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7/13/2006
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Best Bits: Vista And The Hardware Monster, Part 2

The path to running Windows Vista on a computer made from parts-bin components seems to come to a semi-happy ending.

When last we parted (see Part 1) I had just fired up my neat, new computer made mostly from storage bin parts and slid home the DVD tray. As encouraging a sign as it might be when a new computer boots (especially one you've just built from scratch), the real test was continuing to watch as the Vista installation disc began to whine up to speed. After all, the processor and memory were new but everything else on this system was 6-months to a year old. (All right, the hard drive was 2 years old and pried from the insides of an external USB drive enclosure.) Vista, even this Beta 2 version, was the OS of the future.

Success! Drivers were loading. Billions and billions of drivers, apparently — or so the string of messages on the status bar said. Then, suddenly, there was the message I wanted to see: "Loading Windows." It was followed by "Loading Windows," which preceded a message that said "Loading Windows."

Okay, maybe it took a while to load. Maybe it took longer to load than any other version of Windows I'd ever loaded on any computer I'd ever built. After about 20 minutes I was ready to face reality. Vista had hung.

Wait a minute. Didn't I Yes I did. A flashback to the first installment: "Originally, I was going to use an ASRock 775XFIRE-ESATA2 945PL board for this Vista box but it arrived partially DOA and I have no patience for such things." So I sort of did already tell you what happened the first time I fired up the system. How did I finally determine that it wasn't Vista and that it was a hardware problem? Easy: I tried to install Windows XP MCE, then Windows XP Pro SP2 "all to the same end. Finally, I put a spare drive with an existing Windows installation into the box and it hung up as well. It was the infamous "mup.sys" problem. (If you don't know about it, consider yourself lucky. If you want to share the pain, just google "mup.sys.")

In the past, that had usually meant a badly responding USB device or electronics. (There are a few different causes.) Since there were no USB devices connected I turned off the USB subsystem from the BIOS. The problem persisted so out came the motherboard. (Sometimes I wish I'd never learned about a diagnostic tree when I was certified to repair Epson's MX-80 printer back in the day. If not, I would have just yanked the motherboard in the first place.) That's how the slightly pre-release Intel "BadAxe" D975XBX motherboard ended up in there.

Now that we're up to speed. . . . The Vista installation was actually less painful than Windows XP — a little longer, perhaps, but nothing to write a complaint letter about. It looked good. It was running on a bucket of parts! At least it was idling on one.

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