This was the first Windows XP computer
that had arrived on my bench with a hard-to-fix fault and highlighted
the problems of fixing things about which hardly anybody knows
For a start the cause of the problem
was a little vague but appeared to originate from the owner attempting
an installation of a program that wasn't fully compatible with
The thing is that once you've invested
a lot of money in software, and then upgraded your operating
because the advertising propaganda declares you
can't live without it
as it were, you don't want to go
out and buy the latest version of a treasured application for
even more money. In fact if it was designed before XP had appeared
one may be totally oblivious to potential problems when trying
to install it.
During the installation of whatever
it was, the computer had re-booted and displayed a blue screen
requesting that the hard drive be removed and tested for virus
infection or damage to sectors. No matter what the owner did,
the same blue screen with the same hieroglyphics and worrying
"STOP: 0x0000007B (0xF9E48640,
0xC0000034, 0x00000000, 0x00000000)
Remove the hard drive and test it for corrupt sectors or a virus".
Can you imagine a typical PC owner grabbing
a screwdriver, removing the hard drive and testing it?
How would they test it? In fact with
this machine, although the case came off easily (and that's not
always an easy matter), the hard drive was secured by a pair
of screws that could not be accessed without a lot of dismantling.
With a micro-case and a sizeable motherboard, either one detaches
the cradle carrying the hard drive and floppy, or first one has
to remove all the cards and the motherboard!
At first I had an uncomfortable feeling
that the drive may carry the dreaded Fujitsu label. Oh I know
that its not really Fujitsu's fault it's really Cirrus Logic's
fault that all the 3.5inch drives made the other year will fail.
it's not Cirrus Logic's fault
it's the people
that made the glue that was used in the construction of their
controller chip. Then again I thought that EVERYONE in the electronics
field knew about glue that decomposed with heat into highly corrosive
by-products. Maybe no-one mentioned it to the Cirrus Logic engineers?
Maybe the glue people changed their formulation? Whatever it
was.. it was entirely irrelevant because the label said "Western
Digital". At least then, the data stood a good chance of
being recovered.. or did it?
I removed, with difficulty, the 30gig
drive and examined it on my test computer. "Blow it
It's formatted in XP's special NT style format!" I thought
for a few minutes. I'd have to use a roundabout solution. I reached
up for a spare 20 gig drive. This one was also a Western Digital
type and had been supplied in lieu of a faulty Fujitsu type.
I plugged it in and switched on. There was a sound like ball-bearings
rattling around inside and the drive wasn't recognised. Groan
put it on one side and complain to the suppliers later. I picked
up another. This was an old 1.2gig drive and worked a treat.
I loaded XP from the customer's CD and it rattled up without
Soon I was coupling up the customer's
hard drive so it could be tested (like the instructions had said),
but the second drive wasn't recognised. I fiddled with the master/slave/cable-select
jumper and after twenty minutes and a fiddle with different cable
types I got them both recognised. This had meant using an old-style
IDE cable and fitting the jumpers as master for the 1.2gig and
slave for the 30gig.
I checked the drive with CHDSK and it
said there were a few problems. These I fixed by setting a letter
after a slash sign and when I checked again all seemed well.
I fitted the 30gig drive back into place
with it's high speed cable and with the master/slave jumper removed.
It was recognised and the computer started to boot up. Just as
far as a blue screen with exactly the same message as before!
Next I thought I'd try the second suggestion
from the blue screen. Run an anti-virus. I was convinced that
this was the cause of the problem as I'd only just recovered
from a Friday 13th attack when some 140 viruses had attempted
to ravage my own computer. That's another story!
Back went the 1.2gig drive with the
old cable and jumpers in place. The machine booted up and I slotted
in the Norton CD provided by the customer. It had to be 2002
or later as the early versions don't get on with XP. No results.
The CD drive just would not fire up. Try as I might I just could
not get the computer to recognise the CD drive. It's a DVD/RW/CD
type and at this point I gave up and fitted a brand new CD/RW
type. This was immediately recognised and I successfully installed
Norton together with the latest definition file, with a mere
50Mbytes to spare.
After 20 minutes there was the verdict.
"No viruses found!"
Back went the old configuration including
the original CD drive. Up came the blue screen. In went the XP
CD and, regardless of the further invitations to remove and test
the drive and also check it for viruses I tried to carry out
The CD drive wasn't recognised. I scratched
my head and wondered why. Eventually, after resetting the BIOS
to carry out a full start-up
none of this "quick boot"
and "fast check", rubbish
let it do the whole
McCoy. It worked and the CD drive became part of the computer
The Repair Process began. "What's
your Administrator's Password?" it asked.
