Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Dear Diary #51: Adventures in Installing Windows 10 - "Bricked" a PC

Dear Diary,

New hard drive is humming louder, but I'll get used to it. Also managed to pick up a full version of Windows 10. I did not get the free upgrade way back when since I didn't want to deal with change, but I'm trying to spread the cost of a new system out. It's not a matter of if but how soon something else dies. In the past year-ish, the video card dropped dead after about 5 years, a hard drive went after 3, and the RAM started glitching. Still can't believe the hard drive went even though it was only $60.

So, I installed Windows 10. It did not go smoothly.

I bought the USB Windows 10 Home retail package, but instead of using the out of date USB, I downloaded the official tool to make my own bootable USB drive. Why not? I had multiple USB drives that had been through the paces and trusted. Worst case scenario, I would have a bad install and just download and run the installation again -- or in my case, use the packaged USB I got with the license. Wrong.

My own USB drive with Windows 10 on it ended up bricking my system temporarily. The drive booted and appeared to work properly right up until the install process finished transferring files from the USB -- the progress counter hit 100%. Instead of finishing the install by going through the other remaining items (e.g. Installing Features, Installing Updates), the system suddenly restarted itself with no warning or countdown. While rebooting, I noticed that the system got stuck on one of the POST screens while checking the hard drives. It didn't take long to realize that this was not normal. No biggy, restart and boot from the USB stick and reinstall. NOPE. It kept getting stuck on this hard drive check screen every time I mashed the reset button. Because the BIOS and boot menu loaded after this POST screen, there was no way of reaching either. So, the computer wasn't taking any input. Dead. Bricked.

I knew that the problem was the SSD I tried to install Windows 10 onto. Installing an OS was unlikely to kill a storage drive or any other hardware, so the obvious solution was to unplug the SSD and wipe it. That was what really pissed me off. I knew how to fix it, I just didn't want to spend hours unplugging the computer, messing with wires, then putting it back together. What I ended up doing was opening the computer, unplugging the SSD data cable, installing the official USB version of Windows 10 to my other hard drive, hot plugging the SSD back in with Windows loaded on the HDD and formatting the SSD, restarting, formatting the HDD drive, installing Windows 10 to the SSD, and plugging everything back in. The bricked SSD was still freezing the POST after Windows 10 got installed properly to the HDD. Four hours later, Windows 10 was on my SSD. The actual install of Windows took half an hour or less each time.

The other really bad thing was that I had never hotplugged an SATA drive before -- to be fair, I only plugged the data cable in and never unhooked the power cable. I wasn't even 100% sure it could be done. And to do it into the motherboard while power was live. That was dangerous, but I didn't really care if I fried anything/one at that point. The alternative was unhooking the drive and waiting until the next day to buy a 2.5" drive enclosure to bypass the POST and have Windows treat it like an external drive.  If I had a spare enclosure, I would have -- it's on my list of tools to get and always have now. Instead, I looked inside the case and only saw insulated wires where my hand would go, nothing electronic I would easily touch, and the belief that the voltages running through the motherboard were 12 volts or under -- completely unsure if that's true, but I went with it. I'm not dead (I think), nothing broke, and it worked, so not sure what to think. Not doing that again. Already found a 2.5" enclosure for $10 I'm getting soon.

I still don't get how the SSD got so messed up that it would lock up the POST. And why didn't the machine just give an error or realize the drive was busted and keep going? Did the installation just go wonky, or was the USB drive I created using the official Windows tool messed up? It almost finished installing and I wasn't close to the keyboard or power button when it restarted itself. Totally recalling that "Total Recall" scene where Arnold gets jumped and asks, "What the f*** did I do wrong? Tell me!"


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