Sunday, July 17, 2005

Computers Computers

Last two days have been somewhat stressful as far as computers go.

Let's start off with some background. I typically build my own computers. Prior to this weekend, I was on #E (my laptop - the only machine I haven't built). I got a gift certificate from WallMart / Sam's Club for Christmas to buy a TV, but bought another computer (#F) instead. Well, a fairly bare bones computer, plus some parts to add, such as a big disk drive (250gb I think), memory, floppy drive. That all is pretty straight forward by now.

But I only have one monitor and one working keyboard (well, one ergonomic one - I have another one or two straight ones). So, I figured I needed a KVM switch before I could proceed. Finally scored not one, but two, such when I was in Phoenix at Fry's Electronics a week and a half ago. First, there was a 2 way switch for half price. Bought it. Then a 4 way for what the 2 way should have cost. Bought that too, and that is the one that I have installed now. Works pretty well - usually. Allows up to 4 computers to share the same monitor, keyboard, and mouse.

Initially booted (#F) from a Windows XP CD, and in maintenance mode, partitioned and formatted the HD. Currently, can only get to about 150 gb of the 250 gb, but hey, that's a lot more than my 40 gb drives. Did three 8 gb partitions, and the rest in one big NTFS partition. Then, I loaded Linux into one partition, along with all the web tools I could find on that CD.

But then I was faced with the problem that the only bootable Windows CDs I had was for XP. Win 2K won't set up from DOS (i.e. when booted from a floppy), and 98 didn't have a bootable CD. So, I loaded an illegal copy of XP (it expires in 30 days) on the machine in one of the higher 8 gb partitions. From that, I connected to one of my other computers, and copied the install files for Win 98 and 2K, along with some tools, Office, Mozilla, etc. into the big NTFS partition.

Whoops, need to have Win 98 installed before 2K since 2K will only install from Windows. So, moved the install files down into the bottom (FAT32) partition. Then, I rebooted using the XP CD into maintenance mode (later note - could have done it from HD), where I could then install Windows 98 from the install files I had just copied to the HD. Once I got it up and running, I could then install Windows 2K.

At this point, I am running with standard Windows 98 and 2K video drivers and don't have any Ethernet drivers at all loaded. So, I try to install from the CD that came with the computer. Doesn't work automatically with 98 (but does with XP earlier, and later with 2K). So, I try doing it by hand. But, of course, I didn't know which exact drivers to install. So, I probably installed the wrong ones or something. This time, 98 won't load any more, except in Safe mode, which is worthless right now. So, after trying to delete everything new to no avail, I reinstalled 98, only this time to the standard location. Then, I got the drivers for 2K installed automatically.

Whoops, forgot something. Apparently either my processor or my motherboard is screwed up. The system won't reboot on its own. Rather, you have to turn it off, back on, and then boot. Normally, this wouldn't be a pain, but was these two days because I have had to do it dozens of times - three times per install, three times per XP or 2K driver install, whenever I switch back and forth between OSs, etc.

Back to 98. Even though I had the 2K (and XP) drivers installed, and could have identified the proper drivers from that, I tried guessing again with 98, and probably guessed wrong. Either that, or I added some networking stuff that doesn't have the underlying 98 modules. In any case, the 98 system would now not find four different modules every time it booted (each with an answerable message), plus, since I had deleted the Ethernet drivers, it would invariably try to reinstall something each time I booted (the joys of plug and play). Ultimately, I ended up reinstalling it a third time. We shall see if I can get the right drivers installed this time.

So much for that machine (#F), at least for now.

Meanwhile, since I have this nice 4 way KVM switch, and four Ethernet ports on my router, I figured I might as well bring up a ZDS desktop (#G) that I had acquired four years ago for my daughter (except that her mother wouldn't let her have it) as a network server. At some point, the HD failed on it, and I replaced it with a 40 gb drive - that I can only partially access. Unfortunately, I didn't have the video and Ethernet drivers, so it just sat around for a couple of years. But I figure it will make a nice email and web server if I can ever get it running.

In any case, I booted it (#G) with a Win 98 recovery diskette. No problem. It even loaded CD drivers. Nice. Looked at the partitioning, and found that I had created a bunch of 2 gb FAT partitioned. But the only reason that you need FAT partitions is when you are going to run both NT (4) and 98 together. Win 98 supports FAT32, and NT supports NTFS (on a smaller scale than 2K or XP). Since I was planning on primarily running 2K instead, I deleted all those 2 gb FAT partitions, replacing them with one 8 gb FAT32 partition. Great. After rebooting though (required by FDISK), I found that the 98 format wouldn't work on a HD, just on floppies. What? That is bizarre. Format works fine on hard drives with NT and progeny (2K, XP).

No problem, I will just boot from the XP CD, and do what I did earlier on the new computer. Whoops, this computer is old enough that you can only boot from floppy or HD. So, back to floppies. Booted 98 recovery floppy again, and tried to install 98 from CD. Whoops. The recovery diskette loads RAMDISK, and for some reason, that became C drive. Couldn't install there. So, I laboriously rewrote the autoexec.bat and config.sys files from that floppy onto another one, which I had included format this time. So, booted again from floppy, disabling RAMDRIVE. This time 98 wouldn't install because the only formatted partition it found was that old NTFS partition, and 98 doesn't support NTFS (the NT in NTFS is, of course, for NT).

I have tried repeatedly to delete that partition using FDISK from the 98 recovery disk - the same way I deleted all those 2 gb FAT partitions. It says fine, then doesn't do it. So, I currently have an 8 gb unformatted partition first on that disk, and then the remaining 32 gb is in a formatted NTFS partition.

Well, I have three versions of NT lying around, 4.0, 2K, and XP, why not try one of them? Well, 4.0 doesn't support FAT32, which is what I need. 2K and XP do, but 2K will only install under Windows, and not DOS (which is what you have from the 98 recovery diskette). And XP refuses to install on such a slow processor.

I only needed the maintenance console anyway, and I happened to have a set of 6 XP recovery diskettes. So, I tried that - but choked on #4. And the only ways to create a new set is through either (re)installing XP somewhere, or, maybe, from maintenance mode. But the floppy drive on the laptop (which is the machine that is supposed to be running XP) is USB, and thus not available in maintenance mode.

So, my next step is to try booting from floppy, and then trying to get into XP maintenance mode from its install CD. Otherwise, will need to get into it probably from the new computer. Maybe.

I should note that part of these problems are caused because I was unable to create bootable CDs. The laptop (#E) has a writable CD drive, but XP has no option to make them bootable and my CD burning software I use elsewhere (#D) won't run under XP. But the old computer (#D) that I have been using the last couple of years could burn bootable CDs, if it worked. But currently, it isn't recognizing blank CDs. The new machine (#F) has a CD writer, and that software should work there - except this server system (#G) can't be booted from CD, just floppy and HD.

Confusing huh?


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9:08 PM  

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