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Old 09-02-2007, 01:13 AM   #21
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A bad registry file *could* be a one-time software glitch, but often it's a symptom of a hard drive on its way out.
I learned some interesting things in the last couple weeks.

The old HD (a 30GB Seagate Momentus) was indeed toast, either a bad boot sector or a trashed head. In addition to the corrupted registry problem, Dell's diagnostics gave a "Drive self-test failed" error. When I pulled out the drive to look for obvious problems and reinserted it I started getting "A disk read error occurred" messages... and the laptop wouldn't even try to boot anymore.

I tried to boot the laptop from UBCD and GRC's Spinrite but couldn't get either one to work. I've read that many modern computers no longer bother to load DOS drivers at boot (which would stop Spinrite) or else I'm not correctly burning bootable CDs.

I acquired a Dell WinXP CD (more about that later) and it managed to boot to a recovery console. I went through every option on that menu, including deleting the partition, re-partitioning, and attempting to format the drive in both NTFS and FAT/FAT32. No joy.

Since I was able to confirm that the drive was dead, I bought the 80GB version of the Seagate at CompUSA for $80. (Even at $1/GB it's getting very difficult to find any laptop HDs under 60 GB.) CompUSA won't even let you open the box (the size of a toaster oven surrounding a 2.5" drive) and they try to intimidate you into paying them to do the installation. "You know, brah, there's nothing in there but the drive, it's not partitioned or formatted, it doesn't have any jumpers or connectors, it's not returnable, and you have to supply the drivers and all the software. You know what those are and how to do all that, right? Uhm, no, sorry sir, I don't know the difference between NTFS & FAT32, and my name's not Sonny."

I took the opportunity to teach our 14-year-old how to swap drives, re-install, partition, and format. Of course she'd never actually "formatted a disk" before, let alone understood why we care about partitioning an 80GB drive, so as I was explaining the concepts she was able to tell me that she doesn't want to study computer engineering. I'm guessing she doesn't want to know how to flash a BIOS or burn an EEPROM either. Sigh. But she enjoyed dissecting & destroying the old HD.

So the laptop now boots to Dell's version of WinXP SP2. I still need to find Latitude laptop drivers and install antivirus software before going online to download all the SP2 updates. Then I'll install an old copy of Office, download all [u]those[/] updates, and be back to where I was over three months ago... minus $80 and a bunch of man-hours. At least I got to train someone.

I still have to figure out a few answers. First, apparently it's difficult to burn a bootable CD. I need to play with this and learn more about ISO filetypes, but when I click on software buttons that claim to make a bootable CD-- the CDs don't seem to boot. But maybe that problem was caused by the dead HD.

Second, I wonder why the old HD didn't give any signs of impending failure. I don't know if this one used S.M.A.R.T. or if someone wouldn't admit to dropping the laptop.

Third, I wonder if it's still worth using utilities like Spinrite to groom & defrag a HD. It wasn't any help here, but maybe HDs still go bad gracefully enough for a low-level format to mark bad sectors and prolong their lives. Can anyone even tell the difference after defragging anymore?

Finally, I wonder if there's a way to load DOS drivers at boot before the "real" OS kicks in. I don't know if this would've helped me isolate the HD's bad sector or if a bootable CD is the right answer.

When I gave up on the old HD I considered selling the laptop for parts. I started pricing it on our local Craigslist and a new post went up for a Dell Inspiron 710M. $650 bought a 1.7 GHz Pentium M, a 100 GB HD, a DVD drive, and an upgrade to 2 GB RAM. The seller even had all the paperwork, CDs, packing materials, carrying bag, and the original mailing box. (His address was on the mailing label, so I guess it wasn't stolen goods.) He'd had it for a year and hadn't been using it. Either he had no idea what it was worth or he just didn't care. I not only got Dell's CD of WinXP that I used to fix my old laptop, I even got the old 256 MB RAM chips left over from his upgrade.

I was going to sell the Latitude, but spouse is thinking that she'd like to keep it for when she has to give back her Navy Reserve laptop.

