Recovery for HP

You know that odd feeling, when everything looks right but something is nevertheless wrong? It’s the computing equivalent of the Stepford Wives: everything works, applications aren’t complaining and pages are printing, but there’s definitely something wrong, somewhere. That’s how I felt with my HP TouchSmart PC a few days ago.

Recovery for HP

I’ve really fallen for this somewhat awkward and gangly black box. It’s no threat to an iMac in the style stakes, and it suffers from the “stuff every interface and connector known to science onto the front face and then hide it behind a cheap stiff plastic cover” neurosis that afflicts most PC designers nowadays. It comes with Vista Home Premium installed, which is acceptable if you narrow your eyes to a slit and pretend “it’s just like XP, only different”. I felt cheapskate keeping it with the default 2GB of RAM, so I plonked 4GB in there instead, although naturally I didn’t get to see 4GB of available RAM – I guess I should be grateful that it reports as much as 3.327GB. The remaining three-quarters of a gig has disappeared into Wintel never-never land, squeezed out by the elephantine footprint of the graphics card, device BIOSes and other nonsense. Still, 3.327GB is better than 2GB, even if I do feel short-changed. I could, of course, have gone nuclear on it by installing Vista Home Premium 64-bit and gaining all that memory back, but as a result I’d have lost access to innumerable 32-bit drivers and thus peripheral hardware. Nope, this box is going to stay 32-bit for the rest of its service life.

But back to my uneasy Stepford feeling. The machine didn’t seem as fast as I’d have expected, and it didn’t want to perform a software update when asked – every attempt to update was met by a long staring silence from the computer, and an install log indicating that the last successful update happened some months ago. I decided to have a hunt around this log file, but there was precious little that would tell me what was going on. It was time to dig out my antivirus and antispyware tools, but I ran all of them and found nothing nasty at all.

At this point, my list of things to try was becoming shorter and shorter, so I decided to attempt a mighty jump backwards via System Restore, which, assuming it worked correctly, would clear out anything nasty that had been loaded since the last system restore point. So I fired up that tool and was confronted with something tangible to worry about. The System Restore tool should show you which drives have had restore points stored on them, and when these were stored, but my System Restore tool was just sitting there sucking its thumb and asking me to wait. I waited for a good long time, hours, even, and after a while it became clear that this dialog wasn’t going to go away and that it wasn’t going to magically find any restore points.

A web search indicated that other people had noticed this same problem on their machines, but they’d all given up trying to diagnose and fix it, preferring to take the easier reinstall everything route. But I was determined not to be so defeatist. I decided to try one last thing, applying a method that you should never try on a machine that’s needed for real work – I upgraded to a beta version of the operating system; namely, the recently released beta of Vista Service Pack 1. I thought that giving this PC the thorough going-over involved in installing SP1 might kick out into the open whatever was causing its problem.

I should have realised it wasn’t going to work. SP1 installed just fine and the process was quite pain-free, but it didn’t fix my problem and that interminable “Please Wait” dialog was still there. At this point, I threw up my hands in disgust – I’d wasted the best part of 12 hours on this machine. Remember that it gave every indication of being just tickety-boo for most purposes, except that without software updates working I had a PC that was unable to be patched to cover any new problems.

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