Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Sometimes WON'T boot? (long)

Tonight, my cousin came over with a friend and we all had pasta, exotic cheeses, wine, and garlic bread. We talked about babies, baseball, cheeses, differing levels of motivation among college students at the University of Houston, their jobs, pictures of babies, and wireless routers.

After they left and everyone was crashed out, I started in on a project I've had on my to-do since July. I have a bunch of older PCs, not necessarily working. I couldn't throw them away, because, uh, I got them for free. Can't just throw them away without knowing what they are. That's part of the junk-barge captain's code.

Here's the deal so far:

Tonight's 3 cases: First system beeps over and over again, on boot, no video, no nothin'. I think that means video card failure, or motherboard failure. I have TWO lists of beep codes; naturally, neither matches at all. Bah, to hell with this. I may swap video cards, but eeh, maybe not. Hard drive was easy to pull, and I'll wait to pull CD-ROM. I'll need the CD-ROM drive for a Linux CD if I can get the video (?) card resolved. Grr, moving on...

Second system: Ancient one. Fan housing cracks and falls off processor, revealing note: "Hey, dumbass, don't turn me on without a fan and heat-sink!" I'm not a dumbass, so I don't turn it on. I discover there's no IDE cable at all. There's one little stick of RAM, and I'm pretty sure this is my very first PC case, purchased my sophomore year of college or so. It's a 133 Mhz. The CD slot is empty-I had a totally sweet CD burner I bought while working at Best Buy. I took all the RAM out of it and used it to supercharge another computer, which I seem to have misplaced. None of these machines have full RAM slots.

The most promising one of the night has a decent motherboard, a 650 Mhz processor, and no RAM. Someone has written, "Needs RAM, also sometimes does not boot (?)" There's also a little sticker right on the CPU fan that says "stalls," oh, joy. I put a random stick of RAM in, and discovered it was a PC100 64 MB stick of ram! Sweet...

The hard drive in the third beastie detects as a 20 Gig, but won't boot. Man, a 20 gig hard drive would rock. Attempts to remove it are futile, as I discover there are two screws holding it in. You know, screws on the wrong side of the case. Cut hand on case, bleed sullenly on everything, pout, move on to next hard drive.

The second hard drive detects as a 420 MB (!!) and attempts to boot to Windows 3.11 for Workgroups(!!!). The screen is about an inch high, and I get Windows 32-bit driver warnings. I'm guessing Windows 3.11 doesn't know what the hell that video card is supposed to be. I Alt-F4 and get dropped to a DOS 6-point-old prompt. I type in "dir/p" and then realize it's been years since I had to do heavy lifting in DOS. Occasional shell stuff in Linux, occasional deep mojo at the Win 98/NT/XP command prompt, sure. Eeh, if I can get the CD-ROM drive to work, I can boot Linux from CD, reformat the hard drive, and we're in business in Linux. Discover I left all my Linux boot CDs at work in my laptop bag. Briefly consider adjourning to burn another Knoppix CD. Decide not to, since I'll need to figure out what version(s) of Linux will even fit on a hard drive that small.

Third hard drive boots up as a 20 Gig, continues to boot into Windows 2000 Pro. Score! Ooh, no, dies of 0x00000007: INVALID_SOFTWARE_INTERRUPT error. I go read the Microsoft Knowledge Base, which says COMPUTER SAD, UNPLUG WHAT YOU PLUGGED IN, AND REBOOT. I said a very special word, since what I had just plugged in was the hard drive. I try a couple of BIOS settings, but no go.

Throughout the hard drive parade, I didn't plug in the CD-ROM drive. I do, and swap the microscopic jumpers, and discover nothing works. I change jumpers, reboot, and get nothing. I unplug everything again, and go back to what worked ten minutes ago. Nothing works, again. Nothing I did makes any of the drives be recognized again.

Dodgy motherboard? Dodgy power supply? CPU got a little hot? Iffy RAM? Did I hose the BIOS setting in some complicated way? Beats me for now.

Does what it says: Sometimes won't boot (?).


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