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  1. If you were on IRC then you already know about this, but this last weekend my XP box, known formerly as "The Doom Palace" (due to my PII having been named "DoomShack") abruptly died.

    I seemed to have some sort of spyware infection, as clicking on a certain link to Wikipedia caused random redirects in Firefox to sites attempting to install more spyware. So, I ran Spybot, which found nothing, then I installed Malwarebytes, which found some stuff masquerading as .png's in Firefox's cache. I had it clean that stuff up, and then I installed some pending Windows updates.

    The final update, KB974417, failed to fully install. After waiting a good 20 minutes for it to do anything, I finally killed the installer process and restarted. Much to my horror, the computer began rebooting constantly, never making it past the Windows XP startup screen. After using BartPE with the registry editor plugin and modifying the value of the "reboot on error" setting, I saw this:


    hobbs and I went through every possible candidate solution and none of them did a damn thing. I got my data backed up onto a new external hard drive before attempting a fixmbr, which was ineffectual anyway.

    The box is currently even more dead, since after I attempted to delete the busted restore partition and rebuild the boot configuration, it started complaining of an invalid partition table - note that the partition table is intact, however. When booted under BartPE or RIP Linux, all my files are still on there.

    So in short, you can't be too careful these days. Even with everything I know about computers, I don't have a clue what actually happened here. Did the malware do something deliberately destructive? Did Malwarebytes corrupt something? Did the failed update kill my XP install? Or was this the long-expected and planned-ahead-for partial failure of my hard drive at an inopportune moment? I'll probably never know.

    The box is scheduled for reconstruction with a new 160 GB HD which is being shipped from from newegg as I type this. On the plus side, it finally got me around to getting my new Win7 box going ^_^

    1. Show previous comments  19 more
    2. Maes


      Ah Jamie, Jamie, I think years of Linuxing have turned you into a bitter Windows hater with a secret agenda vs Windows users, else you wouldn't be advocating going the hard and painful way whenever possible ;-)

      Super Jamie said:

      I think the longest a full Windows reload plus all settings and little incidental programs ever took me personally was 4 days. My point is, that timeframe is still shorter than pissing around trying to fix a broken install. Certainly less personally frustrating.

      We're kinda missing the ball here. What is frustrating? A repair-install that lasts under an hour vs 4 days of scavenging installers from disks, or you're referring to something like trying to manually remove every hidden piece of malware? The latter I can understand, but the former...no way.

      Super Jamie said:

      Windows comes with MSBackup, which is decent enough that it actually works. There is no reason not to perform backups on a modern Windows box.

      Again, this ain't DOS or Linux. You can only back up and reliably restore non-executable data with it. Backing up "Program Files" and restoring it won't work, and you know that.

      Super Jamie said:

      The hard drive will still be as fragmented as when you started (maybe even moreso) and all the little hidden Windows settings and files that are either documented obscurely on Technet or not at all still remain.

      Not to mention it doesn't clean out user profiles so all the tempfiles, caches, and settings clutter from briefly-installed programs still remain.

      That's the whole point of a repair-install: preserving settings and returning to the user a PC that was just like before. Given that most failures were hardware-related (burned out mobos, blown caps) what we needed most was to "transplant" the HD and OS on a new "body".

      If the usage context calls just for that, there's no better general-purpose, guaranteed to work fix. Unless of course you can suggest me a method that allows me to back up all data, programs and settings of an unknown PC for which I don't have Norton Ghost/image based backup tools, and where the data is not kept on a separate drive/partition than the OS, and is faster than a repair installation. [/sarcasm]

      Super Jamie said:

      A repair-reinstall or reload-over-the-top is a band-aid fix at best.

      It has its limitations in that e.g. it's not the right thing to do if you know there's still spyware around, or if you know fragmentation is an issue. Then again in the latter case, you can always defrag afterwards, or assist the process by deleting temps/temporarily moving old data out of the way etc.

      Super Jamie said:

      If you deleted C:\Windows and C:\ProgramFiles and essentially anything that's not user data (ie: moving user data to C:\Backup and deleting C:\DocsAndSettings too) then you'd have a similar solution albeit still with existing hard drive fragmentation.

