Technical difficulties

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… 😉

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