Completely bizarre computer problems? Check your system date

PC Magazine’s editor in chief wrote a long column late last week talking about his weird computer problems and a Quixotic quest to fix them. Among other things, his antivirus wasn’t working, and Windows wanted to be activated and wouldn’t let him. He thought he had a virus, but all his scans came up clean.

It turned out his computer thought it was 2013. The date and time were right, but the computer was trying to live three years in the future.

I have no idea how I’ll remember this, but when a computer goes nuts, it would be prudent to hover your mouse over the clock and see what it thinks the current date is. It kind of makes sense; most software has checks in it on the date, since when the date is off by years, it usually means someone’s trying to bypass software registration or something.

Windows should be keeping the date and time synchronized with an atomic clock, but maybe it assumes the year is right. Or maybe that convenience is reserved for activated copies. Whatever the case, like I said, it was bizarre, and not something I’d be likely to think of either.

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4 thoughts on “Completely bizarre computer problems? Check your system date

  • November 21, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    Hmmm, my Win 7 changes the time, date and year if I use the update time ability. I wonder if he does have a virus and changing the date somehow bypasses virus scanners?

  • November 21, 2010 at 7:14 pm

    If you can convince the antivirus software that it’s expired, then yeah, you’d have more options. One would hope the software would double-check with the manufacturer about the actual date to prevent something like that, but has anyone ever known Symantec or McAfee to do the right thing?

    At any rate, when he changed the date back to 2010, his weird and wonky problems went away. He thinks it was a power surge that caused the date to go weird, which sounds reasonable.

  • November 21, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Hmmm, the PC Magazine editor in chief doesn’t use a surge protector? Not that I think they are worth spit in a serious surge of power, but I still use one “just in case”.

    Come to think of it, though, I had a PII do something similar. I always thought it was the CMOS battery going bad, and changed it with no results. Ends up the power supply was bad.

    I also recall using the date change to bypass a product registration issue, and forgot that I had a 90 trial of Office installed. Moved the date a year into the future got me past the registration, but expired my trial! Time, like all the sci-fi novels tell us, is not to be played with! 🙂

    • November 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm

      He does. But like you say, in the case of a serious surge, some of that excess will get through and cause trouble. At least in this case it just caused the date to go wonky. I’ve seen and heard of worse happening.

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