Get the fix to the Windows could not start boot error message affecting Windows XP.

About the “Windows could not start” error

The following information on this error has been compiled by NeoSmart Technologies, based on the information gathered and reported by our global network of engineers, developers, and technicians or partner organizations.

Description and Symptoms

The error messages, alerts, warnings, and symptoms below are tied to this error.

Symptom 1: Windows could not start error screen on startup

When a computer is turned on, the BIOS picks an eligible, bootable hard drive and then calls code stored in the MBR at the start of that hard drive. That MBR code in turn loads the bootsector from the active partition. On Windows XP, this bootsector code is tasked with loading NTLDR (the Windows XP bootloader) and its dependencies, which are used to load the operating system kernel and start up Windows. The NTLDR file then loads the Boot.ini file that contains the list of operating systems. However, if an entry in the Boot.ini file points to a nonexisting drive or partition, then the system loading process is halted and the “Windows could not start” error screen is displayed.

For more information on how computers start up and how the Windows XP boot process works, please refer to the respective pages in our extensive wiki and knowledgebase.

Windows could not start error screen

Windows could not start because of a computer disk hardware configuration problem.

Could not read from the selected boot disk. Check boot path and disk hardware.

Please check the Windows documentation about hardware disk configuration and your hardware reference manuals for additional information.

Causes of this Error

This error has been known to occur as a result of the following cause:

Cause 1: An entry in Boot.ini file points to a nonexisting drive or partition

On Windows XP, this error may appear if the Boot.ini file becomes misconfigured or corrupt because of user errors, power outages or virus attacks. If NTLDR tries to access an inaccessbile drive or partition, then the whole boot process is halted.

Fixing “Windows could not start” on Windows

Windows Setup CD/DVD Required!
Some of the solutions below require the use of the Microsoft Windows setup CD or DVD. If your PC did not come with a Windows installation disc or if you no longer have your Windows setup media, you can use Easy Recovery Essentials for Windows instead. EasyRE will automatically find and fix many problems, and can also be used to solve this problem with the directions below.

Fix #1: Rebuild Boot.ini via Easy Recovery Essentials

Easy Recovery Essentials’ one-click automated system repair corrects issues caused by misconfigured Boot.ini file by recreating ot from scratch on the active bootable partition for Windows XP. This is done automatically as part of the automated repair process, and requires no manual action or user intervention.

Easy Recovery Essentials is guaranteed to fix the “Windows could not start” error automatically using its built-in Automated Repair option. EasyRE is currently available for Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8 and can be downloaded and created on any PC.

  1. Download Easy Recovery Essentials. Make sure to note your Windows version (XP, Vista, 7 or 8) before you download EasyRE. This guide can help you identify what version of Windows you have installed.
  2. Burn the image. Follow these instructions on how to burn the bootable ISO image very carefully, as making a bootable CD can be tricky! Alternatively, these instructions explain how to create a bootable EasyRE recovery USB stick/drive.
  3. Boot up your PC from the Easy Recovery Essentials CD or USB you created.
  4. Once EasyRE is running, choose the “Automated Repair” option and click Continue.
    EasyRE Home

    Choose “Automated Repair” in Easy Recovery Essentials

  5. After EasyRE scans your computer’s drives, identify and select the drive letter for your Windows installation from the list, and then click on the Automated Repair button to begin.
    EasyRE displays a list of found Windows operating systems

    Choose the drive associated with the Windows installation you’re trying to repair.

  6. Easy Recovery Essentials will start analyzing the selected drive for problems. EasyRE will test for and attempt to automatically correct errors with the disk, partition, bootsector, filesystem, bootloader, and registry. No intervention is required, as EasyRE’s repair is fully automated:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Easy Recovery Essentials searches for errors and makes corrections to the selected Windows installation.

  7. Once the process is complete, EasyRE will report its findings. Click on the Restart button to reboot your PC and test the changes.
  8. The “Windows could not start” error should now be fixed as your PC begins to load:
    EasyRE: Automated Repair

    Windows, booting up successfully.

You can download Easy Recovery Essentials from here.

Fix #2: Rebuild boot.ini file

Follow these steps to rebuild the boot.ini file manually:

  1. Insert the Windows XP install CD in your CD drive
  2. Restart the PC and boot from the CD
  3. Press any key to boot from the CD
  4. Press R after the Windows Options menu is done loading to access Repair Console
  5. After this step, log into Windows by pressing 1 using the Administrator password
  6. Enter the following command when Command Prompt appears:
    bootcfg /rebuild
  7. When the systems prompts about whether it should add an identified Windows installation to the boot list, answer “Y”(Yes)
  8. Enter “Windows XP” as Load Identifier and “/fastdetect” as OS Load Options.
  9. Remove the install CD
  10. Restart the PC

Here is an example of what the PC’s console output should look like once the boot.ini file is properly restored:

Fixing Boot.ini file

Fixing Boot.ini file

More Information

Linked Entries

Support Links

Applicable Systems

This Windows-related knowledgebase article applies to the following operating systems:

  • Windows XP (all editions)

Propose an edit