Disk Drawer Double Bind
November 14, 2008 2:09 PM   Subscribe

My friend's only Admin account on Windows has been ripped to shreds by a virus, an uninstaller program, or both; his CD drawer won't open or shut manually at all; and his BIOS settings, which are protected by a password we don't know, are to boot from a CD in the drive before anything else. Help me to not destroy his computer with an axe.

I'm a Mac user who somehow became the Tech Support for our shared house. (It started with showing a friend how to use a bittorrent client and is now way beyond my control.) For various reasons, one friend's computer never got the once-over, with new antivirus software etc., that I'd been meaning to give it. I thought 'Hey, he uses Firefox and hardly ever even downloads anything. Things won't go too badly wrong for the time being'. And boy am I regretting that now.

A couple of days ago, he came to me telling me that his five-years-old antivirus software had detected virus infection, and this was corroborated by the appearance of thousands of popup windows for a poker site. The antivirus told him it had deleted four viruses, but clearly hadn't - the popups continued along with some other strange stuff. He immediately shut the computer down and came to me.

When we started up the computer, the popups appeared to calm down to a manageable level. I decided to get rid of his old antivirus and install AVG. Here's where a couple of nights' terrible insomnia led to my making a mistake: I tried to do those two things in that order. After deleting a bunch of files Revo Uninstaller suggested I delete, I couldn't open any programs from his user account - I got messages saying that it was 'not authorised' to open them. Switching to the Guest account meant I was able to do anything the Guest account can do, but this didn't include installing AVG or repairing his Admin account. The Guest account started to be beset by popups after a few minutes and we shut down.

My friend still has his Windows XP pro CDs and doesn't have any important files he can't retrieve from email attachments, or any music that isn't from his own CDs. So we were all set to do a clean reinstall, until he reminded me about the CD drive.

Since he dropped the computer about six months ago, the CD drawer won't open or shut manually - it has to be opened using his DVD-reading software. Also, his BIOS settings are set to boot from the CD drive if there's anything in it, and always have been. This has already caused problems when he left a CD in the drawer before shutting the computer down, but after attempting to boot for about five minutes it would move on to the HD and all would be well again. Trouble is, this won't work when trying to reinstall Windows from the CD - as I understand it, it can and will just boot from the Windows installation CD again and again and again.

I'd already tried to reset the BIOS settings, but they're password protected and he was never told what the password was. (He got it as part of a government entitlement for disabled students, and so it came from some little outsourced office somewhere).

This weird little logic loop is most tormenting: I can't boot from the hard drive until I've removed the disk with the DVD software, and I can't remove the disk with the DVD software until I've booted from the hard drive.

Will a USB external CD drive work to install Windows from straight out of the box? Can I get a pirate version of Windows and install it from a USB flash drive? Is there some really simple, far less radical solution to this that I'm missing? I'm in way over my head with this, and keep coming back to fantasies about the violence I might enact upon this infernal devil-box.
posted by Acheman to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Before the computer actually boots from the Windows install disc it should ask you to press a key to continue booting from the CD. If you don't press anything, it'll go and boot from the HD like normal. So if you can actually get the CD in the drive somehow, it should be fine to just leave it in there.

Also, you should be able to reset the BIOS password (along with all of the settings) by pulling a jumper somewhere on the motherboard (you'll have to look in the manual to figure out which one, but I'm guessing you don't have that), or by pulling the battery off the motherboard and waiting a couple of seconds before replacing it.
posted by Venadium at 2:20 PM on November 14, 2008


You should be able to reset the bios password with a jumper, or by pulling the cmos battery. Check the vendor's site to find out how; it'll be buried, but should be there.

CD tray can be opened using a bent-straight paperclip; there will be a small hole just for this purpose.

If you're going to do support, make a boot cd. There are several excellent flavors, I use Ultimate Boot CD.
posted by theora55 at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2008


Most CD drawers have a tiny hole in the front panel, so they can be opened by sticking a straightened paperclip through the hole to push the latch.

