Maybe I could just live without the internet

I’ve spent the last week or so trying to save my home computer from an untimely death. Well, not that untimely, really, it is something like a 866 MHz Pentium III that’s a few years old, but seeing as how we’re going to France this summer, I don’t really want to spend $1000 on something if I don’t really have to.

The machine is running Windows 2000, and has had a Linksys wireless card for a number of years. We started out with a Linksys wireless-B router, but then I bought a DLink wireless-G router a year or two ago. The router is in the basement and this machine is on the second floor, but we’ve had no wireless problems to speak of.

That is, until a few months ago, when we noticed that the wireless signal would suddenly drop to nothing on that machine. Usually it would come back fairly quickly, so it was just a minor annoyance. A couple of weeks ago, I was using the computer in the morning (I remember this because I submitted our income tax returns electronically that morning), and then in the afternoon the signal dropped again, but this time it didn’t come back. My work laptop and Gail’s work laptop were both fine, but the computer upstairs simply couldn’t see the network anymore. I tried rebooting a couple of times, but it was as if the network just vanished. I tried rebooting the router as well, no luck. Next step was to uninstall and reinstall the drivers, and after that didn’t work I remembered that we had an extra wireless network card sitting around from our old computer. I switched the cards and still got nothing.

By this point, I was ready to toss the whole thing out the window, but I managed to contain myself and simply moved the computer downstairs so I could plug it directly into the router. (Imagine using a wired connection! That’s so 1998.) It seemed unlikely that both the network cards would stop working, so perhaps the firmware upgrade I did on the router a couple of months ago, combined with the old network cards and the fact that the machine is running Windows 2000 all combined to form a configuration untested by the Linksys and DLink QA people. So I went to Future Shop and bought a new DLink wireless card. I made sure the card was compatible with Windows 2000 — I figured a brand new DLink card plus a DLink router with the latest firmware plus a supported operating system should mean a functional system.

I got the card home, and as soon as I opened the box, I ran into yet another problem. The quick install guide said “Do NOT install the card in the computer until the drivers are installed” but there was another piece of paper in the box that said “Install the card, then click Cancel when the Found New Hardware dialog appears, then install the drivers”. So which is it — card first, or drivers first? If the piece of paper said “the quick install guide is wrong, you need to do this”, then I would know that the piece of paper was added later to avoid reprinting the entire quick install guide, but there was no such message. I think I chose to install the drivers first and then the card (because that’s what you had to do with the Linksys cards), and of course that didn’t work. I had to uninstall everything, uninstall the card from Windows (though I didn’t physically remove it), then reboot the machine and install the drivers after the card. Still nothing, so I looked on the DLink web site and downloaded the latest drivers for this card and installed those. Finally, the computer recognized the card, found the network, and seemed to have connectivity. I held my breath and unplugged the network cable, then surfed the net for the next few minutes to make sure that I was actually reading real non-cached data from the internet. I rebooted the machine at least once to make sure everything was fine after a reboot, and it was still good. I shut the machine down and brought it back upstairs. Problem solved, right? Wrong.

As you may have expected from the previous troubles, it didn’t work when I got upstairs. But it wasn’t that the card couldn’t find the network, the computer didn’t recognize the card anymore. If the card couldn’t find the network, I could understand it to some extent — maybe there’s some interference from the cordless phone or something, but interference wouldn’t explain Windows not seeing the card itself.

I am at a loss. I have now tried three different wireless cards in this computer and none of them work. I will probably try uninstalling the drivers and card (including physically removing it) and starting over one more time, but I must say that have very little confidence. I have begun the process of copying all the important data from the C: drive over to the D: drive (which contains my iTunes library, lots of digital pictures, videos of the kids and stuff like that) to prepare for paving the C: drive and installing Windows XP on it. I briefly thought about just upgrading to XP rather than installing from scratch, but if there’s something screwy in the registry or some corrupted system file that’s causing all these problems, an upgrade may not fix it, so I’ll format the partition before installing the new OS. I’ve already vacuumed the dust out of the computer and run a low-level disk maintenance utility to make sure the disk itself is OK. It is possible, however, that the real problem is on the motherboard or the PCI slots or something, in which case the re-install will be fruitless. If we still have no wireless network after I’m all done, then it will all have been for nothing and then I’ll have to buy a new machine. Or just live with a computer that’s not connected to the internet. Rrrrrrrriiiiight.

I’m also a little worried about reinstalling iTunes — I’m pretty much expecting iTunes to wipe my iPod completely and then have to resync all 60+ GB of music and video. I’ve already backed up my iTunes purchases to CD, so all I should have to do there is put the CD in and click “Restore”. As for the rest of the CDs, I’m hoping that I can just point iTunes at my current directory and have it recognize it or import it, but I don’t think it works like that. At worst, I should be able to create a new iTunes directory and then drag & drop all 500+ albums from the old one. It will be a slow process, but not as slow as having to go through all my CDs again and re-rip them. If that happens, I will be very put out.

If I end up having to wipe the disk and reinstall the OS, I won’t be doing that until early next week. If you, dear reader, have any suggestions, feel free to leave me a comment.


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