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Questionable Technical Support
A friend recently purchased an IBM ThinkPad 755CD. When he turned the system on, everything appeared to work just fine. However, after about an hour, the video lost its synch and the screen became distorted. He thought the problem was peculiar, so he picked up the machine and heard something, apparently a screw, rolling around inside. If the screw was on the left side of the notebook, the image on the monitor became distorted. If the screw rested on the right side, the image was fine. When my friend called IBM technical support and explained the situation, the technician asked without hesitation, "Have you run the diagnostic disk?" Fortunately, a senior technician must have been listening in on the conversation because my friend soon had a return authorization and address for the notebook. Although IBM resolved the situation, I have to wonder about the technician's initial reply. Perhaps the diagnostic disk has a built-in loose-screw-in-case.dll file, but we'll probably never know.

Using Fdisk /mbr
After attending a conference in Seattle, I returned home to write this month's Tricks & Traps. I left my computer on while I was in Seattle, and when I returned home, my machine had rebooted and displayed the error message, "The Emergency Repair Disk is not bootable."

I removed the disk and rebooted the machine. Using the /sos switch, I verified that Windows NT 4.0 loaded as usual through the driver stage, but the operating system displayed a blue screen of death that said, "Inaccessible_
hard_drive," when the GUI phase started. This error message made me think I might have a corrupted boot sector. I tried to repair the problem and install a new copy of NT, but my attempts failed. However, I was able to boot to a small DOS partition on the system. At this point, I verified my original hypothesis--I had a corrupted boot sector, possibly the result of a virus (but one I never found). At a DOS 6.22 client, I made a fresh bootable DOS disk and copied fdisk.exe onto it. I booted to the DOS disk on the corrupted machine and ran the undocumented fdisk /mbr to repair the boot sector. Using this switch, I was able to fix the system in less than five seconds.

Several facts about this situation stand out:

  • I misplaced my NT boot disk for the system (it's easy to re-create)
  • I tried the standard repair boot sector fix
  • I didn't have a disk with an antivirus application that could detect boot sector viruses

Microsoft doesn't support fdisk /mbr because the /mbr switch can destroy FAT tables on certain drives, especially if you are running a version of DOS other than 6.22. In my example, fdisk /mbr quickly fixed the problem, and I was able to reboot into NT. Please note that DOS always worked on the machine--the problem with the boot sector was exclusively NT related. For information on repairing inaccessible hard disk errors and boot process errors, see my March 1997 column.

The Power of a DOS Boot Disk vs. an NT Boot Disk
Several readers have questioned my statement in the February 1997 issue that making a Windows NT boot disk is easier than making a DOS boot disk. True, you can argue that using

format A: /s

to make a DOS boot disk is simpler than formatting a disk in NT and then copying NTLDR, ntdetect.com and boot.ini to the NT boot disk. However, the DOS boot disk is minimally functional. For example, if you need to access a CD-ROM, you need to copy drivers to the DOS boot disk and edit the autoexec.bat and config.sys files. In this situation, the boot files are specific to the A drive. Alternatively, when you boot to NT from an NT boot disk, you boot into a typical version of NT just as if you had booted to NT from the C drive. You don't need to edit any startup files, and you don't need to copy any special driver files to the NT boot disk.

Disabling the Enable
PPTP Filtering Check Box
with Domains

Darrell Prichard at Microsoft reminded me that if you enable Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP), you want to make sure you don't select the Enable PPTP Filtering check box, as you see in Screen 1, in the Network applet in Control Panel. This option prevents the system from booting normally onto a domain and from seeing all resources and shares unless PPTP is enabled throughout the domain. For more information about PPTP, see Douglas Toombs, "Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol," page 143.

Q: Several consultants have suggested that I set up a printer pool or use a network printer such as the QMS 1660E for my company's small office network. We print a lot of documents and some require 1200dpi * 1200dpi output. Which approach should I take?

Whether you decide to use a printer pool or a network printer, the results will be dramatically different. A printer is nothing more than a software interface between an application and a printing device. A printer pool consists of several of the same type of local or network printing devices connected to a server, where each printer uses the same print driver. When you print to the pool, the first available printer prints the document.

