Diagnose XP - A Windows XP Diagnostic Guide

Diagnose XP The following Free guide will help you troubleshoot the most common causes of system problems. Windows XP systems should never Lock-up (freeze), display Blue Screen Stop Errors or Randomly Reboot. These are all warning signs something is wrong or misconfigured with your system.

Notes - Overclocking can cause almost any system problem. It is strongly recommended to only run your system at the correct frequencies. Troubleshooting any problem on an Overclocked system is a complete waste of time. Set the system back to its default frequencies before you begin troubleshooting.

Advisory Windows XP is still supported by Microsoft through April 8, 2014.


Step 1 - Malware Removal

Malware Infection which includes Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Spyware, Adware and Rootkits can cause or mimic just about any system problem. These include: Application Errors, Lock-ups (freezing), Blue Screen Stop Errors (BSOD) and Random Reboots.

Malware Malware Removal Guide - Malware is short for "Malicious Software". It is a general term that refers to any software or program code designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner's informed consent. This includes Viruses, Worms, Trojans, Spyware, Adware and Rootkits. This 3 step guide will show you how to remove these infections and protect yourself from future infections for free using free software.

FACT: 89% of consumer PCs are infected with spyware


Step 2 - Windows Update

WinUpdate Windows Update

Install All of the updates. Not just the critical ones. This may have to be run multiple times. Run it over again until it says 0 updates available. Non-critical updates are essential for improved performance, compatibility and enhanced features. They are all very safe to install.

Windows XP Windows Update requires the following services be enabled in Windows XP:

- Automatic Updates - Automatic
- Background Intelligent Transfer Service - Manual or Automatic


Step 3 - Drivers

Windows Drivers Windows Drivers

Update your drivers using the Windows Driver Guide. Installing the latest Drivers improves system performance and application compatibility. Updated drivers include numerous bug fixes as well as system optimizations. It is recommended for optimal system stability to only use Official drivers and not Beta or Prerelease versions. Performance differences between driver versions including Beta or Pre-release drivers is negligible. The only time Beta or Prerelease drivers should be considered is when a serious application bug is fixed in the Beta or Prerelease version and the component manufacturer has not yet released the Official driver version that includes the bug fix.


Step 4 - Hard Drive

Application Errors, Lock-ups (freezing), Blue Screen Stop Errors (BSOD) and Failure to Write to Drive Errors can all be caused by a defective hard drive.

Instructions - Select one of the following diagnostics that matches the manufacturer of your hard drive. If your manufacturer is not listed the Hitachi diagnostic should work with any drive. If you do not know who your hard drive manufacturer is use PC Wizard and look under "Drives" to identify it. Make sure to back up all of your data before proceeding and read the instructions carefully. Any error codes found should be written down and the manufacturer of the hard drive contacted to see if warranty replacement is possible. Regardless the hard drive should be replaced immediately. Problems with hard drives only get worse.

ExcelStor ExcelStor - Download - Home Page
"Diagnostic utility for PATA(IDE) and SATA drives. Supports ExcelStor drives up to 250GB capacity."

Fujitsu Fujitsu - Download - Home Page * acquired by Toshiba, February 17, 2009

Hitachi (IBM) Hitachi - Download - Home Page
"The Drive Fitness Test (DFT) quickly and reliably tests SCSI, IDE and SATA drives. The DFT analyze function performs read tests without overwriting customer data."

IBM IBM - Home Page * acquired by Hitachi, April 17, 2002

Maxtor Maxtor - Home Page * acquired by Seagate, September 25, 2005

Quantum Quantum - Home Page * acquired by Maxtor, October 4, 2000

Samsung Samsung - Download - Home Page
"Confirm your model is listed on the page of the Diagnostic Utility you download. This program is used to diagnose the disk when the SAMSUNG hard disk is suspected to have failures. It is strongly recommended to back up your data before using this program!"

Seagate Seagate - Download - Home Page
"SeaTools for Windows has replaced SeaTools Online and PowerMax. SeaTools for Windows is a comprehensive, easy-to-use diagnostic tool that helps you quickly determine the condition of the disc drive in your external hard drive, desktop or notebook computer. It includes several tests that will examine the physical media on your Seagate or Maxtor disc drive and any other non-Seagate disc drive."

Toshiba Toshiba - Home Page
"Toshiba does not offer a diagnostic utility for their hard drives. The Hitachi diagnostic can be used to test these drives."

Western Digital Western Digital - Download - Home Page
"The Data Lifeguard Diagnostic Tools are used primarily for determining the physical condition of your hard drive. If you are having computer problems which you suspect are hard drive related, you can test your drive with this tool."

