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Windows Pwned Me

So I had decided long ago that I would do a reformat before I headed off to university. I wanted a system in pristine condition with no crap on it to bug me while I'm at Waterloo. I had loaded up a bunch of useless junk that was cluttering up my hard drive when I was still in semi-testing mode. I had gained a lot more experience with what programs are useful and which ones are not on my laptop. So last evening I started with a, what I thought would be a straightforward reinstall. Boy, was I ever wrong.

I pop in the Windows XP CD and reboot the computer selecting the DVD burner as the first boot device. System restarts and I press any key to boot from the CD. Good so far, Windows is checking my system configuration. Blank screen. Hmmm, that's odd. Hard reboot. Whoops, again... Well, maybe I'll wait and see if it loads up the windows setup after a bit. So I sit there and nothing. Not to be discouraged, I go off to play some UT2003 while I wait. Come back like 3o minutes later and still nothing. So I take the CD out and take a look at it. Well, it's slightly scratched. So I decide to try it out on one of the desktops here. Loads up no problem. Oh well that's not good. Could it be the DVD burner be busted? No, I don't think so. I've read plenty of discs that same day. So I decide to start into Windows on the laptop (remember, I still haven't been able to install anything so I haven't formatted yet). Everything's working fine, the DVD burner still seems to be fine.

At this point, I'm kinda stumped. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the disc or the drive. I check the BIOS over, loading defaults, but that doesn't change anything. I try hooking the laptop up to another monitor thinking it may be the LCD being messed up. I try a different mouse as the USB sometimes messes up OS installs. I start a massive search on net through various tech forums to see if anyone has had similar problems. Not really, the closest I could find was someone having to change a setting in the BIOS to output to an LCD or something. Well I have no setting like that in my BIOS. I also read that overclocking could cause it. Well, the dipswitch mod I have has overclocked the CPU from 1.6GHz to 2.13GHz, but I've been running like that since ever and I haven't had a problem. Well, it's worth a try, I don't really have anything else to go on. I disassemble the laptop again, setting the switches back to default. While I'm at it, I take the whole cooling system apart and did a mod to improve cooling a bit.

Put it all back together and nope, still no go. By this time I've entered somewhat intial panic mode. I haven't really come up to a computer problem of my own that I haven't been able to solve. It would seem like as long as I've gotten myself into it, I can fix it. And this was stumping me solid.

Revelation. I've got a dual boot of SuSE 9.2 Pro and WinXP Pro. The MBR (master boot record) was rewritten by my SuSE linux install. That could be preventing my system from booting off the WinXP CD properly. So I start looking for tools to reformat the system from a boot disk or the like. Couldn't come up with anything conclusive. Then I remember that I have those linux distro discs all around me. Those'll wipe the hard drive for sure. I load up my SuSE disk and proceed to reformat everything. Unfortunately I couldn't just wipe the drive, I started installing SuSE, but I didn't want that, so I canceled the install. So I was left with a semi-clean hard drive. Trying it again, I'm greeted by the same blank screen that's been haunting my system.

Now the crazy ideas start flying. I consider taking it apart and installing the hard drive on my desktop computer. Now this isn't as easy as it sounds. Laptops use 2.5" hard drives while desktops typcially use 3.5" hard drives. I wasn't even sure if the connectors were the same. Could I install Windows on an external hard drive? Nope, USB won't be detected til Windows is installed and I need to install Windows through the USB, but to use the USB I need to install an operating system, a bit of a catch-22 there. Could another part of the computer be defective? Well I don't have a stockpile of spare laptop parts lying around (unfortunately) so I can't really test that theory. In addition, the system was working fine so I didn't think that was it.

The only reasonable course of action I could take at this point was totally install Linux. Sure I had wiped the hard drive, but it had installed a small part before I canceled it. Perhaps a partial boot record was there. So it's well past midnight by this point and we were going to Niagara-on-the-Lake the next morning, but that's another story (I've got some really nice pictures to share) ... I install linux which takes like a solid hour hoping it would work. Finish installing linux. Restart the system, insert the Windows CD. Windows is checking your system configuration. Blank screen. Crap. Then, Setup is loading. Hooway! So it finally worked. I proceed to do a barebones install of Windows XP cause I'm too tired to get all the drivers and updates going. Crash to bed, the end.

Moral of the story? There is none. On the plus side, I've got an updated version of the RSS reader for Konfabulator which is friggin awesome. Helps me keep sober reading about the going ons in Louisiana. Truly sad what's going on there. Oh remember that cooling thing I said I modified? Well, it dropped my CPU temperatures by around 10 degrees C after I put the dipswitch mod on again pushing the CPU back up to 2.13GHz. Nice eh? (oh, for those of you who don't know if that's a lot or not, yes, it's a huge drop, in the range of like a 15% temeperature drop. 1:15AM now and I'm tired after not much sleep last night and heavy hiking today. Off to bed I go!
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