Regenerate.IT – HP dc7700 to VMware Player on Asus

Regenerate could mean to bring back to life. The HP dc7700 machine gets new life by being able to run again as a virtual machine in my VMware host. My neighbour came by last night in between the bursts of rain. It turns out that their email is not via browser, as I imagined but is through Microsoft Outlook 2003. Once they demonstrated that Outlook was able to get new emails in the virtual machine – I knew what I had to do.

First off, they had forgotten the Optus email password, and it is stored in the credentials for Outlook. It was a relatively easy matter to extract the password. However what then to do with the 2.5GB of emails that were saved in two personal folder files. I can give them the pst files, but then they need to configure Outlook in order to access them.

Anyway, I have the virtual machine running, so I should be able to set it up so that they can run it on one of their other machines. They brought over to me, an Asus laptop with Windows 8 on it. The disk has plenty of space on it, so should be fine.

I installed VMware Player version 7.0.0 onto the Asus laptop. It required an email address before the installation can occur – mainly just for adding to their mailing list. This VMware Player is free for non-commercial use. I am sure that VMware will send timely emails asking if you wish to upgrade to another version, for a fee I expect.

I had previously run the coldclone411 again – in order to generate the files suitable for use on other virtualizing software like VMware Player. It does this by creating virtual disk image files that are a maximum size of 2GB. Some older windows versions had limits on file size, so doing this allows this virtual machine to run on even the older versions of Windows.

My new VMware ESXi 5.5 host server can handle virtual disks as large as 2TB, so the 80GB disk from the HP dc7700 is not a problem. My old server however is version 4.0 and its file size limit is based on the block size of the VMFS datastore. For a 1MB block size, this meant a maximum virtual disk size of 256GB – still more than sufficient.

To continue, after the VMware Player was installed, I then copied the virtual machine files to the laptop – this took a few hours. Then I added a virtual machine to VMware Player, pointed it to existing files and it was registered. I also added a shared folder, in case they want to transfer files from the virtual machine to the laptop.

VMware Player was run, then the virtual machine was powered on. After a number of prompts about hardware being recognized, etc – a reboot was needed, then I installed the VMware Tools – which gives better integration between the virtual machine and the host laptop – improves performance also.

Just a short time ago, the neighbour came by and picked up the laptop – she is very happy.

[PS] The neighbour is using Optus email because they originally joined Optus for their internet connection. I suggested that they should consider moving to another platform, like hotmail or gmail. The reason for this is portability – they can access those email systems from anywhere and not be limited to having to be at home to get access to email. The other thing is hardware security. If someone has access to your computer physically, there are a number of things that can be done – not the least of which is to find out internet passwords, emails etc. It is surprising what people leave on the computers. I remember many years ago, driving through West Ryde to see a relative. Outside a newly renovated Elders shopfront was a number of old PC’s – of course I picked up a couple and was interested to find that the PC’s still contained hard disk drives. The data on the disk drives was obviously old – several years actually, but it is still something that should not be thrown out. Those drives of course were securely erased before I reused them, but you really only have my word for that.

Resurrect.IT – HP dc7700 Small Form Factor PC

Back in my lab – sounds great, doesn’t it – ok, it isn’t actually a laboratory, but it is my
working area where I work on computers.  I have worked in a real laboratory though – the Sydney County Council Measurements Laboratory, at the School of Electrical Engineering, UNSW.  We worked in the area of precise electrical measurements, was NATA registered and cooperated on many projects with CSIRO.  Ever actually measured a nanovolt?  I even designed and built a frequency divider with missing pulse detection for a rubidium frequency standard.  Another thing we did was to measure the capacitance of a semiconductor junction in a transistor – never before measured, only theoretical capacitance – and the measurement agreed quite well. This lab is long gone as is the Sydney County Council, but I digress.

