Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Near Death and Restoration of an Acer Aspire One

While I was packing to return home for Christmas Break, I was assailed by a sour sensation (I love alliteration too, but that's another story). In Hong Kong I have a power gaming Desktop PC I built from scratch, an ancient 7-year-old Dell Latitude which I'd converted into a Mac using tech magic so that I had a development machine for iPad games (long story), and an iPad2. This was a good setup. I had the gaming, Mac, and portable/mobile note-taking-and-such angles all taken care of.

But I was going home for Christmas. I couldn't bring my PC. My PC, which not only has all of my games, but also is home to all my windows-only versions of creative software. There was nothing for me to use back in America. We hadn't updated our 'family computer' for the last decade. It ran as slow as chocolate pudding. Ugh. How was I going to game? The old 1990s games that ran on my Dell laptop in the past were Windows only, and couldn't run on it now. And how was I going to do anything neat, creative, or productive? Bleck. I'd just have to hope that Dad had one of the other kids' old laptops lying around, or that he'd let me use his own desktop.

It's kind of a sin to touch another person's computer- or to ask to share in it- but what choice did I have?

When I came home I eventually set about looking for my external HDD so I could make a backup of things on the American end of things (also a long story, the HDD is dead /sadface). When I went to pick it up out of my drawer, I realized there was a white tech object in the drawer, maybe ten inches long, five inches wide? What was it?

Oh my god! It was my tiny Acer Aspire One! I remember you, little guy! Oh my goodness, I loved you in college! You were such a relief after hauling around a massive laptop across a huge campus! And- holy crap! Last I remember, I installed all my old Adobe Creative Suite CS3 stuff on you!!! Is it still all there!?

I asked for my Aspire One probably halfway through Junior year, for Christmas, and it was a godsend. Some people have no problem hauling around a book full of laptop gear and textbooks. Not me. I was dying with nothing else in my super-duper-padded-comfy laptop backpack but a single Latitude D630. My Aspire One was like a featherweight, and far more convenient and friendly. I took it everywhere. I took notes on it for everything. I left it behind when I went to Hong Kong because of space issues and apartment hunting.

But there it was, all beautiful and pearly and shiny. I turned it on and it had a bunch of 1990's games all ready for me, and all my CS3 programs. Now an Acer Aspire One is a tiny little cutie pie, so if I wanted to game and draw without straining myself, I would have to hook it up to a monitor and an external keyboard and mouse. But still! It was more powerful than anything else my dad had lying around, and had more hard drive space. Best of all, it was all mine, so I didn't have to invade anyone else's personal computer space to have it.

There's something I should mention.

Both my Aspire One and my Dell-Mac have critically ill batteries. They can't be unplugged, or they power down.

So as I was trying to fix my external HDD (long story, still dead, making clicking noise, probably irrecoverable without making a monetary commitment) I got up to grab a can of cola and eat some dinner. In the process I tripped over my Acer power cord and jerked it right out of the machine, but fortunately the Acer stayed firmly on the table and didn't fall to the ground. Seemed good to me. I came back from eating and settled down to power on the computer.

Boot Normally. Yadayadayada-


...  Oh. Crap.

Boot with last settings. Bluescreen. Safe mode? Bluescreen. Safe mode with command prompt. Networking? Bluescreen Bluescreen Bluescreen.

Oh crap. It's a netbook. There's no CD drive. I can't boot from disk. No! Wait! I know you can boot from a pen drive/USB stick/etc... you just have to set it up, it's a bit of work if you don't buy one straight from Microsoft. Right? I'm sure of it! I start researching on my iPad.

My Mac can't access the internet and my dad has an old laptop whose CD drive doesn't work very well. I start off on the Mac and try to make an .iso and then an .img file from the original disks using the Terminal and burn it onto a pen drive. I try it all out, but the Acer won't even try to boot from it. Hmm. Poopy. Something's up.

