Friday, March 25, 2011

Adventures in Laptop Repair

My friend had an old laptop he brought to me today. It was pretty old. It has 64 MB of RAM, a 233 Mhz processor, a 4 GB hard drive, a dead battery...a real winner! In addition, whoever set it up installed Windows XP on it, so it takes FOREVER to start up.

He asked me if I could put it in Spanish so he could send it to his niece in Puerto Rico.

I decided to take a look and see what I could do. After all, it keeps my tech skills fresh!

As I have never done a Spanish install before, I first started by going to the Windows control panel. I took a look around, and went in to the language settings. Ah ha, I thought, this should fix it. I switched everything to Spanish, restarted the machine, and waited for it to work.

Sadly, this did not work. The Windows XP system files were installed in Spanish, and this did not even change the Start Menu to Spanish. It made sense when I thought about it. All the programs were already installed in English. A little Internet research showed that in order to do what we wanted, I would need a special installation of Windows with a new license key. License keys are generally tied to a specific version of Windows, so even if I got the Spanish version, I doubted the existing license key would work.

I was also sure that my friend did not want to pay for a new XP license for this machine.

At this point, I had a few options. I could have considered pirating the key, but my personal ethics ruled this out. Even if they didn't, the risk of downloading stuff from torrents/file sharing networks (0-day viruses, getting caught) would deter me.

Besides, when I thought about what my friend wanted for his niece, it was a computer that allowed her to do Internet research and type papers. At this point I decided to investigate Linux. I figured there should be a Spanish distribution of Linux, and it would certainly run better than Windows on this machine.

I am familiar with Ubuntu Linux, but it did not look like there was a complete version, so I did some searching and found Asturix, a Spanish Linux distribution based on Ubuntu. I downloaded the CD image and burned it on to a CD.

I brought my new CD back to the old laptop, and tried to open the CD-ROM drive. No response. Luckily, I know about the trick to open a stuck CD-ROM drive with a paperclip (that's why that tiny little hole is on the front of the drive!).

I opened the drive, inserted the CD, and started the machine. I walked away and came back, and it booted directly in to Windows. I restarted, and went in to the BIOS (the computer's basic input/output system). It was correctly set up to try the CD-ROM drive before it booted off the hard drive.

I restarted again, and paid attention this time. When the computer restarted, the CD-ROM drive made a very odd sound and then stopped spinning, and then the computer booted in to Windows. To verify, I went to My Computer, and the CD-ROM drive wasn't even listed, which means it was malfunctioning.

Normally at this point, I would consider creating a USB boot drive, but this machine was so old, the BIOS did not support it.

At this point, I considered partitioning the hard drive, but it just wasn't worth the effort for me.


Computer Support said...

Nice post! I always enjoy reading your blog. Keep up the great work.

J said...

Nice Posting Prof C.

It made me remember some old days when i used to play around with computers with those features.

Can you believe Iphones have way much better hardware config than that computer you are talking about? jejeje.

Keep posting :)

Professor Cameron said...

It is funny to think first computer had a processor that wouldn't even run a thermostat at this point !

Eric Frielink said...

I run into the same problem all the time at work, and its usually the same problem - old laptop going to either Puerto Rico or Dominican Republic. I have to keep Linux in mind for next time - I've even resorted to installing Windows 98 a couple times if it still has a product key on the bottom, and most of them won't run a modern antivirus program. I still keep a paperclip on my flash drive lanyard for the same reason of opening drives, even though most installs today can be done USB based.

One of my favorite quotes (no idea if its true or how you would even go about figuring it out, but I like to think that it is) but I can't find who said it:

"Your cell phone has more computing power than all of NASA in 1969. NASA launched a man to the moon. We launched a bird into pigs."

prolix said...

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