Pulling my hair out over this PC!

adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
edited May 2012 in Hardware
I need some opinions and troubleshooting advice on a system I built several years ago for a coworker as a favor (no fee). I apologize for the length of this post up front, but the situation is rather complex and I am not sure where the problem lies so here goes:

This is an Intel E8400 system on a Gigabyte GA-EG31M-S2 with a 250Gb Seagate SATA HD, 2Gb DDR2 and Win XP Home. The latest complaint is "something wrong with it, not booting properly" with blue screens. Here is what I have found so far:

On the first cold boot in my hands, checkdisk kicks in saying the volume needs to be checked for consistency. Several entries then appear stating, "Deleting corrupt attribute record (128, " ") from file record segment 45945" etc. After this process completes, the system boots to desktop and appears to function normally with the exception of a nag screen pop-up saying, "You have files waiting to be written to CD" (2.1Gb worth to be exact). (I cancelled this action and deleted the temp files) There was also a nag screen from AVG Internet Security Trial Edition asking which of 3 networks it should connect to: 2 wireless networks and one hard wired. (I don't know where the wireless networks are coming from as this is a desktop PC with no add-in wireless card. The owner's home network is Hughes Net hard wired. I uninstalled AVG trial edition and put back AVG Free which is what was on it originally. After dealing with these nag screen issues, the system boots normally with no more checkdisk scan prompts.

Memtest 86+ comes back clean, Eset on-line scanner comes back clean, Seatools Short and Long tests come back without errors.

Now if you are still reading, here is where it gets interesting as well as frustrating. The owner of this PC has had her 20 something daughter move back in with her and this is when all these problems began to appear. I know her daughter well and she is reckless with a computer (as she is with most things). She will add or install, change, delete, download anything without giving it any thought. When the PC acts up and she is asked what happened, her response is always, "I didn't do anything, I was just (typing, emailing, websurfing etc.) and that screen popped up" or "it quit working." (Face palm)

Here is where I need your input. To me, this is user error not a hardware issue, but does anyone think otherwise? If so, what troubleshooting suggestions do you have? My efforts to help in this matter are once again, free of charge. So is this a hardware failure I am missing? I suspect her daughter (now living in her mother's finished basement) has tried to jump her own PC into her mother's wired network through a wireless router thus the wireless network prompt from AVG. (But I have no proof) Problem is, the daughter gets on her mother's PC when she is at work so you never know what she has done without supervision. I am getting so tired of getting calls about this PC! I could scream! Take pity on me here and offer your thoughts. THX.


  • shwaipshwaip bluffin' with my muffin Icrontian
    Backup files, format and reinstall (preferably win7).
  • Straight_ManStraight_Man Geeky, in my own way Naples, FL Icrontian
    Yep, that is what I would do also.
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
    edited May 2012
    So I take it from your replies that you both believe the operating system is the culprit? Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. And that you don't suspect hardware problems per se. And that Win 7 would be better able to protect the system from "user error?"
  • midgamidga "There's so much hot dog in Rome" ~digi (> ^.(> O_o)> Icrontian
    It does sound like a negligent user. Win 7 does protect better from idiocy, but you'd really have to make sure the daughter wasn't using an administrator-enabled account to do much good. You can stick with XP, but she needs to start locking her daughter out of it when she's away.
  • Mt_GoatMt_Goat Head Cheezy Knob Pflugerville (north of Austin) Icrontian
    It does sound like a negligent user. Win 7 does protect better from idiocy, but you'd really have to make sure the daughter wasn't using an administrator-enabled account to do much good. You can stick with XP, but she needs to start locking her daughter out of it when she's away.
    Whether it is XP or Win 7 I would make sure mom had a locked admin acct and the daughter was on a guest account with NO ACCESS.
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian

    I talked with the owner about options but she does not want to make any changes at this time. (I guess she would rather repair the PC every other week than to try to keep it secure in the first place.) So she tells me she will come by my place and pick up the PC. The next day the door bell rings and who is there to get the PC?! Her daughter!!!!! She says mom couldn't get away and asked her to pick it up. So I hand over the tower knowing it'll be coming back to me shortly. (sigh) I may have to make my services so expensive they will just go away. (face palm)
  • one234hone234h Downingtown, PA [USA]

    I've never known a checkdisk to come up *without* someone dicking around with the machine severely.

