Saturday, March 31, 2007

Hasta la Vista

My Vista test PC had been having trouble finding the hard disk for the last few weeks. The first attempt at bootup would yield a white-on-black DOS-looking screen with the message "Operating System Not Found" but I had suspected the CMOS battery was weak - the 2nd or 3rd attempt would always boot into Windows. Not yesterday, though.

I booted with my Ubuntu Linux Live CD to verify that the PC was still operational, but when I tried to run gparted it could not find any hard disks. Hmmm. I ran to the store for a CR 2032 battery, a couple of bucks, replaced that with great effort (the battery was located half-way under the floppy cage) but alas that was not the problem.

I google'd Operating System Not Found and found many with similar problems, and they all spoke of hard disk failure - not disk controller failure which I had feared. After a quick trip to Circuit City, installed a new Western Digital 160GB drive - now the BIOS recognizes there is a hard drive. Step one.

My MS Action Pack subscription includes a Vista Business - Upgrade - so I installed Windows 2000, then SP4, and then was able to install the Vista upgrade. Once again, it did not like my NIC but I already had an XP driver which worked just fine. Step Two.

I was lucky that my test PC's BIOS supports logical-block addressing (LBA). I mention that because I had attempted to install a 60GB drive in another older PC but ran into the so-called 32GB boundary, above which LBA is the only paradigm that works.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hacking Vista

It seems that every time I turn around, there is yet another article about turning off this feature, or that feature, in the new MS Vista.

I am "guilty" of that myself, having followed virtually every tip I've seen about reverting Vista to an ordinary-looking OS. After all the hacks & a few whacks, my test PC looks surprisingly like Win 2000 or XP Classic - even the Start Menu can be reset to the classic view.

You have to wonder why the folks at MS decided to make such sweeping changes to the UI, but then to still allow setting things back to IMHO where they should have been. That's not how they handled Office 2007 - there is no option for "classic" anything in that system.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hardware upgrade

I have often referred to "the beast" PC which is an older CTX computer, with an unfortunately non-upgradable AMD K6/2 CPU but at various times it was running Windows 2000, Ubuntu Linux, and most recently Windows Server 2003. This PC was on a KVM switch, but some careless plugging / unplugging (my guess) damaged the keyboard & mouse ports on the motherboard. It would still boot & I could log in via Remote Desktop but no direct key /mouse contact.

An acquaintance upgraded his personal PC, and offered to give me his old motherboard, with CPU and memory, so I purchased an Antec PC case from Circuit City for about $75 and installed the motherboard & transferred my disks and cards from CTX into the new system. I also took the opportunity to reinstall a CD writer that was removed from another older PC.

The PC started up and then Windows Server 2003 gave me a BSOD (imagine that!) saying that my hardware had changed, or whatever, and the computer had been halted. I've changed out & upgraded many components before, but never a total motherboard switch. But I located my Live CD version of Ubuntu & booted to that successfully, so that told me my hardware was OK, and it was Windows that was confused. I then booted with the Windows CD and tried using the Recovery Console and ran BOOTCFG which didn't help, and then CHKDSK /R which stalled around 50% and stayed there for almost an hour before I hit the power switch to put it out of its misery.

I again rebooted with the Windows CD, this time I followed the normal prompts but selected the Repair option; I noted that it quickly deleted a slew of files and then proceeded as if a normal install. When it finished, voila! the PC booted into Windows Server 2003 with virtually all of my settings intact. Whew! Funny thing, this was a 180-day trial set to expire in June, but after the repair I noted that it gave me a new 180-day trial thru September. Not expected behavior.

The new motherboard carries an overclocked 800 MHz Pentium III with the max of 512 RAM; about triple the performance of the 400 MHz K6/2 with 384 RAM. Still underpowered by today's standards, but Server 2003 runs surprising well with those limited resources.

I really like the Antec case - eight drive bays, six PCI slots, 380 watt power supply, a 120mm fan that is very quiet, 2 front-panel USB ports plus six more from the back.