Yesterday was truly a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I was able to hang out with some good friends at a local bar as we watched Team Canada defeat Team USA in the men’s hockey gold medal game. It was a great way to end the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.

On the other hand, I discovered that my computer was experiencing some serious problems when I returned back to my place. It wouldn’t boot up and, to make matters worse, yesterday was the day I was to go through and back up my data. Windows just would not load; I’d get a black screen and it’d stop there. Not fun.

Gazing into the Dark Abyss

Considering that I’ve had this Dell laptop for a while, it’s actually been a mostly problem-free experience… but this was bad. I jumped through the usual hoops for Windows PC owners, trying to boot into the recovery console and into safe mode. No dice. Nothing worked and I was at a loss. So, I turned to Twitter.

It’s a very good thing that I had my smartphone on hand, so I was able to hop onto my mobile Twitter client to ask for help and advice. Even though the nation was in the middle of celebrating Canada’s win in the hockey game, they came to the rescue. I want to follow you on Twitter, especially if you’re helpful, constructive, and communicative.

The Process of Trial and Error

It was a long and drawn out process, since it was very difficult to diagnose exactly what was wrong. We tried running through the diagnostic tools in the BIOS, but it didn’t come up with any hardware errors. We tried reseating the RAM, because that may have been the cause. That didn’t work. We tried running off the sticks of RAM individually (I have two slots) and that didn’t work. We tried running Memtest86+ and it came up empty.

Along the way, I learned a lot about my Dell laptop. In the three or so years that I’ve owned the thing, I’ve never taken it apart. In fact, I’ve never taken a laptop apart in general. That might sound surprising, since I’m a techie, gadgety kind of guy, but it’s the truth. Trying these different tests and diagnostics, I learned how to remove the hard drive, the RAM in the back slot, the hinge cover, the keyboard, and the RAM underneath the keyboard.

The Simplest Solution Is Usually Best

This was a frustrating experience, to say the least, but I was also intrigued by the “puzzle” and “problem-solving” aspects it presented. There was a lot to learn and I was bent on solving the case, if only for the sense of satisfaction that would await me at the end of the rainbow.

In the end, I was able to find a copy of Windows XP Home SP2, but my laptop was running SP3. I then learned how I could go about “slipstreaming” the newer service pack onto an older XP disc (Lifehacker has a great tutorial). From there, I ran through the repair utility to fix the Windows installation and… it worked. has a tutorial for that part.

Couldn’t Have Done It Without You

The issues I experienced with my notebook are probably not that unique, but it still took the collective intelligence and knowledge of Twitter (and the rest of the Internet) to get me going again. It took a lot longer than I had hoped, but at least everything looks happy again.

I’d really like to thank everyone who helped me with this process, including @stephenfung, @ericgaray, @Flash, @rayebersole, @kevleviathan, @HealthCastleIan and @bernieyee. Thank you!