    @shwaip has it right, but I would add this:

    Put the daughter on a separate user account and reduce her user privs. Make sure she cannot change System/OS files, or install a program for all users- just her own account. Put the daughter in as much of a sandbox as the mother will tolerate. Password the Admin account for the mother.

    Windows 7 makes this stuff super easy, and it's never blue screened once for me yet. Also, Microsoft Security Essentials is a very respectable AV for being free.

    Best of luck.
  • one234hone234h Downingtown, PA [USA]
    Oh, wow, I just saw your reply, @adarryl.

    Yeah, unfortunately, the mother is making you an enabler for PC abuse. You may have to continually up the price.

    NOW, it DOES sound like the mother is very busy and that may be part of the problem- she may feel as though she cannot adapt to any changes. Many people cannot cope with changes in their PC layout; they feel like there's nothing to be gained and they find it disorienting. Maybe you can reinforce that the only thing which will change for the mother will be a password, and she can write that down in her daytimer or something. These changes won't impact her. She won't lose things, you're not going to move things around on her, etc. She may just need reassured.
  • I've been fixing other people's PC's for over a decade now. About 80% of the time the problem is a teenager.

    @adarryl - I think we are similar, I have the same problems, customers of mine mess stuff up constantly and if I built it I kind take it on myself that I did not make it bulletproof for them, but it's not really fair to expect that of ourselves. I fix crap pro bono all the time because I hate to say no, but I'm learning, sometimes you just have to.

    I'm just going to echo schwap and straight man, after running the basic hardware diagnostics in DOS, if everything looks kosher, only offer to backup their files and format for them don't torture yourself in troubleshooting, just format and be done with it. Be direct, you love them, but it's the last service you can offer without charge. If your kid breaks it, that's okay, I charge $30 an hour, $25 for friends. They won't be more careful, they will still need you, just next time you will feel okay about getting paid.
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
    You got it right Cliff. You build someone a PC as a favor and then they see you as their own private tech support person. And, it is very difficult to say NO when they're having a problem with it. I always support a PC I build for the life of the hardware warranties, but that does have to end.............eventually. But sometimes not. My conscience keeps telling me "help when you can" so I do. For example, I have a P4 2.4C socket 478 system I built out there and it just keeps going and going. The owner still expects free tech support from me and I do what I can. Setting limits can be hard. :/
  • midgamidga "There's so much hot dog in Rome" ~digi (> ^.(> O_o)> Icrontian
    Free tech support is for relatives and girls/guys you want engage in repetitive epidermal friction with. Buddies can pay in beer or just owe you one. Anyone else, they're taking advantage of you. It's great that they want to find an option besides the $9001/hr to browse through your porn folders that Greeks Wad charges, but expecting someone to do something like that for free is entirely uncool. Doing it is not only screwing yourself out of time and energy, but it's encouraging them to not take care of their stuff (because hey, why care, it's free to get it fixed right?) and supporting a sense of entitlement. It's doing them, and anyone else who might have to fix their stuff in the future, a disservice.

    Don't feel guilty about charging them, you should feel guilty about not charging them.
  • one234hone234h Downingtown, PA [USA]
    I explicitly told Geek Squad *NO* looking through my skin folders. So... that takes care of that... See, these are the tricks, @midga, these are the tricks.
  • TushonTushon I'm scared, Coach Alexandria, VA Icrontian
    I explicitly told Geek Squad *NO* looking through my skin folders. So... that takes care of that... See, these are the tricks, @midga, these are the tricks.
    Yes ... yes ... we won't go looking through your stuff ... for viruses.
  • one234hone234h Downingtown, PA [USA]
    ...for science.
  • IlriyasIlriyas The Syrupy Canadian Toronto, Ontario Icrontian
    I know I'm just echoing everyone else at this point but you have to lay down an ultimatum of sorts. Obviously you can't keep fixing the PC for free and the required time and effort to set up proper securities on the PC are less by far than what is required to keep fixing that thing. Following the idea of an ultimatum say that you're regretful that it's reached this but the amount of work you've put into (and keep putting into) the PC is massive and it's quickly becoming more and more time consuming to fix, as a compromise to this they either need to start paying for your time (Because you do have other commitments) or allow for you to go through the twenty minutes required to set up a 'limited user account' for the daughter.

