Sony VAIO Laptop will only boot to safe mode

Sony / Vgn-fz11l
December 29, 2009 at 13:04:56
Specs: Windows Vista

I have a Vaio laptop, about two and a half years old. I haven't had many serious problems with it, but today it seems to have gone badly wrong somehow.

All of a sudden, as I was using it, a blue screen came up, reading:

Hardware Malfunction
Call your hardware vendor for support
NMI: Parity check/Memory Parity Error
The system has halted

All I could do was hold down the power button until it switched off. I then turned it back on in Safe Mode to find the display pretty messed up - colours wrong, lines across the screen etc. Also, I couldn't get it to start up normally, i.e. not Safe Mode. The first time I tried this, I got the same blue screen as before, but since then, it doesn't even get that far - it just restarts and tells me 'Windows failed to start'.

At first I was convinced this was the result of a virus (which I have still not ruled out) because earlier in the day I had clicked on obviously a bad website which had popped up with a download window (using Firefox by the way) asking me whether I wanted to download a file I think called 'flash-player-update.exe' and took me to some weird porn website in another tab. I closed the browser immediately and assumed the problem had gone, as I hadn't knowingly downloaded the virus. Also, I was running Norton 360 which I hoped would have told me if I'd picked something up.

Just in case, I also updated my Malwarebytes definitions but didn't run a scan. Once this problem had cropped up, I did do a full Malwarebytes scan in Safe Mode and it found nothing.

So I started looking on the internet on a different PC to find out what the problem could be... seems the most likely culprit is a bad video driver, so I uninstalled this and managed to get Windows to boot normally again, but after letting it reinstall the old driver and restarting, I had the same problem again. I then tried downloading a new driver from NVIDIA, which it claimed would suit my driver (NVIDIA GeForce 8400M GT) but when I tried to install it I was told it was could not find any compatible hardware.

I tried giving the old driver another go but no luck so I'm back to the original problem.

I also just gave the System Recovery Options 'Memory problem scanner' or whatever it's called a go, but this turned up nothing. I gave the repair option on the 'Windows failed to start' screen a go, but this just ended with the PC restarting suddenly - not sure if that's meant to happen.

Not sure if I've forgotten anything I've done, but if I remember something else I'll update this post.

There are still a few hints that it's virus related. One is the fact that when I start up the PC, immediately after the VAIO logo appears onscreen but before anything Windows-related appears, the screen is covered in identical characters, arranged in a tidy formation. These change every time I restart the PC, and have included 'c' with an accent underneath it (don't know how to write it on here) and most recently a little smilel face, which struck me as a very odd thing for the PC to mistakenly display. When no driver was installed, this was not displayed at startup.

On the other hand, I don't quite see the point of the virus if it is one. The display seems to be the only part obviously affected, as well as the inability to start properly obviously. Plus, when the original blue screen first appeared, I was watching the an online video in HD which I understand really tests the video card.

Sorry for the longwinded message, but I thought it would be good to include as much information as possible. Most similar problems I've found on forums have taken a long time to resolve, if indeed they have been resolved. Please help me if you have any ideas.



See More: Sony VAIO Laptop will only boot to safe mode

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December 29, 2009 at 13:07:17
Just remembered one more thing...tried downloading and installing Avira anti-virus (the free version). Got as far as installation but then some way through that it seemed to give up on itself. Can't find any evidence of it actually having installed.

That was in Safe Mode so perhaps that has something to do with it?

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December 29, 2009 at 13:10:57
Memory Parity error would be a good indication that you may have bad RAM. Try using something like memtest to check your memory.

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December 29, 2009 at 13:16:23
Is memtest something I need to download?

A little more info...just removed the driver again and this time it hasn't helped the display whatsoever, so you could be right - maybe not down to the video driver after all.

Would a memory problem normally cause this sort of symptom?

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Related Solutions

December 29, 2009 at 13:45:50
You should have one RAM module that is accessible. Open the door for that and remove and replace the RAM a few times. If the message continues then run memtest86 from a boot disk.

FYI, memory errors can occur if the memory module get too hot. Is your laptop running cool? Is the fan running faster than normal?

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December 29, 2009 at 15:11:09

My laptop has always got very hot when I use it, especially when I don't have it rested on a hard, flat surface. It has concerned me in the past and other people have commented on it when they use it, but having spoken to other Vaio users I assumed that this was a common, if annoying, characteristic of Sony's laptops.