Ok – the job at hand, to access stored browser passwords on the machine. One utility I have can access IE 7 & 8 protected storage passwords, but need to know the logon password, as this is used to encrypt the passwords.  The other utility can look for other browser passwords, but needs to run on that machine as that user.  Choices galore! In this case though, the Edwin user did not have a password, and I did not locate any internet explorer stored passwords. So now I need to “resurrect.it“.  Replacing the motherboard is possible, but after doing this, it might also be the power supply – or a combination. I could get a second hand machine on the internet – probably cost $100 plus, is it worth it?

I decided first to have a look at the power supply. After removing it from the machine, I opened it up and had a visual look – I found an electrolytic capacitor that was bulging, a sure sign of over-heating, but checking its ESR (Equivalent Series Resistance) – it wasn’t high. I didn’t have a direct replacement on hand, but I replaced it with one that was close enough but this did not fix the problem. I also removed the cmos battery – a CR2032, while I did more cleaning up. I removed the cpu cooler, took it apart to get rid of the accumulated dust, then checked the cpu, an Intel Core 2 Duo E6300. I cleaned the thermal compound off the cpu and heatsink, then applied Arctic Silver 5 and reinstalled the cpu and heatsink. After putting everything back in, applying power did not give the beeps and this time, the power stayed on. The machine still however failed to boot from the hard disk – but it was certainly working better than before. My diagnostic card that was plugged into the PCI slot did not indicate anything other than that the voltages were nominal.  This often means that the motherboard has failed – but it could be the bios has been corrupted. In any case, continuing on further is not economical – but I could do this later just as a learning process.

I could “resurrect.it” by virtualizing the machine.  Is this like virtual reality, you might be thinking – yes, very similar.  That is what I started doing yesterday. I have currently two VMware servers running, a new ESXi 5.5 server that I am configuring, and an old ESXi 4.0 server that runs my other virtual machines.  The first thing to try is whether or not the disk image that I collected previously would boot directly on VMware – it is unlikely, but is worth a try since it doesn’t take long, but I do need to bring the disk image into VMware first.

Step 1. Create a new virtual machine on esxhost2 (my new ESXi 5.5). The machine is called tdc7700 (for testing). The machine though is empty and I need to populate it.

Step 2. Boot the tdc7700 vm with a Ubuntu cd – once that is running, copy the disk image from the network onto the disk. I use dd again but before doing this I had to mount the network share using the mount -t cifs command.  Ok – done.

Step 3. Modify tdc7700 settings to make the disk independent, and not allow changes to be written.  This is to avoid having to copy the image again if something goes wrong.

Step 4. Power on tdc7700 – I saw the Windows XP screen come up briefly before a blue screen. Ok – thought it might happen.  This is probably because the original machine had a sata disk controller, and now tdc7700 has a scsi disk controller.  It cannot locate the original disk, hence the blue screen.

From here on, I will need to do a P2V conversion – a physical to virtual conversion, where in my case the physical is actually this tdc7700. There are a number of ways to do this, but the best way is to run the VMware offline converter which unfortunately is obsolete, but still usuable.  The converter is smart enough to make changes to windows hardware configurations in order to create a disk image that would run in a virtual environment.

Continuing, then…

Step 5. Boot the tdc7700 vm with a coldclone303 cd. Press the appropriate buttons to get to a target virtual machine called vdc7700 – it wouldn’t work to access esxhost2, strange. Everything is fine until it verifies the destination environment, then stops with an error. My esxhost2 is a newer VMware host and the datastore version is VMFS 5 – maybe this is causing a problem? So tried again, but now going to esxhost1 (my ESXi 4.0) server whose datastore is VMFS 3.  Success – I start the importing of the machine and it took about two hours to run.  Not bad with processing 80GB of disk across the network.

In the meantime, I was able to find a newer version of coldclone being 4.1.1, so when this finished, I tried again with coldclone411 but it still wouldn’t accept a destination of esxhost2, so decided to continue anyway, and create another virtual machine called vtdc7700 as it was time for bed. This time, I elected to minimize the size of the disks for the import process. once it had commenced, I went to bed.

This morning, I checked that the import had finished. Yes, it had – and now, will it work?

