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February 13, 2011 3:45 PM   Subscribe

How to revive old Dell XP machine ?

I've just about given up on an old Dell Optiplex GX280 (running xp sp3) but maybe someone has an idea I haven't thought of or could direct me to another site for help. The machine was well backed up so the issue isn't recovering data, but rather not wanting to give up a machine if it can be resucitated to some secondary role.

Original symptoms: upon bootup would get successive messages saying that memory was being reduced, then blue screen. Dell diagnostic disk confirmed a memory problem. Removed and swapped around the four memory chips leaving 512 mb. Diagnostic disk now shows everything is ok including memory.

But still won't boot, get normal XP logon logo, but then blue screens with msg that "...windows has shut down to prevent damage ..."No better results with safe mode. Won't do anything with the built-in recovery partition.

Created a small linux CD (puppy linux) that presumably works without accessing hard drive. Confirmed it works ok on two other computers including another Dell desktop. But problem machine doesn't even try to spin the drive containing the linux CD. What's strange here is that the same drive recognizes and loads the Dell diag disk.

I do have the original install disks, but not a recovery disk. Seems like an unlikely path since linux won't work.

Any ideas before I lug this behemoth off to the recycling center ?

posted by Kevin S to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
try resetting the BIOS. take out the little battery on the MB then put it back in.
posted by patnok at 3:53 PM on February 13, 2011

Uhg. The gx280s are one of the systems that were known to have faulty capacitors. Open up your case and check the motherboard for bulging or leaking capacitors. If they're swollen, it's a dead system. Dell had a replacement program (I swapped out over 20) but I'm pretty sure it ended in 2008.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:00 PM on February 13, 2011

Ooh..I found replacement mobos on Google Shopping in the $30 range. If you don't have the cash for a new system, that's the way I would go; it's really easy to swap out.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:02 PM on February 13, 2011

Download memtest86+, burn a boot CD from the ISO, and leave the test running overnight.

If it works, the problem is software related, and you should reformat and reinstall Windows. Report back if you want help backing your stuff up first.

If the memory test fails or crashes (even after swapping memory modules), you've got a hardare issue, and either a bad DIMM or a bad motherboard. (RAM very rarely goes bad, which is why most companies guarantee it for "life." 3 sticks going bad at once seems somewhat unlikely)

If the positioning of the DIMMs has any effect, the problem's almost definitely with the motherboard, and I wouldn't really trust it for day-to-day use.

Honestly, I wouldn't pour much money into this machine. You can find something better used/refurbed for about $100.
posted by schmod at 5:13 PM on February 13, 2011

I don't have a solution for you except to say that I had the exact same computer that did the exact same thing last week. Tried most of the above solutions but just kept getting BSOD. I did boot it from Safe mode long enough to copy all of my files to a thumb drive. You might at least see if you can do that.
posted by tamitang at 8:01 PM on February 13, 2011

Response by poster: Patnok - battery in/out; good idea but didn't help.

Uhg - I looked carefully, but no evidence of sick components; now that you mention it I do recall reading about that a few years ago.

Cat Pie - this was sort of an derelict system collecting dust - but hate to waste a good machine if easy to fix. If it turns out to be the mobo, then $30 for a new one would make a nice little project.

schmod - Agree not worth putting in much $$$, but takes will power not to put in hours of trying this and that.

tamitang - safe mode doesn't work. Fortunately almost everything (except S.O.'s bookmarks) backed up and machine long since retired from daily use.

But ... some success just now. Although it won't boot from a linux CD, it does boot from a bootable memory stick (lucid puppy) and looks like the hard drive is visible. A little scary since I've never attempted anything with Linux before. I'll do some more checking, and consider reinstalling xp and/or full bore linux just for fun.

Thanks everyone
posted by Kevin S at 8:56 PM on February 13, 2011

If you have constant BSOD problems. It can mean the HDD is getting bad sectors. Download the Segate HDD tester from their site. Its a bootable ISO. Run the advanced test and see if it finds bad sectors. If so, you need a new hdd. If not...eek. it will take more info to figure out the problem.
posted by NotSoSiniSter at 9:59 PM on February 13, 2011

Response by poster: NotSoSiniSter - tried your suggestion, but it won't boot off the bootable ISO with Seagate checker. Same problem when trying to load Puppy Linux from CD - won't recognize either of the inboard CD drives nor external usb cd drive. Strangely enough, it will load Pupply linux from a memory stick, and it will load and run the Dell diagnostic CD, which reports no problem with the hard drive (or any of the hardware) even when set for the detailed multi-hour check. Probably I'll ending up playing around with Linux then rusticating it to a closet.
posted by Kevin S at 5:30 AM on February 14, 2011

Disconnect the internal hard drive and see if the CDs boot properly. It may well be that the drive is corrupted or broken and it's causing the boot process to fail. I suppose the optical drive could be bad also. You could use UBCD and run the gparted utility to have a look-see at the hard drive. There are ways to make a bootable USB drive of it.

But given the wide range of issues with Dell machines (proprietary power supplies, oddball ram requirements, etc) you'd probably be chasing good money after bad trying to do much with it.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:45 AM on February 14, 2011

TRyWe have aton of these machines. ITs the cdrom drive. for some reason those models have drives that have hard time booting off of recorded cd-s. try a new cdrom or dvdrom drive.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:29 AM on February 14, 2011

Sorry my typing stinks lol. Dell included horrible cdrom and dvdrom drives with these machines. They have hard times booting off of recorded cd-s. I think they dont have the right laser to read them. A different cd or dvd drive should work.

Here at work we used to have a ton of these machines and they all could not boot from burned cd's or dvds had to use the included dell xp disk to reinstall windows everytime.

You can also try booting from a flash drive.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:31 AM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: wkearney99: Disconnecting internal HD doesn't help, though it no longer blue screens - just stalls when it can't read the bootable CD. When booting linux from mem stick I can see the files on the HD and gparted works ok, though not sure what I'm looking for.

majortom1981: Guess it's good to know I'm not the only one having trouble with the gx. I did try an external usb cd drive but no better luck.

Since mem stick linux works ok, I'll try to install linux on hd and call it quits after that.

Thanks again.
posted by Kevin S at 2:17 PM on February 14, 2011

If you burned your puppy linux CDR with windows the problem could be the CDR wasn't set to be bootable. In most windows burner software you have to click on an option somewhere to specify that the resulting disk should be made bootable. Which could be why your diag disk is working but puppy isn't.

I'd recommend installing debian linux on it, from the specs I got via google it should be enough to have a good experience with it as linux desktop. Debian is so point and click now, you don't need much technical experience to get it installed and fully configured. You can spend your time learning something new without getting bogged down in tech details now-a-days. At debian.org you can download a small "netinstall" cd that contains the core of whats needed for a desktop, then it can automatically download the rest.
posted by gregg at 5:36 AM on February 15, 2011

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