Matt Scott, who I work with at the TV station, was having problems with his computer. It was running slowly and popping ads. It sounded like a typical adware/spyware/malware infestation. So, I offered to help and he took me up on it.
I brought it home and hooked it up, borrowing all the connections from my Linux machine. Almost immediately, it hung while calling a webpage. My suspicions seemed well founded.
Since I couldn’t operate on the web with a browser that was stuck, I burned a CD with Spybot, moved it to Matt’s machine and ran it. It found some cookies, and a few other minor annoyances, but nothing that would cause all this trouble.
My friend Peter Mokover (who has asked me to mention his name and put it in bold letters) suggested I clear the browser cache (which was set ridiculously high at 550 MB). Bingo. The browser opened perfectly, but the machine was still pretty slovenly.
I attempted to do a scan disk, but the computer kept writing to the hard disk – each time aborting the scan. I rebooted into ‘safe mode’ and tried again. There were a bunch of bad sectors – but again, nothing I hadn’t seen in the past. As long as I was here, I defragged the system and prepared to ‘declare’ virtual memory (as opposed to letting Windows 98 do it for you).
I have heard, and I believe, that contiguous virtual memory works better. He had the space, so why not.
As I was entering the system tab within control panel I noticed something that was very strange. The computer was reporting only 32 MB of RAM. I couldn’t believe HP would ship a Windows 98 PC with that little RAM, so I went online and looked. It should have had 64 MB. OK – we’re getting somewhere.
I opened up the machine and went to look at the 2-RAM sticks inside. If he only had 32 MB, I could throw some old memory I had (and which doesn’t work in any of my current machines) to boost it up. I took out the first stick – 256 MB. Uh oh. What’s up here? Obviously, it wasn’t being seen.
Back on the HP website, I noticed this model, HP Pavilion 8655-C, could only take 256 MB of RAM total, with no stick over 128 MB. Oops. That 256 MB stick, probably an ‘upgrade’ was taking up a socket and doing nothing.
I pulled both memory sticks and went to install 2 – 128 MB sticks. Oh my God! The memory was under the CDROM drives, squeezed where only part was partially visible and much was hidden. I had to snake my fingers through while balancing a small flashlight on some cables. I wasn’t able to reach far enough in to release the far side latch. I would hope it opened, as it should, when I attempted to insert the stick, then close when I applied pressure.
This was a whole lot easier said than done. The RAM didn’t want to properly seat. I must have worked on getting the first stick in for a half hour until I looked down and saw red. I had sliced into my knuckle. In fact, by the time I finished getting the RAM installed, I had 6 or 7 little cuts on my fingers and hand.
I’m not sure what HP was thinking when they put this machine on the shelf, but they certainly didn’t expect anyone to work on it. The computer must have been assembled from modules, meaning screws holding the CDROM drives were facing down, toward the motherboard, where I couldn’t get at them! If I could have moved the drives, the job would have been a snap.
Matt has picked up the machine and hopefully by now it’s back on the web and faster than ever. It’s just another case of a computer slowing with age – they all do. Luckily, it’s always curable.