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startup / dos / pre-windows screens are normal, but then all I see are fuzzy "matrix" symbols

A windows XP computer (Gateway MFATXNIN ES2 300, SN: 0030209005, with an integrated video card) has an odd video problem. When I first turn it on, I see the green gateway startup flash screen (with F2 for setup and F10 for boot options). After that it just shows a black background with weird fuzzy scrambly white characters composed of tiny individual white dots -- kind of like in the movie the matrix, but fainter -- sometimes in a single column against the left side of the screen, other times in several columns or rows. And whatever the shape of the weird white dots, the image progresses no further. If I press F2 at startup,  the BIOS screens display fine, in color. If I press F8 on startup, I can see the usual black screen with clear white text showing options of Safe mode, Safe mode with networking, etc etc. -- and this screen is FINE.  But if I CHOOSE any of those options, it goes back to wierd spidery white-dot symbols on a black background.

I tried all modes of Safe mode, I tried VGA mode, I tried last known good config - no improvement. With one exception -- one of the times I tried safe mode with command prompt -- in that one instance -- I saw clear two lines of text that were OK (not blurred):
But it went no further. And when I restarted the computer, the display problem returned for all safe modes including that one.

The pc owner said that every once in a while if she reboots over and over,  or leaves it on for a few hours, it will end up going to xp desktop and will function normally. But only sometimes. I could not reproduce this.

When I tried Hiren's boot cd I could see the initial text-only menus, but as soon as I got to a real GUI (e.g. mini XP, or seagate disk utility) the screen was all weird again.  However if I stayed in very simple a dos only utility, it would display ok.  Likewise, UBCD4Win was good until it got to the XP-like loading screen with black background and a black & white horizontal progress bar - from then onward it was unreadable.  Knoppix seemed to work until about 30 secs in, then I couldn't read anything.

I tried a different monitor - no difference.

I tried factory-resetting the monitor - no difference.  

I wanted to put in a different video card, but neither of my traveling AGP or PCI video cards would fit in this form factor.

I pulled the cmos battery briefly just to see if it helped, but it didn't.

I could not try a different video driver, because I didn't know how to implement it outside of windows.

We didn't try repairing windows because I thought it wiser to get more info before investing that time. Plus its likely this problem would prevent us finishing the repair.

I was unable to look this problem up on the internet because of the odd nature of the graphics error, and the fact that only the later startup screens were bad.

Does anyone know what would account for this graphics error only affecting the later startup screens, and also prevent the bootup process from progressing further?
1 Solution
Hardware error, since you have ruled out the os by using various live CDs....
If this has a removable video card, pull it and check it for bad capacitors as well...
Hi the only way you can fix the problem is by reinstalling windows xp on the computer.  
It certainly sounds like bad onboard video. Try a video card. Disable the onboard in bios if you can. It may disable automatically when it senses the new card. You can confirm by seeing that the available memory matches the installed amount of ram. If it does not match, then there is memory allocated to the onboard video.

Chris B
DO NOT reload windows, that will be a waste of time. As burrcm says, it's most definitely a bad video card going by what you described
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