Noises Noises that indicate a defective hard drive
These are not a substitute for running a diagnostic program but can help to quickly isolate where to look for a problem.

Slow Spindle Motor (MP3)
Head Stuck To Platter (MP3)
Head Damage 1 (MP3)
Head Damage 2 (MP3)
Head Damage 3 (MP3)
Head Damage 4 (MP3)


Step 5 - Data Recovery

This step is only necessary if you want to try to recover data off of damaged storage media. Data recovery is the process of salvaging data from damaged, failed, wrecked or inaccessible storage media when it cannot be accessed normally. Often the data is being salvaged from storage media formats such as a hard disk drive, CDs or DVDs. There are not many options for the end user to recover data themselves without paying hundreds of dollars to a data recovery service.

SpinRite SpinRite - Home Page - $89.00
SpinRite is a commercial hard disk scanning and data recovery utility created by Steve Gibson. SpinRite is much more thorough in its surface scans than basic utilities, being able to recover data from damaged portions of hard disks that might not otherwise be read by the operating system. SpinRite uses 'DynaStat' to perform statistical analysis of bad blocks. When it encounters a block which which is hard to read, it repeatedly attempts to re-read it, and tries to determine the value of each byte. The data is then saved onto the same disk after re-allocating the physical block. The goal of SpinRite is to get the hard drive working as reliably as possible, for future use, in addition to recovering as much data as possible. SpinRite is able to operate on all Windows NTFS formats, all DOS FAT, all Linux file systems, Novell, Macintosh (if temporarily moved into a PC) or anything else - it can even be used to repair and recover the hard drive from an ailing TiVo! SpinRite v6.0 achieves complete operating system independence by incorporating the FreeDOS operating system. This allows it to be used on any and all Intel/AMD PC systems. SpinRite 6.0 can create a bootable diskette or generate a standard, CD-R burnable ISO file to create a "SpinRite boot CD". A bootable SpinRite can also be "installed" into any other motherboard bootable devices, such as USB flash drives for easy, portable booting and use. If you hard drive is still accessible from your system BIOS there is a good chance SpinRite can get the drive to an operational state where you can get your Data off it. Simply put - "It Works"

CDCheck CDCheck - Home Page - Download
CDCheck is a utility for prevention, detection and recovery of damaged files with emphasis on error detection. It can check each of your CD/DVD (or any other media) and indicate which files are corrupted. CDCheck's reporting features tell you exactly where the problems are. Files on CDs, ZIP drives, USB keys etc. can get damaged in a number of ways, so the program helps you determine whether your data is safe before it's too late. The program can be used with all local or removable media (CDs, DVDs, disk drives, floppy disks, ZIP drives, USB keys etc.) visible by the operating system (Windows Explorer) and also with audio CDs. In addition CDCheck also gives detailed information (manufacturer, type, capacity etc.) about inserted CD or DVD media.

Notes - For personal usage CDCheck is FREE - the unregistered program continues to function after 30 days but a nag screen is displayed at startup.

Trouble In Paradise Trouble In Paradise (TIP) - Home Page - Download
Trouble In Paradise (TIP) quickly diagnoses any Iomega ZIP or JAZ drives and cartridges and warns of impending data loss and/or drive failure. Iomega ZIP and JAZ drives suffer from a head positioning problem (servo stiction) that can actively and permanently damage perfectly good ZIP and JAZ drive media. TIP provides an early warning system when a user's drives are beginning to damage its media.

If you are unable to recover your data, you can use a Professional Data Recovery Service.


Step 6 - Memory

Application Errors, Lock-ups (freezing), Blue Screen Stop Errors (BSOD) and Random Reboots can all be caused by Defective Memory.

Memtest86 Memtest86+ - Download - Home Page
"Memtest86+ is a thorough, stand alone memory test for x86 architecture computers. BIOS based memory tests are a quick, cursory check and often miss many of the failures that are detected by Memtest86+."

Instructions - Download the "Pre-Compiled package for Floppy (DOS - Win)" to "c:\memtest", insert a blank formatted 1.44MB Floppy Disk into the Floppy Drive. Unzip the file to the same folder, run "install.bat". At the prompt type "a" and press enter, if the disk is in the drive press enter again. Then wait for it to complete. When it is finished, reboot your PC leaving the disk in the drive, your computer should boot to the disk automatically. If it does not consult your PC manufacturer for further instructions. Once it boots it will run the test automatically, let it run for 3 passes. Intermittent memory errors require a more thorough test of running the diagnostic overnight. If you get any errors (designated in red) then you most likely have a defective memory module and it will need to be replaced. To be sure try reseating the module and testing it in another slot. If you have more then one memory module in your system you will need to test one at a time to isolate the defective module.