I'm worried because I only have a 500 MB flash drive my mother lent me for this task (when you are constantly and rigorously cleaning out your drives, repositories  and clouds like I do, you might not need more space than that, so I don't even own a bigger Flash Drive back in HK). But then I research the problem on my iPad and realize the Bios may need to be flashed, and that the Acer may have trouble booting from anything other than the HDD without that flash.

Flash a Bios? Uhhh... Well... I've never done that. Ever. I mean I think I installed a Bios update once on a Dell, but it was safe and secure and part of some regular update... thing I mean... I mean...

I have no idea what I'm getting into, but I am determined to save my Acer. Because people like me don't just roll over and give up.

I find some extremely complicated sounding instructions on a web forum that say I need to download a bios update from the acer website, rename several of the files inside, pull them into a flash drive, put the flash drive in the left USB slot on the laptop, and then hold Fn+Esc while powering on my computer in order to flash the Bios.

See: (

Okay. I tried that. Now I try to boot from the USB and... DARN! IT doesn't work! What could be wrong? Maybe it has to do with that 500 MB limit. I ask my dad for a bigger Flash drive, which he supplies, and then I transfer over into Windows. Maybe the different 'ideology' behind Windows will help me overcome whatever wall I hit with the mac. I mean, of course it could just be that I was using too small a device when I created the .iso/.img. But on the other hand perhaps I really did need some 3rd party softward like Ubuntu, and the Mac is internet-less, so installing things is more of a hassle.

I pull out the laptop Dad had offered to let me use, which has about the same specs as my Acer despite being a whole bunch larger and heavier, and slower (It's running Windows 7 instead of my Acer's trimmed down XP). I start looking for some information online. A lot of guides want me to manually push around files for whom the download links have already expired. That's no good. At last I stumble upon a program called WinSetupFromUSB. It feels like the creators don't speak English as their first language, and their 'home page' is a forum posting, but on the other hand it should be able to take care of everything I need.

I test out a few XP disks at home, conscious each time that I am using a computer with an 'iffy' DVD drive now, and that if it goes, I will have no recourse other than to retreat to the Mac and send software to it via the 500 MB USB my mum had lent me. Either that or I could try torrenting, since I already have a XP license. I wonder if it matters what service pack I use, or if all of them will get me equal results. It turns out that a SP3 copy is the only kind that plays nice with WinSetupFromUSB. I get all ready to make the USB bootable with Windows XP. I set up my options following an online tutorial and press "GO!"

WinSetupFromUSB fails from the get go. It tells me can't copy some file from the MBR, which I understand to mean Master Boot Record, and either means that I should be using a different format, or else that the solution I'm looking for is a Fat32 based solution. Eh. I start searching for the error message online, and I come across a forum post. In it, someone is trying to make a USB stick bootable for Windows 7. The replier answers that it doesn't matter what software the user is trying to put on the USB, the problem is with the USB itself. He recommends downloading RMPrepUSB and using it to A) Format the USB stick and B) copy the missing MBR related file over to the USB stick using a button on the RMPrepUSB interface.

Now that I think about it, this is familiar from when I turned my Dell into a Mac. Back then I had needed a boot loader called Chameleon, and it looked like this 'file' for the MBR was also a boot loader (But it went by some crazy name that I couldn't pronounce, much less remember. I download RMPrepUSB, format the USB stick to be XP/Bart bootable (hey I recognize BartPE, I've used it before! But I digress...) and Fat32, and then I press the button to copy over the MBR special ingredient.

Now I head back over to WinSetupFromUSB (Even though it looks like RMPrepUSB MIGHT be able to do something similar to WinSetupFromUSB, I'm using a tutorial, and I don't want to wander off the beaten path for no good reason). I put all my settings back in- location, destination, Fixed, GO! This time there's no error. Everything begins to load into my USB stick.

MUAHAHAHAH, I feel invincible!

I nab my USB stick when finished, plug it into my Acer, and successfully manage to boot from it.

