The Life Unwired with Ben Combee (unwiredben) wrote,
The Life Unwired with Ben Combee

A Bad Weekend for Me and Computers

I had not intended on spending many hours of this weekend working on computer problems.  I thought I'd do some shopping, see a movie, go on walks, and do some reading.  However, on Friday during a lunchtime visit to Fry's, one of the specials caught my attention.  That led to two more trips to Fry's and hair-ripping frustration.  I think it's over now, but I wanted to document everything before heading to bed.

So, Fry's has one of their frequent sales: a ECS nForce 410-based motherboard and a Athlon 64 X2 3800+ chip for $180.  The CPU itself goes for $150 online, so this seems like a pretty good deal.  My personal desktop machine has been a little flaky lately, so I figured it would be good to refresh things.  The ECS board requires new RAM, so I pick up 2x1GB of DDR2-800 RAM that's also on special, a brand-name deal from a company called OCZ that's big with gamers.

First Trial: Booting the New System

Friday evening, after work, I start on the upgrade.  I put the new CPU on the new board, attach the cooling fan, pop out the old board, hook up the new one, screw it into the case, and power it on.  Instead of a boot-up screen, I get a long beep, then silence, then a long beep again.  This repeats until I switch off the power.  I pull everything out, check the connections and try again.  Still dead.  I start playing around and find out that I can get it to boot to the BIOS screen if I leave in only one stick of RAM, but even then it isn't stable.  About midnight, I decide that I probably need to replace my power supply, since it's been acting funny and might be marginal, so I decide to head to Fry's in the morning.

I find a nice 500W power supply that's $60 before rebate, $10 after, so I get that along with some better thermal grease to improve the conductivity connection between the CPU and the heat sink, in case cooling is a factor.  I pull everything out and start testing it with the power supply unit hooked up the bare board.  I'm still getting long beeps.  I try swapping around the memory and once get it to boot to the BIOS briefly, but it's not working well.  I start hitting the web for help, and eventually find the support forums for OCZ.  Apparently, while my motherboard does support 800MHz RAM, the timings with the BIOS that shipped on the board don't work and I need to update it.  I try some DDR2 RAM that I've pulled out of my work computer, but it's too slow for the board, so I'm stuck with another trip to Fry's.  I decide to downgrade to 1GB, saving myself about $120 and filling out a rebate form, so I return with a 533MHz 1GB stick which finally allows the system to boot up without beeps.

Second Trial: Getting Windows to Run

With the new system, I can run DOS off a flash drive (which I use to reflash it with the latest BIOS) and I can boot a Knoppix live CD that I burned a few months ago.  However, I can't boot the copy of Windows XP that's on my hard drive.  When I try, it consistently reboots while loading drivers.  Even "Safe Mode" doesn't come up.

I try changing lots of BIOS settings, but it doesn't work.  I do more Google searching and come upon a very long thread of people having similar problems, with about 30 different possible solutions posted.  At the time, the most likely scenario is that an old driver left over from my previous motherboard is touching something bad, so I boot my Windows XP disk to the recovery console to start turing off drivers.  Except, my WinXP disc is from the original version, and it can't see my 300GB hard drive, so I spend another hour preparing a "slipstreamed" WinXP SP2 install disk on my laptop.  I turn off some VIA drivers and still get the reboot, so I turn off an AGP driver, and still get the reboot.  I try doing a "chkdsk", but the system still reboots.  As a final act, I decide to just do a Windows reinstall, and that actually fixes the system without losing any of my installed software.  I few more driver installations and reboots later, I have a seemingly stable desktop system again, one that is quite a bit faster than my previous box.  I head to bed.

Third Trial: The Laptop Hates Me

I go do some errands on Sunday afternoon, and when I get back I decide to try out the GameTap service on my laptop.  This is a neat online service where you pay $10 a month to get access to a library of almost a 1000 classic video games, from the Atari 2600 to the Dreamcast.  They're also going to be hosting the new Sam & Max adventure game episodes.  I play several rounds of Joust, 1941, and Chopper Command on the laptop, and while the gameplay is fine, the lobby program is really slow.  Suspecting that my video drivers need updating, I go to Dell's site and download the latest release which was posted in July.

I run the Dell installer, it chugs for a while, and then I get an error message I've never seen before when installing Windows drivers: "Access is Denied".  Oh, and now the laptop is in a funny state where is can't use the Intel graphics drivers, so it's reverting to 640x480 VGA mode.  I try the driver download from Intel and get the same result.  I try manually installing the drivers, and still am faces with the "access denied" error that pops up at the end of the install process.

Suspecting a problem with the original Palm IT-supplied software image, I try adjusting permissions on everything in the C:\Windows folder.  That doesn't help.  I go to the SysInternals website and download FileMon, then run it while I attempt an install.  I don't see any file errors, so I go back and get RegMon.  With that utility, I find the root cause; there are some registry entries that I can't update.  That seems very odd, as I'm running with Administrator access, but I confirm that those entries are inaccessible using regedit.

Another bout of web searching to try to find something that will let me fix my corrupted registry leads me to Bart 's PE-Builder software, which allows me to build a Windows XP SP2 recovery CD.  I use that to boot my laptop and after a half hour of poking around, I figure out how to load the registry from the main hard drive into regedit where I'm finally able to delete the damaged keys that I couldn't access from a normally booted system.  I reboot, reinstall the Dell drivers successfully, and another reboot later I've again got functional video.  I've not yet tried GameTap to see if the new drivers help.

My fingers are crossed that I don't have any more problems with any of this equipment.  kazanya gets back on Tuesday night, and I don't want to be knee-deep in personal computer problems when I could be spending time with her. :)
Tags: projects, technology, useful tip
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