For a small office network such as yours, you can create a printer pool by connecting three or four standard printers to a server (for information about setting up an Axis print server, see my February 1997 column). A centralized print server can easily handle a high volume of documents. I've created a printer pool with several HP 5MPs, and they work fine for most office output. Keep in mind that a printer pool is most useful when you place all the printing devices in one location--you don't want to make your users wander around searching for their printed documents.

The QMS 1660E is a different type of printing device entirely. You can connect it to a server or use it as a serverless printer that connects directly to a network with a CrownNet card. You can make all the necessary network configurations (e.g., changing IP addresses) using the control panel on the printer. In a serverless printer configuration, each PC on the network that needs to access the printer loads a serverless crown application that finds the printer and lets you assign a Windows port to it. You then load a printer driver and direct it to the port you assigned. The advantage of this design is that no single system controls the print spooler for the printer--each system becomes its own spooler. In such a setup, I recommend at least 24MB of RAM in the printer. The QMS 1660E is capable of 1200dpi * 1200dpi output, provides excellent quality, and functions very well.

Q: Are you aware of any EIDE or SCSI CD-ROM drives for notebook computers that work well with Windows NT 4.0 Workstation?

I use the Panasonic KXL-783A 8x CD-ROM drive. It comes with a SCSI card that works well in NT 4.0. If you get this CD-ROM drive, don't load the Panasonic driver from the NT 4.0 installation CD-ROM. This driver will hang the system, but you can use the Last Known Good menu to circumvent the problem. Use the NT 3.51 driver on the setup disk that comes with the Panasonic drive. This driver works in NT 4.0, as you see in Screen 2.

Q: We've decided to upgrade SQL Server 4.21 to SQL Server 6.5, but we want to take every precaution to ensure that we don't lose any data. Do you have any suggestions for us?

Microsoft has prepared a white paper on upgrading to SQL Server 6.5 that you can download from http://www.
microsoft.com/devnews. This white paper provides the following guidelines:

* Use the Database Consistency Checker (DBCC) to check for database consistency. At a minimum, you need to run the CHECKDB and NEWALLOC options. These options verify data, index page linking, sorting, and so on.

* Always have a recent backup of the database.

* SQL Server 4.21 setup defaults to the 850 Multilingual character set and Binary sort. SQL Server 6.5 defaults to the ISO character set and Directory Order sort. However, when you upgrade, SQL Server 6.5 defaults to your previous settings.

* Most important, SQL Server 6.0 and 6.5 use new keywords and reserved words that can conflict with attribute names in your SQL Server 4.21 database. Check the online documentation for these keywords.

Q: I recently bought a Fujitsu Lifebook 555TX notebook with a 150MHz Pentium MMX and 48MB of RAM. How do I load Windows NT-compatible drivers for the ESS1878 sound chipset on the notebook?

I installed NT Workstation on the same notebook without any difficulty. Like you, I was unable to load the drivers for the ESS1878 sound chipset. I tried to configure the chipset to be Sound Blaster compatible and Windows sound system compatible, with no luck. I also tried every possible I/O and IRQ setting with the same result--the notebook wouldn't load the sound driver. I called Fujitsu in hopes of finding an answer. The technician told me that Fujitsu did not support NT and probably never would. Imagine, a system that can address 80MB of RAM but does not support NT, tacitly or otherwise. I suggest you return the notebook and buy a machine from a vendor that supports NT (for information on notebook vendors that support NT, see Joel Sloss and Dean Porter, "Run NT on Laptops? Yes, You Can!," March 1997).

Q: I use Systems Management Server (SMS) 1.2. When I try to use the SMS remote management utility, I have to supply a username and password although I'm logged on as a domain administrator. How can I fix this problem?

This excellent question has a simple answer. The problem is strictly security based. Go to the local machine and make the domain administrator part of the local administrator group (you can always add a global group to a local group but not vice versa).

While you're at it, you can take care of a related problem and make your remote administration life better. On the client, go to the Start menu, select Programs, choose SMS, and select Help Desk Options. Make certain that the Permission Required check box is not selected, as you see in Screen 3. Doing so will let you immediately take remote control of the client's desktop without having to ask the user for permission. Now you can go to the SMS controller site and open the Help desk for the remote machine, as you see in Screen 4, and take immediate control of the SMS client. Screen 5 shows you what you'll see on an example remote desktop in a Quick Windows Viewer. For more information about using SMS and other systems management tools, see Ed Tittel and James Michael Stewart, "Systems Management Tools," May 1997.