You could reset the bios by taking the little battery off the motherboard for half an hour - the password would then be gone. Of course, this might brick the machine, if it has special bios settings (but that's not very likely in my experience.)

I think (and could well be wrong) that the computer might be too old for installing from USB drive to work.
posted by anadem at 2:21 PM on November 14, 2008


Echo ...
posted by anadem at 2:22 PM on November 14, 2008


as I understand it, it can and will just boot from the Windows installation CD again and again and again.

That's wrong. The windows disc will display "Press any key to boot using the CD."

Will a USB external CD drive work to install Windows from straight out of the box?

Yes, the BIOS must be able to see the CD for this to work, so its dependent on the motherboard.

ut after attempting to boot for about five minutes it would move on to the HD and all would be well again.

Thats not normal.


I'd already tried to reset the BIOS settings, but they're password protected and he was never told what the password was.

Usually there's a way to reset the BIOS with a jumper. You'll need to google the motherboard model. Usually just pulling out the CMOS battery will reset it, but there's a small risk there.

Can I get a pirate version of Windows and install it from a USB flash drive?

No. You'll need to pay for windows.

it has to be opened using his DVD-reading software.

Have you tried right-clicking on the drive and selecting 'eject?' Sounds like the button is just broken. If that works just put in the XP disc.

If it doesnt then I suggest you just try to use system restore to go to the point before the virus or log in in safe mode, mount a USB CDROM drive, put the windows disc in there, copy the disc to the drive and start the install process.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2008


Everyone has already said exactly what I was going to say, and for that, I am sad.
posted by kbanas at 2:24 PM on November 14, 2008


Does the CD drive have a manual eject hole? They are rare these days, a little hole in the front of the drive, just under the tray usually, perfectly sized for a paper-clip. You push in, while the machine is off, and open the drive with muscle power alone. You could also just disconnect the CD drive's data cable, but not it's power cable, boot into windows, and see if the eject button works. If it doesn't work in this situation, I'd say the drive has a physical problem, over and above whatever viral issues you have.

Windows can use an external USB drive to install from, if your BIOS supports it.
posted by nomisxid at 2:27 PM on November 14, 2008


BTW, some manufacturers hide the "press any key to boot from CD" prompt underneath their custom graphic splash screen...it maybe there, but not visible....
posted by nomisxid at 2:28 PM on November 14, 2008


Im assuming you didnt try safe mode yet.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:29 PM on November 14, 2008


Also in safe mode, put the following into a text file and then rename it something like open-drive.vbs (it needs to be .vbs).
Dim WMP: Set WMP = CreateObject("WMPlayer.ocx")
Dim colCDROMS: Set colCDROMS = WMP.CDROMCollection

If colCDROMS.Count > -1 Then
For i = 0 to colCDROMS.Count - 1
colCDROMS.Item(i).Eject
Next
End If
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:33 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]


Lastly, if you can get into safe mode you can retrieve your pal's window key using this
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:35 PM on November 14, 2008


Is there some really simple, far less radical solution to this that I'm missing?

Yeah, you're really over thinking all of this. Jimmy the drive open and closed as outlined above, or use a external USB CD or DVD drive.

No, you can't install windows from a USB drive (well, you maybe able to, but you'd spend far more time trying to hack that together than it's worth...)

Since he dropped the computer about six months ago

Dropped? Is this a laptop? If so your attempts to reset the BIOS password will be significantly complicated.
posted by wfrgms at 2:49 PM on November 14, 2008


If you can't find documentation on resetting the bios via a jumper, the procedure for a lot of motherboards is the same:

The reset jumpers are normally next to a coin-sized lithium cell on the motherboard. There will be three pins with the jumper connecting two of them. Often there will be some tiny text next to the jumpers saying something like 'CMOS RST'. The process of resetting the bios is to switch off the computer and unplug it, then move the jumper to the opposite pins (i.e. pins 1&2 -> pins 2&3). Leave for 30 seconds (for superstitious reasons?) then move it back and switch the PC back on.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:04 PM on November 14, 2008


