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Alfador

I feel accomplished!

So last Saturday I rolled over groggily and pushed what I thought was the power button on my laptop.

It was the Dell Laptop Self-Destruct Button, otherwise known as MediaDirect.

After trying unsuccessfully to get my paws on a Windows restore disc, I instead burned a new Linux disc (the old one somehow having gotten scratched to hell while safely in a place where it couldn't exactly rattle around too much... it's a mystery!) and researched how to safely use fdisk to fix the partitions and something called lilo (unrelated to Stitch) to fix the master boot record. Turns out MediaDirect makes its partition bootable without unsetting any other partition's bootable flag, and Windows takes one look at a setup with two bootable partitions and runs screaming in horror.

I'm typing this journal from my fully-restored laptop. As far as I can tell, none of the data was affected. Even if some was, oh well, 99% of it was either copied from my desktop, or downloaded from Steam. And Linux was able to mount the partition and copy out the most important of things (the set of WinXP drivers I had to painstakingly seek out myself after cleansing the laptop of the Vista it came with) anyway.

Most likely, the next laptop I get will have Windows 7. Then I'll convert this one over to Linux altogether. My work laptops use Windows 7 and Ubuntu, and I've grown to like both. I need primary Windows machines for gaming, but Linux is both fun to mess around with and has GREAT utility, even as a recovery disc instead of an installed OS proper--as I have just made happen.



Keys are still damn sticky, though. Ah well, that's why I got that USB keyboard I'm currently too lazy to reach over and grab. XD
Viewed: 45 times
Added: 5 years, 11 months ago
 
Catwheezle
5 years, 11 months ago
Bravo!

And what is MediaDirect and how/why does it destroy boot sectors?
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
MediaDirect is a weird idea of Dell's, that supposedly allows you to put video or picture files in a separate partition of your hard drive, that you can then play without booting the whole operating system by pressing the MediaDirect button instead of the power button to turn the laptop on. Because presumably people are using their laptops as media centers and just can't be bothered to either leave them on and plugged in most of the time, or wait a few extra minutes for the system to fully boot.

The problem is that, unless you have the operating system it was designed for installed (in this case Windows Vista) and the partitions set up exactly as MediaDirect is expecting, it will automatically wipe the master boot record and start writing its own partition data, overwriting any other settings and data that might have been there. It is hardwired and fiendishly difficult to disable.

Why someone at Dell thought this was in any way a good idea, I will never comprehend. If I ever have reason to open up my laptop case again, I'm finding the MediaDirect button and clipping its wires.
AlexReynard
5 years, 11 months ago
That is an idea whose stupidity is on par with doing a motion-capture CGI Roger Rabbit sequel.
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
I feel certain it is an unbelievably kludgy software hack made by some clever programmer in response to utterly preposterous demands from marketing. It works, and does exactly what the marketing people advertise it will... if and only if you leave absolutely everything about the stock operating system that comes with the laptop in place. Otherwise, it wrecks your shit because the programmer was a miracle worker, not a god.
TheLastGasp
5 years, 11 months ago
I kinda miss ubuntu myself.
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
If you don't have a spare machine to work with, you could always make a virtual machine! I used VMWare while learning Linux before they gave me the second laptop at work. Only caveat: as far as I know, it only works with 32-bit versions of the operating systems, so make sure you've got 32-bit Ubuntu downloaded even if you're running a 64-bit OS natively. No need for a burnt CD--VMWare can mount images to the virtual machine. >:3
TheLastGasp
5 years, 11 months ago
yup.   I may try and get a desktop with both, I only got my lappy so I'll just stick to win7 until something happens to it =D  I'm not the type to play around too much with my only machine =D
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
I only felt confident at all messing around with fdisk because it WASN'T my only machine. Before I got my laptop, when I upgraded my desktop at one point, I felt as if seeing the world through a pinhole, because the only way I could read the instructions I was using was through my Wii's browser. It was actually terrifying, knowing that the repository for so much information from so many years of my life, was in my hands to fix or break.
JunkBox
5 years, 11 months ago
Thanks for the warnings! If I ever come across a computer with MediaDeath and a borked hard drive, now I'll know what happened: someone tried to do a simple recovery without first reformatting the drive and its partition table.

Should anyone ever give me a computer with that feature, out will come the screwdriver and wire cutters, along with dban and Linux...
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
I didn't have to do anything extra to the drive to make recovery available--as soon as I booted Ubuntu from the CD, the hard drive and all its files were available, ready for me to recover whatever I needed.

As long as you recognize that you've pressed the MediaDirect button and shut down the computer as quickly as possible (I feel fortunate that my battery connection hasn't properly recognized the battery in months, because all I needed to do was yank out the power cord!), all that you should need to do is:

Step 1: sudo apt-get install lilo and then use -M /dev/sda mbr to fix the master boot record.
Step 2: fdisk /dev/sda; use P to display the partitions, then carefully only remove the bootable flag from the smaller one, because that's the MediaDirect partition.

Even if there's data loss, you SHOULD still be able to boot to Windows at that point (or whatever other OS you had installed before the big red button... I mean, small black button, was pressed) because the MediaDirect partition, as far as I can tell, starts eating away at the end of the hard disc (large sector numbers) while if the OS was the first thing put on the drive, it ought to be in the earlier parts (small sector numbers). I think. I'm not an expert on this by any stretch of the imagination; otherwise, I wouldn't have freaked out about it when it first happened.
JunkBox
5 years, 11 months ago
" Alfador wrote:
I didn't have to do anything extra to the drive to make recovery available--as soon as I booted Ubuntu from the CD, the hard drive and all its files were available, ready for me to recover whatever I needed.


THAT was fortunate.  :-)

I agree with your other comment about finding that button and cutting the wires. Anything that can completely bork the machine needs to be removed pronto.

Also! Make regular backups of all your important stuff. I can't stress this enough, having learned it the hard way.

...and keep your backups up to date. Recently, while I was cleaning I found some old 420Mb tapes - yes, TAPES! - from a backup that I did back in 1998 or '99.
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
From a certain point of view, one could see the laptop AS the backup--99% of the stuff on there is either copied over from my desktop, or downloaded via Steam or individual game downloader (Minecraft, WoW, Curse Addons for WoW).
ArielCelestia
5 years, 11 months ago
I use Linux for all my GRIB, ACARS and other scientific decoding needs and wants. Ubuntu of course. But if I'll ever visit som hostile country (with a cute and charismatic lion dictator) I'll use TAILS. Also, boo on Dell software designers!
Alfador
5 years, 11 months ago
Ooh, TAILS looks interesting. May have to make a USB of that someday.
ArielCelestia
5 years, 11 months ago
You're welcome darling! *Offers a sad hug.*
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