Tales From the Front Lines: The Poorly Engineered Compaq

July 23, 2010

So, I had an interesting laptop repair the other day. The client, who was the cousin of someones computer I had fixed a few months ago, called me up and said that he was unable to connect to his wireless network anymore on his Compaq Presario. It took awhile to get up with him, as he works a lot, but we finally found a time where he could drop off his laptop before work.

The Compaq in question was a little older, an R3000, with a Pentium 4 Processor. After verifying that the drivers were correctly installed and the hardware recognized in the device manager, I began to look for other causes. Nothing else seemed obviously wrong, but then I noticed the placement of the wireless on/off switch.

Most laptops offer some sort of way to turn the wireless hardware on/off that is separate from the actual bios/OS. Sometimes this comes in the shape of an actual switch, but it is also common to see one of the fn keys do this.

The fn key is typically located next to the left control and when you press it and one of the top line of keys, you can do things like control the brightness of the screen or toggle between your regular display and an external monitor. Sometimes, you can also control the wireless with the fn key.

On this particular model, the button that toggles the Wireless on/off is located on the front-right corner of the laptop. This ends up being a really bad place to put a switch though, as it is very easy to hit it accidentally, either when you are carrying it or even just if you brush up against it, which is what had happened to my client.

So, the wireless problem, was easily fixed by pushing the little round button marked with the wireless symbol on the front of the laptop.

Disclaimer: To be fair, I have seen this happen to people before, where all of a sudden their wireless stops working, only to find out that they accidentally pushed the button. Although on most newer laptops, the wireless toggle switch is located towards the top of the laptop by the screen, making it much harder to accidentally hit. So, while this isn't exactly the most exciting story, it did give me a nice break from the web design I was working on and ended up being a pretty simple solution to my client's problem

Nothing is Ever Easy

Of course, nothing is ever really as straightforward as it seems. In this case, I could tell just by looking at the startup processes that it was infected, at the very least, with some spyware.

After running a quick scan, I found 9 viruses and it became clear that the computer was infected. This wasn’t too surprising though, given it was XP SP1, with no anti-virus, anti-spyware, or firewall programs installed.

Another problem I ran into with this laptop is that it would periodically cut out on me, the first time as I was mirroring the hard drive. My initial thoughts were that it was overheating, because it really seemed like that kind of shutdown and immediately afterward it would shut down after only a few seconds, continuing until I let it sit for awhile. All of a sudden, this quick and easy laptop repair, took a turn for the worse.

However, after some trial and error, I noticed that the 3rd party laptop charger seemed to be getting dangerously hot. It was one of those ones that has a switch, so you can change the voltage on it. After switching the charger out with one of my own, it ran with no problems at all and I was able to copy all his files, reinstall windows, and do my basic updating/tweaking/software bundling that I do standard with all reinstalls.

If anything, this laptop repair job illustrates some of the key concepts of IT. Mainly, check the cable and check to make sure everything is turned-on on the hardware level.

Have You Tried Turning it Off and On Again?
I’ll leave you with a clip from one of my Favorite Shows, the IT Crowd

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