Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Computer Maintenance

When I borked my laptop with the Windows 10 preview this past summer, I was in a bit of a pickle. My Windows Vista desktop was in my ministorage, and even if I got it out, I had no internet but my phone and wifi hotspots. (tl/dr summary of my k5 comment: After the Win10 installer booted, I thought better of experimenting with my only functional computer and clicked 'cancel'. My old Windows 7 install never booted again...)

My father wondered why I supported myself by driving people around in a taxi, when I could certainly have made more "fixing computers". While I'm not a hacker like my cousin, my credentials (degree, expired certifications [CCNA/CCNP], etc) could probably get me a tech support position somewhere. Before I moved back to Arizona, I almost had a job at a community college, and was the only person to recognize one of the items in the box of parts they tested candidates with. Maybe the Taxi company would hire me, if I wanted to be an employee.

My laptop is now about 3 years old - I got it the summer I started driving for the taxi company. I had a well-aged Dell laptop that was usable with lubuntu. IIRC there was a Windows 98 sticker on the bottom. It was fine for my purposes until the screen went dark. The used power inverter purchased on ebay didn't fix the problem, so I started shopping.

I wanted something lightweight. The choice came down to a Dell with a DVD drive, or a HP with a backlit keyboard - these machines were very similar in the other hardware specifications. I could have purchased a backlit keyboard for the Dell and swapped it out myself, but I figured if I actually needed to use DVDs I could get an external drive.

It's been a pretty good machine - the battery life is acceptable, 6Gb memory is enough, and the hybrid spinning disk/solid state drive worked pretty well. It was reset to the factory image a year ago, after HP repaired a minor problem where the screen powered off when I leaned it all the way back (this was probably my fault - one corner is a little warped, as if I set my laptop bag down too hard).

A few weeks before the windows 10 fiasco, I'd asked my stepfather if he had any extra laptop hard drives in his piles of parts. I have a windows 8 laptop in need of a drive, and a friend who is in need of a computer. My stepfather offered a 240 gigabyte Samsung 850 SSD - this was supposed to be an upgrade for an older laptop of his own, but it wasn't compatible.

Recovering the Windows Installation

I did have a Windows Recovery DVD, but this was of no help. It didn't find any windows installations on the hard drive. I'm sure the problem had to do with the solid state drive cache... To get the laptop usable again, I replaced the original hard drive with the SSD. I borrowed my brother's computer & internet to download a Ubuntu iso, partitioned the SSD for multiple operating systems, and installed Ubuntu. Ubuntu had no problems reading the files on my original hard drive when it was connected with a USB enclosure, which was very encouraging.

I thought that maybe if I had a real windows 7 installation disk I could get my original Windows 7 install to work again. If you buy a retail copy of your OS from Microsoft, you can download install discs from Microsoft directly. But Microsoft thought I should pay OS-Ransom to the manufacturer of my laptop.

After I posted here, k5 user Cable4096 provided a link to the previously-offered-but-withdrawn Windows 7 installation iso's. I couldn't figure out how to get a bootable iso onto a USB drive using my ubuntu install, so I borrowed my brother's windows computer again.

The plain Windows 7 installation media also didn't see any windows 7 installs to repair. Rather than mess around with it any more, I ended up just installing a fresh copy of Windows 7 on the SSD's other partition. Most of the drivers were found on the usb-attached original hard drive. While I probably would have preferred to have my original install, I'm perfectly happy to have the SSD. I was paranoid about killing my spinning hard drive, and the ssd seems to be better for battery life.

Windows screwed up ubuntu's boot loader, and I haven't cared enough to fix it. Maybe I'll install Linux Mint instead.

My Economically Stressed Passenger

The Windows8 laptop needing a hard drive was collateral for a loan to a passenger. It booted fine when I got it, but when I pulled it out of my storage unit the hard drive died spontaneously while trying to boot it in the presence of the person I was giving it to - an emotional EMP must've gotten it. My friend told me that the laptop was certainly stolen, which is why I'd never heard from the borrower again. "oh."

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