Evil Through the Looking Glass

Through The Looking Glass

Dealing With The Black Screen Of Death

My Queen’s hard drive went deep six on the day after Thanksgiving. It’s been that kind of year for us. At first I thought that it was simply that the OS got borked, because I put in a Knoppix disk and could see the hard drive. In fact, from Knoppix she backed up her important files. What ensued next is my odyssey through the looking glass to reinstall Windows 7 on her machine.

The first thing you do on a factory install of Windows 7 is to attempt to boot to the recovery console, check the disk and repair the OS from the backup copy on the drive. Unfortunately, the option did not show up for us. Booting every other possible way, safe mode, safe mode command prompt, minimum display resolution, etc… they all resulted in the same condition. A black screen with a movable mouse pointer. I know that there will be people searching this later so I wanted that phrase in the article. If they come here first they will know how to fix this and they will know just how screwed they are.

The first candidate of the free options was to get someone else on to make us a recovery disk. That might work for you if your hard drive isn’t dying. If it is, the recovery partitions probably won’t work either and your recovery disk will boot to the black screen. Unfortunately the Queen had no idea you need to make a recovery disk because the warning you need to do it was seen by someone at Best Buy instead of her.

Sadly the other free options might have worked. I will never know. I really doubt it, as when we finally did get the OS reinstalled it would not accept the perfectly valid license key from the original install. No real shocker there I suppose. Bottom line, if you’re in this boat you are first going to have to buy a new seat. So we did.

Now for the stupididity. We have a new OS, which is seriously almost expensive as a new PC. We put in the disk. We boot from the DVD. We get… a black screen with a movable mouse pointer. The computer will not boot from the DVD. I’m somewhat stumped by this at this point. I can’t imagine the DVD is bad. It wasn’t, but I don’t really know that yet. I tried to get to the recovery console using the DVD. If you read the first part of this post, you’ll see how that went. Nothing changed.

Back to Knoppix. I see the hard drive, looks okay, but it can’t really test a NTFS partition. So I’m wondering this: Suppose I have a computer, it had an OS on it, for instance Windows 7. If I boot from a new Windows 7 DVD, I should be able to format the disk and install the new OS on it right? Wrong. You can’t. And the reason is so stupid it boggles the mind. The DVD apparently detects the existing install and instead of booting from DVD or even giving me an option to wipe the drive, it makes an attempt to boot the original OS from the (borked) hard drive!

To test this theory, I did some searching on the Internet. Way back a long time ago I had to fix an XP install with similar circumstances. Fortunately I had the actual install disks that I promise you I will get next time I buy a Windows machine even if I have to pull a gun on the salesman. I had to do what is called a clean install. Basically wipe the disk by formatting it and then install the OS.

In the XP world, you simply put in the install disk and boot from it. There is an option to format the hard drives it finds. You do that and re-install the OS.

So I start wondering, since I stopped using Windows at XP, how a geek who only uses Windows would do this. I did some searching on the Internet and I found this: http://answers.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/forum/windows_7-system/windows-7-wont-load-sits-on-black-screen-with/0631efcb-a430-4405-b208-65cccaf66ac7?msgId=bfe85eb7-79e4-4739-b30c-02e2564f7bea

As I pointed out above I tried every option there is, including methods 1 and 2 listed in that forum post. Method 3 is what really blew my mind. If you follow the link, it goes to a post on how to use System Restore. The method for using System Restore is to click Start and… Hmm… step one: boot the computer that you can’t boot… It makes me wonder if the guy who wrote that post even read any of what the starter of that thread asked.

As I goggled at that post for a while it occurred to me what an auto mechanic would do if the first step in the repair manual under the heading “Engine Won’t Start” is “Start the engine”. I’m pretty sure in that situation step two is: Go out of business. I suspect the auto mechanic would get another manual. Well, folks, I tried. There is no other manual. Most of this is a magic black box, and I get the feeling even the people who make the boxes don’t really know what happens inside. As an example, there are some oddly named files in one of the restore partitions named starting with an ! and ending .VRP. For fun, see if you can find out what those files do or why they are there.

Since the angry Queen wants her computer, I didn’t try any harder to find out how you’d accomplish this via Windows only. Maybe there is a way, I don’t know. I put in the Knoppix disk, booted it to the root shell and repartitioned the disk. Took about five minutes, all but 10 seconds of that was waiting for the DVD to boot.

Now when I put in the install disk, it boots from the DVD. It asks me if I want to format the disk. And then the install begins. I’m still wondering how you fix a dead computer if all you have is the Windows disks. My advice: burn yourself a Knoppix disk too. Knoppix makes it easier to install Windows. Face palm plant. Is there a word for irony that goes in both directions?


My work machines (Yes, I have an XP box, can’t play Pirate 101 without it.) run Gentoo. I like Gentoo, which probably means I’m quite insane. Gentoo is a great way to learn how to use Linux. It’s a lot like learning how to speak Spanish by going to a seedy Mexican bar and having a surly guy hit you with a pool cue till you learn how to say, “Please stop hitting me with that pool cue, sir.” in Spanish.

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