Fixing Computers…

So, since unemployment ran out, I’ve been fixing computers to try to make ends meet. It’s funny how much fixing computer is simultaneously easier and harder than it was eight years ago.

Easier, because current operating systems tell you much more about the system configuration and installed applications, and the built-in tools actually work.  Harder, because some errors and issues show NO SIGNS in logs or diagnostics.

And I’ve worked on three different computers over the past week.  Each has had a strange combination of issues.

Computer #1 – I’ve written about this beastie earlier, and turned out sideways.  After reinstalling Mac OS X, the MacBook would not boot if shut down.  It would recover from going into hibernate, it could restart, but a full shutdown would cause failure to boot until it had been booted from the install DVD and had the disc checked, sometimes the OS would have to be reinstalled again.

After the hard drive was replaced, the second hard drive had some issues with corrupted filesystems and missing data.  Got a third hard drive and started installing very cautiously.

Created a second, 5GB partition and cloned the Snow Leopard installation DVD to it, then installed from the new N8-brand recovery partition.

On my MacBook, I cloned the Mountain Lion installer to a USB stick and triple-verified it. It was ready to go, but I set it aside because I had to go slow and cautious-like.

I retrieved a 320 GB external hard drive from my graveyard box and formatted it, then zeroed out the drive.

Once the install was done, I updated the Snow Leopard installation until no updates were available*, then rebooted/shut down several times – each time it came back with no issues.

I cloned the currently functional installation onto my external drive, booted from the external drive to verify functionality, and rebooted the MacBook off of the USB stick.

The install failed three times at about 30%, twice with kernel panics.

I managed to get the installation finished and restarted, and it kernel panicked.

I did some research, and this scenario matches a bad-RAM situation.

Unfortunately, the owner doesn’t have both original discs – so I can’t run the Apple Hardware Diagnostics.

So, I re-cloned the working Snow Leopard installation back onto the laptop and ran tests on it overnight – it worked with only a few issues.  It would kernel panic if RAM usage reached over 50%.

So, it appears the original hard drive was thrashed by core dumps, and the second was damaged by the same.  So, I got it as usable as possible and sent it back with the owner, with recommendations on what RAM to purchase and a written outline of symptoms/band-aid fixes available to tide him through until he can afford the RAM upgrade.

(He’s a college student, enough said.)

Computer #2 – Older Windows XP computer, used for Internet and iTunes music, wouldn’t boot reliably and when it did boot, they couldn’t access the iTunes library.

I retrieved the computer, and it would boot, but it wouldn’t load the desktop – just the wallpaper and no icons.  I could launch Task Manager, but explorer.exe wasn’t running.

When I tried to launch explorer.exe from the “New Task” button, it couldn’t find it using system paths.  So, I click-through browsed into C:\Windows\System 32\ and selected it, and it errored that the file could not be found.

Since the owner just wants their iTunes library off the computer, I downloaded a Linux Live CD, rebooted and browsed to the library.  The library is intact and plays, and all files appear to have all permissions to all users in Linux – when it should map the user permissions from NTFS.

It appears that Windows lost all file permissions, possibly the Access Control Lists.

Well, that’s beyond what my primary mission is, so I decided to try copying over the library over to my Mac.  (I can’t use the external drives because I promised to keep the backup images for at least a month.  Not yet.)

Well, the library is about 25% copied over, and the connection keeps timing out.

Which appears to be a problem with Mac OS X Mountain Lion’s implementation of SMB/Samba/Windows File sharing.

So – I either need to get AFP working with the live CDs, or find a fix for the SMB.  Or clone the backup image to an .iso file, then burn it to DVD, so I can use the external drive.

That’s what I’m working on now.  I’m being a little leisurely about it, trying various Linux Live CDs, because how often do I have a legitimate excuse to try out Live CDs?

Don’t answer that.

Computer #3 – 5-year old Windows Vista computer has pop-ups and cannot access the Internet.

I booted it up, and there are no noticeable problems.  Until you launch Internet Explorer.  Then the entire computer slows to a crawl, and it takes 15 minutes to load just the basic layout of Google.com, no images.

Yeah, the Google-logo and search box.  A page that has a payload around 15MB, with all of the javascript and “Get Chrome Now” reminders.  (Most of that payload is images, and they load last.)

I should note that this computer has 4GB RAM, an AMD64 multi-core processor, and a DSL connection to the Internet.

I check the Programs & Features, and there are 22 “Toolbars” installed.

So, I begin uninstalling them, and each reboot the computer loads a little faster.  Amazing.

After I get down to three remaining toolbars, it slowed down to a crawl again.

I check msconfig, and disable any unnecessary start-up entries, but it’s still a bit pokey.

That’s when I check the hard drive and the drive hasn’t been defragged since they bought it, and was about 75% fragmented.  So, I started a defrag and let the owner know what happened, what’s going on, and what to expect.  I asked when a good time to come back over to check it out/continue work, and Tuesday looks good.

I remember years ago, speeding up a lagging computer required in-depth registry editing and reboots after each change, then manual file deletion and registry scanning.  Using Programs & Features and msconfig was much easier.

Now, if I could just get the file-shares working so I can copy off that music…

Okay, back to it.  I mean, I’m not doing this work for free.  Just because I’m having some fun doesn’t mean it’s pro-bono.

Have fun, readers.

Skåll!!!

* Note, Windows users: Mac OS X, two versions old, had a total of nine updates. Nine.  Not nine-hundred, like you’d have with Windows Vista.  Just nine.  It took fifteen minutes to install them.  Not two hours, like it would take on Windows Vista.  I know I’m opening a can of worms by pointing this out – but maybe Microsoft needs to learn something from this fact.  I’d dearly love to have an MS computer that didn’t need so many time-consuming updates, if I have to reinstall due to hardware failure after a couple of years.  Go back up there