Ok, so I’m not afraid to admit it, this has me confused. Ever since boxing day, my computer seems to have developed an annoyingly-hard-to-pin-down fault (or, possibly, series of faults).
Sometimes, it boots perfectly. Other times, it seems to get through the POST ok (well, there are no beep codes, which could mean either that the POST completes successfully or that it doesn’t start – the former is most likely), but the hard drive fails to power up. On yet other occasions, I hear the hard drive power up, but either the video drivers don’t start or the graphics chip isn’t working, and the machine fails to boot. Most frequently, the POST is completed successfully, the hard drive powers up, the video drivers/ graphic chip works fine, and the machine gets as far as the first few seconds of launching windows before hanging with no disc access. There is no apparent pattern to when each error occurs, although hanging part-way into launching windows is by far the most frequent error. When my computer does boot, there are no apparent problems (or, to be strictly accurate, no new problems).
Launching in safe mode with a boot log, it appears that the windows boot process hangs, when it does, after launching atisgkaf.sys. I’ll be honest, up until the development of this problem, I had lived my life in total ignorance of atisgkaf.sys, and I was perfectly happy with that state of affairs. I assume it’s a video driver of some sort, but I wouldn’t be at all confident of that – I’m basing my assumption on nothing more than knowing that my PC uses an ati chipset for video.
Googling the filename brings up mainly forum posts, mainly with people saying ‘Wah! My computer won’t boot, it hangs on atisgkaf.sys’. There seem to be a whole range of different contexts in which the problem has arisen – so many, in fact, that I’m fairly strongly inclined to think that they’re not describing a single problem, but a whole range of problems, all of which just happen to occur at a similar point in the boot process. The people who have resolved their various issues seem to have followed Generic IT Solution #2: “Format & Reinstall Windows”. (Generic IT Solution #1 is, of course, “Have You Tried Turning It Off And On Again?”…) With my own intermittent fault I’ve noticed that, when my PC boots successfully, atisgkaf.sys is the last thing displayed before the most basic version of the GUI is launched (i.e., the point at which the mouse cursor appears), which means that my problem is very possibly not with the file specifically, but with something else that happens between the launch of that and starting the GUI.
In terms of working around my problems, sometimes triggering a soft reboot by pressing the reset key works like a charm. Other times, pressing the reset key achieves nothing. At yet other times, the reset key triggers a reboot, but the machine hangs at any of the stages mentioned above. Powering the machine off and on sometimes results in a normal boot, and sometimes one that hangs at any of the stages mentioned above. In both cases, there doesn’t seem to be any pattern as to when it will work and when it won’t. Thus far, the option that seems to work most consistently is:
- powering the machine off;
- taking the cover off;
- prodding vaguely at the power and data connections to the hard drive;
- powering the machine on with the cover still off. (Seriously, if I replace the cover before powering up, the ‘fix’ fails to work.)
All I have really been able to deduce from this is that (like its owner…) my computer apparently enjoys being stripped naked and prodded. Certainly it doesn’t work consistently enough for me to be convinced that I’m doing anything that actually fixes the fault.
Something else I’ve noticed is that the problem is far more likely to occur if the computer’s been off for a time. If I reboot after I’ve been using it for a while, or I shut it down for only a few minutes before restarting, it almost always boots straight through. If it’s been off for a few hours, it won’t usually work until I’ve taken the side panel off and prodded it. I’ll be honest, this is probably the thing that has me most confused. It’s almost as though, like an old car, it’s more likely to start reliably if the engine is warm. I presume it must be a coincidence.
Anyway, the real crux of the matter is that I can’t really work out what the problem is, and that makes it almost impossible to come up with a solution. If my PC was consistently hanging when it was booting into windows, I’d assume my installation had become corrupted somehow, and I’d set about repairing or replacing it. If I was consistently hearing the hard drive power up but nothing was being displayed on the screen, I’d assume the onboard graphics chip had blown, and I’d set about trying to find the ancient PCI graphics card I should still have in a cupboard somewhere, and seeing if I could coax that into working. If the hard drive was consistently failing to power up, I’d assume the problem lay either with the power supply to the hard drive, or the hard drive itself, and I’d hope like hell it was the former, because, if it wasn’t, I’d have just lost an awful lot of pornography and TV invaluable personal data. As it is, I feel like I’m groping round pretty much in the dark.
Some of the issues seem like hardware problems to me – the intermittent failure to power up the hard drive, and the intermittent graphics failure at boot. Given that there seem to be two separate faults, and they’re both intermittent, my best guess would be that this was a power supply issue, or a problem with the motherboard’s power management. But, if this is a hardware issue, I can’t really understand why the problems only ever crop up during the very early stages of the boot. I would expect (possibly wrongly…) hardware problems this fundamental to manifest at other points in the boot process, or even while the machine was running, but, so far, they haven’t.
On the other hand, I don’t see how it can be a software issue, although there are some aspects – repeatedly hanging at the same point while launching windows – that seem like they might be the result of a corrupted driver or something similar. There are really two major objections that I can see to the idea that this might be a software problem. First of all, I don’t see that a software fault can be intermittent – either a file is corrupted (in which case, presumably, it would fail to do its job every time) or it’s intact (in which case I would have thought that it would work every time). Secondly, some of the errors are occurring so early in the boot process – even before the BIOS is loaded, in the case of the failure to power-up the hard drive – that it’s hard to imagine that a software error or corruption can be at fault. There’s a possibility, of course, that I have more than one fault, and it’s just a coincidence that they’ve cropped up at the same time.
Anyway, I shall keep puzzling away at this, well out of my depth as I undoubtedly am. (Feel free to leave comments laughing at any particularly crashing misassumptions or mistakes I’ve made, btw…) Also, if I should happen to abruptly disappear in the next little while, you’ll know why. If I’m right, and this (or some of this) does suggest a developing hardware fault, then I might be away for a while, depending on how expensive the components I’ll need to replace are. If it is a motherboard fault, then that will mean a new processor too – they don’t make motherboards slow enough to handle my processor anymore – and, probably, a new case, as the SFF system I have at the moment won’t take a standard-sized motherboard. All of those things together might turn out to be rather expensive, and so might translate into a bit of a delay before I’ll be able to get back online.
Alternatively, of course, it may turn out to be nothing.