12 July 2002

This post has a high geek content. If you have no interest in the rantings of a tired, overworked geek then go do something more fun.

So I’m trying to install Windows 2000 for a client, right? Or, rather, re-install Windows 2000. The client had a Windows 2000 install operational but had somehow munged it but good while attempting to remove the Network Neighborhood icon from the desktop. (How they managed to munge the install by doing this is beyond me.)

When they called me in to fix the problem, I thought it would be a simple matter of re-installing the OS while at the client’s office. Then I discovered that the person that had built the computer had password protected the BIOS and set the boot order to hard drive, CD-ROM, floppy. WTF?

This might have been workable except the BIOS recognized whenever the hard drive was connected and tried to boot from it no matter whether the hard drive contained any data or not. In order to boot to another device (CD-ROM or floppy), the hard drive could not be connected. Yet without the hard drive connected it was impossible to install the OS.

Fine. There are several ways to bypass a BIOS password. I tried a couple of cracker programs that purport to grab and display the BIOS password from a DOS prompt. No luck. Neither of them worked. I removed the BIOS battery for about an hour. No luck. (Why not? I don’t know.) I fiddled with every single jumper I could find on the motherboard in an attempt to reset the BIOS. No luck.

Meanwhile I installed Windows 2000 to my client’s hard drive from a spare machine. When I attempted to transfer the hard drive to my client’s machine, however, it could not find the master boot record. WTF?

I started to remove the ISA cards (this is a p233) in order to actually look at the entire motherboard when voila! Beneath the modem I found another jumper. The jumper. I reset the BIOS and went to work. Only three hours behind schedule.

But wait! There’s more! It turns out that after resetting the BIOS, the computer will not boot from the CD-ROM. Why? I don’t know. I’ve monkeyed with everything I know and cannot get it to boot to the Windows 2000 CD (or any other bootable CD). Great. Windows 2000 cannot be started from a DOS prompt which means I’ve got to create a set of four Windows 2000 boot floppies. Then boot from them. Things go well until the fourth floppy at which point I get an error indicating a corrupt .CAB file.

(What is it with Windows CDs and corrupt .CAB files? My client’s Windows 2000 CD is worthless it turns out. One or more blocks is unreadable. I’ve had to complete the install process with my own CD. Meanwhile, Windows 98 CD has a similar problem. I’ve had to copy a friend’s CD because mine has corrupt data. I cannot detect physical defects on these CDs (though that doesn’t mean there aren’t any), so I suspect problems in manufacturing.)

At last, two hours after getting past the BIOS password and five hours after I meant to begin, I’m able to start the install process. Five hours! I figure there are two or three hours left to go and it’s midnight. Ugh. This project is positively Jeremyesque.

(Jenn once asked me: “Don’t you find that building computers is more trouble than it’s worth?” She couldn’t believe that it only takes me about two hours to build a computer. Jeremy has had great misfortune while working inside machines; he’s like a curse on hardware. As a result, hardware projects take him a long time to complete. Hardware usually goes well for me, but not tonight. This whole project has been a nightmare.)

So now I’m eight hours into the project. I’d like to bill for all eight ours (plus the two more that I’ll work tonight), but while I feel doing so is justified, I don’t think the client would be pleased. Even if I bill for half my time, the client’s total expenditure to me over the past few months for this one computer would more than justify an upgrade to a new machine. $300 spent to maintain a five year old computer when a new computer can be had for $500? Not too difficult a decision if you ask me.

The computer continues its install process. A p233 with 64mb of RAM installing Windows 2000 is S-L-O-W.

I’m going to go see Fellowship of the Ring again on Saturday afternoon. I vow that this time I will enjoy it: I will not be sick, I will not sit next to noisy children, I will not sit in the front row. I will sit two-thirds of the way back, slightly right of center (the ideal spot). I will buy two slices of pizza, some red vines, and some draft root beer. Kris will sit by my side. We will have fun. Anyone else want to join us? Bagdad Theater, 1:30 p.m., Saturday.


On 12 July 2002 (06:33 AM),
Dana said:

It’s usually a much better idea to hunt down the jumper first than to use the BIOS blanking/reading programs. Usually the programs are BIOS specific, so you have to identify what you’ve got first, then try and locate a program that will work with it. Much easier to identify the motherboard and/or locate the jumper. I thought I’d warned you of that… Sorry.

Also, wrt not booting off the CD — where was it in the IDE chain? What were it’s jumpers set to? Did you try sticking in one of your spare CD-ROM drives to see if that worked and theirs didn’t? I’m assuming that you went into the bios and redetected the drive info after you had blanked the BIOS…

Sorry it was such a painful experience, though. Sounds nasty! But, on the bright side, it’s been a good learning experience, hasn’t it?

On 12 July 2002 (04:36 PM),
Dave said:

I’ve been lead to believe that some older machines will not boot from a CD Rom without a bios flash upgrade. Perhaps in resetting the bios you lost the prior flash (that the client probably didn’t know about in the first place) and that explains why the bios wouldn’t recognize the CD.

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