Monday, February 18, 2013

…in which a problem with a new Dell system is addressed

So last week I got a call from a dear and respected senior family friend needing PC help.

His laptop had died and the local PC-repair shack in town told him his system board had fried.

He had then ordered and received a new laptop from Dell and he was immediately lost in the Windows 8 world.

I scheduled an appointment to come over this past weekend to help him set it up, give him some lessons in Windows 8 usage, and restore the data they had recovered from his (still good) old laptop’s hard-drive off the DVD’s the repair shop gave him.

So since I was in a “rolling lean” mood, I didn’t bring my personal laptop, or my IODD drive, or any of my USB sticks. It was a basic “new-user” setup of a factory-fresh Dell system, some software re-installs and a (hopefully) copy-back of a recovered user-profile folder data set. And he had DSL. Easy-peasy.


We started off good. He had done an initial setup of the laptop in the excitement of receipt and unboxing.

So we booted it and I asked him to put in the password he created during the initial Windows 8 setup process he went through on his own.

Unfortunately, after almost 30 minutes of trying, he couldn’t remember the password he used, despite also having set up a password hint that only served to tease us.


Now what?

If I had brought any of my digital tools I probably could have off-line booted the system, blanked the password and rolled on. But I didn’t and I really didn’t feel like hitting “pause” and going home to retrieve them.

Since it was a brand new system, with no user data, and a Dell, I knew it contained a system-restore-to-factory-image. He didn’t have any physical restore disks so I had to do it off the system itself.

After fussing hopeless (like others before me) to catch the BIOS/Win8 boot process mid-stream F8/shift-F8to boot to the options menu I gave it up as a futile effort.

Some Googling work on his desktop system provided the solution:

  1. Once at the user’s locked login screen I held down “Shift” while selecting the “restart” power option.
  2. A reboot got me swiftly to the advanced options pre-boot menu of Windows 8.
  3. I selected the “Troubleshoot” option.
  4. I selected the “Dell Backup and Recovery” option.
  5. I told the additional options that followed that I didn’t want to bother saving any user data…and followed through with a factory image restore.

Eventually (30-40 min later?) it was done and I went though an otherwise fairly uneventful Windows 8 system setup and user-data restoration.

Lessons learned in no significant order:

  1. With Windows 8 <shift>/restart is your new best-buddy.
  2. There is something to be said about not nuking that Dell restore partition to reclaim the relatively insignificant additional GB of data it holds. You might need that factory image sometime when you least expect it.
  3. If you own a laptop, use it with a laptop accessory that has a solid surface between the underside of the laptop and what you set it on. Otherwise you risk blocking the ventilation holes and experiencing overheating and failure if not careful.
  4. Bring your laptop/USB-drives/flash drive tools with you when visiting friends and family to help them with tech. Period. No job will be as easy as you are led to believe. Semper Paratus!
  5. Copying user-data off 4 full DVD disks sucks. Bring your SATA-USB adapter bridge and copy directly off the hard drive even if you have optical media disks. It looks cooler, it works faster, and you can make sure you are getting everything you need for the user.
  6. When done, make the user a password-recovery file and System Recovery disk under WIndows 8.
  7. DSL sucks…barely better than dial-up in today’s world. If you are getting cable…pony up for cable-broadband. DSL really sucks when you are sucking down a ton of Windows and program updates to a newly issued system. Despite recent complaints here at GSD, I would “die” without our cable broadband service. Like totally!

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--Claus V.

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