Fixing a 20 year old laptop, part 1: We know what is working

Some of you may have noticed that I Tweeted a few weeks back about my trusted Pentium III laptop having some pretty massive failures.

I decided to drag it out last night and see how it was going. Maybe it could be better after a rest…?

Bug Check c0000218. Not better, but worse.

It had a new bug check, STOP 0xc0000218. The SOFTWARE registry hive, where Windows 2000 keeps its HKLM\Software keys, is now apparently corrupted. This is significantly worse than before, when it was randomly having Kmode exceptions during use.

I asked one of my retrocomputing buddies that knows a lot about older Windows versions — my mother — who suggested booting to Safe Mode and trying to defragment. Safe Mode runs only on the SYSTEM hive, so the SOFTWARE corruption isn’t an issue. Apparently sometimes Windows can get very angry if the SOFTWARE hive is fragmented, because it has to load entire sectors in the boot environment.

Safe Mode was not quite the joy I had hoped for.

Always a bug check in win32k.sys on this one.

I tried to boot the Windows 98 partition, wondering if perhaps it could at least serve as a sentinel of any hardware issues.

It claimed various system files were no longer present. It still seemed to work, other than some networking functions. I used ScanDisk, which found no errors in the FAT nor surface errors. Onward to the memory diagnostic. I used a Vista-era Windows Memory Diagnostics boot CD that I had laying around from 2008 and ran two passes of the basic test and a single pass of the extended test.

Succeeded!

No errors were found. Unfortunately, this leaves me in an unenviable place: from all I can tell, the hardware is fine, but multiple operating systems are failing to boot properly. Additionally, the computer refused to boot Windows install media at all.

At some point, I will pull my Windows XP laptop out and try to use WinDbg to find out what I can from the bug check screen. Hopefully I can remember how to do that. Until then, Erin (the Armada) will unfortunately remain unusable.

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