Wednesday, September 21, 2005

My G-d, it's full of crap

My brother brought one of his friend's PCs over for me to look at. It's an HP Pavillion 515n running Windows XP Home, and the owner was experiencing intermittent video failure.

I connected it to my KVM and at first was able to get into Windows, but a few minutes later the screen went black. The box has a 2.3GHz Celeron but only 256 MB of RAM, so it was running very slowly anyway. No BSOD, just no video. I tried rebooting but had to try a few times before it gave me any video. I got into the BIOS, disabled Quickboot, and enabled the POST messages. Things looked OK while it was POSTing, so I rebooted into Safe Mode to see if there was anything obvious.

Aside from the usual out of date Norton Antivirus, I saw a ton of the crapware you usually find on consumer's PCs after they've been used for awhile: WildTangent games, a bunch of AOL toolbars and accessories, and a second AV program, plus Quicktime and RealPlayer set to launch when Windows started.

I cleaned up as much as possible while in Safe Mode, but couldn't remove everything, specifically the stuff that needed the Windows Installer, so rebooted into normal mode and removed them, including NAV 2003.

Next, I installed AVG Antivirus, Spybot Search & Destroy, and the hosts file from MVPS.ORG. The first thing to do was a full virus scan, which -- surprizingly -- came up clean. Spybot and Ad-Aware both turned up a bunch of crap, including a large number of tracking cookies, which I zapped.

Asdie from all that, the owner is an AOL user, and the amount of crap that AOL installs is simply amazing. I've long held the belief that the single easiest way to foul up a Windows box is to install AOL. Aside from the AOL client and network components, AOL 9 also loads a bunch of background services to speed loading the dialer. All this junk running in the background really taxes a system with minimal RAM, like this box.

After running Windows Disk Cleanup, I ran chkdsk, rebooted into Safe Mode, and started defragging the hard drive before I turned in.

When I got up at about 0500 to use the facilities and popped into my office. Defrag had run successful and things seemed good, so I shutdown the PC.

I'm at home today due to a head cold that Amanda was kind enough to share with me, so I wanted to do some further work on the box, and started having problems getting it to boot without crapping out. At first I had no video, then got some video but it shortly died. So, I tried booting with the Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, which crashed on me twice. Next, I tried Memtest86 and the box started to spontaneously reboot after a couple of tests. So, I'm beginning to think that aside from the software conflicts the box definitely had, it also has a bad stick of RAM. I have another box which takes PC133 RAM and I think later I'll try out the HP's stick in it, to confirm if it is bad. If it is we'll see about getting new memory, otherwise the problem may be the motherboard or power supply, in which case I'm not going to recommend sinking any money into this old box.

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