Friday, April 23, 2010

Geek Speak

Since I got this desktop unit about 5 years ago the hard drive and the backup drive have been in racks so that I could insert, back up and yank out the second drive. Hubby decided that repeated connections was maybe causing the system to have problems and it was time to put both drives into the computer permanently. About a month ago I got the blue screen of death when I turned the computer on. Re-booting the computer seemed to fix the problem. A couple of days later hubby turned the computer on for me and it just wouldn't boot. So he took the computer apart vacuumed it out and made sure that the connections were all snug. It re-booted just fine, but just in case we bought new cables and everything was running along just fine, but you never know whether what seems to be a loose cable might, in fact, be a failing hard drive.

We have had a drive fail before. It was before the advent of the internet and viruses were rare especially if you didn't contaminate your system with disks that had been in other systems. The computer started acting up. A picture that got corrupted, a zip file that got truncated, and then more and more things went wrong. It was a Seagate drive and when it was replaced my geek of a husband had to recover hundreds of damaged files and repair them. In the end it took several months of work piecing things together sector by sector. Now we keep everything backed up, just in case.

So when my computer had this little problem he thought it would be prudent to replace the hard drive. I'm not unhappy with my computer, but I'm leaning toward a new system, not just a new drive. Five years isn't old except in computer terms. A new computer means not just a new drive but a new motherboard, new CPU, new graphic card, in short, a new everything that might be old and failing in the old computer. Not only that, but other new hardware is more compatible with a new system and new software. Of course a new hard drive is about $50 and a new computer about $500. There is that.

So we got a new hard drive and hubby backed up all my files one last time and installed the new drive. The old drives were IDE and the new one is SATA so it wasn't just a straight swap. Before he could make the change he had to change the BIOS and to make sure that it was up to date he downloaded the latest drivers for my motherboard and flashed the BIOS. Then he plugged in the drive. Nothing. Zero. Zip. This is where it's good to have other computers in the house so that you can search the internet for help when your computer is in pieces. The new drive is fast, the old motherboard is slow and it needed a jumper to slow it down so that the motherboard could handle it. This little issue took 3 days to finally resolve. Lucky he happened to have the itty bitty hard drive jumper.

Then it was time to install the operating system. I was using XP on the desktop and Vista on my laptop and I didn't really notice any difference between the two so I figured that if everything had to be re-installed anyway, I might as well move up to Vista. So hubby installed Vista, the drivers for the graphic cards, printers, scanners, cameras, and other peripherals, set up the network and installed my other software which took another couple of days. Then he imported all of my email and set up my email program which took another couple of days.

He was sure that I was going to need XP running on the computer as well so he partitioned the hard drive and also installed XP with all of the attendant drivers for the graphic cards, printers, scanners, cameras, and other peripherals, set up the network and installed my other software. That took another couple of days to get the secondary system all set up, and he set it all up to dual boot so that I could use either system. Good idea, in theory, except that the partition showed the XP drive as E and it needed to be C to work. The software that was supposed to run and fix the drive letter issue scrambled the operating system so that neither partition would run and since it was basically a blank drive anyway he just reformatted it.

So in between researching how to set things up first to get the drive working and then how to dual boot, and finally how to change a drive letter and actually installing the operating system and all it's bits and my software and tweaking it so that everything was working optimally it was more than a week's worth of work down the drain. Then he started all over again and for the second time we had the discussion over whether to install XP or Vista and again I said Vista even though I knew there was one software issue that would have to be resolved.

So again he installed Vista, uploaded all the drivers for the on board stuff and the drivers for the peripherals, set up the network and installed all my software and tweaked it so that it all worked properly and then imported all of my files and data and made sure that it all ran smoothly.

In the interim I had transferred any day to day information I needed to the laptop and just continued working from the laptop. So of course everything from the laptop had to be brought in as well. Finally everything was moved onto the new drive and I spent Monday patching things up between old system/new system/laptop and Tuesday was my first day using the new computer.

The one unresolved software issue is the creation of PDF files in Vista. My old desktop publishing software is Adobe PageMaker. I love it, it's slick. I can re-size a picture to fit the publication on screen or crop it, if I want or I can take an odd shaped diagram and flow text around it. I could take a picture of a snowman in a hat and shape the text to flow around the bulges and indents. and once I've done that I can drag the picture anywhere on the page and the text will just re-align itself to the new position. In producing books it will automatically create a Table of Contents or an index. It's just slick and anything else I've tried feels like using a club rather than a fine instrument. The software came along with Adobe's Acrobat Distiller for making PDF files and all I had to do to create a PDF was click on PageMaker's Acrobat icon and my PDF was made. Slick and easy. The PDF function doesn't work in Vista.

