Dreaded Blinking Dash

Oh boy… My home PC did a number on me once again. I’m currently confined to the laptop propped up on the nightstand next to my bed. Yeah, I can’t even sit at my desk, because I have a CRT which is obscenely long in the back and takes up 85% of my desk space. Typing from my bed can be done in two positions: uncomfortable, and fucking uncomfortable. The laptop is kinda big to actually be a lap-top. :P

The desktop was working just fine for the most of the day yesterday. In fact, I only did two changes to the system in the last few days. First one was installing the intelisense drivers to support my brand new Microsoft Sidewinder Mouse that I got for Christmas. I will write a review at one point btw, but seeing how my desktop is out of commission right now that post is on the back burner. I restarted the system after the installation and it was fine. The second change was a Windows Media Player update. Recently I noticed that I was experiencing weird discoloration when playing WMV files. In hindsight, I think this issue started when I updated by graphic card’s drivers but initially I thought it might be a media player or a codec issue. I usually use VLC for most of my media but for an obvious reason, WMV files sometimes work better in the MS player.

Since I hardly ever use Windows Media Player, I figured I might as well update it. So I hit the “check for updates” menu item, and allowed it to pull down and install required files. Oddly enough it asked me to reboot afterwards. So I did, and as windows was shutting down I went to grab some food. When I came back, I was greeted by a blank screen with a single dash blinking in the upper left corner.

So here is the situation: when I power up the machine I can see the POST screen, and I can access the BIOS as normal. Right after the POST the screen goes blank and I get that damn blinking dash. I can boot from the CD normally – and in fact, when I booted Knoppix, I was able to access and back up all my data on the C drive. It doesn’t seem to be a hard drive or a controller failure – it even passed the quick built in Dell IDE diagnostic test available from the F12 boot menu.

I ran CHKDSK on the drive from the recovery console and it said it found and repaired some errors but this did not fix my issue. I even ran FIXBOOT to write out a new boot sector, but that didn’t help either.

My next step will probably be FIXMBR, but I don’t want to do that just yet. As far as I can remember, this would always hose the partition table and make the problems worse. So I want to make this the very last step, before formating and reinstalling windows. If I hose a partition or two then, who cares. Before that I want to make sure my backups are working, and uncorrupted. Since I was using Knoppix to write to a NTFS partition, I want to test the backed up files and make sure they are ok before I do any irreversible changes to the master boot record.

Anyway, did anything like this ever happen to you? Any suggestions on how to fix it without killing my current windows install?

Sigh… At least this didn’t happen yesterday or on Christmas Eve. It would surely ruin the holidays for me.

Update 12/27/2007 09:52:30 PM

I posted some updates on this issue in here.

Update 12/28/2007 04:49:19 PM

I found a solution to this. Well, sort off. Read the linked post.

[tags]blinking dash, fixboot, fixmbr, boot sector, master boot record[/tags]

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11 Responses to Dreaded Blinking Dash

  1. Lee CANADA Opera Linux says:

    you could try installing the “smart boot manager” onto the mbr using a ubuntu live cd, or some such thing.

    In debian the package name is “sbm”.
    or binaries are available here:


    Helped me out of a similar situation.

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  2. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    Interesting. I will give it a shot. I’m not sure if it’s going to work – theoretically this thing is doing the same thing as the standard boot manager, which should be fixable using the FIXBOOT command which of course didn’t work for me.

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  3. Zack Sloane UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Try removing all USB devices from your machine and try to boot up again. I see issues where sometimes USB devices stop the computer from booting up properly. Usually ones that have memory card readers, aka printers or memory card readers. Easy and quick and worth a shot right? :)

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  4. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    This was the first thing I tried. I was really hoping it was just my new USB mouse being stupid. But no. I had the machine booting up with just the keyboard, monitor and ethernet cable plugged in and still no dice.

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  5. Gothmog UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I suggest grabbing a copy of Hirens Boot CD, which has some neato partition tools. I think 9.3 is the latest version.

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  6. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    Have you checked the system CMOS and BIOS settings for configuration errors or corrupt data? My cmos got trashed once and created the same problem. Look thru it if ya haven’t and see if it all looks ok. Also once i had a HD failure and of course it wouldn’t boot tho it could boot into dos and access the HD (for a while at least till the hd concpletely died) But it seems like your HD is probably ok.

    So my quess is MBR is trashed or perhaps your partition table. Also had that happen before. I’ve also heard that this problem can be caused by the NTLDR file being trashed or missing, tho I’ve never had that problem.

    Hard to beleive an update would trash your system like that tho once a windows 98 update trashed my system completely. I had to e-mail microsuxs cause I couldn’t easily fix it and didn’t wanna reinstall. To there credit they were very prompt in answering and after a few e-mails i had it fixed :)

    Anyway i had to say it but ya might have to try to fix your MBR if that is it or reinstall. Sorry for your bad luck.

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  7. Miloš UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    I’ll assume that you are (were) running XP SP2. If so, get your XP disk and boot from it and select R for repair current Windows installation…this should overwrite any missing or corrupt system files and allow you to boot into Windows again. It might mess up some of your drivers (mainly video), but you should be good to go.

    However, try this after you have checked the integrity of your backup. Just in case :)

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  8. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Gothmog – thanks for the tip. That looks like a great set of tools.

    @Starhawk – BIOS seems perfectly fine. I see no signs of corruption or anything. Fixmbr didn’t work, and neither did Windows repair and parallel installation. It seems that nothing short of formating the drive will help. :(

    @Miloš – I tried that. No dice. I also tried to install windows on the same partition without wiping the dice first. I was still getting the dash. It seems hopeless.

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  9. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    I know this sounds stupid, but could it be something wrong with your video card or video driver? I had something very similar happening once with a half dead video card. It was kind of working on and off (so I could get my data out just like you did), but it would give me this black screen too…

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  10. Starhawk UNITED STATES Mozilla Ubuntu Linux says:

    That occurred to me too Alphast but Luke said he was able to boot into Knoppix so evidently the video card is fine. Video driver maybe but in my experience windows boots to a default driver in cases like that and ya end up in what looks like “VGA mode”, hmmm interesting suggestion tho, Maybe if your video card was very nonstandard and didn’t support VGA mode. But I have never heard of a Video card like that in a modern PC.

    Anyway Luke I hope ya fix it and it is not some kind of hard ware problem. Ya probably know as much or more than most of your readers here, certainly than me.

    Good luck.

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  11. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    @Alphast – good point, but I think that if it was a video card it more likely switch in and out and give me intermittent issues, or cut off completely. With this I’m able to boot into graphical environments off the CD every time.

    @Starhawk – thanks. I actually really appreciate all these tips. Experience is telling me that nothing short of reformating the drive won’t help but I want to try everything else before I actually wipe all the data on that drive. I do have a backup, but it would be nice to get it up and running with the old setup. This was actually quite recent windows installation, and it haven’t had a chance to trash itself yet. :P

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