      Come on Super Jamie, you know better than that. There isn't always such a clear programs-data dichotomy in Windows (especially prior to Vista/7). Some save shit in their program directories, other in Docs & Settings (and no, complaining that such software doesn't follow conventions or good practice doesn't cut it, soldier!). So you must be pretty intimate with every particular system/program to know what to save and what not, which I can only do for my personal PCs and maaaaybe for the one(s) I'm working with everyday, but not for some random-ass sergeant's 10 yo PC running a custom Access-based app.

      Super Jamie said:

      To do a motherboard swap on Windows you can usually boot into safemode, remove ALL devices, and reboot to repair. Even so, the Microsoft recommended solution is a reload in this instance. Windows after NT5 were not designed to have their motherboard swapped.

      I had mixed results from swapping mobos: in a few rare instances windows was able to boot normally (if the old system used only the windows IDE drivers, and the chipset of the new mobo was similar to the old one or had built-in support from windows). More often, I got a BSOD at some point during loading (even in safe mode), so a repair-install was still the best method to complete the "transplant". I've done Pentium I -> Pentium IV and the other way around :-D

      Super Jamie said:

      I also find it hard to believe an army or "Top Secret even from NATO" organisation does not have copies of the software it uses to do its' function. So if that PC suffers complete hard drive failure then the organisation is permanently impaired because they can't get "Enemy Finder 2003" or whatever working again? Rubbish.

      Believe it or not, there are a lot of unique PCs whose backups are kept only remotely/occasionaly from specially authorized personell, and requesting their intervention is like going through flaming hoops. It's not my job to discuss security policy, but the main problem is that most of those apps are custom access-based DB hacks that can't be separated clearnly from their data (and restoring the apps from their original installations would require asking for higher security clearances and lead to unacceptable delays).

      Super Jamie said:

      Most PCs probably don't need a format and reload, but I'm saying it's a quicker and easier solution with a better result than spending hours and hours (especially of billable time) trying to fix something which only may or may not work again, and if it does will be no better than before it broke.

      It's only a better solution if there isn't much data to begin with, very few apps and the PC is part of a "farm" of identical image-generated, identical-hardware PCs. Also, if the hard disk if actually physically fucked up (in which case it would be uncautious to repair-install), excessively fragmented, or if spyware can't be removed quickly and swiftly (which was another thing I perfected in the army, but that's another story).

      Reformatting is NOT better for unique PCs laden with perhaps years worth of customized and personalized apps, desktop organization, which is where most personal/home PCs fall into, BTW.

      Super Jamie said:

      Repair install is not available for OEM XP as far as I can tell. You are expected to use the OEM restore functionality instead. I already risked downloading an XP image just to find this out -- it offers to install fresh, or to run the recovery partition. No option to repair, and even if it did, the resulting XP retail install would invalidate my OEM key.

      Those OEM "recovery" disks are not the real deal, fuck that shit and get a real installation disk. However, you're right, there are some XP installations that can't be upgraded/repaired in this way, as well as some installation disks that can't perform the upgrade: I already mentioned those of different languages and those offering multiple languages during installation (those can't even repair-install themselves).

      Before you ehm..acquire any other XP image, try to discover exactly what version/language pack your older one uses, and try to get a matching image. Normally, if you have, say, a pure us-en version an a SP3 VLK us-en should cut it. Of course, there's always the chance that the OEM version you have is too customized, or even just too damaged to be reliably detected. In that case..well...do it the Super Jamie way :-p

    3. Creaphis


      I'm running a copy of Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 that's currently locked up in one of those lame-ass OEM recovery disks. I wouldn't mind having an XP MCE install disk without all the shovelware crap, but: Is it even possible to get a disk for a stand-alone installation of XP MCE? And, if I got one, could I use my current product key to activate it?

    4. Super Jamie

      Super Jamie

      Creaphis said:

      Is it even possible to get a disk for a stand-alone installation of XP MCE? And, if I got one, could I use my current product key to activate it?

      Yes, no.