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Solved: Windows 7 – Black Screen Blinking Cursor

November 3rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

Update 21 October, 2012 – After a few years of experience with Windows 7 and seeing this problem many times, I wanted to add another update to the solution. The information below, and especially the update below could well be useful, however I have found another technique that I think more often solves this problem. Please refer to this updated Black Screen Blinking Cursor III entry.

Well, I’ve had my first Windows 7 problem. I did a clean install “upgrade” of a machine to Windows 7 Home Premium, tested the machine and turned it back over to the customer. He called me two days later when he experienced the infamous (Vista) KSOD. He described the symptom this way: the machine was working fine the night before, but when he turned it on in the morning, it came up with the BIOS screen then went straight to a black screen with a blinking cursor. Yikes, I thought, this is too close to Vista for my tastes.

The machine is a Toshiba Qosmio A45-411 laptop. I’m not actually positive that this is strictly a Windows 7 problem. It turns out that the issue has to do with the computer not finding the hard drive after it wakes up from hibernation. To fix the immediate problem, I removed the hard drive from the machine and turned it on. With no hard drive it the machine, it tries to boot from the network (for some reason it skips over the CD drive which is first on the list). After the unsuccessful network boot, I turned off the computer and re-inserted the hard drive. Hit the power switch and it will again try to boot from the network, then, after a moment, will successfully resume using the HDD.

This particular computer had some problems with SATA LPM (Linked Power Mode) which were supposed to be fixed with a BIOS update. I have a suspicion that this is where the problem lies but I don’t have the time right now to fully sort this. My workaround for the problem is to disable hibernation on this machine as the customer is OK with that. You can read about how to disable hibernation in Windows 7 here. If you use the GUI method Brink describes here, there is a setting for disk power that might be interesting to fool with if you have the time.

EDIT: I’ve added another simple solution for the blinking cursor problem that is not Windows 7 specific.

UPDATE: Because this is one of the most popular items on this blog and I’m giving a pretty machine-specific solution, let me also include a general solution that might help someone.

You’ll get this blinking cursor problem often when your computer can’t find the operating system for some reason. There are three general categories for where the problem is most likely to be occurring (this is not an exhaustive list but covers 75%-80% of the problems in my experience). They are:

  • Windows configuration failure
  • File system corruption
  • Hard drive failure

What you are hoping for is that the problem is File system corruption because that is the easiest to fix. Your Windows 7 installation disc is your friend here because you can boot your computer with it and ask it to do a repair. You probably don’t have this disc, but not to worry, you can download it from here. You’ll have to have access to a working machine and figure out how to burn a CD/DVD.

After you boot with the disc, it will offer to try and do some repairs, you can let it do that, but I’ve never seen this work. The next menu allows you to open a command prompt. Go to the command prompt and run the command CHKDSK C: /R. This might run for hours, especially if you have problems. If the result comes back that the program found “Bad Sectors” or completely fails for some reason, you’ve got a hard drive problem. If it fixes some file issues and tells you so, cross your fingers and reboot, your troubles may be over. If it says it didn’t find any problems, then your probably either have and Windows configuration problem or you might have a hosed Master Boot Record. These are going to be tricky to fix and are out of scope for this update.

Good luck.

  1. shard
    November 14th, 2009 at 18:44 | #1

    I’m having the same problem on my Vaio c1z. Looking for a long term solution as I want to continue using hibernate.

    • admin
      November 14th, 2009 at 20:49 | #2

      Well, I don’t have that machine anymore so I can’t experiment but I wonder what would happen if, under “Advanced settings/ Turn off hard disk after” you told it “Never”. Just speculating here that the HDD gets told to spin down and stays spun down even when the computer comes back from hibernation.

  2. shard
    November 15th, 2009 at 14:33 | #3

    This makes sense. I’ll give it a try, see if it works and let you know.

  3. March 24th, 2010 at 09:39 | #4

    maybe an Atapi.sys rootkit?

