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Very strange freezing problem with Windows Update

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Ok (for those who just want to read what I traced the problem to without background, skip to the 3rd paragraph),

I left my computer off for the last 6 weeks as I was out of the country. Upon returning, I powered it up just fine, but after about 2 minutes of use everything stopped responding except my mouse cursor (which wasnt able to click anything), then about a minute later it froze. After multiple reboots I encountered the exact same behavior at about the same time.

Thinking it may be linked to some file or something, I reformatted the hard drive and reinstalled windows. Everything was working fine until I got to Windows update, when it froze during the initial round of installs (the windows install I was using came with SP2, so I was on SP2 at the time).

Now thinking it may be linked to the hard drive, I went out and bought a new one and after flashing my BIOS so it would recognize the new hd, got it to work again. After a lot of time, I isolated what was causing the lockup/freezes--Windows update. Even with nothing installed but a graphics driver and my motherboard drivers, the second I go to the windows update website and get past the first few activeX controls to the part where it actually tries to scan my computer, it causes it to stop responding and eventually freeze. After this first freeze, f I do not boot into safe mode, I will have approximately 2 minutes until it stops responding and freezes. If I go into safe mode I get no freeze, and if I do a system restore to a time before windows update, I have no problem.

Does anybody have any idea what may be causing this and why it has come up all of the sudden? I am using a legit copy of windows XP SP2 (distributed by Cyberpower inc) and my computer is 2 yrs old and I changed nothing before the problem started. I have tried updating IE and windows installer and had the same results. Also, I dont know if this is relevant, but my computer's primary hard drive has a safely remove hardware icon in the botom right hand corner, even though it isn't plug and play and is my only hard drive.

Thanks for any help in advance.
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