Was using the default skin. Changed it to EF Smooth and it seems to be working now. (Firefox 20 with NoScript - scripts on eightforums.com allowed) Okay on to the post:
I've found the source of the problem, and it's bad. Very, very bad. As in, I may not be able to use any operating system except choosing between going back to XP or switching to Linux.
I did a refresh, and started documenting absolutely everything I did, restarting and shutting down then doing cold boots fairly frequently until the problem reoccurred. Turns out it was a registry edit I had read about some time ago and performed:
I made this change to stop Windows 8 from doing unwanted, unwarranted, uncontrolled disk repairs during startup. I had this problem with my last two drives which is the reason I made sure to make this registry change on the new SSD as well. The one is a 250GB Samsung 7200rpm drive with Windows 8 installed, and the other is a 1TB WD Green with XP installed. I set the 250GB drive up with Windows 8 on a different computer, then moved it into my current computer so that I could dual-boot Windows XP and 8. Pretty soon Windows 8 wanted to "repair" my XP drive, and every time I tried booting into Windows 8, it would try to repair, with no option to skip or cancel. I was resigned to booting to XP for a while, but I made the mistake of leaving the Windows 8 drive on default boot priority (I was using F8 to get into XP). Windows 8 slipped through my fingers one day, and started the repair. I stopped it (reset button) before 30 seconds had passed, but the damage had been done. XP no longer boots, it just BSODs.
BootExecute = autocheck autochk *
BootExecute = autocheck autochk /k:C /k:D /k:E /k:F /k:G /k:H /k:I /k:J*
Since then I've found out about this registry change in Windows 8 to force it to never attempt a drive repair on boot. So far so good. Except my 250GB drive mysteriously stopped shutting down, and I did a Win8 refresh. Now I'm on the SSD (with no other drive plugged in) and you know the rest.
I refuse to repair the XP drive until I've done a full backup (because I know darn well that a full repair using Windows 8 will utterly destroy XP) and I plan on using my XP install disk to repair XP. But this is going to happen again. Windows 8 is going to keep screwing around with repairs on boot that I cannot control. The only way to stop it I've seen thus far is to use the registry modification I listed above, but I can't shut down after that change.
Oh and for the record - My 1TB WD Green drive with XP on did not need a repair, there is nothing wrong with the drive, it is in perfect health, I have already checked.
My ultimate goal is to use the SSD for Windows 8 and the 1TB for XP and doubled up as a storage/backup drive. The other 250GB will be moved back to another computer as a test drive.
Other, somewhat unrelated problems I'm having with Windows 8:
I have disabled the BITS service in computer management, and set the startup type to disabled. Something keeps re-enabling it. How do I hunt down what is re-enabling it and stop it? I don't want BITS service running. Ever.
Thanks for the help so far. This operating system is just so frustrating. Bashing my head against a wall would be almost less painful.