A big box showed up on my doorstep two days ago. It was from one of my nephews on the “in-law” side, and it contained a PC I had made for him a while ago. He had told me months ago it had stopped working, hanging up on the BIOS boot screens. I pulled the box inside, unpacked the PC, and hooked it up to my PC’s monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I saw what he was talking about right away.
I don’t have any real diagnostic equipment in my house. I troubleshoot by eliminating or swapping components and observing machine behavior. While the problem first looked to me like it might be in the CPU, motherboard, or memory. Yet, I knew I had to begin by taking the machine down to its baseline components. So, I disconnected its hard and optical drives and pushed the power button to start the computer. It booted straight to the error message I expected: “SYSTEM HALTED. OPERATING SYSTEM MISSING.”
I rebooted with a Windows 98 boot floppy inserted into the floppy drive, and the computer started as expected. With both those operations yielding expected results, my suspicion turned now toward the hard drive. After shutting the computer down, I reconnected the hard drive only, removed the boot floppy, and restarted it. It hung just like it did when I first turned it on, matching Max’s description of the problem he was encountering. So, I knew now that the hard disk was indeed the problem. Luckily, I had a 120GB Maxtor hard disk sitting in a closet, so I installed that in Max’s computer and removed its older and smaller 40GB Maxtor.
Normally, I like to return a machine to its state before the failure occurred, but Max didn’t send his operating system CD, so there was no way I could load up anything. I did use my Windows XP Home Edition CD to boot into the Recovery Console and used the DISKPART command to partition the new hard disk, and the FORMAT command to format it. Max could take it from there. All he had to do to reload his OS was boot the computer with the Windows XP CD in his DVD drive. I did do one other hardware-related thing for him, i.e., I replaced his Samsung combo drive with a Sony DRU-510A DVD burner I had sitting in the closet.
To give him a selection of software, I downloaded the most recent copies of Firefox, Thunderbird, Open Office, and GIMP and burned those to a CD I am sending back with three other CD’s. One contains a copy of Windows XP SP1, the other is a copy of SP2, and the third contains software Sony shipped with the DVD burner. That’s a good package that will get him started and not cost any bucks.
I’m shipping the PC back to him via USPS Priority Mail today. I packed it the same way he did, and I’m considering it a test of which carrier does the best job of handling packages. I’ll write more on that once the PC arrives and I hear back from Max about how it fared.