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The Perils of Hibernation in XP - Use at your Own Risk

Stan Wallner

XP has a feature called “Hibernate” – that presents quite a bit of risk in that when it fails, it can really wreak havoc! This is not the same as “Standby” which keeps the PC running, then lets it resume with just the touch of a key or a mouse movement. Also, the Hibernate in Win98 did not cause any similar problems.

With Hibernate, the PC actually goes off, and your various running programs are saved into a huge hibernation file on the hard drive – perhaps as big as 1 gigabyte. I have seen seven different cases now, in XP only, where after it failed, one could not get back into Windows at all! Four of these were in notebooks, where the battery dying could have been involved; the other three in desktops.

This is too bad, because it is a nice feature - it is convenient not to have to re-load say Word, Excel, IE, etc. It has also been reported to me that there is a distinct advantage to using Hibernate on Notebooks on battery power, because of reduced time to get back to where you were, resulting in an additional 30 minute battery use - 6 hours vs 5.5 with just shut-down and restart. However, if you do want to to use Hibernate, be sure to read to the end of this to see how to at least repair the problems most simply if it does arise - I have no idea how to avoid it completely.

The problem - after trying to resume from Hibernate, an error message comes up in a plain black DOS text screen, with verbage along the lines of:

“Sorry for the inconvenience, but Windows could not start normally.” There are then several choices, something like (recalling from memory):

“Try Again to Restart Normally”
“Safe Mode”
“Safe Mode With DOS Prompt”
“Last Known Good Configuration”

In the problem cases where I've gotten called in, NONE of these choices works – everything fails and just goes back to the above screen. It turns out there are five “mysterious” files in the \windows\System32\Config Directory that I have found to be part of the problem. They all have NO SUFFIX – just the names as below. They are also refered to BY MICROSOFT as the "Hive" - Not sure if this is a reference to the Borg hive on StarTrek or not. Here is what they are on my own PC, as I write this article, 9/20/05: 4:15 PM: (16:15)

Name Size Date Time
Default 262,144 9/20/05 13:30
Sam 262,144 9/20/05 13:30
Security 262,144 9/20/05 13:30
Software 20,447,360 9/20/05 13:40
System 5,242,880 9/18/05 16:35

Once these files get corrupted somehow, through the hibernation process, you get the above error screen. Then they have to be restored or you will have to REFORMAT and REINSTALL WINDOWS!!! A "repair" has not been able to fix it, only the replacement of these files.

There is an earlier set of these mystery files kept elsewhere, in the \Windows\Repair Directory. Here, I believe this 2004 date is when the XP was originally installed. Here is what they look like, again on this machine I happen to be using:

Name Size Date Time
Default 233,472 6/13/04 13:03
Sam 24,576 6/13/04 13:03
Security 28,672 6/13/04 13:03
Software 8,327,168 6/13/04 13:03
System 1,302,528 6/13/04 13:03

I have no idea what these files do, why the dates and sizes are different, why they change, etc. It is also interesting that if you try to make an extra “spare” copy from the \Config directory, you will be denied access! (Unless you have either booted from a floppy or a boot-CD - see below.)

I do know, and strongly recommend, that if you boot from an emergency boot CD or Floppy that gives you access to your hard drive with some kind of file manager, you can rename, move, and/or erase the originals in the \Windows\System32\Config Directory, and copy over the ones in the \Windows\Repair directory, then your PC will boot! If you use the floppy method, Win98, you’ll need an NTFC conversion utility unless your hard drive is not in FAT32 FORMAT.

In a couple of cases the PC reverted to an earlier configuration – Desktop, etc, though not in programs installed, etc. It is better to make a newer, spare, updated version of these files! To do this, boot from a boot-CD, such as Bart-PE; or a floppy (for FAT32 or with an HTFS file utility). You'll then be able to make a much more recent copy of these five "mystery" files: Default, Sam, Security, Software, and System; and keep them safely where you can get them if you need them. Hopefully, you never will, but if you do, the more recent they are the better they will be to bring your system back to where it was. The original ones are better than none, but in several cases, not really very good.

These are NOT related to the Registry and Registry Restore. I have not yet found a complete answer; but if the above sounds rather intimidating – my best recommendation is – DO NOT USE HIBERNATE!!! (In a worst case scenario, I am available for house-calls, and my rates for CFCS members is half what I charge my commercial clients).

Footnote: See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307545/en-us for more information on this issue, including the following instruction:


When you try to start or restart your Windows XP-based computer, you may receive one of the following error messages:

  • Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM
  • Windows XP could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt: \WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SOFTWARE
  • Stop: c0000218 {Registry File Failure} The registry cannot load the hive (file): \SystemRoot\System32\Config\SOFTWARE or its log or alternate
    System error: Lsass.exe

When trying to update a password the return status indicates that the value provided as the current password is not correct. The procedure that this article describes uses Recovery Console and System Restore. This article also lists all the required steps in specific order to make sure that the process is fully completed. When you finish this procedure, the system returns to a state very close to the state before the problem occurred

To Fix:

Start the Recovery Console, create a temporary folder, back up the existing registry files to a new location, delete the registry files at their existing location, and then copy the registry files from the repair folder to the System32\Config folder.
When you have finished this procedure, a registry is created that you can use to start Windows XP. This registry was created and saved during the initial setup of Windows XP. Therefore any changes and settings that occurred after the Setup program was finished are lost.

Follow these steps:

  1. Insert the Windows XP startup disk into the floppy disk drive, or insert the Windows XP CD-ROM into the CD-ROM drive, and then restart the computer.
    Click to select any options that are required to start the computer from the CD-ROM drive if you are prompted to do so.
  2. When the "Welcome to Setup" screen appears, press R to start the Recovery Console.
  3. If you have a dual-boot or multiple-boot computer, select the installation that you want to access from the Recovery Console.
  4. When you are prompted to do so, type the Administrator password. If the administrator password is blank, just press ENTER.
  5. At the Recovery Console command prompt, type the following lines, pressing ENTER after you type each line:
    md tmp
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\system c:\windows\tmp\system.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\software c:\windows\tmp\software.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\sam c:\windows\tmp\sam.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\security c:\windows\tmp\security.bak
    copy c:\windows\system32\config\default c:\windows\tmp\default.bak
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\system
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\software
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\sam
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\security
    delete c:\windows\system32\config\default
    copy c:\windows\repair\system to c:\windows\system32\config\system
    copy c:\windows\repair\software to c:\windows\system32 \config\software
    copy c:\windows\repair\sam to c:\windows\system32\config\sam
    copy c:\windows\repair\security to c:\windows\system32\config\security
    copy c:\windows\repair\default to c:\windows\system32\config\default
  6. Type exit to quit Recovery Console. Your computer will restart.


Author: Stan Wallner - Central Florida Computer Society
Date: 09 / 2005

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