Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Lap Top Adventure

Yesterday, after some installs (sound driver, music programs, whatnot), I found that the Vista installation on my T60p was kaput ! What is more surprising is that this had not happened for the last 1.5 years that I have owned this laptop. My laptop has gone through more random installs/uninstalls than about 99.9 % of the computers in this world. Call it obsession, but its probably my way of stress relief !

As soon as I booted it up and entered my password, it showed me a blank black screen, with just the mouse showing. I could move the mouse, but pretty much could not do anything else. After paying due respects to the google god for a while, I was no closer to finding a solution. Similar problems had been reported by various users, along with multiple solutions that worked (including remote registry editing), but I was not amongst those about on which the Vista gods were shining. This, coupled with the fact that I had been thinking of switching back to XP at some point of time, led me to the inevitable conclusion that I would have to re-install from scratch, and this time it would be the good old XP instead of the Vista behemoth. Total time spent in these efforts : a good 3-4 hours.

Well, he he he, as another pointer to my little hidden OCD side, I had already done this some time back. About 8 months back, I had managed to create a perfectly working XP installation, but had stopped just before pulling the final trigger. But as prudent as I am, I did save the image as a backup, which I now promptly decided to resuscitate. Of course, before that, I did need to take a backup of all the data on the original partition. I had a backup from some 2 months back (more OCD), but I decided to just completely copy the old Vista partition (sans the windows directory).

Enter the ever faithful UBCD4Win ! Booted it up, and I was all set to copy the data to an external USB drive. Now for the uninitiated, there is a little quirk in the T60p. When you cold boot it with a USB device attached, into either UBCD4Win or the Hiren’s BootCD (basically surrogate operating systems), the device is not recognized immediately (I have not been able to get them to recognize a USB device AFTER the boot up also). The workaround is to start the laptop, press F12 to go into the Boot Device Selection menu (where you will NOT see the USB device initially), go to <Setup> from there, just escape out of the BIOS setup without making any changes, and let the laptop restart on its own. This time when you use the F12 menu, the device will show up, and the surrogate OS will also recognize it. Now all you need to do is boot into the actual CD as you were planning initially.

The copy process is also a little painful. Basically you keep getting errors like "File in use, Access Denied" (Permission errors ?). And this stops the WHOLE copying process, not just for that particular file (This is one of the XP annoyances, and as UBCD4Win is based on XP, it inherits this). So you have to restart the process multiple times, taking care to see where it left off the first time. Total time for this part of the effort : 5 hours (Not a full time commitment, I was able to catch a hindi movie while this was going on, making sure I checked on the process once in a while)

The next step was to restore the saved XP partition image. Quite trivial. Used the Acronis True Image utility, and the restore completed overnight (about 6 hours)

I was woken up early morning by my sister calling to tell me that she would be spending 5 more days in San Francisco, as the change fee for her ticket was only $22. A good enough reason, I must say ! While I was up, I decided to see how the new partition worked out.

I booted the laptop, and I get a message : "missing or corrupt <windows root>\system32\hal.dll". Ahhh .. i see. I remembered having similar issues while copying my Vista partitions from one disk to another (which i solved by using Vista's recovery console, or its equivalent). So I whip out my XP CD, and go into the recovery console. It seems that the recovery console cannot even detect the hard drive. Again, from my previous XP install effort, I remembered that XP has trouble recognizing the SATA hard drive. Googled, found this on the Lenovo website, changed the SATA mode to compatibility, and went into the recovery console again. OK. The drive and the windows installation were detected.

Tried to run fixboot, and fixmbr from the recovery console. Still no success in booting. More googling. Found this on the Microsoft site. Used the "Method 2" described therein to rebuild the boot configuration. And voila .. I had my XP partition back.

And now all day today I have been going through the painful process of updating the antivirus definitions, windows updates, Lenovo updates.. yada yada yada. So while that is happening (downloading about 500 MB of updates overall, I am punching away at this). And wondering what would have happened if I did not have access to another laptop.