2) chkdsk ran on boot and found something that I didn't pay attention to since I hadn't yet had coffee.
3) Windows login screen ok. Attempts to log on as 'normal' user = fail (immediate logoff). Log in as me, get a blank desktop (no explorer). When logged in this way, task manager can run iexplore and will get online. Did not try cmd. Cannot run explorer. Forgot the error message. It's not useful.
4) nothing installed recently other than AOE3.
5) I thought system restore and shadow copies was on by default - but there are no restore points available.
6) windows boot diagnostic tool found no startup errors.
7) msconfig/turn off all startup items accomplished nothing.
8) next step? safe mode?
Links provided to me: