23 April, 2010

What, Windows again?

Install woes

Yep. I finally got sick of the fact that my Solaris wouldn't boot. So I turned the 10 Gb drive into a Windows XP Home install. The install worked well enough, but the Windows installer needed to put files onto the first drive into a special partition. Linux lost a bit of swap space in the end, but I figured it was worth it. It had been the first time I'd spotted an install where the system drive wasn't the boot drive. The other weird thing to get my head around was that my Windows drive was called H: and not C:—which was the boot drive.

I soon found out that 10 Gb was nowhere near enough for the games I wanted to add. So I retired a 40 Gb hard drive out of brick, copied my Windows install over to the drive using gparted, then tried to get it bootable using the Windows CD. Unfortunately for me, the Windows installer insisted on putting boot files onto the first hard disk, and wouldn't continue unless I allowed this to happen. In the end, I gave up, toasted the copy, and created three partitions. One partition had grub and Linux kernels so I could still boot Linux from the first drive, even though the rest of the Linux files were held on the second drive, I just had to do the normal twiddle with the file system tables. The second partition was for the Windows files, and the third partition was for Windows virtual memory.

Hardware issues

I stuck the Windows CDROM back in and booted the computer. The Windows Setup program merely said "Setup is examining your hardware configuration", then the screen went blank, and the drive activity light started flickering about six times a second. In the end, the only way I was able to get Setup to continue was to pull the power plug out of the first hard disk while Setup was examining the hardware, then plug the power back in while Setup was loading the rest of itself into memory. I don't recommend doing that, of course. But I finally got Windows XP installed last night and spent the rest of this morning, and most of this afternoon installing all the updates, along with SP3, Quicktime, Adobe Reader, and so on, as well as Quake 4 and the Command & Conquer games I bought.

One thing I found out rapidly is that Windows requires reboots after most of the updates I'd put in. Take Acroread as an example: I installed the latest copy of Acroread, and was fine. Then I told Acroread to check for updates, it then downloaded the update, installed it, and required me to reboot the computer. I even saw that same issue with Windows 7. I seriously don't miss that aspect of Windows.

So now I have two copies of Windows XP, one Pro and one Home. The main reason for installing XP Home is so that I can actually play games on a machine with an AGP video card. The machine's also considerably faster than the 1GHz Duron, although it doesn't have as much memory. I'd probably add some other 3D programs too, such as blender, OpenCobalt and Second Life clients. I have a lot of older games that might work under Windows XP that won't work under Vista (or Windows 7) so my machine will be good for that.

That machine, part two

Yes, that one

About a week before, I'd received a computer to analyse. It had ... issues. After typing up the article, I tried installing SP2 again, and got a warning that WGA had not been installed on the machine. When I installed WGA, and tried to reinstall SP2, I got a warning that the version of Windows that had been installed, got installed with a Volume Licensing Key that had been subsequently de-allocated (rendering it invalid). As a result, the machine no longer had a Windows install that could have any other updates applied to it, if those updates depended upon WGA. I duly rang owner, and suggested that they either get themselves a valid Windows license and CDROM, or consider the purchase of a new machine. They got back to me, and told me I could (effectively) keep the machine, though they did take the monitor back.

So, that was the end of the line for that install of Windows XP Pro. I nuked the install, copied my wife's copy of Kubuntu to the hard drive, stuck it back inside the machine, and added another memory stick for good measure. Powered it up, and struck the first problem. The machine wouldn't accept more than 512Mb on the motherboard. So, haul out the added memory, powered back up, and down, and up several times while I tried getting the hard drive grubbed, before finally growing a clue and hauling out my Ubuntu 9.04 CD, putting the drive into my main machine, booting the CD, running "Reinstall grub" and so on. Then I pulled out the drive, rinse repeat, into the Compaq. Booted, but was really really slow. I couldn't understand this, because it was a 1.3GHz Celeron, so it should have been faster than my main computer. Also, network was really slow, and only 30% of the packets were getting through. Rapidly realising that the machine wasn't a working one, I put wife's drives back into her original machine, and left her to it, feeling rather cheesed off that my attempt to help out hadn't gone at all well.

Thinking on the problem

Next day, I hauled the hard drive back out, stuck it back in fatty, copied my Windows XP Home installation (which I'd installed less than three days before) over to the drive using gparted (nice tool, by the way), and did the futzing around required to boot Windows. Except it only got so far before stopping. Thinking that it was just Windows playing silly with me, I booted it up again, and got the same reaction... it would only get so far, and then stop. Giving up on that for a moment, I flipped the machine over to boot Linux, and did a speed test on the drive. Unusually, I got some seriously divergent results, from 8Mb per second up to 17Mb per second. I decided to eliminate the cabling, and tested the other three drives, which all varied by less than 0.1%. So, I suspect that not only was the OS giving trouble, but so was the hard disk. I've uhm, retired it.

I think what I'll do with the machine finally, is put a NetBSD drive back into the Compaq computer—which only takes one drive anyhow—and simply use it as a networked NetBSD. I don't know what else to do with a machine with Intel 815 graphics, 512Mb maximum memory, room only for one drive, and a proprietary CDROM which I don't have. So the machine doesn't show much chance for expandability. Ah well, so much for trying to help someone else out—but at least this time I got something for my troubles.

13 April, 2010

Twelve games and a drenching

A ‘new’ old adventure

I finally tracked down a copy of “Command & Conquer - the first decade.” I’ve been looking for a while for this version, rather than the original Command & Conquer game that doesn’t work on Windows XP (or it doesn’t for me, anyhow). This collection is the first twelve "episodes", i.e. C&C, Red Alert, Tiberian Sun, Generals, the expansion packs, and so on. I’ll let you know how much fun I have. I wasn’t having much luck finding it until EB Games had themselves a sale, and finally brought some in. The last time I saw the collection was over three years ago, and I had to turn it down at the time because I didn't have the money—nearly $90. Thankfully I didn't pay that much today, due to the special, I only paid $35.00

The key to future typing

Anyhow, I’m typing this on a new cheap keyboard, because somehow my keyboard got drenched in tea when my teapot overflowed onto it. It feels quite different from my keyboard, so no doubt it’ll take me a while to get used to it. I had to go for a bargain keyboard, and I can feel it. My finger memory will need to be retrained as my previous keyboards were a different feel, with keys in slightly different places than this one. The Enter key is flaming huge in comparison, and the pipe symbol ‘|’ and backslash ‘\’ are down beside the right hand shift key. I haven’t had a keyboard like this for years!

I had a bit of an adventure when I bought the keyboard though. I need a PS/2 dongle to connect to a KVM I’m using. The first keyboard that I bought didn’t have the dongle in the package, so I had to take the keyboard back and get another one that had the PS/2 dongle. Now I’ve got it home, and it works well aside from the squashy keys. Let’s hope that this keyboard doesn’t have another spill, though the price is at least cheap enough to afford a replacement in a reasonably short space of time. I know I’ll hang onto the dongle though, so that I don’t have to go through the hassle of buying a keyboard just for the dongle.

Repair of an older computer’s OS

Some days, it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed. Someone I know had one of those days recently. They got given a computer by their boss, that had Windows XP installed onto it, but nothing had been updated since. They requested that I come over to help them as they couldn’t get email or the Internet going. When I got there, I immediately pulled the USB cable out of the DSL modem, which at least fixed the Internet problem, but only in part. I even managed to plug a printer in, plug a digital camera in, and print photos, all without issue. But I got stumped on the email, so I left it for the owner to talk to the ISP about. Yesterday, they spent most of the day on the phone to the ISP, trying to sort out the email problem, with the eventual decision by the ISP that the computer must be somewhat broken. That’s when I suggested they bring it over here, so I can work on it at my leisure. So far, it's got to me with these symptoms:

  • Updates won’t install onto it, due to the OS being not patched.
  • Google Chrome can’t be installed on to the OS, as it hasn't been brought up to SP3
  • Service Pack 2 won’t install on the OS, claiming it can’t be installed on this version of the OS
  • The web browser won’t go to Skype.com, the browser sits and waits, but doesn't go any further. The same thing happens when the user clicks the “webmail” link on the ISP’s home page—the browser simply sits there and the progress bar moves up to about five bars, then seems to stop.

Frankly, I smell a rat, and no doubt I'll be spending a fair amount of time just getting the computer to “do email”—I’ll let you all know what luck I have.