Sorting a stalled Windows Update service

Following a recent family death, I have ended up with the laptop belonging to the deceased and, since it has been offline most of its life, I set to getting it updated. The McAfee security suite was straightforward enough but trying Windows Update produced errors suggesting that it was not working that a system restart was needed. Doing that did nothing so a little further investigation was needed.

The solution turned out to be stopping the Windows Update service and clearing a certain folder before starting it again. To stop the service, I typed in services.msc into the search box on the Start Menu and clicked on the Services entry that appeared. Then I sought out the Windows Update entry, selected it and clicked on the Stop link on the left hand side. After that, I used Windows Explorer to navigate C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution and deleted everything in there. The, I went back to the Services window and started Windows Update again. That sorted the problem and the system began to be updated as needed.

All of this was on Windows 7, hence the mention of the Start Menu, and the machine is Toshiba Satellite C660 from 2011 with an AMD E-300 APU, 4 GB of RAM and a 320 GB hard drive. Those specs may not be the most impressive but it feels spritely enough and is far better than the lethargic Toshiba Equium A200-1VO that I acquired in 2008 though the HP Pavilion dm4 that I bought in November 2011 probably will travel more often than either of these, if truth be told. After all, it now has 8 GB of RAM and a 1 TB Samsung SSHD along with its Core i3 CPU so it should last a while yet.

A little more freedom

A few weeks ago, I decided to address the fact that my Toshiba laptop have next to useless battery life. The arrival of an issue of PC Pro that included a review of lower cost laptops was another spur and I ended up looking on the web to see what was in stock at nearby chain stores. In the end, I plumped for an HP Pavilion dm4 and it was Argos that supplied yet another piece of computing kit to me. In fact, they seem to have a wider range of laptops than PC World!

The Pavillion dm4 seems to come in two editions and I opted for the heavier of these though it still is lighter than my Toshiba Equium as I found on a recent trip away from home. Its battery life is a revelation for someone who never has got anything better than three hours from a netbook. Having more than five hours certainly makes it suitable for those longer train journeys away from home and I have seen remaining battery life being quoted as exceeding seven hours from time to time though I wouldn’t depend on that.

Of course, having longer battery life would be pointless if the machine didn’t do what else was asked of it. It comes with the 64-bit of Windows 7 and this thought me that this edition of the operating system also runs 32-bit software, a reassuring discovering. There’s a trial version of Office 2010 on there too and, having a licence key for the Home and Student edition, I fully activated it. Otherwise, I added a few extras to make myself at home such as Dropbox and VirtuaWin (for virtual desktops as I would in Linux). While I playing with the idea of adding Ubuntu using Wubi, I am not planning to set up dual booting of Windows and Linux like I have on the Toshiba. Little developments like this can wait.

Regarding the hardware, the CPU is an Intel Core i3 affair and there’s 4 MB of memory on board. The screen is a 14″ one and that makes for a more compact machine without making it too diminutive. The keyboard is of the scrabble-key variety and works well too as does the trackpad. There’s a fingerprint scanner for logging in and out without using a password but I haven’t got to checking how this works so far. It all zips along without any delays and that’s all that anyone can ask of a computer.

There is one eccentricity in my eyes though and it seems that the functions need to be used in combination with Fn for them to work like they would on a desktop machine. That makes functions like changing the brightness of the screen, adjusting the sound of the speakers and turning the WiFi on and off more accessible. My Asus Eee PC netbook and the Toshiba Equium both have things the other way around so I found this set of affairs unusual but it’s just a point to remember rather than being a nuisance.

HP may have had its wobbles regarding its future in the PC making business but the Pavilion feels well put together and very solidly built. It commanded a little premium over the others on my shortlist but it seems to have been worth it. If HP does go down the premium laptop route as has been reported recently, this is the kind of quality that they would need to deliver to just higher prices. Saying that, is this the time to do such a thing would other devices challenging the PC’s place in consumer computing? It would be a shame to lose the likes of the Pavilion dm4 from the market to an act of folly.

Battery life

In recent times, I have lugged my Toshiba Equium with me while working away from home; I needed a full screen laptop of my own for attending to various things after work hours so it needs to come with me. It’s not the most portable of things with its weight and the lack of battery life. Now that I think of it, I reckon that it’s more of a desktop PC replacement machine than a mobile workhorse. After all, it only lasts an hour on its own battery away from a power socket. Virgin Trains’ tightness with such things on their Pendolinos is another matter…

Unless my BlackBerry is discounted, battery life seems to be something with which I haven’t had much luck because my Asus Eee PC isn’t too brilliant either. Without decent power management, two hours seems to be as good as I get from its battery. However, three to four hours become possible with better power management software on board. That makes the netbook even more usable though there are others out there offering longer battery life. Still, I am not tempted by these because the gadget works well enough for me that I don’t need to wonder about how money I am spending on building a mobile computing collection.

