Apr 2003                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

Home Page

Current Issue

The Space Coast PC Journal 

SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

You may remember in my last column I said I subscribe to the philosophy "if it is not broken, don't fix it." Well there are times when a change seems so insignificant that I violate that philosophy. It is at times like that, when I least expect it, something happens for no apparent reason. Before I know it I am in the middle of a "computing nightmare." This is my story of just such an occurrence.

My ABS Computer Technologies 1 GHz computer (my primary computer), running Windows ME, had been humming along just fine. A recent check of Device Manager in System Properties Device Manager Showing Everything Working Properlyshowed everything working properly. I had just been on the Internet connecting at my normal 50K with the computer's 56K modem. I decided to shutdown the computer and install another 128 megabytes of PC133 SDRAM (Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory). I already had 384 MB of SDRAM installed but one hears that you can never have too much memory. Recently I had removed a 128MB PC133 DIMM (Dual In-line Memory Module) from the 466 MHz Celeron computer that I use for testing new programs and replaced it with a 256 MB DIMM, upping that computer's RAM to 384 MB. So why not up the 1 GHz computer's RAM to 512 MB? After all, this 128 MB DIMM was just sitting on the shelf doing nothing. Why not put it to good use by filling the third and last available memory slot?

I had installed memory in various computers before (including this one) and knew it was no big deal. The most time consuming parts of the operation were disconnecting all the wires in order to open the case and then reversing the process after installation of the memory. I made sure to wear my grounding wrist strap and be properly grounded to the computer case when installing the 128 MB DIMM. Actual installation takes less than a minute. The memory pushed into its slot with no problem.

After closing the case and reconnecting all the external wires (mouse, keyboard, monitor, speakers, phone line, etc.) I fired up the computer. On boot up it immediately recognized the added memory but also said it found new hardware, a PCI Communications device, and wanted to install software for it. That was strange.... I had never seen that before. I had not installed a new PCI Communications device. And so the computing nightmare began!

Since I had not installed any new PCI hardware device I clicked cancel for the software installation. I reasoned that if it was referring to my modem, that software is already installed. Going to Modems Properties in the Control Panel showed my modem but upon clicking the More Info button under the Diagnostics tab I found the Diagnostics test would not run. I next tried connecting to the Internet by clicking on my ISP's name in Dial-Up Networking. A dialog box came back saying Windows could not open Com Port 3. My modem was shown as installed on Com Port 3 according to Modems Properties. What was going on?

I next checked Device Manager in System Properties. No modem was listed. Instead I had a listing for a PCI Communications device with a question mark showing. Things were really getting strange. I told Windows to remove the device with the question mark, shutdown and rebooted. Again on boot up Windows found this new hardware so this time I told it to go ahead and install whatever software it wanted to install. Guess what? Windows comes back and tells me it can't find the software. So I point Windows to the location for the modem drivers installation software. Windows again does not recognize this software as being what it wants. I then try to force the installation by clicking on the executable file for the drivers software installation. Up comes the New Hardware Wizard and we again go around in circles. The software install starts but quits part way along the progression bar with no explanation. Things are definitely not getting better!

I decided to go back to Modems Properties in Control Panel and remove my modem listing there. Also, I again removed the question marked device in Device Manager. I was hoping that if no modem was listed in both Device Manager and Control Panel, that the next time Windows booted it would indeed find new hardware, the modem. Well no such luck! I got the same unknown PCI Communications device "hardware found" runaround on boot up. So next I try adding the modem back into Control Panel. Up comes the New Hardware Wizard wanting to install software it cannot find. Around and around we go! At this point I call it a night and hope to awake to a better day tomorrow.

The next morning I was back at it, trying other things, but was fast running out of options. I physically removed the added 128 MB of RAM. I then physically removed and reseated the modem in its PCI slot. Now when the computer booted it did not even say it found new hardware. Checking Device Manager showed the WDM (Windows Driver Model) Modem Enumerator working properly but no modem listing. Now going to Modems in Control Panel I get asked if I want to add a modem. There is no modem listed, so I cannot click Modems Properties or run Diagnostics. I say yes to add a modem and Windows says it did not find any new modem attached to my computer. Talk about catch 22! Modem Not Setup Error MessageIt almost sounds like my modem is dead. If I go to Dial-Up Networking it says a modem is not setup.

