Sunday, March 22, 2009

Doing Battle With The Devil

Computers are, as Bobby Boucher's mother would say, the Devil.
It's become something of a truism that no matter how early in the day I start working on some kind of computer upgrade, I will end up going to bed, my task unfinished, sometime just before dawn.
The most irritating part is that this is often the case because I did something dumb - like the "8" vs. "B" thing mentioned in the previous post - but even if I do everything right something will go wrong.
It had been my intention to do a completely "clean" install of 64 Bit Vista, by which I mean, letting the install process completely wipe the hard drive. Because of this, I devoted about 10 hours to backing up the drive's data.
This was pretty much a complete waste of time, as Vista wouldn't do an entirely clean install. Rather, it renamed the Windows folder "windows.old" and then just installed itself in a new "windows" folder, leaving the rest of the drive untouched.
I knew that Vista often does this, but a. I didn't think there was enough room on the drive for it to do that, forcing it to wipe everything and b. I thought at the very least I could make it wipe everything.
I was wrong on both counts.
So I spent hours backing up data that I thought was going to get wiped that didn't get wiped.
As an aside, while copying files over to the external drive, I got an error message telling me that some of the (very large) HD videos I was copying over couldn't be copied to the drive because they were "too large for the file system."
Err...what? I checked the drive's properties and was dumbfounded to see that this brand-new 1 TB hard drive was formatted in FAT 32 rather than NTFS, to which my response was WTF?
Anyone know if there's a particular reason that would be the case?
(Oh, right. Linux.)
Anyway, wasted time aside, eventually I had Vista 64 Bit up and running, so, after allowing it to download and install some of the many, many, many updates it needed, I shut Hugin down, cracked it opened, pulled out the old RAM, and crammed in the new RAM.
As soon as I plugged it in it turned itself on, and the XPS Miniview screen began scrolling the words "No memory modules installed in socket."
Guess I didn't cram the new RAM in quite forcefully enough.
So I went back in and made sure the RAM was securely in place and started it up again. This time things went much more smoothly, with the system even telling me "The amount of memory in the system has changed." Success! Or so I thought.
I went into Windows and looked at the System Properties and saw that it still said 4 GB of RAM.
I hadn't considered that "some" memory would be a change from "none."
So, more pulling out (Yes, Scott) and securing, and some memory diagnostics, and messages on the Miniview about configuration problems later (and seeing varying amounts of RAM showing up in the BIOS), I was forced to conclude that the fact that one of the DIMMs was from a different manufacturer was causing compatibility problems (as was the fact that the RAM kept insisting on not being securely in place), so I pulled it out (Grow up, Scott) and decided I'd make due with 6 GB for the time being, and return the other DIMM to Best Buy, per the recommendation of the kid working there. (It wasn't really a big deal, but the kid did me a solid by letting me buy the more expensive DIMM at the same price as the other three when he found that they had no more than three of that brand in stock.).
I got a few more complaints about the arrangement of the three DIMMS, but eventually, through trial and error, put them all in the correct slots (Yes, Scott, I do realize how easy I'm making this for you), confirmed the amount of RAM in BIOS, and the operation, finally, was a success.
Except, you know, for the fact that the patient died.
Windows would not boot. Not even in Safe Mode. It would get to the point at which the system normally displays a funky progress bar and "Copyright Microsoft Corporation," but would then stall out. In fact, it didn't really even get that far; I'd get a faint display of the ghost of the progress bar and text.
Thankfully I had the new Munin to allow me to get online to look for similar cases. I found one who had the exact same symptoms and had found it to be a driver problem. In his case, though, the driver was a wireless networking card and his system was a laptop. At this stage, apart from the Bluetooth receiver for my mouse and keyboard, there was nothing hooked up to Hugin to cause a conflict.
(Bear with me if you've already figured out what it was; I was kind of proud of myself when I finally did. So I'm slow. What do you expect? It was damn near 2 AM by this point.)
I decide to remove the new RAM and put the old RAM back in to see if that made a difference. It did; Windows started up normally.
