02 March 2008

Computers and the time they eat

Ah, the loveliness of computers!  They do everything you tell them even when it isn't what you want them to do... just open those pod bay doors, HAL...

Today's entry is brought to you courtesy of the Dell Inspiron 1721, which I got on the refurb site at Dell.  Basically a mid-line computer for basic tasks, nice screen and integrated graphics.  I should have known better!  The lovely thing about Dell products is that they tinker with them so that, in theory, recovery from problems should be easy but, in actual fact, they aren't.  In this case, by doing something fun with the hard drive controller integrated in with the main motherboard, when you update using the stock AMD/ATI drivers, something happens to the hardware recognition of the SATA drives throwing them offline.  So when you re-boot, you can't boot as the poor little drives are all tuckered out and sitting on the sidelines.

So, go to update the Catalyst Control Center, take the basic install and *poof*.

Needless to say as the system rebooted the drives are 'offline' and there is no joy in Mudville.

The last time this happened (yes, I repeated the mistake!  'operator error'!) it took 3+ hours with Dell tech support and left me exhausted for two days.  So, instead of that, I decided to see if I could make things worse by DIY.  Always a danger with these highly integrated systems gone off due to a minor problem... still... it would be a 'learning experience' for awhile.

Now, after some fiddling I was, finally, able to get the poor little controller on-board to unrecognize and re-recognize the hard drives.  Which, as things happen, made it worse, not better... although I did find that Dell had put a teensy copy of good old DOS (Disk Operating System!  HIMEM and everything) so that it would run from RAM.  Yes, my very first PC you can fit on a ROM and load over to RAM.  Amazing, that.  Tempting, too.  But skipping temptation, as the drives were 'ONLINE' I should be able to whisk up the 'restore disk' and get things going again.  Right?


Never *that* easy.

I did, way back when, leave an e-mail to Dell and they did get back to me and I will have to peruse their view on the original problem.  As it stands my longer-range goal of installing an OS that I know (Win XP x64) advanced up a coupe of notches.  I am fed up with Vista (great for games, as my niece will attest to, but the most butt-ugly OS that the MotherShip has come out with since... WinME... Win95... DOS 6.0... ok, MS has a few of the butt-ugly OS's behind it, so to speak.  I still *like* NT 4.0, and it being done right as Win2K, and finally stomping the extras out to get XP x64 working well.  And as I've worked with two versions of DOS, two versions DOS/Win, 95, 98, NT 4.0, 2K, XP x64, and now Vista (x32 and x64), so batting .250.  Good enough for the big leagues, but not terrific.

The last two days I have been looking at creating brand-new install disks for XP x64, and WinV x32.  This is most entertaining and fun, if you don't mind huge downloads in the background while you do other things.  This can be done with two of the following tools, made by the same folks:

nLite for Win2K, XP, Server 2003

vLite for Win Vista

If you have the 'recovery' disk or original install disk, plus updated drivers from various manufacturers for your target machine, plus any other goodies that need integration (like Service Packs) the n/vLite tools are perfect!  They will take those disk copies, add in the drivers and Service Packs and then burn a new install disk with all that fun stuff included.  For some of the drivers you may need Universal Extractor that works on all the .msi, .cab and other formats used to carry drivers around in.  Works like a charm.

So now I have dual install disks ready (Vista and XP x64) and will be hitting the thing *again*, possibly looking at what I should have done to start with... which was not to buy Dell.  Beyond that, if I can get it to boot to the old install, that would be fine.  If not... well... original install disks are very, very handy to have.  And a spare license for XP x64.

Beyond that my Lady is back from surgery and some time eaten up in doing things around here that she can't get done.  One of my cats has an enlarged heart (didn't show up on a X-ray 4 or so years ago, so it is recent and genetic), and now with lots of meds in yummy banana flavor, liquid form.  The other cat is doing fine.

Strangely enough, as I did a lot of writing in the kitchen with the notebook computer from Dell, my productivity has become stone-like.

Also, I'm exhausted.

Update whenever things head a bit more towards normal range.

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