inconsistent issues with booting prior to Windows loading, it's most likely a hardware issue. It could be as simple as a flat BIOS battery that stops the machine from booting in a way that will enable Windows to start. I had this problem with my desktop at home and it turns out there is a fault in the motherboard that prevents the BIOS from saving settings after the PC is turned off (most likely not getting any power from the battery). It's fine as long as I keep it turned on and, if the power goes out, I have to go into the BIOS and re-set the RAID configuration and the time/date. In my case, replacing the battery didn't fix the problem, but it might be worth a shot. You would need to know what the BIOS settings should be, though. Compaq PCs tend to need unusual BIOS settings to work, in my experience.

If the machine was working fine before, insufficient RAM is not the problem. installing more RAM will not solve a problem with bad RAM, unless you replace the existing chips. Doing this without being sure may lead to throwing money at a dead PC.

When he comes over and 'fixes' it, make him turn the machine off, leave it for a few minutes and then make sure it boots correctly (cycle it through a couple of times). A favourite trick of techs (not the good ones, of course) is to change something, make it work and walk away without testing that the change will stick when you re-boot.
posted by dg 10 February | 17:21
Oh, are you sure you haven't left a floppy disk in it again ;-)
posted by dg 10 February | 17:23
Hah! Oh. My. God.

I am never going to live that down!! Wasn't that, like.....2002 or something? You were blogging at Ticking Away I think.
posted by iconomy 10 February | 21:07
Oh and you know what? I actually did look to see if there was a floppy! Until I realized there was no A drive.
posted by iconomy 10 February | 21:09
Well, it was just after I joined MeFi so, yeah about 2002, maybe 2003. I can't remember to pick up bread on the way home from work, but I can remember that ;-) I was still on Blogger then - didn't start until April 2003.

So,did the dude fix your computer or what?
posted by dg 11 February | 06:40
He hasn't been able to come in yet, what with snowmageddon and the snowpocalypse and all. About 3 feet of snow this week!
posted by iconomy 11 February | 21:33
The update here is that there is still no update - he's coming on Monday.
posted by iconomy 14 February | 00:05
Yay! Computer fixed, no data lost!

He said I had a bad piece of RAM, he replaced it with a new piece, everything was fine. He only charged 30.00 labor and 25.00 for the new RAM, can you believe?

posted by iconomy 16 February | 13:48
posted by Firas 16 February | 17:31
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