Windows Explored

Everyday Windows Desktop Support, Advanced Troubleshooting & Other OS Tidbits

What Happened to My Windows XP NTLDR?

Posted by William Diaz on December 6, 2011

One morning we started encountering complaints of several Windows XP workstations that booted with the following message: “Windows failed to start… File: \windows\system32\boot\winload.exe. Status: 0xc000035a. Info: Attempting to load a 64-bit application, however this CPU is not compatible with 64-bit mode.”
Bizarre. To understand how bizarre you need to know that these are all old workstations, 32 bit processor only, that are/were running Windows XP Professional. The message above is not any Windows XP message. The Boot Manager is part of Windows Vista and later, as well winloader.exe. Examining a couple of the workstations, I could see the problem was a missing NTLDR, NTDETECT.COM, and boot.ini. There was also the presence of the Win Vista/7 bootmgr file (the result of booting into the WinPE environment), which is what was responsible for the above message:

As it turned out, our office was the victim of an unannounced SCCM task that had run earlier in the morning to enable a setting in the BIOS. The details behind the issue are not yet fully known but I suspect this boiled down to:

Running 64-bit Custom Task Sequence Programs Using the Task Sequence Environment Will Fail
A 64-bit custom task sequence program using the task sequence environment variable deployed to a Configuration Manager 2007 client on a 64-bit operating system will fail. This failure occurs when the task sequence program attempts to load the 64-bit task sequence environment COM object because the client is 32-bit even on 64-bit operating systems.”

With the vast number of workstations being 64-bit compatible, this was not a problem. The NTLDR, NTDETECT.COM, and boot.ini were placed back into the root of the drive once the SCCM task completed. On the other hand, the 32-bit only workstations could not complete the task.

To resolve the issue, required some old-school knowledge of Windows XP Recovery. It is essentially the same thing as addressing the “NTLDR is missing…” error message encountered after a system post. I hadn’t done this in so long that I had to review the available commands from the Recovery Console (help). Fixing requires booting from the Windows XP CD and going into the Recovery Console, then:

  1. Select the affected Windows Install (1 on a single OS system)
  2. Enter the local admin password
  3. Input the following commands to copy the missing (or corrupted) NTLDR and NTDETECT.COM:
    • Copy d:\i386\ntldr c:\
    • Copy d:\i386\ c:\
  4. Input the following commands to fix the boot configuration and MBR:
    1. Bootcfg /rebuild
      • Microsoft Windows XP Professional (actually, you can call it whatever you want)
      • /noexecute=optin /fastfetct
    2. Fixboot
    3. FixMbr
  5. Reboot

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