    • admin
      March 24th, 2010 at 09:47 | #5

      The Atapi.sys rootkit is a possibility. I was seeing a lot of these during December and January this year. However, I don’t recall seeing them successfully attack any Vista or Windows 7 machines, it was normally XP.

  4. Joshua
    May 11th, 2010 at 08:39 | #6

    I had this exactly problem with a Qosmio F45. Very frustrating! I figured out removing the hard drive would break the boot fail cycle before I found this blog, but a least you’ve confirmed I’m not crazy.

    The hard drive spin down is an interesting theory, but I’ve testing forcing hibernation by using the start menu, and it still goes into a boot fail cycle.

    I am putting the blame on Toshiba here, not Microsoft. The fact that you can’t even enter BIOS while it’s stuck in the boot fail cycle shouldn’t have anything to do with Windows. Even if it can’t resume from the hard drive, you should still be able to boot from other media. It also seems a little wonky that just removing the hard drive doesn’t break the cycle. You have to reinsert it, watch the weird logo screen (with no BIOS entry prompts), watch it fail to boot from the network, THEN finally see it try to access the hard drive. So strange!

    I am hoping a BIOS update will be released to resolve the issue, but I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, substituting Shut Down for Hibernate at critical battery level is a tenable solution.

    Thanks for the blog.

    • admin
      May 11th, 2010 at 10:08 | #7

      Thanks for your comment and expansion on this.

      I think that not being able to go into BIOS during this failure cycle is by design. The computer (or HDD) thinks that it is in hibernation mode, in other words, that Windows has not shut down gracefully. You probably do not want to be making BIOS changes while the OS is sleeping as you can end up leaving it in a very weird state.

      I agree with you that this is some kind of Toshiba, probably BIOS, issue.

  5. Chris
    October 26th, 2010 at 15:42 | #8

    @Joshua
    I have had the same problems with my F45-AV411 too. I never had the problem until I had fixed it after bricking it (had to remove the motherboard battery to clear a bad BIOS flash) I think it is on Toshiba’s end with their BIOS. The one I loaded about 8 months ago is no longer on their website. I wish there was an acceptable solution other than no hibrination… but since Toshiba told me after it bricked that it was a paper weight I was pretty happy to get it working again as a “never leaves the plug / always on” laptop.

    If I find/figure anything else out I will post it back here.

    Good luck everyone!

  6. Ghazwan
    February 11th, 2011 at 10:56 | #9

    I’ve read everybody post which helped me alot to understand the problem, I flashed the new BIOS version 1.9 from Toshiba site but I still face this problem, is there a perminent solution for this problem or not? I really need to use the hibernate mode as I can’t finish my work in one day, so I hibernate my PC in order to start my work next day exactly from where I finished.

  7. Rondell
    March 24th, 2012 at 14:40 | #10

    I had a similar problem i had to do a bootrec.exe and that fixed my problem i ran the following switches /RebuildBcd, /Fixmbr and /fixboot..

    • March 24th, 2012 at 16:53 | #11

      This is absolutely worth trying. It’s worked for me many times. Thanks for the comment.

  8. adrian ramos
    May 1st, 2012 at 01:57 | #12

    Hello,
    i had black screen whith mouses cursor blinking and i try everything to do but nothing would help i try f8 f9 f10 f11 f12 nothing only f4 and enter in to a flash type generic flash type said and esc that only go to bios command y try the antyviurse and nothing would help so any awser to help whith this problem and the restor disk that burn off the computer would not work any answer that would resolved the problem thank you

    • May 1st, 2012 at 07:29 | #13

      I have found that in most cases, if you are getting this result, the problem is either a failing hard drive or a virus has attacked your Master Boot Record. You need an original Windows 7 disc to boot from and then to have it attempt a start-up repair. As mentioned above, the bootrec /fixmbr, /fixboot, /rebuildBCD commands can be run from the recovery environment and will fix this part of a virus problem. You can also run a chkdsk c: /f to see if you have hard drive problems that can be at least temporarily repaired.

  1. November 17th, 2009 at 23:42 | #1