Linux as a Tool for Windows Hardware Errors -- reallylinux.com
Linux as a Tool for Windows Hardware Errors
by Mark Rais
Our "Windows to Linux" series also includes:
Windows to Linux Beginner's Guide and
Introduction to the KDE Desktop.
It may seem a bit ridiculous to some, but
on more than one occasion I have been asked to help address a Windows hardware
issue by assisting with Linux. The "hardware" problems these people faced were
quickly reconciled either by placing Linux on an existing secondary partition
of the hard disk, or by using a Linux Live-CD.
In every case I have personally encountered,
the problem turned out to be Microsoft Windows, rather than hardware related.
One example of a prevalent failure is
related to Windows not recognizing the DVD drive after some extensive use. Upon
cursory examination, the problem appears to be related to a hardware failure
due to overheating, or perhaps the laser reader being damaged or dirty.
However, if you encounter a Windows error
that is explicitly related to hardware such as "device not found" or "no
media", you may benefit from trying a Linux Live-CD boot. This will allow you
to see if the problem is restricted to your application, your OS or if there is
an actual physical problem with the device. In most cases, the Live-CD will
boot without issue and you can quickly isolate the problem to Windows.
In fact, Windows has a tendency to throw
"hardware" related errors, when in actuality the flaw is in the device driver
setting or with the underlying OS configuration. A DVD drive that is not
recognized is often corrected by reinstallation of the device driver. Windows
throws a major device error, but often the error is then corrected when the
same exact driver is reinstalled. This again points to the possibility that
the problem is related to a systemic OS weakness rather than a device driver
To understand the scope of the hardware
related false positives triggered under Windows, you have only to look on Google
for the number of people trying to replace what they assume are failed
devices. One example is to look at how many are replacing their Toshiba
SDR2412 DVD drives. Is it that some, and perhaps even many, of these DVD
drives are being replaced because the OS triggered a "device failure" when it
was not the device that failed?
In my quest to help colleagues deal with
Windows hardware issues, my tool of choice for verifying the underlying culprit
Linux offers something that Windows can
not. It allows a much more precise examination of the specific device in
question and does not attempt to cover the anomaly by inappropriately mixing
the hardware device conditions with the OS responses. In simple words, where
Windows fails to properly abstract the hardware from the OS, Linux does a much
more effective job.
"Windows throws a Device
not found error,
even when the system BIOS properly identifies the device"
To this point, even the system BIOS on the computers
tended to properly identify the device in question. Windows throws a "Device
not found" error, even when the system BIOS properly identifies the DVD drive
prior to Windows boot. This is another signifier that Windows leaves much to be
desired, not only in terms of its ability to communicate anomalies to the user,
but also to effectively handle device operations.
For one example, using several varieties of
Windows DVD movie applications, I found that when a disc is removed from the
drive while the title menu is displayed, a complete failure of the application can
sometimes occur, leaving the entire OS in a wait state.
Windows recovery from this seemingly major
device failure is useless, and the system requires a full restart (hot
reboot). In the case of this happening with laptops, Windows does not even
allow a shut down, and therefore requires that the battery be removed from the
laptop (I tested Toshiba Satellite Pro and Dell Latitude D810). A seemingly
simple mistake of removing the DVD disc prematurely may on occasion completely
destabilize the entire OS.
"Not only did Linux identify the hardware and verify that it is functioning..."
With the same computers, not only did Linux
(I used Knoppix Live-CD and PCLinuxOS installed on secondary partition)
identify the hardware and verify that it is functioning; it also was able playback
the DVD without any anomalies.
By using Linux, I can often determine that
the culprit is, as I guessed, a failure of Windows OS to properly identify the
hardware -- rather than the hardware going bad.
Although there are indeed some issues with
device drivers in the Linux realm, more often than not related to proprietary
conditions, the fact remains that Linux is performing more thorough checks
prior to throwing hardware related failure responses. As a result, Linux can
actually assist in identifying such Windows related device failures.
At the very least, a business will benefit
by utilising Linux when troubleshooting Windows hardware failures. Although
ironic, and perhaps mildly humorous, it further validates Linux as a stable and
I propose that there are a number of
hardware updates and corrections being made to systems that are often related
to Windows OS failures rather than at the physical layer. Linux is a very
useful tool for uncovering such problems.
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