Step 6. Power on the new vdc7700. Yes, it boots up – at low resolution anyway. It tries to
update some drivers for changing hardware, that’s ok. I rebooted, then logged in and installed the VMware Tools – this ran, but then the machine hung – not so good, but not too bad.  Reset it and tried again, then successful. Changed the resolution to 1024×768 – much better. It has been resurrected!

Step 7. Run my utility to check for IE passwords – none, what? Check other browser passwords – none either.

I can access the machine in my virtual environment, but a lot of the programs are in Chinese, and I don’t read Chinese. It looks like 360Safe is installed. They are not using Internet Explorer so might be using the 360Safe browser to access email. Anyway, I asked them to come and see me and maybe they can show me how they access their email.

So in the meantime, a bright idea occurred to me – I could convert it so that they could run it on one of their other computers by using VMware Player. Since it is running now on my VMware host, it should be able to run on their computer. I will test this out and come back with a later update.

[PS]  Virtualization is quite good for running old machines where some application is still needed that cannot be moved to newer hardware.  Windows NT was always very picky when it comes to hardware and doesn’t cope well with newer hardware – so is very often moved to a virtual environment like VMware to keep it running. Windows XP on the other hand is much better at this and another alternative could be to put the hard disk into another computer and it will just update hardware drivers, maybe even have to activate again due to too many hardware changes at once – maybe I should do this and get rid of that old computer that is sitting around…

Recover.IT – HP dc7700 Small Form Factor PC

A neighbour asked me to look at their PC late last week. Apparently it had stopped working and contained very important data. They also gave me a Seagate external hard disk to put data that I recover from it.

The PC was very dusty – I noticed because my white T-Shirt had a bit of a stain on it after bringing the PC inside. First step was to open it up and vacuum it out. The cpu fan and heatsink was covered in lint and dust – a sure sign of being operated in a home environment – also after a few years this can happen no matter how clean the house is kept.

When I power on the HP dc7700 SFF machine, the fans start up then stop, power goes out, and then it beeps nine times. The power supply does not stay on, but the 5V standby power is still available, hence why it can beep. After searching online for the diagnostic codes for this machine, it turns out that the resolution is to:

1. check the power supply voltage selector – none in this case

2. replace the motherboard – I don’t have a spare

3. replace the power supply – not available, but could be repaired.

Next – to “recover.it” the data, I mean.  Removing the hard disk from the machine was quite easy.  I connected the hard disk to an external dock on my Linux laptop – it seemed to be visible. First thing now is to make a raw image of the disk drive. It was a Samsung HD082GJ which is 80GB in size. That should fit on my laptop as I have about 140GB free. I run Ubuntu 14.04 on my laptop for recovery operations like this. I use a dd utility to copy the raw disk. Specifically the command I use is

dd if=/dev/sdb of=may-hd082gj.dd bs=1M conv=noerror,sync

The parameters are to use a block size of 1MB, continue even if errors encountered, but the “sync” option means to replace bad sectors with blank sectors. I will end up with an image file that is exactly the same size as the original disk drive. Without sync, the image file will be missing the bad sectors, so the data can be slightly out of line which is not good.  Fortunately in this case, the dd utility completed with no errors detected.

Next I copied the image file to a network location, so that I have another copy of it in case it is needed.  I then mounted the disk, and browsed the contents – it appears to be Windows XP, therefore the data that should be collected will be files and folders within C:\Documents and Settings\Edwin – Edwin being the user login name.  Typically My Documents, Desktop, Pictures etc are what to copy, but other folders on the C: drive were also copied. I did the same for the D: drive – the original disk was partitioned into two drives.  There is no point in copying the Windows folders since most of the files are not user files or data. However it is good to have a look in case documents, spreadsheets are stored there.

Ok – job done. I returned the external disk to my neighbour on Tuesday evening. They were happy to get their data, but they mentioned that they use that machine to access their Optus email, and they don’t know the password as it was stored on the machine – ok… If I can’t get the password for them, they could contact Optus to get it reset – so how do I go about this? More on this next.