Notes - You will not be able to read the Floppy Disk in Windows when it is finished being made, this is due to the file system used by Memtest86+ not being supported in Windows. This is normal.


Step 7 - System

Application Errors, Lock-ups (freezing), Blue Screen Stop Errors (BSOD) and Random Reboots can all be caused by Overheating, a faulty Mainboard, a faulty CPU or a faulty Power Supply.

Prime95 Prime95 - Download - Home Page
"This program is a good stress test for the CPU, memory, L1 and L2 caches, CPU cooling, and case cooling. The torture test runs continuously, comparing your computer's results to results that are known to be correct. Any mismatch and you've got a problem! Note that the torture test sometimes reads from and writes to disk but cannot be considered a stress test for hard drives."

Instructions - Download, install and run. In the "Options" menu select "Torture Test", then "Ok", let it run for a minimum of one hour, preferably overnight for a thorough test. On a working stable system this test should never fail. Any errors or failures indicate a hardware problem. The exact cause of a hardware problem can be very hard to find. If both the hard drive and memory diagnostic passed then the most likely causes are Overheating, a faulty mainboard, a faulty CPU or a faulty power supply.

If you cannot isolate the problem take it to a professional.


Step 8 - Internet

The far majority of Internet related problems are due to Malware infection. Use the Malware Removal Guide to clean these. Other performance related problems can be fixed using the Optimize XP Guide.

Speed Test Speakeasy Speed Test - Home Page
Test your Internet connection speed. By measuring the download and upload rate from the following locations you are able to accurately judge your current line throughput or Internet connection speed. To take the speed test, choose the server nearest you. ISP claimed Maximum Download Speeds are theoretical and not always attainable for various reasons. It is normal for them to fluctuate. However, drastic differences in what your ISP claims you should get and what you are actually getting should be brought up with your ISP. It is your money after all and I would want to get what I paid for.

Internet Traffic Report Internet Traffic Report - Home Page
The Internet Traffic Report monitors the flow of data around the world. It then displays a value between zero and 100. Higher values indicate faster and more reliable connections. This web site will tell you if those regions of the Internet are currently slowed down. By checking the Internet Traffic Report, you can determine if your problems are global or local.



Autoruns Autoruns - Download - Home Page
"Utility to display and control startup applications."

PE Builder PE Builder - Download - Home Page
"PE Builder helps you build a "BartPE" (Bart Preinstalled Environment) bootable Windows CD-ROM or DVD from the original Windows XP or Windows Server 2003 installation/setup CD, very suitable for PC maintenance tasks."

CPU-Z CPU-Z - Download - Home Page
"CPU-Z is freeware that gathers information on some of the main devices of your system."

Dial-a-fix Dial-a-fix - Download - Home Page
"An advanced utility for Microsoft Windows that repairs various Windows problems, such as: Windows Update, Windows Installer, Permissions and more."

HD_Speed HD_Speed - Download - Home Page
"Measures both sustained and burst data transfer rates of your Hard Disks, CD/DVD-ROMs and Floppy Disks with a real-time graphical display."

Process Explorer Process Explorer - Download - Home Page
"Find out what files, registry keys and other objects processes have open, which DLLs they have loaded, and more. This uniquely powerful utility will even show you who owns each process."

Process Monitor Process Monitor - Download - Home Page
"An advanced monitoring tool for Windows that shows real-time file system, Registry and process/thread activity. It combines the features of two legacy Sysinternals utilities, Filemon and Regmon, and adds an extensive list of enhancements."

TCPView TCPView - Download - Home Page - Port Authority Database
"An advanced monitoring utility that will show you detailed listings of all open TCP and UDP ports on your system, including the local and remote addresses and the connection state. On Windows 2000 and XP, TCPView also reports the name of the process that owns the open port."

TreeSize TreeSize - Download - Home Page
"TreeSize tells you how your disk space is being used."

Unlocker Unlocker - Download - Home Page
"Unlocker enables you to delete, move or rename files or folders that are locked by other processes."

WinDirStat WinDirStat - Download - Home Page
"WinDirStat is a disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool."



Knowledge Base Microsoft Knowledge Base - Search
Search the vast Microsoft Knowledge Base, including thousands of How-To articles.

Knowledge Base Microsoft TechNet Events and Error Message Center - Search
Enter the message source and ID to receive an explanation, recommended user actions, and links to additional support and resources.

Knowledge Base Microsoft DLL Help Database - Search
Search the DLL Help database to identify the software that installed a specific version of a DLL.



This guide will be revised as new diagnostic utilities are tested and evaluated. Feel free to submit suggestions or comments to OptimizeXP@comcast.net. Do not send Technical Support Questions.

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