Sunday, December 09, 2007

Are Windows Vista PCs Disposable?

When something goes wrong with a Windows Vista PC, don't be surprised if it is more expensive to troubleshoot and repair it than it is to buy a new PC and move your data and apps from the old machine to the new one.

For example... recently, a 6-month-old Thinkpad with Vista Business came into our shop for repair, because it had started freezing up. When it froze up, it was totally unresponsive, and the only thing to do was hold the power button down until the system shut down.

The machine's freezes occurred for no apparent reason, and nothing in the error logs was determinative either. It was still under warranty. It was originally purchased from Best Buy or Circuit City for under $1,000.

The first thing we did was test the machine for hardware problems. Lenovo's diagnostics as well as the tools we use found no problems. So, there was no warranty involved in the repair.

At this point, we were dealing with an unspecified software, virus or malware problem, and the best, most-cost-effective solution in this situation has been (i.e., Windows XP) to copy the data, reformat the hard disk and restore the operating system, applications and the data.

On the ThinkPad, there is a suite of system tools that you can access from the "Blue Button" on the keyboard, and use to restore the ThinkPad to its new condition. It reformats the hard disk and reloads the operating system and applications that originally came with the computer. Before you do that, you have the option to copy your data, which we did to a USB hard drive.

Fortunately for our client and us, we also imaged the ThinkPad's hard disk before we reformatted the drive -- fortunately because the utility to copy the data failed to get most of our client's data. We ended up having to restore the image to a spare drive to recover all the client's data.

After we restored the ThinkPad to its original, like-new condition, we downloaded and applied all the Lenovo updates; both the Urgent and the Recommended updates. This took a lot of time and numerous system restarts.

After the Lenovo updates, we reinstalled the client's applications and downloaded and applied all the Microsoft updates and patches. This also took a lot of time and numerous system restarts.

Then we downloaded and installed updates and patches for non-Microsoft applications like Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash, Sun's Java, and AVG's anti-virus. More time.

We recreated the client's user profile and set the Lenovo and Windows security the way the client had them.

Last but not least, we tracked down the client's data files, scanned them for viruses, then reinstalled the data on the ThinkPad.

At that point, the machine was working and no longer freezing. The problem appears to have been fixed. But the time and effort involved cost more than the machine was worth. In retrospect, the client would have been better served had we grabbed the data, thrown out the old machine and installed the client's apps and data on a new ThinkPad.

1 comment:

paulclinger said...


I've had very similar problem with my new Lenovo tablet (X61). The machine that I got used to freeze occasionally (1-4 times per day) and I couldn't even open task manager when it was happening. When the task manager was running (I decided to keep it open given the frequency of failures), I couldn't kill the app that wasn't responding. While it was mostly happening in Firefox (I used the latest .11 version), I couldn't blame Firefox because it was happening in other apps too.

I even reimaged the machine ones (it lost one of system files when I did a hard restart on it and couldn't restore the file), and only installed those applications that I needed, but it didn't help much.

I removed all the services and start-up applications I didn't use (I only had about 20 processes running after login, which isn't much), but it didn't change a thing.

After reading your entry I decided to go back and run Lenovo's system update to get drivers and some of Lenovo tools upgraded (I was already up-to-date on all Vista upgrades). The update run for a while, but it was worth it as the freezing stopped. I only installed those drivers that I needed (including the BIOS upgrade) and as I was doing it all in one step I can't really tell what fixed the problem, but I think it was Atheros driver. The one I have installed now is from 12/17/07. I think it's the driver (and not BIOS or smth else) because 95% of all freezes happened in Firefox (or Acrobat opened in Firefox) and few others happened in other apps that were using wireless at that time. Unfortunately don't have any more details, but hope it may help someone else with a similar problem.