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Two Machines into ONE!

November 27, 2009 1 comment

Today I got two computers from a business friend of my dad’s, and seeing as I wasn’t at school I had nothing better to do than fix them. John Smith (the person who’s computers they are) uses these computers for different business purposes, including the use of Social Security numbers and Credit Card info for his customers. To that end, he had an old piece of security software, PointSec, installed on both machines. Due to the nature of PointSec, which encrypts the hard drive it is installed on so that only PointSec can read the disc, and John’s lack of knowledge about proper installations and settings for PointSec he was permanently locked out of both machines. This is where I came in.

The first step in a project like this one is the assess how bad the damage really is. When I tried to log onto the first machine (machine A) I was greeted with the blue PointSec login screen. After several frustrating attempts to bypass the username and password, including root level attempts and remote password bypassing, I came up empty handed. So I got in touch with John to inform him of the current situation and to get approval to format his hard drives and reinstall XP on his machine. John also told me that he would prefer to have one ‘super’ computer compared to two mediocre ones.

The next step involved the dxdiag command so that I could compare the two systems hardware and assess what I would take from each one. Machine A had 512MB of PC2700 DDR RAM, and machine B had 256 MB SDRAM, these different types of RAM are NOT compatible with each other. They each had comparable video cards, machine A with an ATI RADEON 9000 ALL-IN-WONDER which has a DVI port. Machine B had an nVidia GeForce2 AGP card which does not have a DVI port. Seeing as DVI is the higher quality connector when compare to VGA there wasn’t too much question there for me. The harddrive from machine B was considerably larger, 120GB compared to 60GB in machine A. Moving the hard drive from machine B to machine A is simple, first disconnect the power cable from the hard drive, then the PATA cord. After I had removed the drive from its enclosure I made sure to set it to ‘cable select’ mode. Each drive has different jumper settings, so be sure to check them before you put the drive into the machine. Cable Select mode means that the actual cable coming from the motherboard itself decides which drive is the ‘Master’ and which is the ‘Slave’. Master drives are the main drive that the operating system is installed onto, slaves are usually used just for storage.

Once the machine was fully assembled I began to explore the best method for me to format the hard drives. My first thought was to go in through the Windows Recovery Console to format the drives using the command line, but that was stupid compared to the second choice. Instead, I just threw in a copy of Windows XP Professional edition and booted from CD. If you need help booting from CD, check out THIS guide.

Once the Windows installer booted up, I simply selected to install Windows, to over-write the current file system, and to reformat the drive with the NTFS file system. It takes about 30 minutes for this step to complete, so during this time I was about to fully disassemble machine B into its respective parts. I think I might use machine B for a larger amount of tutorials in the future, seeing as it was a free setup with a half-decent power supply.

Once Windows finished installing, I was presented with the usual ‘Welcome to Windows’ installation screen, and after entering the appropriate data was in a working Windows XP environment. However, there were a few things missing, one of which was the all important Ethernet Adapater Driver. Without this driver, the computer would not be able to connect to the all powerful interweb. The driver clearly was not on my Windows XP Professional disc, or else it would have installed the first time, which lead me to believe that I needed to consult Dell’s website for assistance. I looked up the ethernet drivers for the Dimension 4550, which is the model number for the machine in question, and found the appropriate file. As it turns out the driver was the super generic “Intel 10/100 Ethernet Driver LOM” and I was amazed that my Windows disc didn’t have it, but whatever.

After the driver installed, I had to transfer it from my laptop to the PC via flash drive, the computer is in 100% working condition. I called John to let him know that his work was done, and if there was any other software he needed installed before I return the machine tomorrow. For his business he needed a few piece of software that are distributed by his employer, he gave me the relevant information and I installed them. Also I installed Mozilla Firefox, FoxIt (free PDF program), and Winamp.

Overall, the entire operation took me about 4.5-5 hours to complete, due to the annoying PointSec encryption. Apparently when a drive is encrypted by PointSec it takes considerably longer to reformat said drive, reformatting both of the drives took almost 2 hours. Some people may ask, “why didn’t you use the NTFS (quick) formatting option?” the response to this is that when you try to rush a full reformat the hard drive can have sectors that get glossed over and partially formatted, leaving traces of icky other file systems on the machine. Instead, if you really want the machine to operate at 100% you definitely want to use the non-quick option. This job was a fun one, and I this is some of my favorite IT work to do, because it involves just about every aspect of basic PC repair.

To John – Thanks for the machines and the work, I hope you enjoy the new one 🙂

-Kyle

p.s. Pictures tomorrow!

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