A Christmas Story, Part 2

Dennis Faas's picture

We apply power to the system and suddenly, we have a problem. Even though I had correctly installed that wonderful 20 GB hard drive, including the Master/Slave/Cable Select jumper, the drive was not identified by the system! After a lot of additional research and a fair amount of testing, I discovered the awful truth! The 20 GB hard drive was too big! Yes, that is correct. The system would not accept a drive much bigger than 12 GB. Time for a BIOS upgrade since the Dell systems allow BIOS Flashing. It was time to download an appropriate BIOS load for the system. However, when I try to apply the load, it is not accepted! Something about a "Banff" flash load would not overlay on a "Durango" BIOS! I cannot use that sweet 20 GB drive. To the parts bin! When I look I have a good 10 GB and 6GB drive pair. It is not 20 GB but since it is his first computer, a total of 16 GB is close enough. I install the 10 GB drive as C and the 6 GB as D. The system starts, the drives are available and, after running fdisk to set the partitioning and formatting the drives, Windows 98 SE is installing while I do some thinking and head scratching. I wonder what else I am going to find that needs attention.

When the install completes, I decide to disconnect my network from the system and, sure enough, I find another problem. The system tells me, during boot up, that a cable is missing and needs to be connected. The system has a PXE network interface! Go to 'setup and disable the networking until I get ready to connect things up. The system boots up fine now without the network so I can see what else I am going to need. I will come back to the network problem later.

I notice the screen is display looks a bit strange. Colors are not what they should be and it is set for 640X480. Well,, I know how to fix that! Open display properties and change the settings, which are set for 16 colors, 640X480. However, I cannot change the settings. I only have the one display mode available. (I am starting to get grumpy by this time.)

A little more searching and I find a download for the ATI Graphic Interface that is an integral part of the system. The package is applied and "TADA!" I have all sorts of colors and a range of screen resolutions. Now things are looking better.

I check the specifications for the system and find that the integrated network interface is one from 3Com. In fact, it is a 3C905B-TX! The 3Com folks, like the Dell folks, have a very fine web site that has driver downloads for most anything they make. I download the full driver set and I am ready to get networking going. I apply the new drivers to the system, turn on the network interface that I shut down earlier and connect the cable from my network. After quickly setting the system to accept address information from my router and booting the system, we are communicating. I have a real system and it is working fine, or is it. No, it is not. I have one last task to perform before I can load software. I need to get all of Microsoft's Critical and recommended updates for Windows 98SE! (Yes, they are available.) This process is long and boring. After 75 minutes of work, most of it waiting for completion of either download or installation, the system is finally ready for use. Since it is connected to the internet, I download OpenOffice 2 (which I have talked about before) and a fresh copy of Adaware. I also found a Abexo Free Registry Cleaner. All that is left is the testing phase.

Everything works! Hooray! Memory checks out end to end, both drives are viewable and can be written to and read from. I load a copy of Sandra to do some system tests and everything passes with excellence.

It is finished! I call the friend and tell her that the system is ready for her to give to her husband. There is dancing in the streets and joy is everywhere. Christmas will be joyous in her household this year.

And for the Computerist, a glow of satisfaction and the knowledge that he will not be forgotten. Yes, that is right. First time that computer has a problem, whom do you think that family is going to call? I will give you three guesses. Ha! I will hear from them again, I am sure. Like the Old Sage said," No good deed ever goes unpunished!" I do not mind though. I had fun working on the system and they are friends! It is all worth it!

Therefore, look to the Used Equipment market if you need (or want) a system for a gift or a system to install Linux. Or possibly a system you children can use for their goofing around on. I don't know if you will have the same success on the pricing that we had, but it's better than spending several hundred dollars for a system when you just want something to play with.

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