I have a definite love/hate relationship with computers. My working life was centred around them, and inevitably at parties I was asked advice on PCs. But they usually put me in mind of the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
When PCs go bad, they can be really horrid. I’ve just spent a fun day working on Martin’s PC. It all began last week, when I decided to upgrade our home systems to Windows Vista. I had run the Microsoft Vista Advisor on the three systems, and it had suggested that Martin’s PC should have more memory, and that the graphics capability would not be capable of the Aero interface, but would be suitable for the basic Vista interface. OK, I thought, that’s no problem, I’ll just add in more memory, the Aero interface is icing on the cake, but not essential.
So more memory was installed, I took backups and installed Vista Home Premium. There was a slight panic when I found out that Vista was only able to drive the onboard graphics chip (Intel 845G) at the minimum resolution of 640 x 480 pixels. However, Intel’s Vista Graphics Support FAQ claimed that Vista would support the 845G shipset using XPDM (XP Display Model) drivers. Off I went to the Intel site and downloaded the latest version of these drivers. Well, I say latest version – some alarm bells rang when I read that the 845G chipset had reached the end of their support life. The key phrase being "nor will Intel provide any future software updates to support new operating systems or improve compatibility with third party devices and software products". Still, if Vista would support the XPDM drivers, then I should be OK, shouldn’t I?
Well, at first, all seemed hunky-dory. The resolution went up to 1024 x 768, which is what the monitor wanted, and Vista Home Premium seemed to be behaving normally. I then spent several hours transferring across Martin’s data, installing applications and reconstructing his environment. Everything seemed fine until I decided, rather than logging off from one account and logging onto another, to simply switch users. Blam – a BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death). It was repeatable – every time I switched users I got a BSOD – but logging off and logging on was OK. So I decided to follow the apocryphal doctor’s advice (patient: "Doctor, it hurts when I do this". Doctor: "then don’t do that"), and not ever switch users. Martin was unlikely to do it, so I thought that he would be unlikely to trigger the BSOD.
I was somewhat amused to find that after rebooting the system, Vista helpfully told me that the BSOD was caused by the Intel graphics adaptor, and advised me to go to the Intel web site to download the latest driver. Obviously, no-one at Microsoft had been reading the Intel web site: "nor will Intel provide any future software updates to support new operating systems". Ho-hum.
Still, Vista seemed to be running, and Martin started to use the system. All went well for the first few days, but then he decided to use the attached Logitech webcam for a video call with a friend. The performance was awful – like trying to do it over a dial-up connection. And – horror of horrors, the dreaded BSOD started showing up. There seemed to be no way to stop it, or to improve the situation – and of course the other shoe dropped as I remembered the second part of Intel’s fateful words: "nor will Intel provide any future software updates to … improve compatibility with third party devices and software products".
Martin’s PC is a Dell Dimension 4500s; long out of production, of course. I bought it for him because it was nice and compact and whisper-quiet. The downside of its compactness is that it only has two PCI expansion slots available. It was at this point that I realised that the days of PCI graphics expansion cards are also long since passed – graphics cards today require AGP or PCIexpress slots – neither of which the Dell possesses. So there would be no possiblility of bypassing the problem by using a graphics expansion card. Really, the only way forward was to take three steps back, and reinstall Windows XP again.
And that’s what I spent yesterday doing. Naturally, the Windows XP re-installation CD dated from years back, so multiple trips to Windows Update were called for to bootstrap XP into the latest version. Well over 100 critical updates – including SP2 – were involved. Finally, this morning I finished reconstructing Martin’s environment and got all his data back just as it was. Computers, eh, doncha just love them?