Saturday, March 06, 2004

"I haven't felt this bad since we saw that Ronald Reagan film."*

I'm sitting here babysitting my computer while Windows XP Update runs in the background. This whole thing started more than 72 hours ago. That's right, kids, I was all primed and ready and started my Windows XP reinstall - or, tried to, rather - Wednesday night.

I haven't run into this much trouble with an operating system install since that time I made the mistake of attempting to install Windows ME. Boy, was that scary. After three days and numerous false starts I still didn't have a computer that would boot on its own.

Anyway, let me start from the beginning...

With all of the software I've been testing, trying, downloading, installing, and uninstalling in an effort to edit and burn video from my Reply TV unit, it has left my hard drive rather fragmented and left my registry a bit... cruddy. I also wanted to change my hard drive partitions around and a full reinstall seemed the best way to clean everything up. Over the past few weeks, I've been backing up data onto DVD and DVD-RW and removing it from the hard drive. By Wednesday night, I'd finished enough video projects and moved the last of the data onto a different physical drive. I popped the XP CD into the drive, set the BIOS to boot from CD before the Hard Drive and hit the reset switch... and nothing happened. The computer continued to boot from the hard drive.

I fiddled around with it a bit and even went so far as to use repartitioning software to crack the partitions and clear the drive... still nothing... I went to bed.

On Thursday morning, I decided to drop a trash bag over my CPU (it was raining - heavily) and take it into work with me. I already had a theory as to why the system wouldn't boot from the CD but it involved removing and reconfiguring hardware. I figured the system was seeing the DVD-R drive as the "first" CD device and the CD-RW drive as the "second" and for some reason it didn't want to boot from the DVD drive.

I was right. Once I disconnected the DVD drive and the second hard drive, then moved the CD-RW drive into the same position the DVD drive once occupied... it booted just fine.

"Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?... HELL NO!... Germans?... Forget it, he's rolling... And it ain't over now!"**

So, here I am, sitting with 120MB of unpartitioned hard drive space and Windows XP says, "Where do you want to go today?" I create two new partitions, one 20 GB and one almost 100GB then proceed to tell Windows to install onto the 20gig partition using NTFS... it fails 5 minutes later telling me I may have bad sectors on my hard drive... I try again with the same results.

Okay... time to check things out. I download the hard drive manufacturer's diagnostic tools using my office computer, boot to the floppy and proceed to check out the drive. Two hours later, I've certified the drive as error free and written zeros to every sector (this, in geek speak, is known as a low-level format).

Five minutes into the NTFS format, it fails telling me I may have bad sectors on my hard drive.

Fine... FINE!! Have it your way!!!

I give it a shot using the FAT32 file system and it works like a... well, it works like my computer always works on OS installations. It occasionally hangs on this file and that (never the same files) while copying them to the hard drive. You just keep hitting retry whenever it hits one of these speedbumps and the machine eventually has everything it needs.

By 16:40 (20 minutes before the whistle blows) it has 32 minutes left for installation. Fortunately, I'm saved from having to explain to my wife why we have to stay at work late by a BSOD ten minutes later.

When I got the machine home, reinstalled the removed hardware, put the covers back on and reconnected it to life support, I had to start the setup process all over again (not the install, but the setup). Once I'd confirmed my regional settings, set the clock for -6:00 GMT (Central Time US/Canada) and once again entered the installation code, I was told Windows setup would be done in approximately 39 minutes thankyouverymuch.

[sigh] 24 hours and I was where I should have been in about an hour. Not bad for a Sunday afternoon -- considering it wasn't Sunday. (Before anyone starts wondering what could possibly be wrong, I'm pretty sure my motherboard has a bad memory socket and it often wreaks havoc... but not usually to this extent.)

So, I'm sitting staring at the beautiful picture of rolling green hills and blue sky that Microsoft chooses to call "bliss" and I think to myself, "What's next?"

For those of you that don't know, an unpatched Windows XP computer connected to a network has a lifespan of about 15 seconds (seriously!) before it's hacked and compromised by one of several viruses floating around. Now, you won't notice this particular buggie but it will use your machine to do bad things to other computers... not a good situation to be in. With that in mind, my computer has been disconnected from any network up until this point. (for those of you who want to survive a Windows XP installation without being compromised, check out Windows XP: Surviving The First Day published by the SANS institute.) I run a couple of updates and utilities (just in case) from a CD I made and plug my baby into the network.

Step 1: Connect to the Windows Update page and download Service Pack 1. This is an easy maneuver... in theory.

For some reason, SP1 gets about 90% downloaded then one little module decides it doesn't want to pass a CRC (cyclical redundancy check) or something and the whole thing comes to a screaching halt. So, what's a technician to do? Go download the full package and install it from the hard drive instead of relying on WinUpdate to handle it.

Okay, so now I'm about two hours into my Thursday evening (Post-Survivor) and haven't really gotten anywhere. I double-click the SP1 installer and things start to... collapse. The damn thing won't run because it can't verify the validity of update.dll or some such misc. piece of the puzzle.


And the story gets even more interesting...

A service pack is a bundle of patches that can be downloaded and installed as a single file (it's actually a little more complicated than that but for the purposes of the story...). In other words, all of the pieces of SP1 are listed as individual updates. So, I have to install them individually... big deal.

Yeah... right!

I figured I could leave the update runing overnight and it would be finished in the morning. Not so. For some reason, some of the patches are being reported as having, "not passed Windows Logo testing." and won't install. (SAY WHAT!!!??? It's your damn software!!) I spend the rest of the morning - while trying to get dressed - dismissing error boxes. I finally dismissed the last one and the installation finished during lunch.

Out of forty-some available updates, a grand total of SIX updates were successfully installed.

So, we start over and I'm sitting here babysitting my computer while Windows XP Update runs in the background.

*That's a quote from Airplane in case you didn't get the reference.
**That's a quote from Animal House

p.s. If you happen to have an extra Socket 370 ATX motherboard lying around that will take a 866MHz PIII FCPGA chip... let me know.

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