Reinstalling Vista

I managed to find a buyer for my Inspiron 1525 laptop. (No thanks to eBay and the Nigerian crooks who have made it useless for selling computers.)

But then my buyer tried to install software on it. And he ran into two problems. The first is that the battery seems not to hold a charge for very long. That one is news to me, but, then, I rarely used the battery except as a UPS; mostly I ran the computer off wall-current. Anyway, the buyer (we’ll call him Mr. X) was installing some software into his new computer, when it powered down because the battery went south.

That’s when problem two occurred. It’s called “Vista”. Somehow the crash (I’m told) clobbered the system so he got the NTLDR.SYS message. That means the HD is corrupted. I don’t know if the OS is susceptible to corruption when it crashes due to a power failure. (Poor design, if so.) Or possibly Mr. X was installing some virus-ridden L337 W4REZ and the virus clobbered NRLDR.SYS. I don’t know.

So here I am now, with a laptop I’d allowed myself to hope I was done with, and the task of reinstalling Vista. (So I can figure out what to do about the battery.) What fun that is.

The first problem was simply to boot from the install media. The BIOS was set to boot off the HD, so all I got was interminable ‘NTLDR.SYS missing‘ messages.

The wonderful thing about 2GHz processors and SATA hard drives is they can determine that NTLDR.SYS is missing very quickly: too fast to see what key you need to hit to enter BIOS. But after three reboots I finally was able to spot it: F2.

That got it to boot off the CD-ROM. Well, not really. Even though I’d set it to boot off the CD-ROM, and there was a bootable (install) disc in the drive, what it really does is ask you if you want to boot off the CD-ROM. If you’re not watching closely, it will time out and try to boot off the hard disk. That gets you back to the land of the missing NTLDR.SYS. So you have to watch closely and say, yes, already, boot off the bloody CD-ROM the way I asked you to in the BIOS.

That got me to the Vista installer. It offered me the option of repairing or reinstalling. I figured the repair option would save me a couple of hours, but Windows is all about learned helplessness, so I went for reinstall instead. That quickly got me to this message:

Windows is unable to find a system volume that meets its criteria for installation

The system volumes all looked fine to me: a 292 GB main partition and a 3 GB in-case-of-emergency-break-glass restore partition. They were fine until this NTLDR.SYS problem. What are Windows’ criteria for installation, anyway? Does it need more space? Does it not like the partition type? Did it forget how to reformat partitions and you have to do it yourself? A great example of a useless error message. But Google’s your friend when it comes to meaningless error messages like this one. Apparently this is one of 67 zillion bugs known issues in Vista.

So I deleted both partitions. There’s a fun thing here: the partition editor tells you that you can make a single partition of 305 GB. But then, when you make it, it’s 292 GB. I understand the GiB/GB business, but that’s not what this is. The drive is supposed to be 320 GB but those are the smaller decimal GB; fine. But does the disk have 305 or 292 GB? Why can’t Vista use the same criteria for describing its size in both places? Because if it did, it wouldn’t suck, that’s why.

Then you go away for awhile. It reboots four or five times but eventually tells you it’s all done and asks you to give it a time zone and a user name and password. “Are you done?” “Hah! I’m just getting started!”

Now at this point, notice that Vista isn’t using the native screen resolution of the laptop: 1280×800. Instead it’s stretching a 800×600 display. Why? Just because. Fix that, and it quits looking blurry and, honestly, isn’t all that unattractive. (I found XP to be ghastly. Vista’s a welcome improvement.)

But you’re not done yet, because now you have to run the Dell driver installation disk. To do that, open “Computer” and double-click on “D: Drive”. This autoruns the installation disk. Which shows you what devices you have and — if you take the hint — gives you a means to install them. That entails, for each of about 15 devices, that you invoke its installer. Here’s what that process looks like:

  1. It unzips a package, in a directory it suggests but you have to confirm.
  2. Then it runs the installer. Windows springs into action to ask if you trust the driver installer. Say yes.
  3. Then it tells you to reboot.

Lather, rinse, repeat. After a short half-hour or so, you’re done and the system works.

If you’re clever, do this driver configuration with the power unplugged, in order to see if you can replicate the battery problem. I couldn’t.

As I write this, the battery monitor is telling me: 3 hr 05 min (76%) remaining. I sat next to the machine reading a book, hitting the shift key every time the screen dimmed, and about 2 hours after I unplugged from the wall, I got 1 hr 31 min (55%) remaining.

I don’t know what happened. I do know that this machine goes to sleep in a much better way than the last XP machine I used. That one never really did go to sleep, and when it did, it couldn’t be reawakened. This one goes to sleep very nicely and can be reawakened with a single press of the power button.

I don’t know if that’s a feature in Vista or in the Inspiron hardware design, or a bug, or what. But perhaps it wasn’t really dead. Perhaps, like the proverbial parrot, it was only resting.

As for the NTLDR.SYS business… Well, that’s Microsoft for you. I don’t have a clue.

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