Repair No. F126

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Was this a virus?

Computer, Pentium III-933

 

This machine is full of interesting features. The trouble is the owner didn't really want them. They just arrived as part of the package. There's a fancy audio unit in one of the front slots offering all sorts of line and fibre optic data input. No doubt one could transfer old 78 rpm records via this unit onto the Re-recorder CD Drive but this one will just get covered with dust.

The problem started when Word 2000 suddenly stopped working. Now most computers have lots of interesting software but if you use a word processor a lot and you have only Word 2000 and it suddenly stops working then the computer is just so much scrap iron.
This version came with Works plus-Word 2000 but now when the Word option was selected not a lot happened. The introductory screen appeared but nothing else. If anything was then attempted a dire warning notice appeared with the information that the system was dangerously short of memory. In fact it was so short that there wasn't even enough room for the pop-up task bar which is needed to shut down. Admittedly the white backed warning notice may have changed slightly and given one the option of closing a program. Unfortunately as soon as the offer was taken up, whatever it was gobbling up memory, just bagged the little extra that was deposited.
It reminded me of the ZX81. When its memory got full, bits of the writing on the screen would begin to disappear. This would carry on until there was nothing left to look at and you could really only carry on if you had a strong imagination and a photographic memory.
Well I tried everything. I reloaded Word 2000. That didn't help. I cleaned up the Registry and picked up the earliest copy available… to no avail. I deleted all traces of Word 2000 I could find and loaded a fresh version in another directory. Still no good. I reloaded Windows 98. An hour later still no joy. I ran SFC, SCANDISK you name it…I traced all the routines used by WINWORD.EXE and loaded new versions. Still I got the freeze-up.

Eventually I reformatted the hard drive. With a proprietary computer this is always an exercise fraught with difficulty as not all the drivers are at hand.

The modem proved hilarious. I placed the CD supplied by the owner in the drive and followed the instructions in the 3Com glossy brochure. I found the proper location on the CD and in went the drivers. "What port do you want… COM1 or COM2", it then asked? "COM2", I replied. The name duly appeared in the modem window. I selected "Diagnostics" and was rewarded by a long wait then an error message. I opened System Details and double clicked the modem entry. "Resources" said it was "COM3". Why? Surely I'd selected "COM2". I changed the setting to "COM2" from "COM3" and then returned to the modem diagnostic window. There was another long pause and the same error message appeared but this time the information in the window said the modem was on "COM3" despite the fact I'd just changed it to "COM2". I went back to "System" and checked resources. Now it said the modem was on "COM2", as I'd set it. I set it to "COM3" and went back to the Diagnostics window. Of course it now said "COM2" and it still didn't work.
I "Removed" the modem and re-installed it with exactly the same results three more times before I studied the installation instructions in the brochure. I'd done everything exactly as it said so I read "If you've followed the instructions and still have a problem read the troubleshooting notes overleaf". I turned the document over. The back was exactly the same as the front except it was all in German. It ended with the same message about troubleshooting being overleaf so I gave up and rang the 3Com/US Robotics telephone number on the brochure.
A nice young lady answered. I said I was having trouble with one of their modems. "What are the code letters on the back of the circuit board", she asked. "I don't know", I replied "it's inside the computer". "Well", she said, when I gave her the name it had installed under, "That one has a glitch (or giving me a similar descriptive term) and you have to load the drivers before the modem is installed". "That's not what the installation instructions say", I replied. "Nevertheless", she said, "first you load the drivers, then you plug the modem into a PCI slot". "Then you switch on the computer". "It won't find the modem so you then switch off and remove the modem". "You then plug it into a different PCI slot then switch on again". "This time", she said, "it will be detected and everything will work OK". I asked her to repeat it all and asked if it was a hardware fault or a software fault. She brushed this question aside and said something about it being a "system thing".
For the next hour I tried unplugging the modem from the computer, loading drivers, plugging it in then unplugging it. It was absolutely no different to before. When the diagnostics were run, there was a long wait and the same error message. The COM ports were messed up just as before. I tried fiddling with the motherboard BIOS, making the COM ports "1 and 2", "2 and 1", "auto" and "auto", and every other combination under the sun but with the same lack of success. The modem appeared as COM2, COM3, COM4 and even COM5 but it still didn't work.
I removed the card and noted every one of the codes on its front and back then rang the manufacturer again. After a short wait a foreign sounding chap answered. I supplied the modem number but he couldn't find it. I could hear his keyboard rattling away in the distance so then I said.. "it's got hyphen OEM at the end of the number". "Oh", he said, "in that case we can't help you". "You need to go to your computer supplier". "Hang on", I said, "It says in the brochure that you will help and there's no mention of the computer supplier". "Well we can't help", he said. I complained and he said, "Hang on a moment", and music began to play… I started to get optimistic and thought he'd found what I wanted but then he dashed my hopes when the music stopped and he said… "Here's the address to which you write and make your complaint"… I gave up and banged down the phone.
Next I looked on their website (naturally I used another computer). I searched for the modem code and eventually by swapping around the various numbers and leaving out the OEM bit found the exact drivers I needed. The codes were exactly right and they even included the "hyphen OEM". I downloaded them and put them on a floppy disk. After a lot of fiddling I eventually discovered the right combination of mouse clicks which resulted in files being sucked into the computer. I selected "diagnostic" and hey presto I got the correct response.
When the computer owner showed up I said, "Are you sure the CD and the brochure go with your modem?" "Oh", he said … "No they don't…. come to think of it, the original modem didn't work properly so I got another". "I didn't bring the CD for the new one", ….. groan!
The sound card proved difficult. The Creative Website offered a 12Mbyte driver. The 64Mbyte graphics card also proved a pain. The ATI Website offered the correct driver but this was 10Mbyte. Where are the old 15kbyte drivers? It used to be the rule that all drivers had to fit on a 720kbyte floppy. No longer…it seems. Probably the website proprietors get paid in some cunning way for the amount of time you have their page in front of you or downloading information from it. To maximise their income one can only download mammoth chunks of software whether you need it or not. Have you noticed that since CDs became the norm with their 680 Meg capacity they seem to be pretty full despite the fact that a few years ago a single 720K floppy was ample.
When everything was sorted out and I'd loaded Office I clicked on Word 2000. It flashed up onto the screen in a trice without the dreaded long delay and without the warning notice.
There's only one problem. I supplied a CD with a dump of all the DOCs, JPGs and E-Mail files from the original software build. I hope there isn't a virus hidden in there waiting to pounce and mess up Word 2000 all over again!

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