At this point I am just about at a loss as to how to proceed. I might try the modem in a different PCI slot but I seriously doubt that would help. I could also rob a modem from my Gateway 233 MHz computer. (The problem with this option is that if something unknown is causing the modem to fail I could possibly mess up a second modem.) Another option would be to try restoring to an earlier point in time using Windows ME System Restore. For a Description of the System Restore Utility in Windows Millennium Edition go to http://support.microsoft.com/?kbid=267951.

Before proceeding any further, I decided to check if anything else was nonfunctional on the computer. A random check of programs and directories indicated everything else including networking and printing was working fine. ScanDisk showed no errors. An antivirus scan of the whole computer turned up nothing. Seemed to be just one of those fascinating problems that cause people to hate Windows.

I decided to seek a second opinion and called ABS Computer Technologies, making use of my free Tech Support. Within ten minutes I was on the line with a person I hoped could give me some insight. I explained my problem and asked if he thought using Windows System Restore would work. He said to try that first. If that did not work, the next option would be to physically remove the modem and run the install software from the Zoom modem CD-ROM that came with my computer. Next, I was to shut down and physically install the modem. On boot up Windows should ask to install the drivers. Again I should use the modem CD-ROM to install the drivers. Finally, as a check to see if the modem works I should run the modem Diagnostics test.

I explained to him that the modem CD software was ancient and I had updated the drivers using Lucent generic drivers a year ago. Since then my modem had been listed in Control Panel as a Lucent modem. (See the Apr 2002 Web Master Wanderings at http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand31.html for that saga.) He said to use the Zoom modem CD-ROM anyway. If I got the modem working with the original drivers I could always update the drivers again as necessary.

The moment of truth was at hand. Would System Restore work? I had purchased the computer in March 2001 and although I had created restore points along the way, I had never actually used System Restore to go back to an earlier point in time. Microsoft says System Restore should not be used as a program uninstaller but as a last resort when you get in trouble. I figured my problem qualified!

I went to Programs | Accessories | System Tools | System Restore and told Windows to restore Selecting a System Restore Pointmy computer back to a System Checkpoint that it had created two days earlier (I knew everything was working properly then). Windows copied the restore files in a few seconds, auto shutdown and rebooted. I held my breath. The System Restore screen came up saying restore had been successful! I was also told I could undo the restore or pick another restore point if my problem had not been corrected. I clicked OK and Windows finished booting.

I checked Device Manager. My modem was again listed and shown as working properly. I checked Modems under Control Panel. My modem was back. I ran the Diagnostics test and passed. I called up Dial-Up Networking and dialed my ISP. I connected at my normal 50K. My modem worked! System Restore had come to my rescue! It was magic!

For more on System Restore for Windows Millennium Edition checkout WinME System Restore notes at http://www.flex.com/~mdon/srnotes.html or Windows Me System Restore - Windows-Help.NET at http://www.windows-help.net/windowsMe/system-restore.html. If you are running Windows XP, a search on "system restore"+XP using Google (http://www.google.com) will turn up a multitude of links.

You may now be wondering if I tried again to add that 128 megabytes of memory. Not yet. I'm still thinking about it. After the above computing experience, SCPCUG member Robin Mills brought to my attention an article that appeared on page 88 of the October 2002 issue of PC World Magazine entitled "How Much RAM is enough?" You can find it online as part of a larger article, Upgrades: Right on the Money at http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,103769,pg,4,00.asp. The article recommends 256 MB as the sweet spot. Adding memory beyond 256 MB calls into play the law of diminishing returns. See also the chart RAM Upgrades: Best Value At 256 MB at http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0,aid,103769,pg,5,00.asp.

Note: Web Master Wanderings articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date beyond the date that this article is originally published.