I was just working on fixing a laptop with Windows 10 installed and learned a lot about how Windows 10 operates – and fails to operate. The device in question is an HP Pavilion Sleekbook 14 TS. It was unusable with these problems:
- The built in wireless network interface connector didn’t work
- The battery didn’t work
- The hard drive was corrupted and although it allowed Windows to boot and log in, it was insufferably slow and hung soon after logging in.
I asked the owner to pick up a usb wireless stick, plugged the power cord into the wall, an ethernet cable into the router and booted a usb with a copy of Lxle on it. It booted ok, which told me the motherboard was in good shape except for the wireless adapter, which showed up as active but didn’t do anything.
The hard drive gave me an error when I tried to look at it, saying it was unclean and could only be mounted read only. So, I mounted it read only and took a look. Everything seemed to be there and readable in the user folders – so I assumed the disk corruption was mainly in the boot and system areas. Then I plugged my external hard drive into a usb slot and backed up about 200 gig of documents, music and videos.
At this point I began a very tiresome process of finding out about how Windows 10 handles its Digital License key and how the tools for analyzing and repairing disk corruption (mostly) don’t work. The Linux based tools don’t work and, after getting into recovery mode I discovered that the only tool that actually ran to completion was chkdsk in the command prompt (chkdsk /f /r /x and run it over and over until it says it found no errors). Then I created a windows install usb and tried the repair functionality on there, same result. Chkdsk had cleared up some of the disk problems but Windows 10 was only barely functional and kept hanging shortly after login.
At this point I concluded that I was going to have to reformat the drive and reinstall Windows 10 so I started researching the Digital License Key and how it’s used in activating a copy of Windows 10. A Digital Key is how Windows licenses those computers ‘upgraded’ to Windows 10 during its year long blitzkrieg that ended in the summer of 2016. It’s a hash generated from the hardware on the particular device and stored somewhere on the PC as well as on Microsoft’s activation servers. The most info I was able to track down on its location was ‘a file of the PC’. There is a process to transfer the key to a new computer by attaching it to your Microsoft account so I told my friend about that. However, as it turned out, you can use Gparted on linux to zap the partition table, delete the partitions and the reinstall Windows 10 and it will either locate the key in some obscure crevice or generate it anew. No idea. Anyway, I wound up with a fresh install on Windows 10 on a repaired disk.
Alas, after booting and operating at a acceptable level sor a period, it would go off into lala land – sometimes it came back, sometimes it didn’t. I suspected that there were other problems, possibly related to the motherboard (I knew the wireless part was fried anyway). I discovered that Windows 10 doesn’t come with a manual so I took a look at O’Reilly’s Windows 10: The Missing Manual and the Windows 10 Bible. I used some of the diagnostic tools (such as Event Viewer) to track down what was happening when it hung up, but it kept hanging up before I coul really get anywhere. I did discover a note on the Sleekbook that said:
- HP provides installation instructions, compatible software, and updated drivers for most computers sold after August 2013. Please refer to the Known issues after installing Windows 10 section below.
- If you purchased your computer prior to August 2013, HP has not tested or developed drivers for your computer model. Some features might not work, or the installation might not be successful.
Hmmmm….the laptop was purchased in 2014 but who knows when it was built. In any event, I didn’t have a motherboard to swap out and lacked the inclination to plug away at further system diagnostics so I just set it up as a dual boot system with Windows 10 and Lxle installed side by side and restored the user files from backup. A few installs and a short introduction to Linux later my friend was happily Facebooking away.