Workstation Update

I had had a bit of a sore throat starting on Monday. I kept myself in zinc lozenges and Chloraseptic, and made it through my talk Wednesday night. However, on the trip back from Grand Rapids, I could feel myself getting sicker. Thursday brought with it a pretty good set of symptoms for upper respiratory infection, including the sore throat, congestion, fever.

Thursday also saw the arrival of the new parts for the workstation. So in between timeouts to lay down and sleep, I worked on getting my machine back in business.

First step was to remove the old motherboard and its cards and memory. I tried looking for any obvious problems, like a leaky capacitor or accumulations of dust compromising contacts, but there wasn’t anything obvious to visual inspection.

Next step was to put in the new motherboard. One thing that I only noticed afterward was that a couple of metal tabs in the IO port backplate got in the way of my LAN ports, so be careful to check full access to ports if you are doing a motherboard replacement or upgrade. There had been a user comment about flimsiness and lack of support where some of the connectors get plugged in, but I found no such problem. CPU installation went without incident. Manufacturers seem to have gotten down how to unambiguously mark orientation for these parts and their sockets. I think the pin count on the Athlon X2 chip I put in was about 940 pins, or about 900 more pins than the original Intel 8088 we had in our Heathkit H100 back in the 1980s. Memory was also easy to put in place, making sure to follow the motherboard recommendation for placing two modules in the available four slots. Unfortunately, though, I did discover that my old case did not have all the power supply connectors I needed. At that point I was fading, and headed back to bed.

On getting up, I recalled that I had bought a power supply for another case earlier this year. I got that case, opened it up, and determined that it did indeed have the correct set of connectors. So I swapped power supplies between the two cases.

I put my old IDE boot disk in, plus the new SATA drive. Cabling with the SATA disk was very easy, and the cables are low-profile. I can understand how these have gotten popular. The motherboard supports up to six SATA devices, and has an e-SATA interface on the back panel.

With everything cabled up, I made the first boot to the new system. I hit “DEL” on the keyboard to go into setup. The BIOS setup menu looks pretty standard. My main goal was to set the CDROM as the primary boot device, which was easy to do. I then saved and had a Xubuntu live CD in place. The system booted normally, and I was able to bring up Firefox and browse OK.

Now for the tricky part. I really didn’t feel like trying to do a new install of Windows XP Pro. I wasn’t sure that my pre-service pack 1 version would even see a 500GB blank disk as a target. So I used Ghost to transfer my old boot disk partitions to the new drive. I was able to increase the Windows NTFS partition size from 30GB to 50GB on the new disk, and Ghost offered to transfer my Xubuntu partition, too. I increased it to 50GB as well. Ghost, though, doesn’t seem to understand BSD partitions, and that one could not be resized in the transfer. After about an hour, the transfer was complete.

So I unplugged the IDE cable from the IDE drive and tried to boot. I got “GRUB” repeated endlessly on my screen. That wasn’t terribly useful. I ended up reinstalling Xubuntu, which had the side effect of reinstalling Grub. I had tried to install Grub from a Xubuntu live CD session, but it claimed not to be able to recognize my drive. The reinstall did get Grub onboard.

Next up was a repair installation of Windows XP. The main thing to remember is *not* to choose “repair” the first time it is mentioned on booting the XP install CD. The install script gets to a point where it recognizes an existing Windows installation, and offers “Repair” as an option. That’s the one to use. I did that, and saw a whole bunch of files get deleted, followed by files being loaded from the CD. After going through the usual post-install questions, the system was in its pre-service pack installation state once again.

Then I tried to use the ASUS driver CD-ROM. Going to it via Windows Explorer was a mistake. The CD seemed to go into an interrupted access cycle, taking minutes to pull up icons for programs on the CD. I eventually had to reboot and use a command prompt to start an “xcopy” of the whole CD to the hard disk. Once there, I tried installing drivers, to be told that I needed the “QFE fix” for USB 2.0. This seemed to be linked to the service packs, or the absence thereof.

So I reinstalled both SP 1 and SP 2. After that, the driver installs were easier. Getting the video driver to be recognized was a bit difficult, though. The supplied driver disk apparently had a bad hardware recognition routine, and claimed I didn’t have any of their products in my system. I ended up going through the device manager and offering to update drivers for yet-unrecognized hardware. One of the two devices was my video card.

After that, I was able to up the resolution on screen to the full 1440×900 on my monitor.

The system was nicely responsive, which I had hoped for in making this upgrade. But I had one more hurdle to get past. When I brought up Firefox, I got a blank page. When I entered a search for Google, I got a blank page. I tried Internet Explorer, with the same results. Checking the network via “ipconfig /all” showed that I had a valid internal IP address assigned. I knew that Firefox worked fine via Xubuntu. I did try using “wget” from the command line to grab an external web page, and that worked fine. So I located a page using another machine that offered tips on network troubleshooting. They had a questionnaire that didn’t quite get to the symptoms I had, which was that everything on my network worked, except seeing any page in a graphics-based browser. They did, though, talk about Layered Service Provider entries, and when I checked, there were entries in there. I cleared those using “netsh winsock reset”. After a reboot, I got a page delivered from the net in Firefox; Google Desktop was complaining that the network entries had changed and it couldn’t do its job. So I uninstalled it. I may reinstall it later to see whether the problem lies there, but for the moment getting to browse beats getting to search files locally.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.