While I am not keen on spending too much cash or having a collection of computers, the battery life situation with my Toshiba is more than giving me pause for thought. The figures quoted for MacBooks had me looking at them though they aren’t at all cheap. Curiosity about the world of the Mac may make them attractive to me but the prices forestalled that and the concept was left on the shelf.

Recently, PC Pro ran a remarkably well-timed review of laptops offering long battery life (in issue 205). The minimum lifetime in this collection was over five hours so the list of reviewed devices is an interesting one for me. In fact, it even may become a shortlist should I decide to spend money on buying a more portable laptop than the Toshiba that I already have. The seventeen hour battery life for a Sony VAIO SB series sounds intriguing even if you need to buy an accessory to gain this. That it does over seven hours without the extra battery slice makes it more than attractive anyway. The review was food for thought and should come in handy if I decide that money needs spending.

Restoring the MBR for Windows 7

During my explorations of dual-booting of Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.10, I ended up restoring the master boot record (MBR) so that Windows 7 could load again or to find out if it wouldn’t start for me. The first hint that came to me when I went searching was the bootsect command but this only updates the master boot code on the partition so it did nothing for me. What got things going again was the bootrec command.

To use either of these, I needed to boot from a Windows 7 installation DVD. With my Toshiba Equium laptop, I needed to hold down the F12 key until I was presented with a menu that allowed me to choose from what drive I wanted to boot the machine, the DVD drive in this case. Then, the disk started and gave me a screen where I selected my location and moved to the next one where I selected the Repair option. After that, I got a screen where my Windows 7 installation was located. Once that was selected, I moved on to another screen from I started a command line session. Then, I could issue the commands that I needed.

bootsect /nt60 C:

This would repair the boot sector on the C: drive in a way that is compatible with BOOTMGR. This wasn’t enough for me but was something worth trying anyway in case there was some corruption.

bootrec /fixmbr
bootrec /fixboot

The first of these restores the MBR and the second sorts out the boot sector on the system drive (where the Windows directory resides on your system. In the event, I ran both of these and Windows restarted again, proving that it had come through disk partition changes without a glitch, though CHKDISK did run in the process but that’s understandable. There’s another option for those wanting to get back a boot menu and here it is:

bootrec /rebuildbcd

Though I didn’t need to do so, I ran that too but later used EasyBCD to remove the boot menu from the start-up process because it was surplus to my requirements. That’s a graphical tool that has gained something of a reputation since Microsoft dispensed with the boot.ini file that came with Windows XP for later versions of the operating system.

Manually adding an entry for Windows 7 to an Ubuntu GRUB2 menu

A recent endeavour of mine has been to set up a dual-booting arrangement on my Toshiba Equium laptop with Ubuntu 10.10 and Windows 7 on there side by side. However, unlike the same attempt with my Asus Eee PC where Windows XP coexists with Ubuntu, there was no menu entry on the GRUB (I understand that Ubuntu has had version 2 of this since 9.04 though the internal version is something like 1.9x; you can issue grub-install -v at the command line to find out what version you have on your system) menu afterwards. Thankfully, I eventually figured out how to do this and the process is shared here in a more coherent order than the one in which I discovered all of the steps.

The first step is to edit /etc/grub.d/40_custom (using SUDO) and add the following lines to the bottom of the file:

menuentry ‘Windows 7′ {
set root='(hd0,msdos2)’
chainloader +1

Since the location of the Windows installation can differ widely, I need to explain the “set root” line because (hd0,msdos2) refers to /dev/sda2 on my machine. More generally, hd0 (or /dev/sda elsewhere) refers to the first hard disk installed in any PC with hd1 (or /dev/sdb elsewhere) being the second and so on. While I was expecting to see entries like (hd0,6) in /boot/grub/grub.cfg, what I saw were ones like (hd0,msdos6) instead with the number in the text after the comma being the partition identifier; 1 is the first (sda1), 2 (sda2) is the second and so on. The next line (chainloader) tells GRUB to load the first sector of the Windows drive so that it can boot. After all that decoding, my final comment on what’s above is a simple one: the text “Windows 7” is what will appear in the GRUB menu so you can change this as you see fit.

After saving 40_custom, the next step is to issue the following command to update grub.cfg:

sudo update-grub2

Once that has done its business,  then you can look into /boot/grub/grub.cfg to check that the text added into 40_custom has found its way into there. That is important because this is the file read by GRUB2 when it builds the menu that appears at start-up time. A system reboot will prove conclusively that the new entry has been added successfully. Then, there’s the matter of selectively to see if Windows loads properly like it did for me, once I chose the correct disk partition for the menu entry, that is!