Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Recovering from Catastrophe

A neighbor recently had a catastrophic hard drive failure in his family's HP Pavilion laptop. These things happens, and they are usually pretty painful, unfortunately. If some foresight existed to make backups, that mitigates some of the pain, but the system still needs to be installed, configured, data restored, etc. In this case, no backups existed. From what I gather, the laptop was taken to a repair shop (Geek Squad at Bestbuy, or something along those lines) and they replaced the hard drive and installed Windows.

Upon returning home to start getting things back in order, the first order of business was getting online. Unfortunately, connecting to the wireless network was a no go. Like many folks without IT or I/S in their job description, my neighbor tried a few things without really knowing what the problem might be, but to no avail. The SMC access point had worked fine for two years, so something with the laptop must still be wrong.

So, this afternoon while standing in the alley watching our kids play, he asked if I had any experience setting up wireless access points. Indeed, I have set up many wireless systems, from a PC-based access point from Linux/Mac/Windows, to Airport, Linksys, Cisco, and Netgear hardware access points.

So, after the kids were in bed, I headed over. After some initial poking around, I was baffled that XP's network connections control panel didn't even show a wireless network adapter. After getting some of the back-story above, I figured that the repair shop had just installed Windows, but not any of the drivers for the HP Pavilion hardware. HP's site is quite good, so a few clicks later, the wireless adapter was visible in the systray.

At that point, getting the SMC access point setup again was simple. Note: don't hit the reset button on your hardware unless you really know what you're doing. If you know you're going to have to re-configure your hardware when you hit reset, feel free. If you think hitting reset might get things working again - please refrain. Thankfully, Amazon started linking to PDF manuals for many electronics items over the last couple years - so a quick search got us on track for configuring the access point from zero.

Lesson: most systems these days need special drivers not bundled with Windows, so if a Windows reinstall is just what the doctor ordered, be sure to follow-up with installing your hardware's drivers. Ideally, you can mention this to your repair shop and they'll do what they can do get things setup for you. Also, avoid the reset button in most troubleshooting situations.

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