Back in early December, my XPS M1710 decided to throw a video driver error.
As they say, that’s where the ‘fun’ began.
The screen flickered, and Vista Ultimate delivered a little message bubble to inform me there had been a video driver error, and the system had recovered. I raised an eyebrow, and went on with what I was doing, which wasn’t much of anything. (I was checking on the shipping status of various Yule and Christmas presents as I recall.) Certainly nothing to make an NVidia GeForce Go 7950 card with 512 M of RAM weep, whether in terror or exhaustion.
Then the screen went black.
I raised both eyebrows and took my hands off the keyboard.
The screen returned – browser window over the Aurora wallpaper, and the same little message bubble with it. (I have to give Vista that: Microsoft certainly delivered the best, straight-out-of-the-box wallpapers with it of any version of Windows I’ve seen, and I’ve seen them all back to Windows 2.0.) But, before I could drop my hoisted eyebrows, the screen went black again.
And stayed that way.
Power on. All idiot lights showing nominal activity. Just no picture.
Being strong in the ways of the Force, or, at least of Windows, I did a Ctrl-Alt-Delete, then paused an instant, and pressed the S key.
Hum. Chug. Blink. Descending whir.
The XPS shut itself down as if the OS was still there and running – I just hadn’t been able to see it.
Not pleasant, but, as they say, a good sign.
So, I booted the XPS again. Comes the Windows logo on a screen… covered with vertical rows of tiny, neon-green dots and bars like some low-rent special effect indicating “This Is Alien Data” on an Earthling’s computer.
Booting continued. The little circulating circular Windows Vista “I’m busy – just wait, I’m the computer and I know better” cursor appeared and disappeared. The arrow cursor never bothered to appear at all. The boot finished with the black screen of this-is-not-working.
I shut it down again, and booted into Safe Mode.
Little green dots and bars again, but…
Voilà. Eagle, this is Houston. We have a working copy of Windows with video. More or Less. Mostly less at that point, but still.
Kindergarten sized everything (and why do Kindergarteners get the huge pictures and letters and all that when their eyesight is probably statistically better than adults’, anyway?), but definitely a functional copy of Windows Vista despite that.
Since it was then about 2:00 am, I shut the thing down again, and went to bed.
The XPS is my personal Play (as in, Not Work) computer, so I didn’t make an all out assault on the issue. But, over the weeks I’ve installed beaucoup des drivers nouvelles through safe mode. None of them helped. I’ve uninstalled the original driver and installed beaucoup des drivers nouvelles encore. De rien. There were various Dell update drivers. There were NVidia beta drivers. There were third party drivers. Toute de rien. The little neon-green dots and bars are eternal, apparently, but the actual video is not. It was Safe Mode, or no visuals pour moi.
I began to have serious suspicions that the video card itself was in the process of laying out cash to purchase the agricultural complex.
At long last, in January, I decided to actually give up and go back to a restore point – which happens to be the procedure that Windows itself suggests applying first. I suppose it says something about my attitude toward Windows that I immediately searched the Web for info relating to errors on the XPS’s NVidia card before I did what Microsoft recommends, and I can’t deny what it says. But, nothing else had worked, and Windows had installed updates the day (night?) that the situation began, I so I thought I might as well give the received wisdom of Mr. Gates a go.
So I did.
And I say unto you, gentle readers, if your NVidia GeForce Go 7950 delivers driver error messages unto you, do not do as I did. Don’t restore Vista Ultimate, for going back to a restore point only made things worse – quite thoroughly worse.
I couldn’t even boot into Safe Mode – or, at least I couldn’t boot into Safe Mode and have the screen work right - as in deliver an actual visible Windows desktop - when I did. The blackness of the screen was relieved only by a VGA arrow cursor, which moved, but gave no other indication that anything resembling Windows functionality lay hidden in the stygian darkness around it. (In other words, I know where the Start button ought to be in both Safe Mode and in Windows For The Non-Kindergarten Crowd, and clicking it did nothing, even though the audio ought to have delivered a click sound. Nor did Ctrl-Alt-Delete and then S shut the XPS down anymore.)
This was So Very Not Good.
So, brows high, I tried to determine just how broken the XPS actually was. Rebooting and pushing F keys, I could hit the BIOS and the boot menu, so there was apparently still something present in the way of an operating system, even if that something didn’t add up to a working copy of Vista Ultimate any more.
So… I had some thinking to do.
Once I turned off its habit of notifying me seemingly every time that I’ve updated anything on the entire system that ever required a confirmation, I’ve liked Vista as an operating system, at least as well as I’ve like any version of Windows. It didn’t freeze often, and it wasn’t so unlike XP Pro that I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, whenever I needed to do something. So I was cool with the functional aspects of Vista.
But… the native Cisco VPN client my employer requires me to use would never have anything to do with my copy of Vista. No way, no how. Period. It didn’t like the XPS and it wouldn’t interact with it. I even took a beta on the web version of the client because of Vista. That didn’t work out because the Web client was apparently an outstandingly personality prone, and buggy, piece of software, but, it still left me unable to connect to work from the XPS-as-a-Vista machine. The XPS had become a Play machine by force at that point, which was not necessarily good, because it boasted processor, memory, and drive capacity out the wazoo, having been conceived and constructed as a go-to-hell gaming machine, and sometimes I have literally gigs of data to crunch for work, and the Work personal computer doesn’t always take that lightly. There were occasions when I missed the XPS’s power desperately.
