Is this computer a doorstop?
January 7, 2009 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Dell Optiplex 170, XP Home SP2, Out of Warantee, no recover disk, no way of making one. This was bought a while ago for use as basic internet access. Sat in a corner unused for a long while. Loaded AVG Free and Zonealarm via dialup for anticipated use on cable internet. AVG installation balked. Had cable installed. The Comcast installer could hold the connection with this unit for less than a minute before it dropped. The connection is stable with both the installers laptop and my SOs work laptop. I removed all personally installed software. AVG and Zonealarm could not be removed. Goback would only go as far as the probable install date of AVG. I get a corrupt install message with both uninstalls. The latest Windows Installer Cleanup tool did not help. Any suggestions in how to ressurect this beast? Is reformatting and loading Ubuntu my only option?
posted by Raybun to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
You can try mailing Dell and request an recovery disk, so you can install it all over again. I was in the same situation some time ago, but they were nice enough to mail me a recovery disk for my Dimension machine even though it was 2 years out of warranty.
posted by kampken at 6:21 PM on January 7, 2009

eBay has Dell recovery disks for many of the Optiplex series.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 6:34 PM on January 7, 2009

I would probably just bittorrent a Windows install disc (perhaps even a Dell recovery CD? wouldn't surprise me if you could find one), or better yet borrow one from a friend, and do a reformat-and-reinstall. Arguably illegal, but you do have a Windows license for that computer (the sticker on the side should have the code that you need to enter to activate it) so at best you're really only denying Dell the few dollars they'd make selling you a replacement media set.

Of course, if you are concerned about having absolute legitimacy and ironclad provenance for every bit of software on the machine (as you might for a business), the thing to do is get a replacement media set from Dell. The order form is here. (via)

I'm not sure what, if anything, it costs, but you can only do it once per machine and you need the service tag number and the original Dell order number (which they apparently can look up, although you'll need some sort of information pertaining to the order, I assume — no dice if you bought it used).
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:50 PM on January 7, 2009

You might try booting Ubuntu from the LiveCD to see if Ubuntu holds the network connection, to determine if it's a hardware problem or a Windows problem. (I'm guessing Windows...)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:54 PM on January 7, 2009

You can order the CD. If there's a ma and pa computer store in your area, they might burn you one for free.

Arguably illegal, but you do have a Windows license for that computer

Its not illegal to use different media. Of course if your friend has a volume/corporate disc then it wont work. Nor will a retail. It will have to be an OEM disc, preferably Dell. I wouldnt torrent any XP images. Its pretty much a guaranteed trojan infection.

Any suggestions in how to ressurect this beast? Is reformatting and loading Ubuntu my only option?

Download AVG again and reinstall it. It should just overwrite everything. After its installed just uninstall it (or leave it). You can try the same thing with Zonealarm. It helps to use the same version installer if you can find it.

If that doesnt work then go into hardware manager. Delete the network card. Reboot. That should reinstall the network driver and remove the hooks Zonealarm put in.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:01 PM on January 7, 2009

If you're only using the computer for internet access, Ubuntu isn't that bad of an option. Every time I've installed it on a computer, everything has worked right off the bat. Compare this to the major headache that was trying to get my network card working after a "clean" install of XP on my laptop... This site is a good and simple resource for the install process and some tips for unlocking restricted drivers and such.
posted by kaudio at 10:12 PM on January 7, 2009

Best answer: It will have to be an OEM disc, preferably Dell.

Also of note: the Dell versions of XP do not require a license when installed on a Dell machine. And, if you do reinstall Windows from scratch, Dell is really good about keeping their drivers online, like these, assuming it's a 170L (not that I really know, off the top of my head, what the difference is between the L and the LN).
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:19 PM on January 7, 2009

Yeah, don't torrent/dl copies of XP unless you *know* exactly how to disable the trojans and backdoors that come with them.

Like others have said, you might have some luck with a mom&pop comp store (see if you can borrow a real disc - making a copy that works requires a little technical knowledge). ebay for official Optiplex recovery discs is probably the best solution - just make sure it's for exactly the same model (or supports your model; I've discovered the hard was that lenovo recovery discs bluescreen sometimes for some 'similar' models).

Just have one thing to add, though - what error messages are you getting? Does the network connection icon in the tray still show 'connected' but can't access the internet? This will help a lot to diagnose the problem.

When you plug the laptops in, do you plug them directly into the wall/modem/router or into the RJ-45 (the cable from the cablemodem -> network card in desktop computer) that the computer was plugged into? I've run into a very similar problem - cruddy cables. Maybe try a different cable?

It really depends on what you mean by "dropped" - are you confident enough to crack open the case (with the computer turned off and you grounded - which is basically, you touch a door handle or the screw in the middle of a wall socket and make sure you don't zap yourself with static electricity), yank the network card, reseat network card, and try to connect all over again?
posted by porpoise at 10:22 PM on January 7, 2009

Yeah, don't torrent/dl copies of XP unless you *know* exactly how to disable the trojans and backdoors that come with them.

From public trackers at least.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:59 AM on January 8, 2009

Dell? You might be in luck. Most Dells with Windows XP preinstalled have hidden backup partitions, and the recovery CD does nothing except boot your system from this backup. If that is the case, your reinstall disk is actually hiding on your hard drive. The Windows drive utility should be able to tell you if such a partition exists:

Right-click on My Computer --> Manage --> click on Disk Management and let it load. Check for a recovery partition.

If the partition exists, you should be able to boot into the reinstall setup by hitting [ctrl]+[F11] when the Dell logo appears during startup.

More information on the recovery partition.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:06 AM on January 8, 2009

Response by poster: The Great Big Mulp has lead me out of the wilderness. I reinstalled XP with a disk from another machine and have been living happily ever after.
posted by Raybun at 2:38 PM on March 3, 2009

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