I run my main computer slightly on the edge. I don’t overclock it, but I do have some of the latest hardware inside, and the latest drivers. I build (assemble the bits, install and configure the OS) it myself not because I consider myself particularly brilliant, but because it sort of makes me feel good.
I am pretty technically proficient. However, I build one (1) completely unique computer per year more or less: you don’t learn all the ins and outs of a build when you only create one of them. And as a result of the “one of a kind” nature of my configuration, I am periodically caught by a problem. That’s what this post is about.
My computer failed to start two days ago when I came down stairs in the morning. It blue-screened when I took it out of standby. This has happened before, but I’ve more or less ignored the problem since it only occurs periodically (once a week or so) and never resulted in anything more than a requirement to reboot. However, when I rebooted this time the computer failed to start. The system32\config\System file, which is part of the registry database, was corrupt.
There is a lovely set of instructions on the Microsoft site  that help recover from such a failure. When I completed those instructions and rebooted, the system began a lengthy checkdisk cycle. When it was done, it sort of booted…but it came up like with a ton of errors. The mouse was dead, the keyboard was sporadic, the video driver wasn’t loading properly (so the system was running at VGA resolution). Most frustrating of all: System Restore wouldn’t work- basically, it failed silently, without an error dialog or anything of the sort. Likewise with Help and Support, and when I tried to check the event log, I discovered that Windows no longer knew how to launch the Event Viewer: it was asking me how to run an msc file.
At this point, I concluded that the failure must have involved the corruption of a lot more than just the System portion of my registry. I resigned myself to the nearly-certain outcome: a full system re-install. I started by attempting to make a back up of most of my configuration and data files. It is amazing how hard this is to do when you can’t get a mouse working…but I managed. Then I rebooted with my Windows XP install CD, and opted to perform a “recovery” installation. This basically re-installs all of the Windows System files, but from what I can determine attempts to keep the registry files intact. During the re-install, I updated my video and ATI SATA RAID array drivers.
If you happen to have the same or a similar system to mine (Asus M2R32-MVP motherboard with ATI Crossfire 3200 chipset), you might appreciate knowing how I got my updated ATI RAID drivers. The most recent ones Asus has are dated May of 2006. They are included with the installation CD that came with the Motherboard: they have no updates for these drivers on their website, just a new version of the JMicron drivers, which are for the external SATA drive controller. I went to ATI directly, and downloaded the latest Southbridge drivers – Southbridge is the name of the chipset that includes the ATI controller. When you unpack (don’t install) these drivers, you’ll find a number of subdirectories. In my case, the full path to the directory containing the drivers of interest was: C:\ATI\SUPPORT\6-12_xp64_sb_38463\RAID. These drivers are dated October of 2006. Copy everything in the “\RAID\*” directory on to a floppy. You can then use that floppy when you press F6 during your Windows XP installation, or later as a driver installation disk after you’ve installed the OS. Of course, these “instructions” are more like hints- the exact versions and such when you go and look will probably differ. Also, perhaps by that time Asus will have provided updated drivers themselves on their website.
End result: after re-patching the OS, my machine was more or less back in business. I had to re-install a couple of low-level system utilities: Diskeeper (disk defrag utility), Avast (anti-virus), and my SoundMAX audio drivers. These three generated errors on OS startup and failed to run for various reasons until I re-installed. Other than that, everything else I’ve tried seems to be working. Outlook Express needed to be re-configured, in particular it created a new set of inboxes: however, it didn’t over-write my existing ones, and I was able to recover them with a file copy. I’m sure I’ll discover other things that similarly need re-installation to work properly.
Most importantly, of course, is the fact that my main games/metaverses (EQ2 and Second Life) still work and didn’t need re-installation. EQ2, in particuar, is not much fun to re-install. So, it definitely could have been worse. The frustrating fact, though, is that I’m probably only a couple of months away from wiping my system out completely to install Vista. Why couldn’t this problem have waited a couple of months?
Probably my computer wanted a Christmas break as well… 😉