From the Kenosha News on 12-30-07

Troubleshooting and fixing a down computer is a long road but possible

      Last week, my column recounted “Part 1” of the story of my two down computers.  This week, I’ll continue explaining how I troubleshot our ailing Windows desktop.  Its problem was that it would begin to boot, get part way through the Windows opening screen, flash a “blue screen of death,” then turn itself off.  First, I tried starting in Safe Mode by pressing F8 on startup.  Regardless of the option I chose – Safe Mode or Last Known Good Configuration – I got the same results.  If the drive were completely dead, Windows should never start at all; instead, it should give a “no operating system found” error.  Therefore, at this point, I surmised that it was a very fundamental Windows problem. 

      There was no recovery CD for this computer since it was custom-built as ordered by my son a few years ago, so I had to use a generic Windows installation CD.  These can be hard to find, but I could borrow one from where I work since we have “work at home rights” as part of the license agreement.  The installation CD did stay running, so I concluded it wasn’t a RAM or motherboard issue, but it could not see the hard drive to install on – usually a sign of a dead hard drive.  I rebooted and entered Setup mode by pressing Delete when prompted.  Other brands of computers may use different keys to enter Setup; IBM/Lenovo computers use F1.  In setup, the hard drive was not visible either.  On opening the computer, the hard drive appeared to be running – making a humming noise.  I then realized that it is a SATA drive (a device different than the usual IDE drive,) so the Windows installation CD probably didn’t have drivers for it, and it wouldn’t show up as an IDE device in Setup. 

      I then used the Universal USB Adapter discussed in last week’s column to confirm that the hard drive was working.  I was even able to recover files from it.  To get the computer up and running and avoid this problem in the future, I chose to buy and install an IDE hard drive.  When the Windows installation process wouldn’t complete properly, I concluded that the CMOS battery had died.  (This is a quarter-sized watch-type battery on the mother board.)  I got a replacement from Batteries Plus for under $4.  Next week, I’ll explain why this was so important and the signs of dead batteries.  Finally, Windows installed on the “new” IDE drive – taking overnight to format the drive and start the installation.

      Since the Windows installer CD was a generic one, it was missing drivers for many of the computer’s essential parts, such as network card and video card.  Without drivers for the network card, I couldn’t connect to the internet to download any drivers – a catch22.  Fortunately, I found a driver CD that matched the computer and loaded the network drivers from there.  The CD also had a driver for the original SATA hard drive.  After installing those drivers, I could connect to the internet and also use the original hard drive as a secondary hard drive.  I still have to reload the video drivers and most/all of the software!

By Carol Sabbar from the Kenosha News on 12-30-07