Oh god, it's a disaster in there. First of all it looks like the computer can't even tell Windows was ever installed on it. Tutorials say to highlight my partition with my installation and push R to repair. Snort. Snicker. I don't even get that option. When I try to find it, It let's me know why it won't repair the installation, and it won't try and do a clean install over the space without reformatting and wiping out all my data. It tells me everything is so corrupted and broken inside that it can't make heads nor tails of the situation, and it demands a reformat. No! I'd just found files on that Acer that I hadn't seen in years! I need to back them up! And those programs- I don't have the disks for those programs, they're all in Hong Kong!

I backtrack and go through the recovery console. A few times. In between fiddling with other things. Because I hate command prompts and the recovery console immediately disagrees with me. It doesn't use the commands I learned for Mac and when I type in "DIR"...


I type in "DIR" so that the recovery console will list the contents of whatever folder I'm in. I should start out at C:\ But when I type in DIR, the recovery console tells me there's an error with device enumeration. It displays no information. From top to bottom, my entire drive is inaccessible, broken- in fact it's difficult to even detect the format that data SHOULD be in.

All this... because I tripped over a power cord?

I fiddle around with things like FixBoot and FixMBR, but nothing works. The computer claims to be able to fix the boot record with FixBoot, but the C:\ directory still shows nothing, and of course the computer does not successfully boot to windows without a blue screen. How do I navigate to drive D:\, my usb stick? Ugh I'm so un used to the windows command line, and chdir D, D:, and D:\ are all not working!

I'm told I should use CHKDISK but I tried that out in the very beginning of my list of endeavors  and the computer yelled at me to say AUTOCHK.EXE could not be found on the drive or CD ROM and I needed to supply a path to it. What? I try the default path that Google tells me it should be at: C:\Windows\System32 but ah... well if I couldn't find C, why do you think I can find C\Windows or C\Windows\System32? Remember when I tried that DIR command? Nothin'.  The internet tries to be helpful and tells me there's a backup copy in a dllcache file, which would be useful, if, ya know, my C drive were accessible. But it's not.

Dad comes in and tells me to just type in D: into the console, not chdir D:\ and suddenly I can access my pen drive. Only I can't see any folders into which AUTOCHK.EXE might be. There are two directories that start with a $ character, which I understand usually to be temporary, and which yell "ACCESS DENIED" at me anyway for some reason. There aren't any more sensible directories. This is strange, but a combination of the internet and past experience tells me there should be a directory called I368 or some permutation of those numbers on the original disks somewhere that has files and utilities like AUTOCHK.EXE.

I take the USB stick and plug it back into the windows computer and examine it. Sure enough there's no I### folder on there. I navigate through the installation disks Aha! An I386 folder (I had two numbers swapped, but that's pretty good don't you think?)  I drag it over onto my pen drive to sit with all the other bootable goodies. It takes awhile to copy, but at last I bring it over and plug it back into my Acer.

I turn on the Acer. I boot from the USB stick. I run the recovery console. I run CHKDSK or whatever its called. I try to let it know- from memory, since it keeps all my directories Access Denied from me- where the AUTOCHK.EXE file is. Not that hard, it's just in the I386 folder right? I cross my fingers.


It runs.

I let it run.

I type in DIR when it is finished.

The contents of my C drive display correctly.

I let loose a whoop of excitement, exit form the recovery console, and try to start windows normally.

It works. The Acer is functional. Everything is alive. My programs are fine. My Google Chrome is patiently awaiting my orders. And would you look at that! Flashing the Bios appears to have fixed the Acer's battery! Oh isn't today the most wonderful of days? I need a nap. And a beer. And a cat. Why didn't I bring home my Bamboo tablet to fix that too? I wonder if that hard drive is really dead, or if it's only mostly dead. I need some billows. Goodnight, and thanks be to the Omnipotent: For the Acer was dead, and by the power invested in me it has risen again!

1 comment:

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