I haev another computer that I am trying to fix for a friend. It has Vista home premium on it and a bunch of software, pictures, files, music that they would like to preserve. usually when I get a hold of a computer with an issue that I can not figure out I will just wipe it and put a fresh install of the OS in it. Problem is they do not have CD and I do not have vista 64bit os.
Computer was initially brought to me because of a failure to connect to internet. I started it up and it was slow as shit. Should not be this slow for the specs of the machine. I try to open msconfig right off the bat to turn off all the BS on startup and it will not let me open it from the run command bar. I rebooted it in safe mode with networking and I was able to get on the internet. I do not know if this is a virus issue or just a general software problem. If I boot the computer normal it will not let me open pretty much any program. I can not run a virus scan or get into the backup restore utility to do anything. I can pretty much only browse through files on the computer.
What can I do to get a start on figuring out what the deal is?
well you did the right steps to diagnose a computer with a software issue.
for vista you need to press windows key+r>msconfig then disable all startup programs except for rundll, and a few system programs. Many malware apps will root themselves in windows/system32, so you need to have a good understanding on what is required, and what isn't.
The first important question to ask is if this person has or has not disabled UAC, you can view this from the task manager/services. If it is enabled, there is a slim chance it is malware, but still possible. If his internet works in safe mode, it's very likely a driver issue, the reason being is when you enter safe mode it loads a special set of minimal proprietary drivers.
What I would do to diagnose that computer is fire it up in normal boot mode, when you first get into the kernal, bring up the task manager and arrange processes by cpu usage, take a look at what the top 5 or so are, and then arrange by memory usage, same thing. Usually malware is writing or reading when the system first boots, it's usually a give away. Go ahead and start closing all the ancillary processes that are running. When they are all closed, end task on the shell (explorer.exe), then click new task, and type explorer and restart the shell. You should have access to anything you need now. First thing is to windowskey+r>msconfig, and disable all non-essential start up programs like you were going to do. Next thing is windowskey+r>cmd, when you're at the console, run an ip configuration and see what it looks like, that's ipconfig /all it should spit out all your adapters and what their status is. If you're returning a 169.154.x.x address you generally have a DHCP error (router), try to ping the local host (ping 127.0.0.1) if it returns a response, the adapter is working, if it doesn't you have a driver issue. It doesn't necessarily mean you do, but it's one of the easiest ways to diagnose an issue. If it IS returning a valid ip (18.104.22.168 or whatever) then try and ping your gateway, it will be listed in the ipconfig tables, such as 22.214.171.124, ping that and if you get a response your adapter is functioning. then trying pinging something external, like ping google.com, if you receive a response from that, it might be a browser issue, if it doesn't return a response, you might have a DNS issue (meaning your gateway is not attaching ASCI text (google.com) to it's digital name server (126.96.36.199).
What I would suggest doing, after you diagnose the issue is firing it up in safe mode, download the latest driver set for your Network card, and then uninstall the drivers in the device manager, reboot into normal windows, and install the latest drivers.
and FYI, you need to tell us the system specs, because vista is EXTREMELY demanding on resources. You can't install Vista on a computer that runs Windows XP just fine, it needs to be a moderate to higher end system. And as mentioned, Vista x64 is the preferred operating system if you're running over 3gb of ram, you cannot utilize more than ~3.7gb of ram in a 32 bit environment.