Just to give you an idea of how good PageMaker is, Adobe stopped upgrading it several years ago. That's why it doesn't work in Vista. They've rolled it into a new product that does work in Vista, but it's just so darned popular that they keep on selling it. The new product has a lot more graphic capabilities and it lets you incorporate videos into your electronic publications and a whole lot more. Right now I can upgrade my PageMaker to the new product which come bundled with the new Acrobat for about $200 which is a good deal. Except that it won't run on my desktop because it's too old and slow, so I can update if I replace my computer which brings the bill to about $700 for a new system and new software.

Hubby has been scouring the net looking for software that will work with PageMaker and create PDFs in Vista some work, some don't, some can't handle big files, some might but you don't know for sure until you buy them. Wednesday he downloaded one and tried it on my computer. While he was using my computer I popped into his office to use HIS. When I looked on screen there was a black DOS type screen that looked like the standard backup screen and when behind it an error message. He apparently has been getting this error message quite a lot lately, but it seems to resolve itself when the system is rebooted and he hasn't had time to find out what was causing it because for the last month he has been working on fixing my computer.

This time his computer wouldn't reboot.

He started in Safe Mode and got it to reboot but the task bar and Start Menu were missing and none of the programs would start.

Virus scan wouldn't start.

Restoring the registry wouldn't work.

One possible fix was to create a new user with admin privileges, but that didn't work.

Each of these fixes that were tried and failed required rebooting.

Finally each reboot resulted in the blue screen of death.

The operating system was well and truly dead.

We need his computer working to do the income tax which must be in by the end of April.

It might be a virus but the only way to check it is to put on a working drive with a working operating system with a running virus program and scan the drive.

When we bought the new drive for my computer we bought 2. The plan was to install Windows 7 on the second drive and see how it runs. When you write software the only way to see if it runs on an operating system is to test it and see. We need to check all of our software packages on Windows 7 even if we don't use that operating system in house.

So we had a spare drive handy. It took several hours to format the drive and several more to install XP on it. Once we had a functioning drive, the first thing we did was pull off the vital information off the old drive and scan each file for virus. That only took until 5:00 AM. There was no point in going to bed when you have a potential catastrophe on your hands your mind is too busy whirling around with possible fixes and problems so we just worked through the night.

The next morning we started a full drive scan for a virus. Nothing. It's squeaky clean. A scan of the drive reports that it's physically sound. Something and we don't know what it was, but something, corrupted Windows so that it wouldn't run. None of the possible fixes have fixed it. we did get it fixed to the point of Windows booting again, but none of the installed software works so hubby is now re-installing all of his peripherals and software getting everything on his system back up and running.

At which point we are thinking that maybe I should go back to my old hard drive running XP off the IDE controller so that this new drive can be pulled and used to load Windows 7. That would put me, let's see, right back where I started a month ago.


Marty said...

Aaaaarrrrrggghhhhhhhh! I only like computers when they just work.

Katherinne McKay said...

Ouch. Sorry to hear you are still having computer troubles! I've had my share of them (including a RAM BSoD after turning in my final projects), but none like these.

I can only suggest searching Google for any known problems with XP and his motherboard/hardware. Sometimes RAM can do that to a computer.. Had to completely start from scratch with my old laptop..

Good luck! Hope the computers get better!

Carolivy said...

Ouch! For your PDF problem, do you use Microsoft Word? If you do, Microsoft has a Plugin for Word that lets you Save As PDF. You can do everything in Word that you described doing with your other PDF program. Then just click Save As PDF and you are away.
Hope your computer problems are soon all fixed!

Kathy Niklewicz said...

Not only did I not understand most of what you've written, I now have the same headache I had when I read about your car problems and furnace problems!

I told my husband that he wouldn't believe this post, and he said, "Well, read it to me", and I said, I didn't have the strength!

I get very nervous when reading about this computer stuff. There is no way I could deal with these situations!

Ridgetatter said...

And that is exactly where my dear DELL is at….I can't get it to reboot and use the system restore software Have. I've removed EVERY file from the Dell (I always backed up as I went) but It is a "no go"

Not having an in house Geek, I shall have to take it to the local DELL guy (we actually have one in Silver) I liked my DELL'S BIG SCREEN (it is a laptop) and while I'm enjoying my MAC…. I'd like the Dell as back up…

the whole thing gives me one large headache The Dell man said I may as well put Vista on my Dell but I want to stick with XP. I need a new hard drive and drivers, that was the prognosis. My Dell was 7 years old when it died ~ which is a pretty advanced age for a laptop that was used daily and for hours.

xx bj

Sharon Ward (WardMom) said...

I love my Macintosh. No viruses. No need to reinstall systems when you get a new device they come already on it. It checks for updates automatically and asks if you want them installed. Great for graphics. InDesign from Adobe automatically embeds fonts so you don't have to run it through Distiller ... it's definitely worth the price to avoid all the hassles.