When you’re Dead, you won’t have to Reinstall Windows

Letters home from the Land of a Thousand Reformats. Just an update from the trenches as I just finished formatting and reinstalling XP Pro on my Dell. Strangely enough, Symantec reported that I had no boot sector virus on the .dat file I sent to their labs. They said, “Although it appears there is a virus in this file, it’s not illegal. In fact, you probably paid a lot of money to license it.”

(Actually, I said that).

Dell Support was supposed to have gone downhill in the past few years, but I didn’t experience that, at least with their email support. I’ve decided that phoning India for support on any product is probably an exercise in futility. Email them. It seems to go somewhere other than India. Also, then it’s in writing and they research their answer first so that supervisors won’t fire them. Anyway, the Dell guy sent me a 10 page treatise on running a debug app on my Dell, then FDISK, and then reinstalling Windows. That made the experience less of a Horror Show, and more of just following steps. It also destroyed any remnants of a virus that could’ve been lurking there. Long story short, I installed Windows XP from the Dell Recovery Disk and went to Windows Update to get just the security patches up to SP2. I had nothing else on the computer but Microsoft Windows on a freshly formatted and repartitioned hard drive. Running chkdsk before the security patches showed no problems. Running it after the patches showed the same bitmap volume errors I had to start with. I should add that someone else in my household who discovered the bitmap errors on his laptop (yes, 4 trashed machines in one household) installed Windows from the cd and didn’t get *any* security patches and found the same bitmap errors from chkdsk.

Running Windows defrag on the newly reinstalled Dell fixed up the file fragments, but again reported a Master File Table in pieces, which it couldn’t fix. So again, after ignoring the warnings from Microsoft Escated Support, I installed Diskeeper Pro 8.0 on the Dell to fix the MTF. After fixing the MTF, I got similar errors again running chkdsk. So at this point I stuck the Windows cd in, rebooted and went to the Recovery Console to run chkdsk /r from the command promt. Running chkdsk this way can take from an hour to a day or longer.

That fixed the chkdsk errors for now. I left SP2 off the Dell for now too. Next week I’ll do the same thing on the third computer running XP. Microsoft Escalated Support finally responded to me and said that they’re sending me a new XP Pro disk with SP2 already embedded in it. Hopefully that will help. If not, I’ll try to sell it.

Did we learn anything? We like to learn from major computer problems so that they can be avoided in the future. Unfortunately, we never learned the exact cause of the errors. But what did we learn?

1- See the title of this post.
2- volume bitmap errors almost always need a clean reinstall of a Microsoft OS. You can’t fix the bastards with anything.
3- I’ve never seen volume bitmap errors on a linux machine.
4- SP2 isn’t necessarily the culprit. On two of the 3 computers that have been clean-reinstalled around here lately, the volume bitmap errors occurred after installation of the OS, and before an installation of SP2 occured. On the other computer, it occurred after SP2 was upgraded.
5- Executive Diskeeper Pro isn’t necessarily the culprit, despite what Microsoft escalated support says. In every computer I re-formatted and found the same chkdsk errors, I had to install Diskeeper Pro and run a boot defrag to fix the Master File Table. If there were errors after that, I had to run chkdsk /r from the Recovery Console on the Windows CD. Indeed, Diskeeper Pro has been recommended by a number of Microsoft engineers I’ve spoken to. It was also recommended by the author of “Windows XP Inside and Out”, a Microsoft Press book. After running the above steps, my error-free status has so far been 100%
6- New Windows products and updates seem to prefer brand spanking new machines. If my sister and her family are indicative of “normal” Americans, they never see these chkdsk errors. When “the kids fill up the machine” (with virii, games and pornbots) the parents just throw it out and buy a new computer.

A Dreaded Microsoft Virus?

Where do I start? The mirror to see if I lost as much hair as I remember pulling out over the past two weeks. On second thought, screw the mirror for now.

Okay, how about the beginning? About two weeks ago, raring to go at 8:00 am, getting ready for the Chicago Gift Show, I prance downstairs all charged up, only to discover my beloved personal favorite of a computer sitting in a smoking heap, the blackened monitor now flashing something about a missing c: drive.

Oooookay…..slug down a quart or so of coffee and see if we can make our baby boot. There, there, it’s not so bad….be a good girl for daddy…..About an hour later the bastard’s still flashing black, so I yank out the cord in disgust. Yep, that was the ticket. She just needed to be slapped around a little, always works. Booted right up, (that’s showing the sunofabitch). Uh, not so fast there…..she booted right up into a chkdsk window. Chkdsk ran awhile and reported a few minor errors that it fixed, it rebooted and all was well. I got back to working on the Chicago samples.

Later that day, our curiosity piqued just a smidgeon, we sat down behind daddy’s little good girl and opened a little dos box and typed…..chkdsk.

AWK!!! No No No!……Daddy’s good little girl has file problems and wants us to run chkdsk /f at boot! We run chkdsk /f at boot. We reboot. We run chkdsk from the dos box again……
AWK!!! No No No!!!…….”…file problems, run chkdsk /f at boot to fix them….”

This is getting old. We didn’t really panic, of course, but we did call Microsoft Support and agree to pay $35 to find out what the hell is going on. A happy guy from India in a “welcome to Deddy Queen” voice assured us he was prepared to deal with our issue.
Okay, issue explained, hmmms and hawwws on the other end and finally The Answer!!!

