Windows XP happens to be a very user friendly OS, so friendly in fact that it tends to shield the user from all the nasty stuff that tends to happen in the background. What does this mean for you? Well simply it means that you have to work twice as hard to find a solution to a simple problem, I’ve spent a fair bit of time messing around with XP so I hope I can provide you with a little useful information.
As I mentioned before XP tends to hide problems from the user, either by giving you the generic this program has encountered a problem and will be shut down (a mild annoyance) or the insidious silent reboot (very annoying.) Now some of you might be confused by what I mean with silent reboot, simply put its XP habit of simply shutting down and restarting your computer if it encounters a fatal error. That means that the BSOD (Blue Screen of Death) has become all but extinct under XP as almost any error, which might generate one, has been replaced by the silent reboot, which simply leaves you scratching your head about what happened.
The work around for this is to do the following:
Start -> Control Panel -> System -> click the Advanced Tab -> click on settings under Start Up and Recovery -> uncheck Automatically Restart.
Doing so will restore the old BSOD and provide you which much needed (if somewhat confusing) information about exactly what went terribly wrong. This should help your address you crashing problem.
Now about your CD drive, XP seems to have to annoying habit of simply forgetting how to access CDs located in the drive, this will either cause it to read very slowly, read incorrect information, or simply not read at all. The problem seems to occur totally randomly, and nothing except waiting has any impact on it, rebooting sometimes solves the problem but not always. In case you’re wondering the problem has nothing to do with the disk, a CD that can’t be read in one drive will usually read in another drive on the same PC, the problem is also not related to the hardware since the problem seems to affect all drives equally and randomly and they always magically fix themselves. Further proof that the problem is not hardware related can be found in the fact that I’ve seen XP fail to read a CD image off a virtual drive, the image was perfectly valid and several other images failed to read in the drive at that time, once again the problem corrected itself magically.
To my knowledge there is no magical cure for this problem, the only way to fix it is to wait until it fixes itself (popping the CD in and out several times also seems to sometimes work, but that’s mainly because it kills time). I assume that Microsoft is aware of the problem and I have noticed it occurring less often on newer updates of XP, so you might consider getting your version up to date. If you have a pirated version of XP, i.e. one that doesn’t require activation then odds are you won’t be able to install service pack 1, there is a way to bypass the updater’s CD key check, but I’m not going to post it on the forum. If however you truly think that your problem is related to not having service pack 1, contact me on the chat server (channel #rpgc) and I’ll pass along the information.
You should also give up on XP’s defrag and scan disk, both are so bad as to be virtually useless. The worst of the two is XP’s defrag tool, not only does it require a whopping 15% of free HD space in order to even run, but it also happens to be one of the worst defragers ever designed. First of all, the program will only defrag files, not HD space like previous versions of defrag did, that means that eventually all your free space will be scattered across the surface of the drive and new files will automatically get fragmented if they’re too large of any single segment of sequential free clusters; this flaw also seriously impedes the programs ability to actually defragment files. Defragmenting under XP works as follows: the program looks for all the segments that make up any given file, it then groups them together and places them in sequential order like the example bellow. these examples are based on my understanding and experience with the XP defrag tool, and might not be 100% accurate, but they’re good enough to give you an idea of how they work. (underscores _ are empty clusters, i.e. free space):
Win 9x Defrag
|A _ 4 B 1 D 3 C 2 _ _| -> |A _ B 1 2 3 4 _ D _ C|
Here the number file has been defragmented; this is how the defrag in 9x based windows versions (95, 98, 98 SE, ME) work (more or less).
However XP seems to do this differently, since it only defragments files without actually touching empty clusters you’ll end up with something like this:
Win NT defrag
|A _ 4 B 1 D 3 C 2 _ _| -> |A _ 4 B 1 D 3 C 2 _ _|
Notice anything? Both the before and after examples are the same, the reason for this is that the program tried to deframent the number file, however it wasn’t able to because there simply wasn’t a sequential series of empty clusters (underscores _ ) large enough to handle the file in its entirety, so in effect what we have is a program which runs for hours and accomplishes little.
If we take the example to its extremes with a drive that’s almost totally fragmented, and where sequential empty clusters are almost never large enough to handle any files then you have a drive which is impossible to defrag. Now obviously a situation like that is unlikely to happen, but it does occur on a small scale, I’ve had experiences with drives that were 18% fragmented after running a defrag, admittedly that’s better than the 21% fragmentation I had before, but only marginally.
Unfortunately I haven’t found a decent substitute for the windows defrag (I admit I haven’t really been looking for one, but if someone knows one please post a link) and short of pulling out your hard drive, setting it to slave mode and plugging it into a 98 system, you’re out of luck. My advice is simply to give up on defrag, it’s a waste of time.
XP’s scan disk is almost as useless as it’s defrag, it just doesn’t provide the same power as the old Win 9x version. However, unlike the defrag tool its possible to run the old scan disk on an XP system without having to have it configured for dual boot (unless you’ve converted your file system to NTFS, in which case you’re out of luck). This work around is a little complicated so please bear with me.
In order to run the scandisk you’ll need access to a Win 9x machine (again: 95, 98, 98 SE, ME) you won’t need to go back and forth to it, all you have to do is prepare a boot disk, so if all else fails try making one at school or at work. You’ll need to prepare a special boot disk using the following instructions:
Place a new disk in the PC’s floppy drive and select format, chose “copy system files” and click OK.
One the disk is ready copy the following files to it:
*Autoexec.bat (usually found in c:)
*Config.sys (usually found in c:, but if you can’t find it don’t worry you can simply create a new file called config.sys and it’ll work just fine)
*himem.sys (usually found in c:\windows\system32)
*scandisk.exe (usually found in c:\windows)
Once you’ve copied all the files onto the disk open notepad and go to open the file config.sys, you’ll want to add the following line:
So your file should look something like this
Once you’ve finished editing the file simply save it, if you couldn’t find config.sys simply open notepad, copy in the above code and save the file as config.sys on your disk.
You boot disk is now ready, when ever you want to run a scan disk simply pop the disk in and reboot your computer, your system will boot into DOS and you’ll be able to scan a drive by typing the following line at the command prompt:
Replace the above X with the drive letter of the disk you which to scan. Scan disk has several options which are very useful such as /autofix and /surface. If you want to know what they do or for the full list of options type:
The above information will let you perform basic debugging on your computer, obviously there are tons of other things you might want to look at, but its simply too much for me to talk about (considering its already 4:30 am). If you think a piece of hardware is causing a problem then try looking on goole for “partname diagnostic software” that should at least turn up a few leads. In fact I can tell you which program to use if you want to check your ram, just look for memtest86, its very easy to find and it works very well.
As for the virus scan, AVG (http://www.grisoft.com/) is an excellent choice, the program works very well and doesn’t take up too many resources (not to mention its free). The only complaint I have against it is that the scheduled scan tool is very stupid, if your system is configured to run a scan at 2 am, it runs a scan at 2 am, whether you’re using it or not, it simply doesn’t bother checking to see if the system is idle like most virus scanners do, it simply starts up. However that’s just a mild annoyance and unless you tend to stay up to the wee hours of the night then you won’t have a problem.
Anyway I hope this helps you out a little, in the mean time I’m going to get some sleep….