Sunday, August 24, 2008

My hard drive won't boot!

We have a 4 year old Dell laptop running XP. It died last night while we were using it. From what I have been able to figure out online, it looks like her hard drive might be dead, but maybe you can give me your opinion:

The first thing that happened is that we got a blue screen with a message at the bottom -- something like "physical memory dump successful" Then, we ran some sort of diagnostic and got: ...

It sounds like you have a “Type 2” failure below. Sorry.

There are two types of “fatal” problems with disc drives. Sometimes they spontaneously recover from either of them – at least for a short time. Take that opportunity to immediately back up your data. 1) Windows won’t load, but the drive is physically mostly OK. 2) The drive has some sort of mechanical failure. I lost 2 drives in my older Dell laptop; probably due to overheating.

1) Your data are probably in fine condition, although it may be awkward to retrieve it, especially with a laptop.

2) Cross your fingers and pay homage to any angel of fortune you use. Generally the computer doesn’t even recognize that it has a drive attached when you look at the status page at power-on Setup (for most post-2002 Dells, press F2 at the Dell splash screen). Suggested steps to attempt include: repeatedly powering it up until it comes on, lightly tapping the case while it is turned off, or chilling the drive before it’s turned on. If you hear a “clicka-clicka” when you power it up, you’re probably toast.
In either case, my first response is to minimize the chance of further corruption until I preserve the data. I do this by removing the drive from it’s current computer and installing it as a secondary drive in another computer. (See mechanical handling notes below.) You can connect it directly to the motherboard’s interface in the alternate computer or use a USB adapter.

Once the alternate computer recognizes the disc drive, you should immediately copy critical data off it before proceeding with any other recovery attempts. If you encounter missing password file access problems, you can try logging on to the alternate computer as an administrator. If necessary, create an account on that computer with the same name and password as the administrator on the failed computer. In an extreme case, you can break the user rights with a Bart’s PE boot CD. Start here:

Now that you have your data, what do you do with the old drive. If it is showing hardware issues, physically decomission it and throw it away. If the only problem is that Windows wouldn’t boot:

a) Run the SpinRite ( disc recovery utility.
b) Run Windows recovery from a Windows installation disc.
c) Reinstall Windows from your manufacturer’s distribution discs. You will also have to reinstall all your programs, drivers, and accessories; but your data will probably still be where it was. There is also a chance you will trash everything in the process.
d) Install Windows on a new drive and install this one as a secondary drive (not applicable to laptops). Same comments as c) apply.
e) Install Windows on a new drive and copy all your data back to it. Same comments as c) apply.

The mechanics of moving a hard drive around.
Drives come in 2 flavors, SATA and IDE/ATA/PATA, that use a different cable to connect to the computer. SATA is the newer standard although most aftermarket drives are still available in either format. Very few computers support both versions natively on their motherboards although you can get add-in cards for either version. Furthermore, older IDE laptop drives (2.5”) use a different cable and power adapter than IDE desktop (3.5”) drives, but otherwise are interchangeable. Most USB adapters (such as support all versions although there may be some old IDE-only adapters still on the market.

Always disperse any static electricity by touching a grounded metal object before working with electronics. Never handle a disc drive that is powered on (ie spinning). Always disconnect the power supply from the wall before connecting or disconnecting cables. Don't forget the main battery(ies) in a laptop.

On most laptops the disc drive can be removed with one or two screws without disassembling the case. If you remove a screw that opens a panel into the electronics, that’s probably the wrong one.

When temporarily installing a drive in an alternate computer, you will probably have the least problems if you use the cables for that computer’s CD drive. Using a USB adapter may require that you change jumper settings on an IDE drive.

IE7 Options window

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Open your browser faster

Do you open your browser to go somewhere specific and end up waiting for it to load a home page you’re not going to look at anyway? I always set my browser to open a blank page so there’s no delay before I can enter my destination address. If you really often go to the same home page, you can use the browser tabs feature in Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox. Set the first tab as a blank page and your home page as the second tab. That way it can be loading while you’re entering an address in the, already open, blank tab.

In Internet Explorer 7:
• Open tabs with all your favorite sites. Make sure the first tab is a blank page.
• Click Tools > Internet Options.
• Under Home Page, choose “Use current.”

IE7 Options window

In Firefox:
• Open tabs with all your favorite sites.
• Click Tools > Options.
• Under Home Page, choose “Use current pages.”
Optional: Reopen the Options window. Under When Firefox starts, choose “Show a blank page.” Firefox will now open with a single blank tab. You can open your home page(s) at any time by clicking the Home icon on the toolbar.

Firefox Options window

(c) 2008 Bill Barnes
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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Configuring your router

You plug your router into the broadband modem, plug your computer into the router, and you’re on the internet. Ah ha! Everything must be set up correctly, right? Wrong!

The security your router provides you is only starting when you take it out of the box. As soon as you install it or after you have to do a reset (not just a reboot) of the router, you should check to ensure that your settings are still valid. Everything we recommend for your router will help with your security.

Every router’s configuration screens are different so these tips are necessarily generic. If the router has a setup wizard, it may not cover all of these features so we recommend after you run the wizard that you go back and check all of the settings.

• Open your browser and connect to your router. Find the IP address of your router with these instructions . The router is (typically) the default gateway. Or, you may be able to connect to the router using other instructions in its documentation. The documentation will give you the user name and default password you need to get in.

• Follow the wizard, if available, or instructions to ensure you are connected to the internet.

• After the wizard is completed, click on every button or tab to be sure you have completed the following tasks.

• Change the logon password. You probably cannot change the user name, but choose a non-trivial password of 6-10 characters.

• Disable remote access. Some routers allow you to configure them from the internet. This is a no-no.

• Set the wireless security. You will have a choice of WEP or WPA. “No security” is not acceptable and WEP is no better. WPA may have several options. Any of them is acceptable although you may have to experiment to find a schema that is compatible with your wireless devices. Some non-computers may not support WPA in which case you will need to make some hard choices. Without security, the information on your network is vulnerable to anyone within 300-1000 feet.

• Choose the wireless password. Use a password of 13-63 characters. There may be some limitations on your router such as it only accepts exactly 13 or 26 characters. Don’t worry that this is an ugly password. You’ll keep it on a flashdrive and only need to enter it in your portable computer once.

• If you do not need any wireless computers, turn the wireless off.

• Disable UP&P. This feature was created so some online games or other peer-to-peer programs could automatically give others on the internet access to your computer. Unfortunately, it can also allow malware to give bad guys access to your computer. You may wander through all your configuration screens and still not see it; but if you do, turn it off. If you find that a program or non-computer device on your network like TV adapters or video game consoles are missing features, you will need to make some hard choices. Insist that the manufacturer give you instructions to give their devices adequate access without UP&P. It is an idea as out-of-date as a car without airbags.

• That’s most of the security features you need to configure on your router. There are other settings you can change, but they belong in another article.

• Document what you’ve done. At the very least, write down the instructions to access the router, reset it to factory defaults, the default user name and password, the current user name and password, and the wireless password. Tape this information to the top of the router. This is not like sticking your password on the monitor of your office computer. If someone has physical access to the router, they can reset it themselves.

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