So now we have three people sharing one PC, three laptops, and a Mac Mini in a house with only one maintenance geek. I'm drawing the line at a wireless network, and this time I really mean it!
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Old 09-02-2007, 08:30 AM   #22
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My laptop cratered during this past week, too. In my case it wouldn't recharge, though the power supply is putting out according to the specs. Frank replaced the connector with one that wasn't so beat up and works better, in hopes that would fix it, but when it still wouldn't recharge I yielded to the temptation to buy a new one rather than making any further attempts to find the problem and fix it. I was secretly thrilled to have an excuse to get a new computer!

I found this one at a good sale price, and it is good enough to meet my needs, so I bought it.

Definitely not a LBYM thing to do, and I feel appropriately guilty, but what fun I am having with it! It is great to be back in my favorite chair, computing wirelessly with my feet up and exploring MS Vista.

I guess it's not as bad an impact on the budget as last year when my TV cratered, my A/C gave up the ghost, and I had to have two uninsured root canals, all in one week. I seem to spend as much for this kind of thing as for more predictable expenses.
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Old 09-02-2007, 11:22 AM   #23
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My laptop cratered during this past week, too. In my case it wouldn't recharge, though the power supply is putting out according to the specs. Frank replaced the connector with one that wasn't so beat up and works better, in hopes that would fix it, but when it still wouldn't recharge I yielded to the temptation to buy a new one rather than making any further attempts to find the problem and fix it.
We have that problem with the bunny-chewed plug on a 130-watt Dell power supply. The only way we can get spouse's XPS laptop to charge is to leave it powered down and to wiggle the connector around until the laptop's charging light goes on. The laptop's software refuses to use the charger under any conditions. Maybe it'd work better if she turned off all the fancy blinking lights but I'm not impressed with that hog of a laptop. The Inspiron is about half the weight, footprint, and heat output.

I think it's all a revenue-enhancement scheme. A laptop shouldn't give a darn whether its power supply is 90W, 130W, or 134.257 watts. Put out five volts (or whatever the spec is) and don't worry about the current or how long it takes to charge...
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Old 09-02-2007, 11:42 AM   #24
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Either he had no idea what it was worth or he just didn't care.
You can check closed eBay auctions to get a feel for the market value. IMO, he priced it just right. They go for between $500-700 on eBay.

BTW, I love the 710M. I'm using one now while I'm traveling.
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Old 09-02-2007, 03:24 PM   #25
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You can check closed eBay auctions to get a feel for the market value. IMO, he priced it just right. They go for between $500-700 on eBay.
BTW, I love the 710M. I'm using one now while I'm traveling.
Darn it, thank, I checked Dell's website prices but I forgot about eBay.

I'm glad I paid a good price. Considering the usual quality of Craigslist sellers that I deal with I was glad I didn't delay; this was practically "new in the box".

I don't know if it's worth the effort to try to sell a couple 256MB PC2100 laptop RAM assemblies...
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Old 10-04-2007, 04:56 PM   #26
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Well, after a month of periodic rooting around Dell's drivers I finally have the Latitude back in full service. The website will eventually (grudgingly) locate drivers for you, but when you find a dozen driver files the website still makes you download them one at a time.

Ironically the driver I had the most trouble with was the one for the laptop's Ethernet card. One of Dell's "Quickset" utilities configured the laptop to turn off the card when the laptop was on battery and then the driver file was corrupted. It wouldn't "roll back" or reinstall. The card refused to talk to the laptop until I started all over again with a fresh WinXP installation (minus "Quickset") and Dell's latest Latitude NIC driver. Since the laptop wouldn't go online I was burning driver files to CDs on the desktop and trying them out on the laptop.

For those who don't get as much entertainment value from Dell's "support" as I did, it's probably well worth the $40-$50 hassle to download a recovery/driver CD from resellers like this one: Homepage of Genner Sales Downloads (Windows Recovery CD downloads & Windows Restore CD downloads)
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Old 10-04-2007, 07:35 PM   #27
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Nords,
Thanks for the Recovery CD link. Last week our HD crashed and I had to purchase and install a new one. Fortunately I travel with the recovery disc and was back up in a couple of hours. However, I have often wondered what if I lost that disc or it was damaged in transport? You've answered that question.

Thanks again,

Billy
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Old 10-04-2007, 08:50 PM   #28
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Old 10-04-2007, 09:08 PM   #29
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BackupBackupBackupBackup.
Feh, a backup was the least of my problems. I recently acquired a pair of 4GB flash drives, though, which should go a long way toward simplifying the process.

