Monday, April 28, 2008

Some observations ...

Recently, my trusty old WinXP installation on my even trustier Sony Vaio laptop went South. The NTFS file system crashed. At first, I thought the hard drive had given up the ghost. In fact, I was so convinced that the hard drive was bad that I ordered a new hard drive for the computer. But it turned out that the file system had become corrupt. My, oh my! What about all the files I had yet to archive and back up?! (Yes, I routinely back up my important files and photos ... and so should you!) And all of this happened with NO warning whatsoever!

I put in my WinXP installation disk (commercial copy, not one of those recovery disks that comes with your computer), and managed to run chkdsk.exe in an attempt to clean up the errant file system. I had hoped that merely running the chkdsk program to clean up the bad, bad file system would allow me to again boot my computer, that was not to be so. The computer remained "un-bootable."

Having ventured into the land of Linux (as you know from my previous blog entries), I decided to use my PCLinuxOS 2007 Live CD to boot my laptop and see what I could do from there. The forums are full of stories of how others were able to use their Live CD to resurrect lost files, if not the operating system itself. I was initially skeptical that this would yield any appreciable results. But not only did PCLinuxOS boot my laptop, but even from the Live CD the computer sprang to life and ran faster than it ever did! Plus, PCLinuxOS allowed me to access my previously lost files on the Windows disk. Using a SD memory card reader, I was able to transfer all the files of importance to me, 2 GB at a time, and move them to my 500 GB external hard drive (attached to another Linux computer in the house). And, before you say anything ... yes, it might have been easier to simply hook up the external hard drive to the laptop, but because it is formated with NTFS, PCLinuxOS was not able to write to that drive from the Live CD. So my only other choice was to use some form of a USB drive to move the files. Hey, I was happy to at least have access to my files!

In the course of moving these files, I discovered how fantastically well my laptop ran with PCLinuxOS. As my previous work with PCLinuxOS had demonstrated, everything about my laptop was immediately recognized and properly set up. Joyously, I even had wireless internet access ... and it was set up with a minimum of effort on my part!

Afterwards, I figured since I had a new (and larger) hard drive on the way, and since the Windows installation was toast, I was going to have to reformat the hard drive and re-install whatever operating system I chose to go with. So once I got done saving my files, I hit the "Install" icon on the PCLinuxOS Live CD desktop and reformatted the "old" hard drive to use only PCLinuxOS. The installation of PCLinuxOS took only about 20 minutes, and after applying all the updates from the repository, less than an hour had elapsed.

PCLinuxOS literally hummed and sang on this laptop! Under the previous Windows XP installation, WinXP would routinely "thrash" my hard drive for no apparent reason. It would just sit there and have all kinds of hard drive activity, even at times when I was doing nothing on the computer. One of the first things I noticed was that under PCLinuxOS, the hard drive light scarcely came on ... regardless of what I was doing!

Finally, my ordered hard drive came, but it was DOA. I sent it back, and while waiting on the replacement to arrive, hummed along with PCLinuxOS without any of the usual problems I was accustomed to under Windows, but also at a greater speed. I had already made up my mind. Since the new hard drive was more than twice the storage size of the older one, I was going to "dual boot" the laptop with Windows XP and PCLinuxOS.

When the replacement arrived (Whew! The new replacement worked perfectly), I used GPartEd Partition Editor to partition the new hard drive into two fairly equally sized partitions. GPartEd made this exceptionally easy, especially since this is what it is designed for. I attempted to install Windows XP Pro on the Windows partition. It was successful, in that it ran, but unsuccessful from the stand point that not all of my hardware was properly installed. And, due to procrastination, I never got around to creating the Vaio Recovery Disks, as I should have done when I initially got the laptop. And the crash of the file system also took the Recovery Partition right along with it, so those could not be accessed any longer. I ordered the Recovery Disks from Sony (bravo to you Sony ... I had those in only two days!), then proceeded to install PCLinuxOS on the remaining partition. Installation of PCLinuxOS went totally without a hitch, and once again, all my laptop hardware and features were properly recognized and set up, with scarcely any input from me. The installation of PCLinuxOS was sooooooooo much easier than the installation of Windows XP! And the total time of installation was, again, less than one hour from installation to applying the updates from the PCLinuxOS Repositories.

Once the Recovery Disks arrived from Sony, I proceeded to finish a "proper" Windows XP re-installation from the Recovery Disks. After about an hour to an hour and a half of repeatedly swapping Disc 1 with Disc 2 and constantly rebooting the laptop, Windows was finally re-installed and all my laptop hardware was finally working. Then, Windows spent the next four (4!) hours applying all the updates from Windows Update. One thing that I stood out during this process was that 90% to 95% of those updates were "Security Updates" to plug security holes in Windows XP. As soon as one round of updates were complete, it would come up with more updates to apply. I have never experienced anything like this with PCLinuxOS.

Since installation of the new hard drive, and the subsequent installation of both operating systems, I've spent most of my time (including the time writing this blog entry) under PCLinuxOS. I've only booted to the Windows partition a few times, mostly to finish setting things up or to try out a new piece of freeware. This laptop runs so well under PCLinuxOS that I have yet to find much reason for booting to Windows XP. Most of the programs that I routinely run under Windows XP, have counterparts under PCLinuxOS that usually do the job just as well and just as easily ... and sometimes even easier!

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