Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Laptop: (Almost) Back from the Dead

It's been quite a ride these last 36 hours as I've been having some serious issues with my laptop which prevented me from getting any real work done. All the trouble started on the weekend during a LAN party with some friends. I had the very smart idea of deleting my Ubuntu partition in order to get some badly needed free disc-space for Unreal Tournament 2004 (our game of choice during most LAN sessions). Of course I didn't consider the fact that this partition also contained my GRUB boot-manager. Luckily I didn't reboot the machine on Saturday but when I did just that on Sunday I was greeted with a "grub error 22"...

Needless to say I spent the next 3 hours trying to recover from that stupid error. That process was significantly harder without a Windows XP SP2 disc since that would have allowed me to use the recovery console to get back to a working MBR. Of course once I downloaded the disc via my university I realized that I can't remember the administrator password which I selected 3 1/2 years ago when I originally set up my laptop. Trying other workarounds such as using Super Grub didn't work due a variety of issues. So in the end I did what I should have done all along: I simply installed an Ubuntu server edition which we had lying around to the former linux-swap partition and that also restored GRUB to a working condition.

Several UT04 death-matches and clone-wars later I shut down the machine only to look at an odd "your pagefile is corrupted" error-message for a second before it went into hibernation. Later that evening I wanted to watch a movie with my sister and right when I had enabled the tv-out the whole screen went black. The next time I booted my machine I looked at a "boot.ini couldn't be found" message.

Turns out I had to look at the message over and over again while I tried to fix my laptop over the next 24 hours. Of course again things didn't go as smoothly as they could because I was still without administrator password to access the recovery console. And oddly enough Windows XP has somehow gotten rid of GRUB again so I couldn't just boot into the Ubuntu server edition, install ntfs-3g and repair things that way. Once I did manage to boot Ubuntu I ended up starring at a "your CPU is too old for this kernel" message.

Things continued in that manner with a Live-CD that's able to set the Windows XP administrator password to blank not working due to a dirty NTFS file-system. It also took me 15 attempts to burn a working copy of the Ubuntu 7.10 Live-CD as the brand new CD-RW I used apparently had some bad sectors. Needless to say I didn't have a spare CD-R(W) around. After many hours wasted I finally managed to copy a working boot.ini to my C:\ partition but even though the "boot.ini couldn't be found"-message went away I was still looking at a black screen every time I attempted to boot into Windows. Then somehow I decided to boot via the Windows XP SP2 disc and I was greeted with the option of repairing an existing installation (that option previously hadn't shown up, due to the missing boot.ini I assume). That way I was finally able to get things up and running again. Of course it was 3:30 a.m. by that time and I had spent most of my day trying to revive my laptop...

Anyway, right now it's running through some extensive chkdsk tests, afterwards I'll do some badly needed defragmentation and then it should be good to go. So for the moment being I'm using my sister's Sony VGN-N11S that I choose for her last summer and I have to say it's a pretty good machine, especially the keyboard is really great to type with. The one thing that's a bit annoying is the glossy X-black LCD because sitting out here in the winter-garden it acts as somewhat of a mirror. I'd rather look at the text that I'm writing than see my reflection on the screen.

I'll finish my rant with a list of some lessons learned from this experience:
  • never leave the house without a Windows XP SP2 disc
  • never leave the house without a (working) Ubuntu Live-CD
  • don't delete the partition that contains your boot-manager
  • don't forget you WinXP administrator password (!)
Off to get some coffee and then I'll get some work done...

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