Strange Behavior - Third Daily Startup Successful

For the past month my 10 yo Dell (yes, I know its time to retire it) that is used as a media server, backup, and rarely exposed to www, usually fails to start on the first two attempts. After this morning routine it starts first time up subsequent reboot throughout the day.

First AM boot, the BIOS flashes, a brief graphic (color pattern) flashes, then screen goes black and hdd indicator doesn't flicker. Hard Reboot. Second AM boot, BIOS flashes, then I get standard option to start Windows normally or last good configuration. I have been allowing the former. Hard Reboot. System usually starts normally.

Have run various virus/malware scans.
Seatools for DOS to verify HDD.
Updated Video drivers.
Windows Update - Check.
New CMOS battery installed.

Any ideas or suggestions appreciated. Thanks in advance!!!
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  1. Sounds like it falls over at the stage where it goes from basic graphics to the PC's own graphics adapter which provides a higher quality display. If that is the problem, updating the graphics (display) adapter in Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager.
  2. Thanks, Saga Lout. I was thinking the same thing. Thus, I updated the video driver as a first solution effort. However, even going through the Device Manager it states that the driver is the latest available.

    I'm installing a hdd image of C:\ from about 6 weeks ago now. I don't think it was doing this then. This should isolate the problem as hardware or software. As stated, it only does it on morning boot. The rest of the day it reboots without a problem. Which would suggest that a hardware part needs to warm up before boot. This is why I ran a seatools for dos to check out the hdd (short test no problem found). Have to wait until tomorrow am boot to see if old hdd image isolates the problem as software related.

    The power supply failed once after I replaced the CMOS battery. After a second CMOS battery was installed machine powered up. Anyone ever heard of a power supply doing this before dying?
  3. Installing the 6 week old image to c:\ seemed to correspond to the BSOD "bad system config info" becoming part of the am startup routine. Restored current c:\ image. This time I tried the last good configuration and that didn't help. I also ran MEMTEST+ for five hours (no errors). Googled cold boot problem and got more ideas but have yet to solve problem.

    Cold boot will flash BIOS screen then completely black screen.
    2nd attempt hard Cold boot, BSOD Bad system config info.
    3rd attempt hard Cold boot, system starts -- no problems throughout the day.

    Leave system on overnight for now. Then,
    Swap memory slots
    New PSU
    Retire unit, fix MB capacitor or replace MB.

    After I replaced the CMOS battery the D-Link DGE-530t PCI GB card stopped working. Switched BIOS to on board Intel Pro/100 VE with latest drivers from Intel.

    Dell Dimension 8400
    XP Home SP3
    3.6Ghz Pentium 4
    2 GB RAM (Crucial i think)
    2 TB Seagate Barracuda ST32000641AS HDD
    AMD ATI Radeon HD 6450 (installed driver ati2dvag - ATI Catalyst 13.9)
    500w Antec Earthwatts
    Noticed one minor capacitor leak on Dell motherboard
  4. If you have old versions of files SAM, Security, Software and System in c:\windows\system32\config, it could be worth renaming the existing ones as .BAK then drop the .OLD off the most recent backups so that they have no extension.

    WARNING: They are the crucial files which constitute the Registry and if it all goes toes up after doing that, you might need to tunnel in the back door using a Linux LiveCD to reverse those changes.

    ENCOURAGING BIT: I have done this on occasion and it has fixed the Bad Config error message.
  5. Unfortunately, I have only one backup set of SAM, Security, Software and System and it is about 3 years old. Nevertheless, I attempted to rename these in windows safe mode but I suppose I need to become familiar with Linux LiveCD to do this.

    I began the format c:\ then reinstall Windows as a solution. Thinking Saga's original answer might solve the problem, but both before and after the installation of the ATI CCC driver the boot problem remained the same.


    For the time being, during the first am boot I let the machine run for a few minutes instead of an immediate hard cold boot. After the machine is warm, I hard boot it and get the error screen that goes something like, Windows was not shut down correctly. Option to use last good configuration or (default) load windows normally. Windows then starts and runs normally.


    I'm concluding that this is an "early stage" hardware problem that will one day evolve into a major PSU, motherboard, graphics card failure. Would like to know beforehand which, if any, it is but the Dell motherboard doesn't allow advanced diagnostics like an ASUS or Gigabyte MB.

    I will update when, if ever, this major failure occurs for others that are experiencing the same problem.
  6. I have two Dell laptops here for repair at the moment and both are behaving similarly. One in particular cut out after the hand over to higher end graphics from the basic that just displays basic graphics for a Windows splash. That points to the graphics driver so cut the resolution down a cople of pegs and see if that makes it start properly.

    If it does, it confirms the theory and points up a need for a driver update or, better still, rolling back to basic VGA then prevent any automatic updates creeping in and bringing the problem back.
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