On troubleshooting

My Windows 7 upgrade was supposed to be a one-hour project on a Saturday afternoon. It dragged on until Wednesday. I’m at the point now where I probably have an hour’s work left on the machine–it’s Thursday now–but it’s late and I’m not sure I feel like it.

The answers–loading the BIOS defaults and changing the parallel port settings–seem obvious. Now. But when I look for my keys, where I finally find them seems obvious too, even though it sometimes takes a long time to find them.

The problem is, we tend to favor what worked the last time. That’s why I had so many people screaming at me to update my drivers. That’s what always works.

And you know what? That’s what I spent Saturday doing. I updated video drivers. Once I realized the printer wasn’t working, I updated printer drivers. I updated chipset drivers, hoping that would force the other updates to kick in. I even updated the sound and network drivers, just because they were there and I could. I removed drivers and reinstalled them. And when that didn’t work, I found an unofficial, unsupported driver released by Intel employees and tried that. With similar results.

And then, just because updating drivers is what always works–right?–I spent Sunday doing it again. Because obviously I hadn’t done it right on Saturday.

I upgraded my BIOS too. Maybe there was a fix in the BIOS that made Windows 7 work better. I was actually onto something there, but when that didn’t solve the problem right away, I got off track.

I did a clean re-install at one point too. I’d actually installed Windows 7 on this hardware back on Christmas Eve, then set it aside until I either needed it or could get back to it. Since I always had something else going on, it just sat there until February, when I needed a working PC in a hurry. I figured I’d plug it in, activate it, install the essential software, and go.

Then it dawned on me that maybe the system didn’t like waiting two months to be activated. Maybe it sabotaged itself, then didn’t quite right itself after I activated it.

Well, it sounded plausible at the time. The rebuild didn’t get me anywhere, though it did give me the old drivers back. Since this system only has 1 GB of RAM in it at the moment, I prefer the old drivers, as they don’t force me to keep as much memory-resident stuff running. I have a 2 GB module on its way to me, but it won’t get here until next week. (Nothin’ says lovin’ like 2 GB of RAM, as my coworker says. Facetiously.) I’m surprised how well Windows 7 runs on 1 GB of RAM, but memory requirements never stand still. I also remember people saying how nicely Windows 2000 ran on 128 MB of RAM and how they couldn’t imagine ever needing more than that. Silly them.

Loading BIOS defaults used to be one of the first things I’d try. Windows NT 4.0 was really picky about things, so loading the defaults was a good thing to do. You never knew when someone had been in there messing around, and conservative, as-delivered settings made it a lot more likely to boot. But Windows 2000 and XP were a lot less picky. Unless you went nuts with memory timings or something, it seemed like you could do almost anything in the BIOS and they would still find a way to run.

I did it because I couldn’t think of anything else to try.

And I honestly haven’t touched a parallel port setting since the days when people would connect scanners and Zip drives to them. Parallel ports got touchy when you used them for things they weren’t designed for–that’s the reason USB eventually got invented–and sometimes you just had to change settings in order to get things to work.

And sometimes they didn’t work at all, so ultimately I started campaigning against the purchase of anything that plugged into a parallel port that wasn’t a printer. Not long after that, the industry stopped producing said items. Smart move.

I used to be a crackerjack desktop PC technician. And I’ve done it off and on since 2006, supporting the rest of my department when needed. But that’s 10 people. It’s not like supporting 200 people for 40 hours a week, like I did for a while in my early 20s. I’m a little bit out of practice.

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