How to Fix a Windows XP Reboot Loop

by Kammy Pow
Hardware and software incompatibilities and corrupt files can cause Windows to reboot repeatedly.

Hardware and software incompatibilities and corrupt files can cause Windows to reboot repeatedly.

Third-party applications, corrupt system files or hardware incompatibilities and issues such as overheating processors, excess dust or failing parts can result in fatal STOP errors that generate the Windows XP Blue Screen of Death, sending the computer into a reboot loop. The black Windows XP startup screen displays momentarily before stopping and rebooting at the same point. Safe Mode can be used to remove the offending software, replace defective system files or modify the registry. If Safe Mode is not available, you can access Windows Recovery by booting up with the Windows CD and initiate repair and recovery there. When all else fails, you may need to restore the operating system.

Capture the Blue Screen Error Message for Troubleshooting

Restart the computer.

As the computer restarts, keep tapping the “F8” key until the menu for Windows Advanced Option appears.

Select “Disable Automatic Restart on System Failure” from the list and press the “Enter” key.

Restart the computer. The BSoD error message remains on the screen until you manually reboot the computer. Write down the STOP error number and error text that follows the number.

Find another computer with an Internet connection and search for the cause of the STOP error on the Microsoft Support website. Type the error message and text into the search box and click on “Search.”

Remove New Hardware and Reboot

Turn off the computer and open the computer case.

Remove the new piece of hardware from the computer.

Restart the computer. If Windows XP restarts successfully, then the issue resides with the new hardware or its software driver.

Reboot in Safe Mode and Remove Third-Party Applications

Turn off the computer. Wait 30 seconds and then restart the computer. Press the "F8" key after the boot screen and until the Windows Advanced Options menu appears.

Log in to Windows XP using an administrator account. Click on "Start” and "Control Panel."

Double-click "Add or Remove Programs." Select the software product from "Currently installed programs" list and click on "Change/Remove." Follow the onscreen instructions to remove the program.

Shut down and restart Windows XP normally. If Windows XP restarts successfully, then the issue resides with the software.

Replace Missing or Damaged Kernel File with the Original CD

Restart the computer. Choose “Recovery Console” when “Startup Options” appears.

Insert the original Windows XP CD into the CD or DVD drive and restart the computer if you do not see “Recovery Console” in “Startup Options.” Press the "Enter" key to confirm that you are booting from the CD drive.

Follow the onscreen instructions and select the defaults until you arrive at the option to repair or recover your operating system. Press "R" to start the repair and recovery process. This puts you at the command prompt.

Type "cd system32" at the command prompt and press "Enter."

Type "ren kernel32.dll kernel32.old" to rename the existing kernel file and press the "Enter" key.

Type the word "map" and press "Enter." Enter the drive letter of the CD-ROM.

Type "expand drive\i386\kernel32.dl_" and press "Enter." This command expands the kernel file from the CD-ROM. When the process completes, type "Exit" at the command prompt to restart the computer.

Restore Windows XP to a Previous Point

Insert the original Windows XP CD into the CD-ROM drive and then restart the computer. Press "Enter" when prompted to boot from the Windows XP CD.

Press "R" to go to the Recovery Console and select option "1" for the Windows installation. Then press the "Enter" key.

Enter the administrator password.

Type "cd system32\config" at the command prompt.

Type "ren system system.bak" at the "C:\system32\config" prompt.

Type "cd \" and press "Enter." This returns you to the root directory of the C: drive.

Type "cd system~1" and then press "Enter." If you encounter an "Access Denied" error, type "exit" and reboot the computer. When you return to the command prompt, type "cd system~1" again.

Type "cd_resto~1" and "Enter." Then type "dir" and "Enter" at cd_resto~1 prompt.

Type "dir" and press "Enter." This brings up a list of files in the directory. Locate the file named "rpX" where X is the highest number and latest restore point. Type "cd rpX" at the command prompt and then press "Enter."

Type "cd snapshot" and then press "Enter."

Type "copy _registry_machine_system C:\Windows\system32\config\system" and then press "Enter." Then type "exit" and allow the computer to reboot. A successful reboot into Windows XP indicates there was an issue with the system file.


  • Modifying the system registry without sufficient knowledge of the individual keys can worsen the damage in Windows XP. Only do this if you have had experience with the registry.

Items you will need

  • Windows XP CD

About the Author

Kammy Pow studied biological sciences at the University of California Irvine. She spent 13 years as a programmer for the financial, medical research, and healthcare sectors. She has been freelancing since 2005 and currently writes health-care related material and pens the occasional review for Southern California altweeklies.

Photo Credits

  • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images