Weird display problems in Windows
April 24, 2005 1:00 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend has a fairly new Dell laptop that has suddenly developed a few problems.

The one that confuses me the most is a display problem. One day the computer turned on and the "Add/Remove Programs" window looked like this:

display problems in windows

I have no clue what's causing it or how to fix it - it's persisted for weeks through multiple reboots, and seems to have nothing to do with the programs displayed before and after it in the programs list.

The second problem I'm pretty sure I've diagnosed, but I don't know how to fix it. When idle, the computer makes a rythmic clicking sound. I'm guessing that it's coming from the hard drive. Everything I've turned up through Google searches tells me that this is a sign of a failing hard drive, so what can I do to prolong its life?
posted by tomorama to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
I would back up her data as quickly as possible and get it to warranty repair. There's nothing you can do to prolong a hard drive's life when you hear that click of death.
posted by Rothko at 1:03 PM on April 24, 2005

What Rothko said - if it's doing this now, it'll never be repaired. That's why Dell has the warranty - back up, and get it replaced!
posted by fionab at 1:07 PM on April 24, 2005

That Add/Remove display is very strange. You are missing a whole bunch of information on the right side: "Used" "Last Used On", "Change/Remove". Not to mention that most machines have more than five installs.

I'm guessing the two issues are probably related. If they are, that means the cause of the Add/Remove problem is a corrupted file. You either have a corrupted Add/Remove executable (not good) or a corruped Registry (very, very bad).


Pull together all her data into one folder, preferably to another machine, preferably without moving around the files on her drive too much. Then, make a backup, preferably to CD. Then, turn off the laptop. Get on the phone to Dell. Tell them you want service immediately.
posted by maschnitz at 1:09 PM on April 24, 2005

maschnitz : I bet there's more than five things in the list, but they're obscured by The Terrible Black Bar in some way. See how the list ends right where the bar starts?

This really doesn't change the fact that the click of death trumps any kind of jiggery pokery you could try with video drivers and such. Also see if the BIOS has support for SMART Diagnostics (links go to not wholly related things, but have decent explanations for what SMART is) and enable it if you can. This can provide you with some detailed info.

When you call Dell, I'd advise against even mentioning the screen -- they'll switch to a horrible video troubleshooting script that'll waste your time. I've also seen Dell try to get people chatty about life in general so they can sidestep the issue at hand. Stay focused, and good luck.
posted by boo_radley at 2:01 PM on April 24, 2005

I agree it's likely they're related, and the display glitch is probably the result of a corrupted file. Back it up as quickly as possible and get it fixed!
posted by robotspacer at 2:08 PM on April 24, 2005

You should record as much critical data as possible onto a recordable CD or DVD, such as text and picture files. Time is very important if your hard disk is clicking. Next, send it in for warranty repair. Obviously, don't open it up!

If you don't have a CD-Burning program or need a plan B, buy a USB thumbdrive. They are pretty cheap, and nice to have around.
posted by Dean Keaton at 3:27 PM on April 24, 2005

By the way, if her laptop isn't covered anymore under warranty consider the option of installing a new drive yourself and using her recovery CDs to reinstall it back to a "clean" state. Compare the price of an extended warranty first, or call a local computer shop and get a quote from them. Most Laptop hard drives are created equal. Seagate and Toshiba are well regarded.
posted by Dean Keaton at 3:31 PM on April 24, 2005

Screw the recovery CDs. If you can, install a clean version of Windows without the Dell-branded add-ins. All you need from the reinstall CDs are the drivers and any pre-loaded software that you actually use. For about the last 5-6 years I've not seen a Dell that didn't develop some sort of weird issues here and there, 90% of which were solved by reinstalling a clean OS and dumping the Dell add-ins.

Problem #2 is the hardware. Dell's hardware is pretty much crap these days. You'll need to find and run the Dell Diagnostics program (it's on one of the the recovery CDs, boot from that and run DellDiag), do a full system check (make sure you have some sort of media in every drive or it won't be able to check them), SAVE the resulting output file and have that in hand when you make the service call. They won't replace any hardware unless you've run this test first. They don't make this clear but I've found that you can request specific hardware if you sound angry enough. If the hard drive is some brand with a crap reputation, insist that they replace it with one that is more solid. Same thing if you need to purchase the part yourself - Check some hardware reviews and see what to avoid...
posted by caution live frogs at 6:06 AM on April 25, 2005

For problem two... any hard drive that clicks isn't good. When they are failing they usually they only click when attempting a read/write and not at rest. When you say "at idle" I am going to assume you mean when the screen saver kicks on or, even after the screen goes blank.

In any case, check power management and find the spot that deals with turning stuff off. In laptops this is often controlled by the BIOS so frittering around with Windows PM may not help. In any case, in Windows XP:

1. Right click on any open area of the desktop.
2. Select "Properties"
3. Click the "Screen Saver" tab
4. Find the "Power..." button
5. Find the section labeled "Turn off hard disks:"
6. Select "never"

You may have different hardware profiles for "Plugged in" versus "On battery." Let's do them both... and see if it goes away.

As to problem one, you probably have a corrupted uninstall program in your installed programs list. What you need to do is find which one it is, usually older software causes this, but not always. Here's a freeware uninstaller that should help you find the offending software (Add-Remove Pro 2.08). When and if you find the culprit, give that vendor hell or, upgrade it.

'Cause when you get it back from Dell and put that bugger back on, you're going to have the same problem.
posted by Dean_Paxton at 11:01 AM on April 25, 2005

Simple...your computer has an erection.

As for the hard drive, clicking is normal, especially when there isn't excessive fan noise to mask it. In other words, it's more noticeable in a laptop.

Seriously, back up your data like you should be doing anyway, and stop worrying about the hard drive. It's fine.
posted by SlyBevel at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2005

Response by poster: I got Dell on the phone and after some diagnostic checks, they agreed that the hard drive was bad and are sending a new one free of charge, since the system is still under warranty.
posted by tomorama at 4:29 PM on April 25, 2005

Awesome, great news!
posted by Dean_Paxton at 8:22 PM on April 25, 2005

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