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May 26, 1997

My latest Windows mystery is solved; at least, I think it is

I'd like to thank my readers who sent in suggestions for solutions to the problems I've been having with my personal Windows PC. I described mysterious crashes and anomalies in my April 14 column and three weeks later printed many readers' tips for possible solutions. (See "Think you've got PC problems? Oh, the troubles I've seen," and "Readers shed light on the mysteries of Windows 95," May 5.)

I'm glad to say that my story has a happy ending -- sort of. Some of the tips that I've described since April 14 did improve my system's stability. But the final remedy may surprise you.

Before I describe the solution, I'd like to say I've had a heartening response to my admission that Windows blows up on me, too. Instead of being laughed out of the computer press, I received hundreds of sympathetic messages from IS pros and novices alike.

On April 21, I wrote about a new version of RegClean. (See "RegClean 4.1 could solve problems with conflicting apps.") This is a free Microsoft utility available at

RegClean clears out orphaned references in your Registry. This frees your system from looking for files and drivers that may have been deleted from your hard disk but were never removed from your Registry.

Running RegClean noticeably helped my system. No longer did every application crash, one by one, when I ran Windows' Shut Down command.

I still had the problem with my SCSI CD-ROM and Zip drives, which were missing in action. They vanished one day from the resources in My Computer. This prompted me to run Hwdiag.exe, a diagnostic tool I described in last week's column. It is on Microsoft's Windows 95B CD-ROM at \Other\Misc\Hwtrack.

Hwdiag.exe reported that my SCSI adapter was not functioning properly. So I dutifully purchased a new SCSI adapter and pushed it with some difficulty into the slot formerly occupied by my old SCSI adapter.

Upon powering up, Windows recognized the new adapter and then prompted me to reboot. When I did so, my system cheerfully hung every time, just before starting Windows. It wouldn't even boot from an emergency boot disk that I keep around.

Two service calls later, the problem became evident. It appears that when I inserted the new SCSI adapter, one of the other boards in my system became slightly unseated. With the other board's contacts ungrounded, powering up my system fried my motherboard and toasted my new SCSI adapter, too.

I finally replaced my Micron motherboard with a generic Intel board. To my surprise, this instantly caused all my problems to vanish. I haven't had a crash all week. And putting my old SCSI adapter back into its slot made all my SCSI devices work perfectly again. Whatever caused my SCSI devices to disappear must have been a problem with a failing motherboard, not the SCSI adapter.

I'm ecstatic that my work is trouble-free once more. But I have to wonder about an architecture in which a Microsoft utility can report a motherboard problem as an adapter problem, and in which someone with 29 years of experience can burn up two expensive components merely by changing a part. I know computers aren't toasters, but I expect PCs to work better than the lemons you find at Shady Eddie's Used Car Lot.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1997 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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