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.

9 thoughts on “When you’re Dead, you won’t have to Reinstall Windows

  1. Another Update:

    It isn’t (necessarily) SP2. It isn’t adding various security patches from the Windows Update site. It isn’t a virus, it isn’t some leftover ghost from a past life come back to haunt us (but let’s not rule that out completely).

    In my opinion, it’s installing Lotsa Files at one time. SP2 is Lotsa Files. It’s almost 100 megs compressed! Going to Windows Update when you haven’t been there awhile or when you’re running a clean install and you download about 17 patches at once is Lotsa Files.

    Windows has something called a Master File Table. It starts out around 15 kb and expands upwards from there, way past 100 megabytes. It lists every file on your computer, even ones you deleted. It gets fragmented when it gets hit with a lot of files at one time (SP2 download?). Windows Defrag utility doesn’t fix it. Diskeeper Pro does, but you have to run it every time you load up several hundred files. If you just let it sit and sit and sit, pretty soon, you can’t really fix it and you have to reinstall Windows. Most people don’t notice that their MFT is getting fragmented to hell. Your computer runs a little slower every day, but you barely notice that. I only noticed it when it crashed into a smoking hulk of a doorstop.

    Bottom line? Always run chkdsk after you’ve added a lot of files. If it has errors, run chkdsk /f at boot. If that doesn’t fix it, load up your Windows cd and boot to the Recovery Console where you’ll run chkdsk /r for about an hour. Diskeeper Pro seems to help too, but not always.

    Or reinstall your OS, or buy a new computer, or switch to Linux.

  2. What a nightmare. I’ve been bad about keeping my OS “patched,” for a variety of reasons, including the nice firewall I have outside the computer, and the fact I no longer use IE or Outlook. But this sure doesn’t provide encouragement for changing my sloth.

    Thanks for the summary of how to deal with it, should I ever see this. So far, chkdsk has found nothing on my machine.

  3. Man I love hardware firewalls. When I was running a mail server and an ssh server on a linux machine, I opened up the ports I needed and forwarded them to that machine (only). You wouldn’t believe the hack attempt traffic my logs showed, literally within minutes of opening the mail server.

    I left Zone Alarm off any of these reinstalls because it caused various conflicts in the past. I’m really not adding anything but necessary work apps now. If it works, don’t mess with it, my new motto.

    Backup until yer blue in the face. Another new motto.

  4. Yet another update.

    Testing out a a new search engine, I found yet another discussion of chkdsk volume bitmap errors. It seems that, according to these folks, chkdsk errors running from within Windows should be taken with a grain of salt because it’s impossible to run a good disk test on a mounted drive, and c: running Windows is definately a mounted drive.

    Arrrrgggghhhh. I wonder why Microsoft Escalated Support didn’t mention that. Oh well, at least I’ve got two machines now that run a lot faster and I haven’t lost any data. All I probably lost was sleep and wear and tear on my lifespan.

  5. o-tay ….. here I am running XP and sp2 on two old Dell machines (and one nice new Dell with many user-friendly features, plenty of RAM and processor speed, no pieces of hardware randomly added to it, a relatively snarl-free assortment of connectors both inside and out, and a nifty keen flat panel display; said machine used exclusively by my lovely bride, but that’s another story). I think I’ve learned that the best thing to do here is to muddle along happily ignorant of any MFT errors, back everything up faithfully, and wait for the morning I wake up to a pile of molten slag. The Dell people have been sending me these nice catalogs recently …

  6. Hey! My new Dell used to be mine too! So was my new flat panel monitor! How does this crap happen?!?

    I’m just a poor Asshole sitting behind a thrown-together AMD XP 2500+, Gig of RAM, and a brand new 21” Trinitron crt monitor that a guy at a computer store let me walk off with for next to nothing because he owed me a little money….

    Sniveling and whining because in a couple days I’ll be streaming in web content at 6.6 mbps because a certain Phattboi talked me into going cable, but the Japs get to watch 30,000 channels on IPTV…but I’ll prolly never get that cuz I’m such n Asshole n nothin’s ever fair around here….

    So whatveyoubeenuptolately?

  7. Acronym update.

    Okay, we now know what MFT means and MBR, DOCSDIAG, SSH and HSI….

    Who can tell me what LSMFT means?

    The winner gets a free trip to Tijuana in Wally’s boat.

  8. You’re gonna love cable. I’ve got Adelphia, which isn’t exactly the Speedy Gonzales of cable providers, but it still outpaces the DSL options available here. Had to get Giganews for Usenet, though, because the in-house news farm was as erratic as E’link’s was. Jan spoiled me. You may recall that after consultations with a certain number of Assholes which even included a Chief, I set up a wireless network to spread the joy. Working on the back porch has it’s benefits.

    Doing a bit of contracting and consulting while searching for a new full time gig. Had to close out the shop Q4 last year. There’s a line on an opportunity in Alpharetta of all places. It’s not the west Florida Gulf coast, but broke and hungry has drawbacks, too. I wonder what life is like outside the Perimeter?

    Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco. You get the worm …

  9. Only those older than dirt know that great secret about Luckies.

    I tried Comcast side by side with my DSL connection for 6 mo. because they had a special ($22/mo). I was trying out voip then too, and it turned out my dsl connection was too flaky to be able to carry on a non-chattery phone conversation. Comcast (with traffic shaping) made it clear as a bell. My monthly phone bill for two biz lines went from $180 to about $60. Now, we’re getting upgraded to 6.6/768 for less than I was paying for DSL. Phone support? Gotta be horrible if it’s cable, right? Wrong. You get someone helpful within a couple of minutes. Every time I tried ELNK support in the past it was an hour wait until you got someone who couldn’t wait to get you off the phone trying to tell you the problem is you need to reinstall Windows. I was paying for Giganews, but now I get it free with Comcast. Almost as good as a Jan-run news farm.

    Anyway, I’ll get you an email later. Good to hear from you.

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