We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life. -- friend based tech support
May 24, 2012 7:58 AM   Subscribe

Repairing friend's laptop(s). Will be nuking from space. Which Windows OS version to install? Also, failing wifi on second laptop. *sigh*

I am helping a friend with his laptop(s). Laptop 1, Lenovo Y510, was not able to boot in safe mode even with a system disk at the local repair shop. I was able to recover the data by popping out hard drive and using testdisk. Now, I want to nuke the thing. I figured out that it came with Windows Vista Premium but he has no install disks. Here are the questions for laptop 1:
  • Should I try to get a copy of Vista Premium or should I install Windows 7? If Vista Premium is the way to go where the heck do I get the CD (he actually has a vista product key)
  • Will I be able to install even if a system cd was unable to boot in safe mode? If so, how?
  • Since I am nuking what should I install on his PC after the nuke besides Microsoft Security Essentials?
On to, Laptop 2, Lenovo T61, which has non-functioning wifi. People at repair shop think that it is software related due to third-party software install done at his law school. Wifi is unable to find or connect. System recognizes that there is a wifi card but software is confused and states "not on" (words of technician) though the "on" button is switched.
  • How do I troubleshoot a third-party wifi set-up? Is it better to just uninstall the third-party connection software?
  • Should I just say screw it, and back up his data and nuke it due to the fact the man has no idea about anti-viral protection and his machine is suspiciously slow

Thanks for the help on this. I will be monitoring to answer questions.
posted by jadepearl to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You will be able to obtain the recovery disks from Lenovo customer service (or a third-party contractor specified by them) for a sum of money between 15-40 dollars. This disk set will include all appropriate drivers, but may take a few days to arrive by mail or ground shipping. I would recommend against installing a version of Windows other than the one the computer came with unless you can verify that Lenovo offers a comprehensive driver set for the OS you want, for that model machine. Otherwise you may end up with a minimally functional machine with bad display settings, no network connectivity, and no sound.

As to the T61's wifi connection: Test the OS's TCP stack by plugging in with an ethernet cable to verify you can actually get to the internet that way. If that doesn't work, your problem is a corrupted Windows TCP install and the fix may be a total reinstall of Windows. If it does work, then you should move forward with troubleshooting the Wireless. Uninstalling the third-party VPN app and/or using System Restore may help fix the problem. You may also wish to uninstall and re-install the wireless adaptor drivers. Download the relevant driver installer from Lenovo.com.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 8:14 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: To see if the WiFi is a software issue, boot the T61 from a Ubuntu CD or USB stick. If the WiFi works in Ubuntu, then it's a software problem on the Windows side.
posted by zsazsa at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: Is it better to just uninstall the third-party connection software?

Do a bare-metal Windows 7 and do whatever you can not to install third-party Wifi drivers or "helper applications" because they're invariably garbage.
posted by mhoye at 8:26 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: If you are able, fresh installs of Win7 with any needed drivers download from Lenovo should work wonders for both laptops. Doing just that, MSE and making sure all updates are downloaded provides a working system in very little time (though I personally will habitually harden the browser(s) and hosts file of any computer I touch just to dodge future trouble calls).

You should be able to boot to a new install CD, though you may need to change the order of boot in the BIOS or manually hit a key in pre-boot to do so. We can't answer for sure, you'll just have to try it with a bootable Windows install CD.

You can uninstall the T61's third party wifi driver and re-install either whatever windows wants to or the version posted on Lenovo's site, just to see what happens. I'd do so out of curiosity simply because it won't take long. But you might check to make sure there's no not-well-shown keyboard shortcut to turn off the Wifi first -- I had a Lenovo with "dead" Wifi (x61t) where this turned out to be the issue, and it wasn't showing the option was engaged ANYWHERE.

If you get a CD of the appropriate MS Vista install CD (easiest if you know someone who has MS Technet and can download the .iso for you), my experience with Lenovos is that you will be able to use the code to validate it -- but it'll insist you do it over the phone (by pressing buttons) instead of via the internet.

