Monday, January 09, 2012

The Netbook From Hell

Acer Expire Aspire???
I've had a problem with an Acer Aspire One D255 Netbook over the past few days. I have previously restored this one back to factory default setting via the recovery partition. Luckily when I last had it here I made the owner, a teenager, a set of recovery media. These DVDs were tested and verified and all seemed well.
Well the inevitable happened teenagers and Windows don't make good bedfellows and Windows XP Home was unusable. It was looping at boot time giving a millisecond glimpse of a blue screen of death. I did all the usual fixes after backing all the owners data using a USB optical drive, The Ultimate Boot CD for Windows and my trusty copy of Fab's Auto Backup For Tech. This comprised of; chkdsk, fixboot and fixmbr from a recovery console accessed from booting a Windows install disc. Enough time was already spent so I decided a nuke and pave the system was in order.
Nuke and pave is where the old system partition is deleted along with the entire operating system. Any user data stored on that partition is also destroyed and a fresh copy of the o/s, Windows XP Home in this case, is installed. This should eradicate any virus, malware or root kit infection which may have been causing the boot failure.
For some reason the recovery partition was toasted as was the small Android partition, which is no great shakes, if you have ever tried Android on a netbook you will know it's not a pleasant experience. This may well have been due to what I expect was a serious malware/root kit infection. Installing via the verified recovery DVDs went smoothly until the reboot where the damn thing went straight back into the same boot loop. So either the recovery media is corrupt or I'm thinking there is some issue with the master boot record area of the hard disk. I tried installing LinuxMint on it just to verify that it isn't a hardware issue and it worked flawlessly except the Mint installer really does not like the paltry 600 pixel vertical screen resolution and some guess work with the tab and enter keys was needed.
So I'm thinking a fresh clean install repair install of XP Home over the top of the non-booting install from the recovery media may work. This fails after inputting the product key attached to the machine, which is accepted, a dialog box requires activation before it will login. I tried an automatic activation via the Internet using hard wired Ethernet which was also accepted but a repeat of the same dialog box requiring activation before it will allow a login. The same happens when it prompts me to do a phone activation. And no amount of Googling helps for fsck sake!
I then had a brain wave maybe its my XP Home OEM disc that is the problem, this is a proper authentic MS install disc with all holograms and product key stickers that came with a machine purchased from a reputable source. So I downloaded a OEM iso via bit torrent and installed via that with the genuine product key from the underside of the netbook. Bingo it worked, great so now I do a recovery media install coupled with a repair install from my new torrented iso and reboot.
Some Acer recovery configuration program runs on startup and hangs on the Android setup because there isn't Android partition partition anymore, so I stopped it from auto-running on boot. Now the issue seems to be that it will not activate at least the Windows Activation Utility won't run and my only choice seem to be which of the four walls I'm surrounded by I should throw this b'stard feckin' thing at first!
More Googling... according to this post “After system repair, Windows Activation Wizard won't run” on Microsoft's TechNet Forums the answer is to install IE8 from a standalone file. I expect this was due to the original recovery install being SP2 where as the repair XP Home OEM cd is a SP3 disc. This seems to have done the trick and allows Windows Update to run and fix the miriad of other niggles that reared their ugly head too.
Finally IE8 wouldn't run properly due to incompatible addons so needed to be run in "No Addons" mode to disable the errant beasties, a download of all the normal freeware and Open Source goodies to trick it out,, Java, Ccleaner etc. Run MS Update and restore the backed up data and we are good to go.
So Acer you don't make it easy do you. How's a lowly PC tech supposed to calculate the invoice for this one? If I billed it by the hour they could have bought a shiny new MacBook Air with the money they wasted on this troublesome beast.

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