Solved! Can only use my Lenovo W520 in safe mode


Aug 25, 2010
Lenovo ThinkPad W520
Intel I7-2720QM
Windows 7 Professional 64bit
16 gb RAM
Seagate HD 500gb mechanical (original)
Nvidia Quadro 2000m

Last Thursday night, I left my computer on for a few hours while I attended an event. When I returned, I found that my machine was frozen. In the lower right corner of the screen, there was a pop up message indicating that Norton LifeLock was running background processes. (I didn't think to capture the exact message because at the time I didn't imagine what this issue would evolve into.) It was late and I assumed that whatever caused the machine to freeze up would be resolved when I restarted the machine in the morning, so I long pressed the power button to shut down.

The next day I tried to start up as normal. After the 'starting Windows' screen, the screen went black and remained that way. After a few more attempts led to the same result, I tried to run the ThinkVantage recovery module a few times. It froze variously on a black screen and on the ThinkVantage splash screen. I also tried 'last known good configuration' and 'repair windows' options, but neither would run to completion. Finally, I booted into Safe mode successfully, and then Safe mode with networking. Since then, I've been able to boot into both Safe modes reliably.

My first suspected cause was that my hard drive is failing. A couple weeks ago, a ThinkVantage Toolbox scan found various errors and advised action. So I purchased a new hard drive, but didn't install it. Yesterday, after convincing MS support to furnish me with an ISO and new product key, I attempted to install Windows 7 fresh from a flash drive onto my new SSD. Once again, the machine froze a short while into the process. I tried a couple more times, each leading to the same frozen result. Unlike with my old hard drive, the new one offered no additional avenues to address the problem, so I reinstalled the old hard drive so I could at least continue with Safe modes in hope of finding something that might work.

Things I have tried (stabs in the dark really):

  • Run ThinkVantage recovery tools at start up (froze)
    Run 'Last Known Good Configuration' (froze)
    Turned off all start services with MSConfig (no obvious positive result)
    Checked device manager for hardware problems (The only error was with 'security processor loader driver' , but I don't know if this is because this driver isn't intended to work in safe modes)
    Deactivated the embedded graphics card (HD3000; no obvious result)
    Deactivated the external graphics card (Nvidia Quadro 2000m; no obvious result)
    Checked the RAM (seemed to be fine)
    Tried to do a System File Checker scan (resulted in a "could not perform requested operation" message)
    Fresh install of Windows 7 on a brand new SSD (froze)

At this point, should I assume the cause must be hardware, since the fresh Windows install resulted in a frozen machine as well? Or are there other potential causes that could affect a new hard drive and clean Windows install the same way?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated, even if it's direction to a different forum or advice resource. Thanks in advance!
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