Sunday, May 12, 2013

Windows sucks more

I was asked to look at a laptop that kept shutting down. My first thought was a dirty fan and overheating, but it seemed to be a software issue, with Google Chrome crashing followed by a system shutdown, and warning from an installed program on reboot. The desktop had also turned black.

I noticed that in a corner of the screen Windows was saying it wasn't genuine, but the user said the computer was from a major PC store and had the original OS. I suspected a virus or hard disk corruption was causing the shutdown, but of course, as readers more familiar with Windows may realise, I was barking up the wrong tree.

After investigating my original suspicions for several hours, I did what I should have done at the beginning and looked at the logs in Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Administrative Tools > Event Viewer, and one of them very kindly told me that Windows was shutting down every hour because it was not genuine.

In the meantime, I had discovered that the hard drive was corrupted. The user had just replaced the battery, so probably the laptop had shutdown improperly after the power supply was pulled out. However, although Windows told me that the disk had errors, the chkdsk would not run on reboot.

I eventually discovered a solution: hit F8 while booting, select Repair Your Computer, click on Command Prompt and enter chkdsk /f :C (or whatever the name of the problem disk is).

My best guess is that chkdsk was not working from Windows because some system files had become corrupted. A nice Catch 22.

I'd tried entering the Windows key to activate Windows, but it hadn't been accepted. I began to suspect that some corrupt system files were also preventing the activation process. (sfc /scannow reported corrupt files but couldn't fix them- another nice Catch 22 to be in- system files are corrupt, but they can't be repaired, because system files are corrupt...)

The computer owner had recently had the screen replaced and used a driver update utility. A web search suggested that new hardware or drivers can cause Windows to report it is not genuine. None of the solutions I came across worked, I'm pretty sure because of the damaged system files, but I found a patch for pirate copies of Windows that disables Windows activation. After several hours of trying to fix the problem, I applied the patch, and the computer worked normally. OK so applying an illegal patch is not the ideal solution, but I was looking at the computer as a favour and several more hours work reinstalling the OS didn't appeal.

I returned the laptop and was very glad to get back to Linux.

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