(As an aside, after the first successful boot with the new RAM, back when it was still only seeing 4 GB, I had a brief moment of panic in which I thought that maybe I'd installed 32 Bit Vista instead of 64 Bit, and it was only seeing 4 GB. That thought annoyed me, as it meant that I'd "upgraded" the OS to the same damned OS. As I couldn't get Windows to boot so that I could check, the thought ate away at me, until I remembered that I'd used the "64 Bit Only" installation DVD.)
While I was checking things out it occurred to me that the booting issue only happened just as the system was starting to display graphics more complex than simple text. I then noticed that the driver for my video card was listed at "Standard VGA Device." Aha! A graphics driver conflict. As if to throw me a bone, just as I was about to seek out an updated driver, the Windows Update notification balloon popped up and told me that it had just updated the driver for my video card.
I was too tired to try reinstalling the new RAM by this point, and I'd noticed that Device Manager was complaining about the System Bus - which might have also been the problem - and while I was looking into that, The Universe took pity on me again and the Windows Problems and Solutions app popped up and said that there was a problem and it had the solution: Windows needed a new driver for the chipset. (This is the first time, in over two years of using Vista, in which that feature has actually provided a solution to an identified problem.)
Conveniently it even had a link to a site I could download the driver from. It's too bad that clicking on the link didn't actually do anything, but it was a nice gesture.
So I went online and found the driver, installed it, and decided to call it a night.
I got up this morning, cracked Hugin open again, installed all of the new RAM, hoping that the driver updates had fixed the problem, and voila! Windows booted, System Properties showed the correct amount of RAM, and I was golden.
Kind of.
I was a little worried about my Digital Cable Tuner - the device that lets me watch HD TV on my computer, essentially making it into a cable Set Top Box - but once I had it hooked up, it came on, and after a reboot Media Center found the signal, and I was well on my way to getting that set up.
Until Media Center asked me for a Product Key. At first I thought it wanted the key that came with the copy of Vista I'd bought. After that failed, I noticed the part where it explicitly stated that this was not what it wanted. Apparently the key, in tiny, tiny print, was on a sticker on the back of my comptuer. To get to it I had to shut everything down, disconnect everything, and haul Hugin out from under my desk.
Naturally I copied the wrong key - I learned, eventually - and made many failed attempts with that. Then I found the correct key, entered it, and was told that it, too, was invalid. I made sure I had it right - ironically this time around there was a "B" that I thought was an "8" - but no joy.
Not being able to activate it means that I can't view "restricted content" - Yay! DRM! - so the tuner is essentially useless.
I didn't remember having to do the activation thing when I first hooked up the tuner. I learned online that that's because when you get a Digital Tuner-equipped XPS from the factory, the Product Key is listed in the Registry, and the activation is automatic. The key printed on the computer is for use if you have to reinstall Windows (and is different from the "bulk" key in the Registry).
That's the key word: reinstall. Because I now have a version of Vista different from what was pre-installed and that's on the recovery DVD, my system is, essentially, an entirely new system, so the key printed on the computer is no longer valid.
Oh, and did I mention that I deleted the old version of Windows, so I can't go back into it to find the Registry key?
There doesn't appear to be any sort of mechanism for obtaining a new key, and, since my warranty expired - three days ago - I can't call Dell.
Well, I could call them, but it wouldn't be free, and from what I've seen online they're not much help in this situation anyway.
Theoretically, I could reinstall from the recovery CD and use the Product Key I have, but then I'd be back to using 32 Bit Vista, which defeats the whole purpose of this expensive and time-consuming exercise.
I suppose I could reinstall and do a dual-boot thing, and switch over to 32 Bit Vista for TV watching and recording, but that seems like way too much bother.
So, yeah. Computers. They'd the Devil.

1 comment:

Merlin T Wizard said...

Damn, that sucks. It figures that with all that cramming in and pulling out, you'd at least be rewarded in the end. Ah well.

I knew you'd return the favor on the obvious innuendos. There's something about working on a car or a computer that causes them to fly.

I hope you aren't going to let a key defeat you, though. It's not like the tuner, Media Center, or any of the other stuff we're dealing with here are illegal. You bought them, you're entitled to their use.