If it was me, I suspect I'd be nuking both from orbit, since it's the only way to be sure (yes, I know, but someone had to say it).
posted by Pufferish at 9:09 AM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: For after a fresh install of the OS: Ninite.Com
posted by inviolable at 9:11 AM on May 24, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all. I got one vote to roll with laptop 1 to a Windows Vista install. Based on specs would the rest of you feel a Windows 7 install be a better choice? I just debugged his recovered data, if that is helpful to know.
posted by jadepearl at 11:13 AM on May 24, 2012

Anything that will run Vista will run 7. Never, ever, EVER, ever, EVER, run Vista if you can run 7. The ONLY exception are the random very rare beast where finding drivers can be an issue, but you can typically force a Vista driver to work in 7 if there isn't an official one.
posted by TomMelee at 11:28 AM on May 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Win 7's a far better choice all-around, and I'd strongly recommend it to your friend... but as you noted, you have a valid license for Vista in-hand. If your friend doesn't want to pony up for the 7 license, then there's your answer.
posted by Pufferish at 11:52 AM on May 24, 2012

Response by poster: OK, through my university account I can get the Windows 7 upgrade. Do I need to install Windows Vista first or can I just burn the ISO of 7 and do an install?
posted by jadepearl at 3:03 PM on May 24, 2012

Best answer: It's a toss up. Most Win 7 upgrade discs will let you do a "custom" install, which is a full install from scratch w/o a preexisting iso. I've never actually had this fail, but the internets tell me that it happens sometimes.

I'm also going to tell you this as a secret insider trick:
OEM installs check the mobo firmware to see if it's a system that was ever sold with the given OS (in the case of Dell, it really just checks to even see that it retuns DELL as the system type). Ergo, installing a Lenovo OEM windows 7 iso will, almost certainly, validate and work fine forever without buying anything. Just a heads up.
posted by TomMelee at 6:30 AM on May 25, 2012

Response by poster: TomMelee, remind me to take you out for a beer. Hell, everyone who has replied gets a good and I do mean a really good beer from me.

Latest status:
  • He has bad sectors on laptop 1 hard drive so I assume that I will need to get a new one and do a fresh install
  • Because of the virus issue, I am going to nuke and pave laptop 2
  • What is the safest method to get his files out of an infested machine that does not cause my machine to blow up? Assume a bad scenario since he has NEVER updated whatever the hell Lenovo initially installed on his machine 3+ years ago. He indeed, does click the link.
  • Best method to nuke and pave?
  • Anything else I am not thinking of? As you can tell, I am new to this business.

posted by jadepearl at 8:19 AM on May 25, 2012

Best answer: Bad sectors can be logical or physical. Seriously, snag a copy of HDDRegen (if you must, pm me and I'll put a .iso in my dropbox for you) and run it. If it's repairable, it will repair it. I often do this with damaged drives from customers, and then either sell them as used or keep them for myself. Nobody can guarantee life expectancy on them, but if cash is an issue and HDDRegen says it's fixed, it's pretty much fixed. I've got another probably 5,000 hours on a drive I did this to and it's fine.

Safest method is to burn a live linux iso (Again, I really just like Parted Magic) and copypasta files to a flash drive (or across the network, if you're savvy), alternatively you can yank the drive and connect it via a USB or eSATA adapter and pull that way, you're not executing any files so you should be fine.

Nuke and pave by backing up everything, then just running the windows 7 disc @ boot, choosing "custom", do NOT restore existing system, format NTFS, and let it install. Up to you to delete existing partitions or not, there may actually be an old recovery partition there. Also, NTFS (Quick) is less "safe" but about 500x faster than plain NTFS. Seriously, it will take a dozens of hours to complete a full non-quick NTFS format. There is some tiny possibility that there could be malware at the mbr, but this is so exceptionally rare as to be nearly impossible.

To consider: buy one of the generic usb/sata adapters, get yourself a copy of Acronis Disk Director or Norton Ghost (or filezilla, but that's less ideal) and literally image the entire drive. You'll forget something...bookmarks, documents, music, something. With an image, you can always snag it later. I keep all customer data in an encrypted container for 45 days.
posted by TomMelee at 11:16 AM on May 25, 2012

Response by poster: Update:
Laptop 1: Even with all the hard drive necromancy of HDDRegen (thanks TomMelee!) his hard drive was bad. I recovered the data and did a full on Ubuntu install and made sure it was all set up for him.

Laptop 2: Did a full on nuke and pave including formatting partition one where his OEM system recovery was installed. Installed Windows 7 and did the ninite.com install to get him up and running. Installed Office 2010 and everything is speedy and working. Installed all the anti-virals a person could need.

My one piece of advice is to NEVER trust the client when they say that they backed up their data. I nuked without backing up since he informed me that he had pulled his data. He can recover a lot of things but his photos are gone. *sigh*

I wish to thank everyone who helped me with this. Many best answers all around. Many beers are owed and chocolate cookies to be baked.
posted by jadepearl at 8:20 PM on June 15, 2012

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