thank you so much for responding.
i can't believe i forgot to check device manager. sometimes i overlook the obvious things.
i do have exclamation points besides the following:
PS/2 Compatible Mouse
Windows cannot load the device driver
for this hardware. The driver may be corrupted or missing (code 39)
NVIDIA GeFroce 6150SE nForce 430
Windows cannot start this hardware device because its configuration information (in the registry) is incomplete or damaged (code 19)
I selected 'check for solutions' for both but all I got was a window that said 'windows is checking for a solution to the problem.' Both are updated. I rolled back the driver for NVIDIA with no change.
I always have Malware running and a complete scan found no viruses. I have the same issues in safe mode and while it's not currently overheating (CPU is low), that is a major problem I have with this computer. I have no idea what memtest86, PSU, or overclocking means, or how to do a clean boot, though I guess I could figure it out if I need to (i know you linked to a few of them, but then i need to select things i just can't get to), but I figured the problem is with the exclamation points.
I'm trying to google how to fix that but the frustration factor is sky high. I have absolutely no idea how to navigate with only the keyboard so everything's trial and error, and more error than anything else. Does anyone know what steps I need to take next?