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Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Black Screen of Death...

Well its happened, the thing I've been dreading as my trusty desktop enters it twilight years

"Cannot find boot disk. Press ctrl alt del to restart".

My almost 5 year old AMD Duron is starting to fade.

I've had this machine since October 2000 an eternity in computer terms. Over the years I've upgraded the video card, increased its memory from 64Mb to 192Mb to 704mB. I've kept the original 15Gb hard disk but a year or so ago supplemented it with a 120Gb disk for my music and videos etc. Its operating system has gone from Win98 to Win2K to WinXP. Over the past 2 months its started to take more time to boot up and is unusable for the 20 minutes after logging into my regular profile. Something hogs system resources for those first 20 minutes that I can't identify. VirusScan and 3 flavours of spyware detectors and various system tuneup utilities cannot identify the culprit.

The main reason I keep it is that it is now my wireless access port for my laptop, and because my building's admin won't recognise more than 1 MAC ID so that even if my laptop's network card worked (and no TINY.COM have still not replied to my tech support emails - I refuse to pay a £1 minute phoning them) it wouldn't let me on to the network. The downside of it being a wireless accessport is that it tends to get left on for longer periods than it would do normally, such as over a whole weekend. The deathly slow bootup also discourages me from rebooting anymore than often.

This morning, I picked up the laptop and switched it on and was unable to connect wirelessly. Wandering into the lounge I found a blackscreen facing me. Switching on and off failed to alleviate the problem. I looked in the BIOS and found that the system clock had also reset. This doesn't look good.

Rebooting revealed a potential source of the problem. The computer recognised the CDRW and DVDROM drives on the secondary IDE, but not the 2 HDDs on the Primary. Now I'm no technical whizz, but short of a generous 3 year old deciding to feed a can of Pepsi Max to my PC via the ventilation holes, I find it unlikely that 2 hard disks from different manufacturers 3 years apart in age, could fail simultaneously. A quick look around the flat revealed no 3 year olds, generous or otherwise, hiding under the bed or in the wardrobe.

This in itself is good news of course. I'm as bad as anyone at backing up my data. The most critical stuff is covered, but there's a lot of other crap I don't want to lose if I can help it. However it does look as if the motherboard is going. I had hoped to keep the desktop going to next year, when I plan on using the case, monitor and peripherals as the basis of a completely new system. Being my first home build, I was intending to spend at least a month or so perusing the various trade journals and online help tutorials to build myself a nice new Windows media system. It looks like that schedule may be bumped up.

In the short term, I figure that the Primary IDE has died on me. I've switched the two hard disks to the secondary and redesignated them as the boot disks in the BIOS. I can live without the CDRW and the DVDROM, now I have the laptop. Windows does at least boot now, although it takes about 15 minutes just to get to the login screen. Worryingly, the Admin profile also takes 20 minutes to fully load, a problem that didn't afflict it before. The wireless connection is back. This week I will buy a new 200Gb Hard Disk and a cradle to convert it to an external back up drive. I'll then use that to back up both the desktop and the laptop. With my data safe and at least some functionality back, I'll just sit tight and see how long until the motherboard finally goes and I have to buy a new system.

Here's hoping...



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