Bring an old PC back from the dead

I knew it was going to be bad the moment I walked through the front door. In one hand she was holding a gin and tonic in a pint glass; in the other she held her Dell laptop.

Bring an old PC back from the dead

The pleading look told me everything I needed to know: her laptop was running even slower than usual, and could I do something about it. The things one does for friends.

Clearing up this mess was a nightmare journey through the dark underbelly of my friend’s laptop, and if you expect a medium-spec Dell laptop from last decade to represent the sort of skipware I love to hate, then you’d be right.

However, these old machines simply refuse to die; they go on, and on, and on – and clearly this one had no intention of keeling over any time soon, which was more than could be said of its incumbent Windows XP installation.

Clearing up this mess was a nightmare journey through the dark underbelly of my friend’s laptop

So here were the ingredients for the task at hand: an ancient Dell 6400 that motored along with an Intel T2060 processor at a stunning 1.6GHz.

More of a worry was the skimpy 1GB of RAM and slow hard disk, but even with these it should have been possible to boot Windows XP in less than the lifetime of a three-toed sloth. XP used to run fine on such hardware, so something was amiss here.

Alarm bells

My first clue came with the discovery that this wasn’t actually XP SP3 but SP2. Alarm bells were ringing at the implication that no updating and patching had been carried out for months (actually, make that years).

At a guess this OS was some six years out of date and, worse still, my friend had purchased it from a friend of hers and it was an ex-work laptop stuffed with a range of software, the provenance of which was as dodgy as the apparent one-hour battery life of the main battery. So why am I about to regale you with the tale of what happened to this wretched machine? Well, because it’s clear that there are plenty of similar PCs out there.

They continue to battle on, refusing to succumb to a colossal burden of spyware, malware and other unhelpful tools.

This Dell was certainly loaded down. Not only was there a typical “hot” install of Office 2007 Enterprise but a full Adobe graphics suite as well, and at some point in the past it was home to Visual Studio too.

All sorts of applications had been installed in the past, with few of them mentioned in Add/Remove Programs. My first task was to get a trustworthy installation of antivirus software onto it to see how much of the content was malware and needed to be ripped out.

To my extreme annoyance Microsoft Security Essentials wouldn’t install, telling me I needed a hotfix. Pulling down that hotfix WINDOWSXP-KB914882-X86-ENU.EXE (KB914882 – “install a Filter Manager rollup package”) followed by yet another painfully slow reboot, it was possible to get it started.

It was time to roll up my sleeves. To my surprise there wasn’t a whole heap of malware on the machine, so that wasn’t the cause of its glacial boot-time. Microsoft Security Essentials did find Adware/ClickPotato, which lets you “Watch FREE movies and TV shows online”, which was definitely dodgy, and that wasn’t all.

Browser highjacker Win32/Zwangi and trojan: Win32/Meredrop were found too, along with Adware:Win32/ShopperReports.

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