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Herb Jan 31, 2013 7:01 PM

Dell computer mystery
A few days ago I acquired a used Dell Dimension E520 tower. It looks like new, but it had no hard drive. It had previously been operating Windows Vista Business edition.

I added a hard drive (formatted to FAT32) and tried to install several versions of Windows on it. They included Windows 2000, both an old and a much newer version of Windows XP Pro, and Windows 7. Every time, after going through most of the install process, it suddenly halted and a screen was displayed saying that there had been a serious error and that to prevent damage to the computer, everything had been halted.

So I tried installing my favorite version of Linux - Peppermint 3. It installed quickly and operated perfectly. So did a couple of other versions of LInux.

But my aim was to have a double boot - with Windows on one partition and Linux on the other partition.

Fortunately, the computer came with two Dell disks
a brown one to reinstall Windows Vista and a blue one to reinstall extra Dell software.

The reinstallation of Vista has to be done first and it takes a painfully long time. Patience is needed. At times the screen goes black & stays that way until you think it's frozen. It hasn't. The solution is WAIT - because eventually it continues though occasionally moving the mouse or the 'enter' key seems to help.

Vista ran rather slowly at first, but it gradually improved.

After I'd installed Vista I installed Linux Peppermint 3. Peppermint 3 partitioned the hard drive, installed Linux and set up the alternative boot choice. Peppermint now runs beautifully.

So, I'm not complaining the setup does more or less what I want. When I boot into Peppermint, it works flawlessly. I boot into Vista whenever I want to use either Faststone or Photoshop but I use Peppermint for everything else.

But I'm still curious and that's why I'm posting this - WHY is the computer confined to running only the Vista version of Windows yet will run any kind of Linux with no problems at all?

Is there any way to persuade it to run any version of Windows other than Vista? (I haven't tried to install Windows 8 nor do I want to.)

VTphotog Jan 31, 2013 10:48 PM

I am not sure, but I have run into difficulties with Dell machines, trying to do something similar. The answer may be in the BIOS. My guess is that the Dell BIOS queries the O/S installation disc, and if it is non- Dell, it fails. I am not sure, not having tried it, but I would also guess that using Dell O/S installation discs on a non-Dell machine would give similar results.


Herb Feb 1, 2013 12:39 AM

Yes, that certainly sounds reasonable as an explanation for other Windows versions not installing.

But how to account for Linux's apparent immunity? Linux isn't affected at all. I wonder why not?

VTphotog Feb 1, 2013 11:53 PM

I'm definitely not an expert, and have no experience with Linux. I can only speculate that the Linux installs don't interact with the BIOS during the installation process. Windows is a very complex O/S, while Linux tries to keep things as simple as possible. I think that this is why people find their Linux distros to be so much faster than Windows on the same machine.


sdromel Feb 2, 2013 4:37 PM

BTW, this is one of the reasons I never mess with desktop machines from proprietary vendors such as DELL, EMachine, etc. The purpose of the PC was open architecture, but when you buy from such manufacturers as DELL they make the system proprietary and Ive noticed that to include making odd ball changes to the MB, case and power supply so that standard stuff from say Fry's Electronics wont work/fit.

At the genesis of VISTA, a BIOS upgrade was required or it wouldnt install (I know this was true with notebooks with OEM XP).

In your case, you may be running into a problem with the HAL (Hardware Abstraction Layer) during the install. Search the websites for a BIOS firmware change. (Note: Ordinarily if you had a normal retail MB say from Asus or MSI there should be no issue, but with DELL you are locked in as the BIOS is going to be modified proprietary just for DELL).

VTphotog Feb 2, 2013 8:27 PM

I bought some memory to upgrade my Dell, a few years back. The specs said the computer had PC2100 DDR, so that is what I got. Didn't work. Called the vendor, and was told that the timing specs on Dell were different, and standard memory wouldn't work. They did send out the correct ones and only charged me the difference in price, plus they paid for shipping both ways.


Herb Feb 2, 2013 11:59 PM

VTphotog & SDRomel -

I've owned two Dell computers and I've noticed that both seem designed to have rather narrow & special requirements not just for hardware but for software too.

My general impression is much the same as yours.

Ozzie_Traveller Feb 3, 2013 6:23 PM

G'day Herb

During the last 10 years before I retired to a life of photography, I was an IT professional as well, doing hardware & software stuff & training of staff in small [micro] businesses

I found that Dell & Compaq machines were the worst to work with due to their over-proprietory-ness of MBs, HDDs & RAM chips

It got to the stage that when someone contacted me for hardware / software assistance and I found one of those brands, I just told them to send it to an authorised dealer - I would not waste valuable hours trying to fix it by 'industry-standard' means

I found power cords with 'special' connectors rather then the 'standard' male/female joiners: hard disks where a mounting thread was moved 2mm sideways to prevent a 'standard' disk being mounted, or a RAM chip where the off-set groove for correct alignment was moved 2 or 3mm sideways etc etc - it just got to me in the end

Regards, Phil

Herb Feb 5, 2013 2:07 PM

Hi there Ozzie,

Your last paragraph about Dell having differently shaped components really made me laugh - because the hard drives in BOTH my old Dells are just sitting on the tower floor. If they had to be moved around much I think I'd have to stick them in position with strapping tape.

Incidentally whenever I hear anybody complain about a computer "bug" it always reminds me of Moreton Bay.....


fnvnred Jun 12, 2013 10:53 PM

Good things.

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