November 17, 2007 Archives

Sat Nov 17 19:28:31 CST 2007

Dell is strange

I recently had the pleasure of working on a Dell XPS machine. It was delivered with a note saying: Virus - comes to blue screen, and that's it.

It turns out that there was a harddrive error. Easy fix. Run some harddrive diagnostics against it, maybe a checkdisk from the Windows XP cd. Yeah, not this time. Turns out that Dell has stopped shipping computers with PS2 ports. That's right, the thing that you plug your keyboard and mouse into. It's gone.

New Dell computers require a USB mouse and keyboard, which is just fine and dandy when your computer is working correctly. On the other hand, when you have to use the Recovery Console from a Windows cd that doesn't have USB drivers, you're pretty much screwed. You have USB drivers from the system up until the point that it asks you if you want to install or repair. No problem. Dell includes a recovery partition that you can boot from and run some tests. Maybe this will fix it. Nope. Same problem.

I didn't have access to the original Dell brand USB keyboard while I was working on this. (Who asks a client to bring their keyboard with the tower?) Instead, I had 3 different USB keyboards to work with. Each would give up on me at the same point.

Deciding to cut my lost time, I prepared to drop the harddrive into a working machine and trying checkdisk from there with a PS2 keyboard. Whoops. Joke's on me. Dell is shipping SATA drives now. I ended up having to take the drive into work with me and borrowing a computer with both SATA and PS2. It took about an hour, but checkdisk got the drive booting again. Finally, I could log in.

I really thought it was finished at this point but the user profiles were broken. Start menus and taskbars were gone, never to be seen again. I rebooted into safe mode to access the Administrator account and create a new user. No good. New users were created with similar problems. I was down to my last gun: Complete reformat and reinstall. This was going to be hard without a keyboard, and the original Windows Media Center disk. (Who buys Media Center, anyway?)

Just as I was preparing to haul the drive back to work and install using a donor tower, I stumbled across a link that solved all my problems. It turns out that there is a hidden restore feature with some Dell machines.

Press Ctrl + F11 during boot and the computer boots into Norton Ghost. They have hidden an image of a fresh install on the machine. After a few clicks and some short minutes, I was looking at a brand new install of Windows XP Media Center. All problems fixed and I was able to restore their files from backup, using a Linux Live cd to access the NFS drive where I put them originally.

By the way, Kubuntu 7.4 recognized all of their hardware, even the USB stuff. If I hadn't already had the computer for so long at this point, I would have sent it back with a dual boot.

Posted by Nesman | Permanent Link