It might seem silly that I've written a set of instructions for "troubleshooting an error message: considering the thousands of possible error messages a computer user could see just from the time you turn the power on to when your desktop is up and available.
However, the fact that you have an error message puts you in a class of relatively lucky victims of computer failure. An error message gives you a specific place to work from, unlike a vague symptom like a blank screen or no power at all.
Important: If your computer is having trouble starting but isn't showing any kind of error message then skip these instructions and instead see How To Troubleshoot a Computer That Won't Turn On for a better troubleshooting guide for whatever symptom your computer is experiencing.
Document the error message exactly. While this might seem obvious to some, transcribing the error message in its entirety and without mistake is possibly the most important thing you can do when you encounter an error message while your computer is starting.
Misspelling a DLL file or writing down the wrong characters in a STOP code could have you trying to fix a problem with a file, driver, or piece of hardware that you don't actually have a problem with.
As I mentioned above, there are thousands of errors one might see during a computer's startup process. However, there are a select few that seem to show up more regularly.
If you're "fortunate" enough to receive one of these common errors, you can save yourself the trouble of searching around for a solution and instead get started on solving the problem that's causing the error:
- BOOTMGR is missing. Press Ctrl Alt Del to restart.
- Hal.dll is missing or corrupt. Please re-install a copy of the above file.
- NTLDR is missing. Press any key to restart.
Note: The error message you see doesn't have to be exactly as I've listed above. For example, the hal.dll issue comes in various forms but it will always mention hal.dll.
Have an error other than one listed above? No problem, you just aren't experiencing one of the more common computer startup error messages. Move on to Step 3 below for help.
Search the PC Support site for a troubleshooting guide specific to the error message. I have individual troubleshooting guides for well over one thousand specific error messages and likely have one specific to the error you're seeing when you turn on your computer.
An error message during startup is an indication of a specific problem so it's important to troubleshoot the specific issue the error message is indicating and not to waste time testing unrelated pieces of hardware or replacing unrelated files.
Note: I also keep an alphabetical list of my error message troubleshooting guides in my Find by Error Message directory.
If I don't yet have specific troubleshooting information for your startup error, you might still benefit from a bit more information about the error.
Here are links to lists of error messages that you might see during startup:
- List of POST Error Messages
- List of Windows STOP Codes (Blue Screen of Death Errors)
- List of System Error Codes
Finally, if you can't find a solution, feel free to ask for help in the PC Support Forum.
When posting your question, please remember to include the following:
- The exact and complete error message
- Where exactly the error message is displayed, to the best of your abilities
- Your computer's make/model or general stats if your computer is a custom PC
- Any other information whatsoever that might provide some context
If you haven't already, you should also try to search for a solution to your problem using your favorite search engine.
For the best results, your search string should include the complete error message or the file name that the error message references, assuming one is referenced.