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Thread: Best Way to Quickly Boot into a PC to diagnose drives etc.

  1. #1
    Cabledude Avatar Fan purecomedy's Avatar
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    Best Way to Quickly Boot into a PC to diagnose drives etc.

    Hi there,

    Just wondering if anyone has a good suggestion for a quick way like a DVD or USB drive with some bootable system or recovery tool that can be used to get onto a computer and quickly diagnose if a hard drive is accessible etc. I remember years ago playing with something called Knoppix (linux based bootable DVD), I believe that would allow them to see their drives and copy files onto a USB drive (assuming their hard drive isn't totally dead).

    My parents are asking for help troubleshooting if their PC, just wondering if something quick and easy exists to look at this kind of problem. I'm advising against trying to re-install windows because there are a few files on C drive that they'd like to keep since their last backup that will get deleted in the format process.

    These days, I re-install windows and things of this nature so infrequently it'd be helpful to see what others do to solve this problem.

    Assuming we can copy any files, I have no issues re-installing windows from scratch after that.

    Thanks

  2. #2
    Administrator Philip's Avatar
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    Many Linux distributions include an easy tool to make bootable "Live" USB flash drives (use a small 3-8GB USB), including Fedora, Ubuntu, Puppy Linux, Mint, etc.

    Once you create a live USB, you have to set the BIOS to boot from USB first (may have to disable UEFI boot on some machines to allow USB to boot first).. Once you boot to Linux, you should be able to see the existing HDD, and you can plugin other external backup USB drives for copying files, they should be mounted automatically. You may have some minor issues with drivers on some Linux distros, but modern ones should work without a hitch.

    I recently had to do that for some laptop (proprietary Sony SSD without a SATA connector, grr).

    Alternatively, you can just pull the suspect drive and connect it to another PC to copy/backup files.

  3. #3
    Cabledude Avatar Fan purecomedy's Avatar
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    It ended up that I was able to boot the computer, albeit fairly slowly. I moved a lot of files onto USB backup drives, the computer did reboot itself or something partway through but was able to continue on.

    I have one of those little kids that lets you put a hard drive into a case that makes it a USB drive. Plugging that into my PC is my fall back as per one of your suggestions.

    I have many theories about what the problems could be...
    -Seems to be yet another Dell XPS desktop I've seen that has a temper-mental power supply that likes to be unplugged for a few hours now and then to improve stability (seems to solve random reboot, shutdown issues). I believe the act of unplugging the system to bring it to my place is what made it start better.
    -Computer from day 1 very slow startup in Win 7. Am thinking of tackling this as it may be source of general instability. Some of the stupid Dell crap at startup is likely it (as I said...from day 1). Although the Steam login and all these stupid gaming logins at the start seem to weigh the system down surprisingly.
    -System could use a good physical clean to make the fans work a little better. Power supply is either passively cooled or fan is not visible from the back.
    -In speedfan I was seeing Core CPU temps at around 65 C with very little running on the system. I wonder if the CPU fan is dirty and/or if the heat sink isn't functioning too well.
    -PC (and Hard drive) is nearly 6 years old, computer pretty much left on 24/7. Questionable if I should replace the drive or just encourage them to buy a new system. Issue I have is I don't feel like the yearly bump in CPU performance is that huge any more.
    -I've had both Asus and Dell machines in a few cases now that seem to go downhill in similar fashion. Rather than outright dying, they start to limp along and con you into trying to fix them rather than replace them. Typical "limp" that I see is drives/drive controllers and USB devices and such start to give you flakey messages like disconnecting and reconnecting or error messages to the effect of "one of your USB devices isn't working properly so we disconnected it". Seems like some chipsets on the motherboard die these days well before CPU, memory. Hard drives are a crap shoot (and often I don't care because I need to buy much bigger ones all the time anyway).

  4. #4
    Administrator Philip's Avatar
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    In my opinion, a lot of that "limping along" is often caused by number of unnecessary running processes bogging down the PC, and old Windows bloat (restore points, temporary files, search indexing, Gigabytes of older updates remaining on slow older drives, vendor-installed software, etc.). This is especially noticeable on older/slower PCs. I usually uninstall all unnecessary software, including third-party antivirus, vendor bloatware, etc., clean Registry and malware if necessary, reduce background processes to a minimum, even do a clean Windows install as a last resort if I suspect any file corruption.
    Linux is user friendly, it's just picky about its friends...
    Disclaimer: Please use caution when opening messages, my grasp on reality may have shaken loose during transmission.
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    Cabledude Avatar Fan purecomedy's Avatar
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    I hear what you're saying, but I guess what confuses me is how can a computer be slow/unresponsive when your CPU utilization is like 5%, hard drive activity not that significant and memory 80% unused. What exactly is the bottleneck?

    Incidentally, when I google search Dell XPS 8300 there's a bunch of people with similar gripes. Looks like plenty of new drivers, motherboard BIOS updates are available guess I'll need to try that.

    What I find difficult these days is there's like 200-300 things on the startup, you literally need to look up each one of them to figure out if it's really required or not. Getting kinda ridiculous to spend hours to address this issue.

  6. #6
    Cabledude Avatar Fan purecomedy's Avatar
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    Incidentally, the hard drive was being very flakey while in the PC, but as I remove it and put it in a USB adapater and copy files to my other computer it's been working fine.

    Sort of wonder if this is all the evidence I need to say the drive itself is not the blame. Given the computer didn't pull this reboot BS until recently, sounds like a hardware issue on the motherboard to me.

  7. #7
    Administrator Philip's Avatar
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    I wouldn't rule out a software issue with Windows/drivers, etc. until you wipe it clean and reinstall Windows. There are hard-drive tests and S.M.A.R.T. information you can look at to determine the actual drive health.

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    Cabledude Avatar Fan purecomedy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Philip View Post
    I wouldn't rule out a software issue with Windows/drivers, etc. until you wipe it clean and reinstall Windows. There are hard-drive tests and S.M.A.R.T. information you can look at to determine the actual drive health.
    The fitness was showing as blank and Performance as full in Speedfan. That's about the only utility I've tried that with so far.

    I guess I'll try a fresh install see how it goes. Thanks.

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