I rang the owner. "I didn't know
there was one he said". "From whom did you buy it I
"I'll call them and see what they know", he said. Ten
minutes later I was talking to the vendor. "I was expecting
your call he said.. there isn't a password unless the owner put
one in. We don't use them. Just press Return".
I just pressed Return. "Wrong Password",
it said. Back to the owner. "Well I do use a password to
access the computer", he said, "but I didn't know it
was called an Administrator's Password".
"What is it", I asked? He reeled off a ten digit series
of letters and numbers. "Any upper case?", I asked.
"Oh yes", he said, "The first is upper case and
the rest are lower case". I tried it. "Wrong Password",
was the response. I asked if there were any other upper case
. "Oh yes, I think the fifth is upper case
but I'm not sure. I just type it in without thinking". "Wrong
Password", it said. That was all I was allowed. I re-booted.
It took an age yet again and try as I might I just couldn't guess
the password. Maybe it was different?
This time, forget the Repair
opted for a re-installation. It took ages but eventually after
auto rebooting successfully it was complete and there was the
I re-booted just to make sure all was
OK. A few moments later
No just a blue screen telling me to remove the hard drive and
test it for bad sectors and viruses.
I knocked off for the day and thought
about checking the Internet for advice.
The next day I carried out a few more
suggestions. "Insert a DOS disk into A drive and do an MBR
replacement from FDISK". I did this with some trepidation
. It didn't work but at least I still got the same blue
Next I ran the system with the two hard
drives and carried out more in-depth tests. Lots of CHDSK's and
DEFRAG's, really exercising things. After many re-boots, and
this time with a second, freshly installed, user coming up I
was rewarded with a desktop.. from the customer's hard drive.
It was taking an age but at least I
was getting somewhere. I tried the dreaded password with the
customer's log-on icon. This time I was not limited to three
attempts and after nine or ten variations I got the upper case
letters in the right place. So far so good but why was it taking
so long to boot. I pressed CTRL-ALT-DEL and the computer went
straight to the desktop. Why was this? Then I got a message about
page files. It seems the computer didn't have a page file and
Windows had arranged a substitute. Whatever it had arranged was
Back to the Internet to see what people
had to say about page files. On Microsoft's site there was the
answer. I printed off ten pages of blurb and went back the computer
the next day. Step by step I followed the convoluted instructions.
Each time I re-booted I got the same slow response and the same
series of messages. Each time I set the page file all seemed
in order but on re-booting
I tried making a pagefile.sys and installing
it from a floppy to the boot area of C drive. There it remained
unused. I followed the instructions to modify it. It stayed the
same. I followed the instructions to remove the page file and
it got removed.
I put it back again using the facilities
provided in the advanced set-up screens. All went perfectly except
no page file.
I rang my supplier. They usually have
an answer to most things. This time they had nothing to offer.
My friend Vic was now deeply involved
and we were treating this as a real challenge.
We tried everything. New Supervisors,
new Users, switching Users from Supervisors and back again..
all to no avail.
After many hours of puzzling Vic rang
again. There's something here about certain Intel chipsets not
liking pagefiles. Something clicked. When I'd loaded the test
version of XP, I'd used the motherboard CD to install drivers.
I'd noticed that although a message had come up saying XP didn't
want to bother with the PlatineX CD there had been a tiny little
note at the bottom of the screen. Something about an Intel Accelerator.
I assumed it was a frill and nothing vital. When I'd clicked
on it things had rattled away and something had definitely gone
in. "Accelerator", indeed! More like a patch for a
serious bug in Windows XP!
I fished out the motherboard CD and
sure enough, after I'd loaded the Intel Accelerator, and I'd
told the system to install a page file the size had echoed back
in a little panel that had previously said that the allocated
page file was "0". This time it said that the page
file was something like "382" Mbytes. Success!
Boot-up was now fast and all the sluggishness
Just then the phone rang.
It was the owner of the computer. "Is it ready yet.. you've
had it nearly a week?"
"No problem I've just finished.. call round and you can
take it away, all your data seems to be there and its working
fine. I've even made a note of your password!"
Does everyone have this amount of trouble
with XP or is it just my lack of familiarity???