Geek Friday: Windows Vista Continuous Restart Loop, Chkdsk Loop, Service Pack 1 and Windows Update Issues

Sorry about the long title, but good SEO means putting relevant information where it can be found.  SEO can not only help people find you, but, as in this case, it can also help point the way to relevant information.  This was a particularly troublesome problem, as there are a lot of postings with this issue but only a handful of solutions that are only of a marginal help and a couple that aren’t even helpful at all.

OK, this is not so much a Geek Friday as a fix it yourself article.  However, this particular one took me hours to find!  I had to babysit a machine.  For me, it all started with cleaning a virus and doing the subsequent security checks.  However, this particular machine didn’t even have Windows Vista service pack 1 (SP1) on it, so it evidently had not done an update in over 2 years!

So, I diligently installed SP1.  When it finally finished, I clicked on Restart.  It ran through several items, came up and said, “Configuring Updates”.  It went through a few stages, then it got stuck on “3 of 3 – 100%” for at least ten minutes.  Then, BSOD!

“Oh, no!” went through my mind at once.

It rebooted, ran chkdsk, and then proceeded to jump right to “3 of 3” in configuring updates.  Well, it jumped up  to 99%, sat there for five minutes, changed to 100% for about three minutes, and then rebooted.  It didn’t run chkdsk again (not yet, that comes later!), but it went back to “Configuring Updates: Stage 3 of 3”, lathered, rinsed, repeated, over and over and over again.

I looked all over the net, and I was amazed at how many articles with conflicting information came up.  One “fix” was to boot up Vista and literally reinstall it; not even an “in-place upgrade” (and, this was from e-How … great job, guys – NOT).

Well, to make a very long story short, I found out you can delete the pending.xml file in C:WindowsWinsxs (assuming your OS is on drive C:).  I think I had to go to a System Recovery Options, open up a commandline window to do this.  There are various ways to get to it.

Well, that ended the endless configuration boot loop problem, but now I had 2 more.  Windows Update would not now run at all.  Worse, chkdsk wanted to check the disk on every restart.

Well, one thing that is key is that whenever you have Windows Update issues, you should clear out your update cache.  Again, there are several ways to do it, but no matter what it will probably leave a few things behind.  Not to worry, as it seemed to work anyhow.  The following assumes the OS is on C: drive again.

  1. Open a commandline prompt.  You need to do this with elevated privileges, so do not use the Start | Run and typing “cmd” trick.  Instead go to All Programs | Accessories  and right-mouse-click on Command Prompt.  From the context menu, choose Run as Administrator.  Play with UAC, and the commandline window will open up.
  2. Type:

    net stop wuauserv


    cd %windir%

    cd SoftwareDistribution

    del *.* /s

  3. Press the [Y] key as it will ask a few times
  4. Type: net start wuauserv

However, that did not clear it up.  Yet, it would seem to clear up some update problems on some systems.

I was beginning to fear the worst, as none of these helped:

  1. I downloaded the latest Windows Update program, which would not install.
  2. In typical Vista fashion, System File Check is a wonderful idea with a poor implementation.  SFC /SCANNOW would not run to completion.  Under a normal boot, it kept complaining about needing to run chkdsk.  That’s the problem I’m trying to fix!  Finally, under System Recovery Options, it told me that “Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation.”  Grrrr.
  3. I scheduled a complete CHKDSK to run at startup (you know, the 5 stage one).  It found no problems, but the cycle continues.

All the advice I could find pointed to doing an in-place upgrade.  Reluctantly, I put in a Vista DVD and started running it.  After about an hour of churning, it decided it couldn’t update the system?

Well, this wasn’t looking good.  So, I decided it was time to backup the system.  I fully anticipated this was going to be a factory restore operation.

So, while the backup was running, I made a list of things to do once it was complete.  Registry cleaner (who knows?), uninstall antivirus, disable startup programs, etc.  None of these really did anything, of course, but while grasping at straws …

I gave Google one more shot.  I typed in every symptom I was seeing instead of just the current one.  Amazingly, on the first page came up “Tool To Repair Windows Updates errors in Vista” on the Windows Reference site.  I had not noticed this one before, and it gave instructions for using a Microsoft tool called Check for System Update Readiness (CheckSUR).  None of the other sites mentioned this tool.

Well, as I was trying out different things, why not?  I followed the directions on the Windows Reference site, and I downloaded and ran the tool.  It ran for a while, and then it asked permission to run a hotfix.  That took quite a while, so I was getting nervous enough to get up and leave for a while.  When I came back, it said it had finished.

“Well, this is encouraging,” I told myself.

Just to be sure, I downloaded all the Dell updated drives I could find.  Last, I manually downloaded Service Pack 2 and ran it.  It seemed to be chugging away, so I went to bed.

In the morning, not only had SP2 completed successfully, but I saw that several updates had been applied as well.

I have seen chkdsk run once upon startup since, but at least it’s not every time.  I guess time will tell whether or not the system is truly stable, but at least now the user can get to their data and back it up properly.

Anyhow, about once a month one comes along like this where you are left scratching your head for quite some time.  Hopefully, this will help highlight a solution to those who are searching Google for it and need it.