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Unable to start Windows normally after rollback to sp2

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I've been through hours of work the last couple days on my desktop. I assembled the system over a year ago. Crashes led yesterday to a repair installation of XP Home edition. That seemed fine until I ran all the Windows auto updates, regretfully including ie8 and sp3. After upgrading to sp3 it failed to restart.

I then uninstalled sp3 whereupon I couldn't even start in safe mode. Was having Fatal System Errors during startup, including safe mode.
After manually replacing startup files in System32\config with those from before sp3 I can boot into safe mode and it is fully functional.
However, booting normal results in a screen with my desktop background only - no icons, no start menu, no keyboard function. Just the useless mouse pointer.

But wait, there's more - Now I have a new issue that prevents me from doing anything: Windows Product Activation is now required before I can do anything, and you cannot do activate in safe mode.

Is there a way to activate Windows over the phone?
Is there a correction for the inability to start windows normally?

I will probably be attempting another repair install soon since I'm running out of patience and clear thinking and my eyes are burning!

XP sp2 (after uninstalling sp3)
Nvidia 7300 GT video
Athlon dual core proc
ASUS motnerboard M2N-E-SLI
AVG 8.5
Win Media 11

Thanks in advance for your help,

Update: I have done a full reinstall of XP. Separate partition so no data lost. Decided it was too gummed up to save. Will be nice to start clean, just didn't look forward to all the reinstalls (this is used for work).

Now we'll see if there is some hardware failing. Have run memtest(just 3 passes, I know, I know).
What other tools do you recommend to test and monitor the system?

Edited by chilicheese, 07 December 2009 - 08:42 AM.

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