Incidentally, once the machine is up and running, I can softboot to my hearts content and the machine works properly.
The problem seems to be very early in the boot up (as I said, between the VGA post and just after the HDD and RAM). I've not installed any new HW but with XP auto update, Webroot Window washer, Ad-Aware, AVG, MS AntiSpyware, Spybot, Zone Alarm can't vouch for software ones. Incidentally, I've made no hardware changes except to swap a faulty PCI fan (after the start of the errors).
Any suggestions (short of a complete re-build) the hardware facts are as follows:
MSI K7N 420 NForce wi on-board VGA/sound disabled (BIOS 2.00) XP 1700
XPV Geforce 128 Mb FX5700LE (set at 4x AGP max for board) up to date NVidia drivers
1x40 and 1x 120 GB IBM/Hitachi Deskstar HDD (each paired with Optical I/O device on IDE 0 and IDE 1 connections)
40 x 40 x 4 Teac CDRW (paired with the 160GB data)
Sony 16x DVD-ROM (paired with 40GB WinOS drive)
Inno USB 2.0 PCI card (have problems with this and iTunes and other player connections but more later I think this is a genec VIA vs XP SP2 driver issue)
Audigy (first version) PCI sound card
Cheapo Generic modem (HAM type - not connected)
RAM are 2 x 256 PC2100 ram
Any ideas, short of leaving the machine on 24/7?
Please forgive late responses or time to get to try your suggestions as a having to entertain a 6 year old precludes much dismantling and tweaking during the week. Thanks in advance.