Desktops

How to Survive the Worst PC Disasters

'Diagnosing a Bad BIOS' by PC World.com reader Shane Mitchell

Shane Mitchell, college student, in Boulder, Colorado. Click here to view full-size image.
I had no problems with the computer when I went to bed that Sunday night, and it was not used until I came back from classes Monday. I sat down to do my homework with trusty iTunes providing my study tunes for only a few minutes before my sound began to crackle and do its best to act as though it was a radio being jammed before ceasing to work completely. Oftentimes the miracle cure is a quick reboot, so that was my first reaction. But my rocking studyfest was ruined by interference yet again.

I decided it was time to upgrade drivers. I had no trouble finding the drivers, but little did I know that finding the drivers would be the last good thing to happen for a while... My first boot back in after the new drivers went well for about 2 seconds after logging in before my computer froze. But then it unfroze. But then it froze again. And......so it...... repeated.....

For every two seconds of use I was forced to endure a complete freeze for another two seconds. I managed to pull up Task Manager and see that my processor usage was jumping between 100% and around 0. Now while I am aware that this is a telltale sign of spyware and malware using your processor to perform their nasty deeds, I was reasonably confident in my antivirus and antiadware protection system. But it was growing late, so I powered my computer off for the night.

Somehow the problem grew worse overnight. When I next tried to start up my computer, I got as far as the Windows Loading Flag before the computer froze. Hoping for a fluke, I hit the reset button only to have my computer reboot and not even detect that the hard drive with Windows on it existed! A part of me wondered whether I had discovered an incredible new exploit where one could somehow infect the sound card of a computer and have the infection progress to knocking out a hard drive.

Not wanting to give up, I powered off the machine again and was luckily able to get the machine to detect the hard drive again and boot into Windows using Safe mode. So I set to work on troubleshooting the hard drive with system restore, deactivating all startup processes and programs save for the Windows necessities as well as using chkdsk and fixmbr from the Windows Recovery Console. Unfortunately, none of this made a difference. Finally, I tried a repair installation, but it could not complete without freezing either.

Fortunately, I run a computer with 3 hard drives and enough space to transfer all the music and files I wanted to save from the main hard drive with Windows to a backup drive, so I decided a format was in order. The format went off without a hitch and I managed to get through most of the 70-something updates for Windows for a new installation before I had to do my first reboot. Sure enough, it froze on the loading screen!

At this point I decided to replace the SATA cable for the hard drive with a new one, and I even changed the SATA slot the hard drive was on. It booted once with no problems before the loading freeze occured again after the next set of updates. I was still convinced the problem was in the hard drive despite the unusual problems with the sounds and the processor that had happened earlier. However, with the next reboot I lost even my Safe Boot option when my boot halted on the error 'DISK BOOT FAILURE: INSERT SYSTEM DISC AND PRESS ENTER'.

I found out I could bypass this error simply by having my XP CD in the drive and having the system ask me if I wanted to boot from it and just wait for that message to time out before booting to my choice of a frozen loading screen or Safe Mode. At this point I was ready to abandon my SATA drive and install windows on one of my other drives.

So I completed my second installation of XP in as many days and got through the updates and a few good boots before THAT hard drive began to have problems! I got the boot hanging error 'ntldr.sys not found'. It was as though my computer were asking "Do you think I could survive a toss out that second-story window next to you?" I was nearly ready to oblige my computer with an answer to that query when I had a sudden flash of random insight. Could the problem be my BIOS?

I decided to try a repair install of the ntldr-crippled hard drive to see if I could get into Windows and attempt to update the BIOS. I suceeded in getting back into Windows and found the nifty Windows Based BIOS Flashing utility that ASUS has on its Web site. The BIOS updated successfully, and the ntldr error was banished back to the void from which such problems originate. I soon found myself back in Windows, and there was much rejoicing!

I've been using that drive ever since (3 months), and though I never found out what caused these problems, the SATA drive is behaving just fine as data storage with no operating system. I managed to solve the problem without destroying my computer, losing my sanity, or spending a dollar on a replacement part! And now that I've monopolized most of the space on this forum page (sorry) I shall end this essay...

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