Ever had your Windows installation inexplicably die leaving your computer unusable without a fix? I have – more times than I’d like to count. The last time this happened was yesterday when Windows 7 would only boot into a black screen with a movable cursor, also known as the blacK Screen Of Death. It was a serious case considering none of the safe modes or repair function in the Windows boot options would work; each option would universally end in either a KSOD or the classic BSOD after hanging on aswRvrt.sys during safeboot. After exhaustively eliminating all possible “regular” fixes that were available on the internet, I decided it was time for the big guns: Steve Gibson’s Spinrite.
Prior to trying Spinrite I first tried Kaspersky’s Rescue Disc 10 which was entirely useless for my case. After booting from the rescue USB dongle I would always get a “Missing Operating System” error in the boot screen. Not reassuring. I have long been a fan of Steve Gibson’s Security Now podcast, which is why I knew of the tool. I knew the tool would be one of the few things that might do the trick, so I gave it a shot. At first I had a few issues with it, but these were all overcome with a little tinkering and searching. I’ll document these below for Steve (and others’) benefits, but suffice it to say that after about an hour running Spinrite 6 and a few reboots later my Windows 7 installation was working perfectly as if nothing had ever happened. Spinrite saved the day.
Here is the chronology of how my experience went. Firstly I was going to try booting spinrite using a bootable USB stick. In Windows 8 (where I was creating the USB) it seemed impossible to get Spinrite to create it. To create the USB in Spinrite you are supposed to hold down the drive letter corresponding to the USB stick using your keyboard before clicking the button to create the bootable USB stick. For me, this was impossible. If I held the key of the drive the button in Spinrite was not clickable. If I didn’t hold the key the button was clickable but would (obviously) do nothing but give me a nag to hold down the key. After unsuccessfully trying briefly to create a bootable USB stick using an .iso exported from Spinrite and a tool for creating bootable USB sticks from .iso files called Rufus I decided it was going to be easiest just to burn the .iso and be done with it.
After burning the disc I struck another problem that a little googling solved: when I booted the machine from the CD I would get an “Invalid Opcode” error and the machine would sit there until I turned it off. Turns out that for Spinrite to do its thang you sometimes need to go into your BIOS and change your hard drive settings. People on the page linked above seem to all have different required settings, but changing them worked. For me, on a Toshiba Satellite Pro, I needed to change my setting from “AHCI” to “compatibility”. After changing that and rebooting I had success – Spinrite was running.
As I mentioned above it took about an hour or so to run.. faster than I expected and MUCH faster than scraping the raw files off the drive using data recovery tools. After Spinrite did its thing on a level 2 scan (the quickest) the summary said that one tiny area was unrecoverable. I shut down the machine and powered it up again. The moment of truth came and then punched me in the face as I ended up back where I began:
After you try a fix and it doesn’t work you are basically back to the start. You now need to try the steps you’ve previously taken to see if any of those work now that the fix has been applied. For me, this was the winner. Safe Mode is your friend. Safe Mode is the first thing you should try if Windows is not booting normally. Thankfully whatever magic pixie dust that Spinrite sprinkled on my drive, combined with booting into Safe Mode, meant that I was back in. After doing a normal reboot from within Windows Safe Mode, the PC booted up fine as if the last several hours were merely the imaginings of a hallucinating madman.
TL;DR Spinrite saved my machine from a perpetual and otherwise unbeatable KSOD scenario and my guess is that if you are having KSOD problems then Spinrite is one of few things that might help you too.
PS: I believe, though I have no proof, that antivirus program “Avast!” was the cause of this problem. If you do a search for Windows not booting into Safe Mode and hanging before crashing on aswRvrt.sys, the first results are from the avast forums. All the tips on those pages were entirely useless for my situation and were all far too complicated for an average user to achieve. The reason I’ve chosen to single out avast for my rage here is that I have been frustrated by the program before when it entirely broke email functionality in Thunderbird. The problem it caused me is exactly covered here: http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=2782385 but basically TB would not send or receive emails and it would only give me an error on open saying “Could not initialize the application’s security component.” which happened immediately after installing Avast. When I want to the net for a solution I was dumbfounded at the number of, and age of many of the complaints about avast IRT it breaking Thunderbird. This has been a problem for at least 3 years. I have recommended avast to many people over the years but considering the problems it can cause, I will not longer be doing that.
PPS: AVG just finished running its scan on this Windows 8 Machine: It claims that the avast installation folder has at least 2 viruses. This is on a machine that didn’t get KSOD. Thanks avast. Thanks a whole fucking bunch.