November 11th, 2005


Insert George Carlin's word list here

OK. A couple of friends of ours have been having to limp along with a 1999-vintage Compaq Presario 1245 laptop running a 300+ MHz K6, with a tiny hard drive and way too little RAM... not to mention the horrors of Windows.

So...we set out to get them moved to Linux. We lent them Gagné's Moving to Linux: Kiss the Blue Screen of Death Goodbye! (though we had the first edition), and brought copious listings of applications from (he's a drummer, and interested in recording and printing instructional material) and talked noteedit, lilypond, and OpenOffice and Scribus. Menawhile, we debated between ourselves whether to upgrade irpooh and give them her Athlon XP 1500 box as a hand-me-down, or find them a servieable but inexpensive box.

The issue was settled when we went to a Central Iowa Computer User Group meeting. They're in need of support for their ROCK program, in which they refurbish and recycle functioning used computer hardware and give the resulting systems to non-profit organizations. (It's a worthy program, so I urge you to support it or any similar program in your area... and if there isn't one, why not start one?) I re-upped with CIACUG, donated to ROCK, and also bought one of several refurbished systems they had on sale to raise money for ROCK.

The system was not at all shabby for home use: an HP Vectra VL400 DT, with 933 MHz Pentium III. Only a 2.5 GB hard drive, but we have a spare 80 GB drive sitting around. On-mobo graphics, but we have an MX400 AGP card lying around. Only 256 MB RAM, but we have a 512 MB stick lying around... and that is where things went wrong.

W98 ran OK, as did a PCLinuxOS live CD. Everest Home edition told us the gory details of the hardware, and we printed out a listing. ne thing that the ROCK people didn't do up right was install the drivers for some of the hardware on the system--and while we could get the mobo graphics driver going so we weren't stuck with generic VGA, others (on-mobo ethernet and sound) insisted that I insert the Windows CD--and I didn't have one of those. The nVidia driver installed easily, and the chipset obligingly switched to it.

Then I tried the 512 MB stick. It didn't recognize it. Drat. Put back the old RAM...

...and it started complaining at boot time about there not being as much RAM as it thought there should be. Sometimes the primitive scan claimed to see all 256 MB, and sometimems it said it only saw 137 MB.

Pull out the bootable memtest86 CD. Sure enough, it kvetched at length about a particular address. I switched the two DIMMs, and the address it griped about went from 137.something to 6.something MB. So...I managed to zap one of the sticks of RAM somehow. I thought I'd been taking all the usual precautions--power off, ground oneself to the case, keep uninstalled RAM in an antistatic bag.

(Oh, yeah... the hard drive went in and was recognized without trouble. The hassle with the drivers persuaded me to blow off using Partition Magic to copy the 2.5 GB drive over to a partition on the 80 GB drive and set up for dual boot.)

So...I screwed up somehow. I will go to some places that should have older RAM and try to find something that will work, armed with the Everest listing and hoping that I can swap the 512 MB stick that has tested fine in the past for either one or two sticks adding up to 512 MB (the most that the 815 chipset can deal with) that do in fact work with the 815.
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