I'm not sure what utility backs up a computer's driver files. And I'm not sure how many times one can make a "recovery" CD, if at all.
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Old 10-05-2007, 12:55 PM   #30
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I'm not sure what utility backs up a computer's driver files. And I'm not sure how many times one can make a "recovery" CD, if at all.
Nords, can't you make an 'image' of the entire drive? I seem to recall something with 'ghost' in the name was used for this in Windows. It takes an external hard drive, but those are pretty cheap now. It really simplifies things, it's all there in one place. Afterwards, I unplug the drive and put it on a shelf to I'm reasonably protected against a power glitch.

Once you do that, back up your data to other media more often if you like, but you won't have to re-install programs, drivers, updates, etc.

On the Mac side, you can use the built in Disk Utility to clone your drive. I started using a free program called 'SuperDuper!' which seems a bit more user friendly, and you can upgrade ot a paid version that has a bunch of nifty features. On a Mac, just hold the option key when you boot, and you can choose any of the drives to start up from. It works great.

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Old 10-05-2007, 01:05 PM   #31
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driveimagexml is a free download that does the same thing as Norton Ghost. You can make a complete backup of the hard drive. Also goggle sub windows boot. You can make either a CD or flash drive that will boot into windows, and run from the flash drive or CD. Real handy for PC backup.
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Old 10-05-2007, 03:25 PM   #32
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Well, this seems to be the "computer" thread right now, so I have a question for you Mac users:

I've been hauling around a laptop on the job for over 15 years, mostly Dells, all with some version of windows. I've gotten used to having a laptop, (especially one supplied by someone else) and can't imagine retirement without one, especially for travel.

I'll be retiring in just a little over a year, and have been contemplating what to buy. Lately, I've been considering a Mac laptop, and dual booting it with windows to remain compatible. I know quite a bit about windows machines, but know zip about Macs, so.... How about some recommendations as to model, memory, HD, processor, extras, etc. Thanks, Puzz
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Old 10-05-2007, 05:26 PM   #33
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Lately, I've been considering a Mac laptop, and dual booting it with windows to remain compatible. I know quite a bit about windows machines, but know zip about Macs, so.... How about some recommendations as to model, memory, HD, processor, extras, etc. Thanks, Puzz
1st Q: What would you need to be compatible with in the Windows world? Unless you have some specific programs that you rely on with no equivalent in OSX (but, you'll be retired!) you should be fine with OSX - forget Windows, it'll just take up disk space, cost you money, and let in viruses.

I've got Office for the Mac, and there are some pretty good open source Office programs - depends how heavy duty you need to get with excel, macros and so forth.

Models, depends on your needs. The next version of OS is due out later this month, and there are rumors of new HW before EOY, so if you are not chomping at the bit, I'd wait and see what is coming.

Currently two basic models of laptops, the MacBooks and MacBook Pro's.

details here (click on 'compare specs'):

The Apple Store (U.S.) - MacBook Pro

we bought the lowest version for DD going to college, $999 with edu discount. Didn't add a thing to it, seemed very complete for her needs.

-ERD50
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Old 10-05-2007, 07:32 PM   #34
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Thanks, ERD50, but I will be using some specific, proprietary programs, even in retirement, that are written specifically for windows, so I'll need it. I don't need to do anything for over a year, so am just soliciting input and opinions....
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Old 10-05-2007, 07:49 PM   #35
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Nords, can't you make an 'image' of the entire drive?
Dang I wish I'd thought of that. Great idea, thanks! Finally, something to do with the pile of old hard drives laying around.

I appear to be mentally stuck in the days when hard drives & memory were low-capacity and high-price...

Quote:
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I'll be retiring in just a little over a year, and have been contemplating what to buy. Lately, I've been considering a Mac laptop, and dual booting it with windows to remain compatible. I know quite a bit about windows machines, but know zip about Macs, so.... How about some recommendations as to model, memory, HD, processor, extras, etc. Thanks, Puzz
I highly recommend dropping by an Apple store and letting the geek counter pontificate at advise you.

Or stop by a bookstore to buy the latest Mac magazines, mark 'em up, and put them away. Drag them out a year later, see what's survived the user recommendations, and start shopping Craigslist...
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