Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Monday, March 24, 2008

Abort/Retry/Fail (49 Days Remaining)

The screen flickers and informs me that my efforts have not been in vain. That wonderful little XP loading bar bounces back and forth in silent acceptance of my changes. Everything's okay now, daddy's here, it'll be alright.

Many years ago - just as AGP was giving way to PCI Express - I sat down with a bunch of components and put my baby together: a Pentium 4 Prescott Chip (2.8 Gigahertz) with that wonderful 1 Megabyte of on-die Level 2 Cache. It would run a little hot, most Prescotts do (from what I'd heard) but the extra memory would help to move those instructions out to my shiny, new ASUS P4P800-E board. I'd picked it because of the on board Wi-Fi connector, something that while useful, I never quite ended up using to its full capacity.

Windows XP is one of those operating systems that only really comes alive with a Gigabyte or more of RAM. And so, with a steady, loving hand I socketed both of my 512 Megabyte PC3200 DDR ram chips - it'd give me steady, stable performance for XP while allowing me to multi-task without too much trouble.

Out from the anti-static bag came my ATI All-In-Wonder 9600 card - DOOM 3 would never run on this thing, well, in any playable form. The measly 128 Megs of RAM on the card would balk at pushing out the sheer amounts of raw texture data and particle effects required. But it was a cheap card that would allow me to do all sorts of things like (and this sounded like a great idea at the time) play my Dreamcast on my computer (Yet another short-lived idea that, while cool, I just didn't use much).

Finally, I connected my old 40 Gigabyte IDE hard drive - the only remnant of my last computer and storage bin for most of my life.

A few cables connected and a flip of the power switch brought my creation to life - fans whirred and the BIOS beeped. My baby leaped into action, loading the system files with a lightning speed unknown to my previous computer (hastily bought, pre-built, in the college rush). As the soft blue glow illuminated my face it patiently waited for my input, waiting for me to give it the go ahead. My baby was beautiful in nearly every way.

Years have passed and time has not always been fair to my techno-child. For though the addition of a new 80 gig SATA drive gave it more room to breathe, a few fans have been lost along the way - not to mention a like-new power supply melted by the wrath of a thunderstorm. And yet, through it all it has performed with a dexterous grace that has made me proud every step of the way.

But my baby's been sick and this long weekend I was finally able to sit down and give it the TLC it so badly needed. Piece by piece I took it apart, cleaning the dust and testing the connections - what had gone wrong? Was it truly the SATA connection? Had I blown a circuit? I checked for the typical scent of burning silicone and there was nothing. What had gone wrong?

Every step of the way the hardware proved true - it'd lasted the test of time like a little trooper. The answer was something sneakier and less easy to diagnose: Software. Something had gone wrong inside that was keeping my computer from booting properly. Was it Windows itself? It'd been forever since I'd formatted (I used to do it once a year, clean installs of everything, keep it current and slick)...

So into Safe mode I went, mucking about with services and checking Dynamic Link Libraries. Nothing out of place. Everything as my tightly controlled installation had dictated. A virus? A Trojan? I scoured the system and it came up clean, I checked for spyware and adware, hijackers and diallers, still nothing. Could it be something I hadn't thought of? I scoured the logs, looking for error messages, anything that would give me a clue as to what was ailing my baby.

And there it was, staring me in the face, something I'd forgotten, something so silly and stupid. On a whim I'd updated my video drivers, I don't even remember why I'd chosen to do so, but I'd forgotten all about it. I was onto something. It was software, it was manageable, it was simple. I breathed a sigh of relief - I would fix this.

It'd been a long time since I'd used System Restore - it's a feature that I usually turn off to save on hard drive space. All-in-all it's simple feature that creates a snapshot of your computer - just as it was at a specific date, backing up system files and such just in case you do something monumentally stupid. And somehow, I had.

Looking through the system restore logs, I hoped that it'd been smart enough to back itself up before installing the new video drivers - and to my great relief, it had. That's where I noticed the culprit, not the drivers themselves but a tiny piece of software installed just after the video drivers were locked into place. There it was, clear as day, this little thing, this... crumb... of data had brought such an illness to my baby.

The selection and the fix was simple, almost anti-climatic in comparison to the labour of love that had consumed the better part of my day. I watched in silence as the fans whirred to life and the BIOS beeped its cheerful beep. It tore through POST and booted like a charm - Windows XP's brave little loading bar telling me everything I needed to know.

Everything's okay now, my baby's back and, like a fevered nightmare crushed by the rays of morning light, the memory fades; forgotten as the ones and zeros of that offending crumb are gobbled up by the Page File or other System Memory.

My baby's back - and I have work to do.


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