I would not be at all surprised if any hardware damage has been caused by the heat. As for the fan, I have not noticed it running any faster than usual but I did hear it (or some other internal component) making a quiet but just about noticeable squealing noise. But please note this has not been constant and it is not doing it now, and I only noticed this after the crash.

I'm not too confident about removing anything physical from the PC but if it seems as simple as you make it sound I will give it a go.

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December 29, 2009 at 15:20:48
Just another quick update...

I have now run a full Norton 360 scan with definitions updated today. It found no threats, just a redundant key in the registry for a file that no longer exists.

Rebooted after that and the display seems much better. Now running regular Windows but with no video driver installed, so it's still far from a decent display. I guess the fact that there are not currently any major irregularities in the display other than that is a good thing though. Stupidly, I forgot to check what it did right at the beginning of the boot, i.e. whether that weird screen with all the random characters popped up still.

I am now downloading AVG Antivirus Free Edition to do one more scan to try and rule out the virus hypothesis.

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December 29, 2009 at 15:42:54
It definitely sounds like your laptop is overheating. You should not use the laptop on any soft surface. You need to maintain airflow under the laptop.

Download a program called speedfan, which can give you system temperatures in real time. Get it at the link below.

You also should Google for how to clean out dust from a laptop.

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December 29, 2009 at 16:01:32

Thanks very much for that advice...I'll have to download that software once I've done one more virus scan! The possibility of a virus is still nagging at me. By the way, I decided to go for avast! instead of AVG after reading a few reviews on the internet.

It does seem very obvious that letting anything electrical overheat is a bad thing but obviously I didn't really take it seriously enough. If that is indeed the problem, is there an easy or at least doable-at-home fix? Do you think taking the RAM out and blowing some dust off it will solve the issue?

I still don't understand how uninstalling the display driver helped. I am now able to run Windows normally without it, but I should point out that I was wrong about the display being fixed. It's still pretty messy with lines of blue running vertically down the screen all the way across. Plus, those weird characters are still showing up when I first turn the PC on.

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December 29, 2009 at 17:01:26
Try cooling it down first. RAM can get oxidized. Removing and re-seating it a few times burnishes the contacts. That may or may not be your issue. Probably heat.

Severe overheating the GPU (video) chip can damage it permanently. Try an external monitor to verify it isn't the laptop screen.

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December 29, 2009 at 17:03:44
You may want to back up all your personal data (which your should be doing anyway) and then restore to factory state.

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December 30, 2009 at 02:46:31
OK, I'll give those things a go in the order you suggested. I'm not in the country for the next few days so probably won't be able to do anything about it immediately, but once I'm back I will let you know whether there's been any progress.

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January 3, 2010 at 09:32:25
OK... here's what I've done...

Removed and replaced the two RAM boards in the laptop a few times, giving the contacts a light blow to try and get any dust off. This has unfortunately had no effect.

I have also tried connecting to an external monitor but my PC will not recognise it, even when I boot it when the external monitor is already connected. I have tried this with both VGA (I think that's what it's called) and HDMI cables. Could it be failing to pick the external monitor up because I have uninstalled the display driver?

Something else I've noticed... when Windows starts up, after the welcome screen there is a very long wait for anything to show up other than the mouse pointer on a blank screen. It did take a while to fully load up before but I'm sure not this long.

And I'm still concerned about these rows of seemingly random characters that show up after the VAIO boot screen and before the Windows welcome screen. Like I said, the same character is repeated in rows and columns across the screen, but the character is different every time I start the PC up. Are you sure this isn't a symptom of some sort of virus? Anyone's opinion on this welcome... I didn't know viruses could affect these boot screens but maybe I'm wrong. Has anyone else seen something like that?

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January 3, 2010 at 16:00:50
Another update... don't know if this will be at all relevant. After taking ages to load up before, I started up the PC a minute ago and the desktop appeared pretty much instantaneously, but a few background applications took a while to load up, including - I thought this might be important - Norton 360. Eventually it did load but took a couple of minutes.

Pretty sure I didn't change anything from before except for the resolution, as I found that even with no video driver I could increase the revolution to make everything onscreen a bit more navigable.

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