    I've had to fix my home PC enough due to siblings that I actually placed all of them on limited accounts, the only ones having admin access being my father and myself because it's broken down (literally) 15 times in the past year and a half.
  • doabarrellrolldoabarrellroll San Jose, CA Icrontian
    When it comes to these problems, they are a nightmare. It sounds like you're a bright guy and honestly, rather than track down problems like this till the end of time, I would just backup and reformat.

    It's running XP as a home computer and is undoubtedly going to be messed up again very soon, lol Kazaa.

    If it's an ok computer, maybe offer to buy it cheap so they can buy a new computer so you have another spare for whatever you need.
  • LeonardoLeonardo Wake up and smell the glaciers Eagle River, Alaska Icrontian
    outside the box: tell mother to find a cheapo computer from Craigslist; format and install Win 7, give it to the airhead daughter (they pay you); have the daughter pay thereafter for problems;
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
    Thanks for all the input folks! I really do mean that. In this particular situation, ahhhh, the stories I could tell. The owner of this PC is a friend and former coworker of mine. She and her husband, until his death, used to join my wife and me every Saturday for breakfast out. She has two daughters who also used to join on occasion. I have built 4 PC's for her family over the past 10 years and have been used and abused on service problems, sometimes legit and sometimes self-inflicted. She, alone now, joins us most Saturdays for breakfast and that relationship does interfere with computer building/servicing as it makes it hard to say NO. About 6 months ago, she asked me if I would be willing to build her oldest daughter (the one who sporks computers) a new computer. I said, "No, I don't want to hurt your feelings, but she is just plain reckless and I just can't put myself in that situation anymore." She took that okay, but the thing is, this recent development of her older daughter returning home and helping herself to her mom's PC puts me in an awkward situation. I feel like I have to rescue her because of her daughter. It's tough to say NO to a friend. It's also tough to tell them how to deal with their own affairs.
  • TushonTushon I'm scared, Coach Alexandria, VA Icrontian
    Depending on use case, maybe you could trial them on a linux-based OS, like Mint/Ubuntu or one of the WinXP-style themed variants. That would take away most/all of the daughter's ability to cause trouble, but it may not be appropriate. I have successfully transitioned people who only needed browser/Office style products but YMMV
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
    Maybe an alternative OS could alleviate some problems, but the mother, my friend, is not computer savvy. She would not welcome the learning curve nor the software changes. She is a Speech Pathologist and uses a lot of specialized programs.

    As for having her buy a second computer, good thought, but she already asked me if I had any PC's available for sale for that purpose. I do. In fact, I have 3 desktop PC's I built that I could easily sell: one AMD Phenom II 720, one AMD X4 955 and one Intel C2Quad Q6700. The latter two are Win 7 machines. However, I declined to sell any of those to her for the same reason I declined to build her daughter a new PC. I just don't need the headache of continual service calls due to her mischief. The problem is, my friend trusts me and would rather buy from me (probably because my after care is TOO convenient). I tried to steer her to Walmart to pick up an Acer with Win7 as a secondary PC; she wasn't interested. I feel like I am on a short rope here. LOL!
  • one234hone234h Downingtown, PA [USA]
    Would the mother really know if you changed the daughter's privs?

    It might not be something she'll ask for, but might be thankful for if you do.
  • adarryladarryl No Man Stands So Tall As When He Stoops To Help a Child. Icrontian
    This post has almost taken on a life of its own and I really don't want to wear it out. I posted originally to see if anyone thought there might be a hardware issue I was missing in my troubleshooting. I think we have determined, no, this is user error. I would like for the mother to make her PC more secure, but she doesn't seem to want to say no to her daughter. (kind of expected that didn't you?) Let's let things go as they are. Maybe the both of them will rethink their PC use and curtail some of their riskier actions. If not, maybe I can move to..........................Australia! Nah, they would probably find me there too. What's that old movie line?......................oh yeah, "If you build it, they will come" back again and again and again..........
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