So… I decided to try downgrading it from Vista Ultimate to XP Pro. (I do not stand for options from the Kiddie Menu of Microsoft’s operating systems. It always gets me in trouble. Which is why I formatted the XPS and installed Vista Ultimate instead of something cheaper back in 2008. Bad move, obviously, as time has told.)
I purchased a full copy of XP Pro. I downloaded more drivers than I ever realized the XPS had. I downloaded and studied instructions for performing the downgrade, and for the installation sequence of the drivers afterward. I created boot disks for XP, in floppy and CD. I rearranged the boot sequence in the BIOS. Since I couldn’t see anything in the way of Windows functionality on the XPS screen, and it wouldn’t drive an external monitor either, I couldn’t back it up. So, I thought I was ready, and, in February, I proceeded to do the deed.
I connected the external floppy to the XPS, and put the XP Pro installation disk in the XPS’s CD/DVD drive, and I booted the thing.
Humming. Chugging. Finally, the Blue Background Screens of the Netherworld of DOS which underlies the Reality of Windows opened, and I was in. (The little lines of white that appeared in the verbiage thereon, indicating ‘whatever passes for your operating system is not simpatico with your video adapter’ did not hearten me, but, I was in, and it was responsive, so…) I should have chosen R for repair installation, and sent the thing on its way, at that point, but... I didn’t have a repair option. I could install Windows XP. Or quit.
With only those two options in evidence, my computer was trying to tell me that it had essentially lost its whole operating system beyond DOS. Somehow, in unsuccessfully trying to go back to the pre-problem restore point, I had succeeded in lobotomizing Vista Ultimate. Not only that, I did it by doing as His Holiness Gates Commanded, too.
Dear Gods. I never guessed the thing was that confounded fragile. (Confoundedness I knew of long since. Fragility I hadn’t imagined. Dear Gods.)
So… I installed Windows XP Pro, with all the prompts as if the computer did not own an operating system other than DOS.
That made it easy – format the fripping hard drive and install (during which the XPS acquired Necronomicon as its name - why yes, it was deliberately Freudian). The idea of replacing an operating system so simply, and for such a ridiculously minor reason as constituted by following the Holy Word Of Microsoft's Suggested Procedures, nauseates me, however.
I’ve been working in Windows – as one of those users that IT hates, even before I joined IT, because I learned to do all sorts of useful, evil, tricks with every version of Windows I had at work on my home machines and usually demanded access to do them at work, too, and the security policy groups be damned – for years. I know how to do most things with and to Windows, and I thought I knew how to avoid breaking Windows, too.
But, I’ve never had Vista at work. Our CIO took one look at it and refused to be assimilated. So, I’ve never had the chance to play with it all day, day in day out. I guess it’s a good thing I haven’t had it, or I’d have broken company property long since.
Still, I have that nauseated feeling, and the XPS is still doing the alien-data-display thing when it boots. The picture is there and the Setting menu is responsive now, so I was able to crank the resolution to a tolerable, if distorted 1600 x 1400. My 1900 x 1200 resolution was not available, however. Nor can I install any driver for the NVidia Geforce GO 7950. None. I have quite the collection of them at this point, and every one of them causes the XPS to go back to the Black Screen Of This Is Not Working when installed. I have to run it with the Windows XP Pro default VGA adapter, or I don’t get a picture. Therefore, I believe the NVidia Geforce GO 7950 card itself is going the way of all flesh. The machine has also developed a quirky tendency to scroll in a slow, jerky way, which might or might not be the video card, and, while I’ve installed my VPN client and other client software for work, the app that goes with the other client now works in extended slow motion. Considering that I’m a Super User Admin on that app, this makes me very, very nervous just to see it happening, and long before we ever get to what the dickens is going on.
All this is making a MacBookPro, with those high reliability and customer satisfaction ratings, look especially enticing just now, especially since I can get another copy of XP Pro, and make the MacBookPro into a dual boot machine for those work-related, unavoidably Windows moments.
And to add to the fun, the data that I formatted on the newly revived XPS-as-an-XP machine didn’t format correctly. It looks good, but it won’t load, and I have no idea how that works, since the user who declares it isn’t formatted properly and won’t load does not share a first language with me, but does share a character-by-character examination of the file that declares it to be perfectly formatted. It just won’t load. (I’m not allowed to touch the system into which the data will not load, either - I have a current boss who will have my ears if I do and a deceased boss who will return from the grave to use my guts for baseball-glove-lacings if I so much as continue to think about the possibility.) And the Dedicated-To-The-Temple-Of-Employment personal machine is beginning to show ominous signs of interest in the ownership of an agricultural complex too.
And so it was, that the day before the Ides of March, I parted from credit as cash and ordered a MacBook Pro from the Apple store, XP Pro, Parallels 5, Norton Anti-Virus (my preferred Eset seems to be overkill for as little time as the computer will likely spend booted into, or using, Windows), iWork 09, and Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac from Amazon.