“I see the answer to your situation Mr. Elburro. Yes, and this is what you should do…. I believe that you should take this computer to a repair shop….”

“Did you say ‘take the computer to a repair shop?'”

“Yes sir, I veddy much did!”

“Uh, and this advice is costing $35?”

“Yes sir, veddy much…..Is there anything else I can help you with today sir?”

“uh, do you think you could maybe pick your nose and eat the boogers for me?”

“Oh no sir, oh, ha ha, you made a joke sir…..”

Okay, I order a new hard drive and get back to the Chicago Show. Ignore the smoking heap in the corner. Ignore the continent of India. Email Microsoft Support. At least the email division uses Chinese outsourcing, and they’re smarter. Over a week of email exchanges, the eager and helpful email Support guy from China tells me he’s going to escalate my issue. Bummer.

Fine, a new Chinese guy named Jeffrey tells me he’s Tier 2 and he’d be helping me with my “issue” and that the third party disk utility I was using (Executive Software Diskeeper Pro 8.0) is what ruined my hard drive. I respond to him 8 or 10 times. He seems to have disappeared.

Let’s take a step back here. I’ve had hard drives fail, and it’s a fairly rare thing, and I pretty much know why they fail, and this just isn’t making sense. I suspect *software* “failure”. And I don’t think it’s Executive Diskeeper, but I’ll explore it further on my own.

Enter Google. Google is your friend. Enter the exact error message……an answer appears from the divine. In this case, a whole lotta answers start to appear. Or should I say questions. There’s a whole lot of people with chkdsk bitmap and MFT (master file table) errors with Windows XP. They’ve all got the same question. And the answer is always the same…..”Huh?”

A thought enters my mind. In retrospect, I really wish it hadn’t. Ignorance really is bliss, dammit. I go to the other computers in my house running Windows XP. I type the dreaded…….chkdsk…….

Yep, I could’ve predicted it; every computer in the house running Windows has the same volume bitmap/MFT errors. Seriously, even the costly Dell.

What do they have in common? They’re all on the same network. They all have seriously, religiously updated virus, trojan and worm protection. They all have Service Pack 2……..

I was real happy when Microsoft released Service Pack 2. The security features alone were badly overdue. And if I’m running Windows, I want it on my pc. I’m not sure SP2 is causing my disk problems, so let’s continue.

My new hard drive comes in and I install it. I run the Windows install and run chkdsk. So far so good. I download all the security patches from Windows Update and run chkdsk. So far so good. I install Service Pack 2 and run chkdsk (there is no other software on this machine now but Windows). Not so good. Bitmap volume errors just like before! I log into my Microsoft so-called escalated Support site and let my Tier 2 engineer that I’ve got the same problems and there is only Microsoft software on my machine. Will he even read it? I haven’t heard from him in over a week at this point. I start thinking BIOS, and I go the the Asus site to get and flash the latest BIOS for my machine, dated 9/04, after SP2 was released. I flash, I reboot. No, my machine has not turned into a paperweight, and re-run chkdsk. Dang! Still bitmap errors.

Since I just installed a whole lot of files, I run Microsoft Defrag and it runs and finally reports no fragments, etc. However, reading down the report I see that it lists the Master File Table as having 21 fragments! This is not good. Every time you run a program or open a file, your computer checks with the Master File Table to see where the dang thing is located. Okay, found it and it opens. With the MFT in 21 fragments, the computer is basically looking at scraps of paper littered all over the floor every time it wants to find something. Not good at all, and Windows Defrag does nothing to repair this. My computer had basically gone nuts trying to find something and finally barfed up a cannot find drive C: error.

Okay, so I’m ready to give up the ghost. I’ll install Windows again and not upgrade to SP2. Still, won’t the MFT still end up in fragments, even if SP2 isn’t installed? I think back to my buddy at Escalated Microsoft Support who has ignored me this past week. He said “this was all caused by your 3rd party disk management utility (Diskeeper Pro). It doesn’t support SP2”. Well, Executive software support had written back to me with just the opposite, and they were quick to respond, unlike my buddy at MS Escalated Support. Who would *you’re* daddy be?

I install Diskeeper Pro 8.0. I run a previously unseen aspect of it that *defrags* the MFT on a boot. It runs and reports the MFT is now in one piece. I run chkdsk again. Aha! Success!! For the first time, zero errors!

I run Diskeeper on the other computers, but it doesn’t correct the errors. It appears my boot sector has been damaged. My first inclination is a boot sector virus. They run all through a network and damage all machines severely. Of course, NAV with all the latest updates reports no boot sector virus. Dell Support, however, agrees with me and suspects a virus. I bundle up a boot.dat and sent it to Symantec Labs. They’ll let me know in a few days.

At any rate, I now have to run debugging software and FDISK on my Dell with all the sensitive company information hopefully backed up. And I’ll be reinstalling everything this weekend. Then I’ll move on to the next machine. So far, my main machine equipped with Diskeeper Pro is reporting no errors.

My two older machines running linux upstairs seem to be chuckling to themselves. “Who’s yer daddy, heh heh, who’s yer daddy…”