XP... Is this "Xtra Pathetic" or "Xtremely Professional"?

 

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 anything!

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 XP.

The thing is that once you've invested a lot of money in software, and then upgraded your operating system… 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 message appeared.

"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. OK… 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 any bother.

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 a "Repair".

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 again.

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 asked?"
"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 letters…. "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… I opted for a re-installation. It took ages but eventually after auto rebooting successfully it was complete and there was the XP desktop!

I re-booted just to make sure all was OK. A few moments later… success?
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 and…. It didn't work but at least I still got the same blue screen.

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 deadly slow.

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… nothing.

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 had disappeared.
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???

 

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