God, and I was worried that I'd get hardly any answers to this one. Thanks so much, everyone. There is, alas, no little hole to open the CD drive with. I'm aware that the boot-from-CD-as-default thing is weird as hell; it has apparently always been like that, and my friend didn't think to question it - he'd just remove any disks before starting the computer up. Only since the dropping incident (which occurred as he transported the computer, which is a mini desktop, back after a year abroad) has there been an issue, and mostly he's remembered to open the drawer and remove anything before shutting down. I'd already tried to reset the BIOS to something sane but fell at the password hurdle. I'll probably try for that again first, and fresh-installing from the CD drive, since it'll have the added bonus effect of his being able to leave CDs and DVDs in the drawer when rebooting; but failing that I'll try damn_dirty_ape's vbs script or an external drive. We're both out tomorrow, so the grand fixing-upping is scheduled for Sunday.
posted by Acheman at 3:43 PM on November 14, 2008


A new DVD+RW drive is like $25, so just replace the busted drive and reinstall windows. Unpassword the BIOS if you can but it's probably not necessary if you just want to do a new windows install.
posted by Ultimate Sockpuppet the Second at 6:01 PM on November 14, 2008


Most of it's well covered above, so I'll just add one more thing in case you decide you don't actually need to go the nuke and pave route:

As well as any Admin account you've set up yourself, there will be an Administrator account that comes baked into Windows. If you're lucky, whoever had the computer before your friend will have forgotten to password-protect this. You will find it on the Welcome screen if you can manage to start up in Safe Mode (or, if your XP is XP Pro, you can hit ctrl-alt-Del twice at the Welcome screen and get to the standard login box, then type Administrator into the Username field).

If you can see the Administrator account, but it does have a password, you can reset it with this password resetting tool.
posted by flabdablet at 6:51 PM on November 14, 2008


Is there any reason you can't reinstall windows and then just unplug the CD drive while the system is shut down? No CD drive = no trying to boot from CD drive = no problem. You can then plug the drive into a working computer and eject with software, then re-install in drive in your friend's computer. If you really want to over think this whole thing, take his hard drive out, put it in another computer and install from there.

I suspect though that with a set of small screw drivers you could dig around in the eject button on the drive and re-align everything so it triggers. The fact that soft-eject works seems to indicate that the problem is just with the switch.
posted by ChrisHartley at 6:46 AM on November 15, 2008


Update: That was actually much more fun than I thought it was going to be. I managed to find the manual online and there was actually a CMOS reset button which was accessible without even having to open the case. Moreover on inspection of the damaged CD drawer, I could see exactly what was broken, and that there was a little button the big button should have been pushing but wasn't. Pressing on said little button with the end of a screwdriver or other rigid flattish thing opened the drawer beautifully.
I could probably have repaired my friend's account from the locked-in Admin account in Safe Mode, but I talked to him about it and as he had all of his important data in other places we decided to do a clean reinstall anyway, just to be on the safe side and reckoning that we could probably improve the performance of his machine. And Lo, as I was performing the reinstall I noticed that the drive had been partitioned into two, C:System and D:Data. "Hey [friend]," I said. "Where do you keep all of your documents?"
"On the C: drive, like everyone else," he said."
Nobody had ever told him about the other partition, or redirected his My Documents folder, or anything. So he got a nice newly-large hard drive out of it, and I had a fun few hours playing the "If you were going to set up the best possible windows system from scratch, how would you do it?" game.
posted by Acheman at 10:30 AM on November 17, 2008


Good job! If you want to give him an extra layer of security, configure his user account to be a limited user and just have him log in as administrator to perform updates and install software.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:36 AM on November 17, 2008


Thank-you for giving me the opportunity to smugly confirm that indeed, I did just that.
posted by Acheman at 12:51 PM on November 17, 2008


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