Archive for the 'techsup' Category

Toshiba laptop service manuals and the sorry state of copyright law

Saturday, November 10th, 2012

As you would be no doubt already aware, I run a section of my blog here devoted to the free sharing of laptop service manuals. This is a side project I have run for the last three years, gathering as many repair manuals as I could find on the internet and rehosting them on my website for anybody to download and use.

I have unhappy news for you all. Since I was first contacted by Toshiba Australia’s legal department, I have been attempting to discuss with them the potential for me to continue to share their laptop service manuals on my site. Their flat and final response was “You do not have permission [to disseminate Toshiba copyright material] nor will it be granted to you in the foreseeable future.” As a result, all Toshiba material that was on my website is now gone, permanently.

The primary reasons they have given me for this are:

1. “We are concerned that by providing the manuals to unqualified person [sic] you may be endangering their well-being”.

My place of employment puts a massive emphasis on health and safety in the workplace, a policy I am 100% in support of. Safety is an incredibly important issue, and I applaud Toshiba for taking it into consideration, but I think they are a little misguided. I have personally never been injured or visibly endangered by working on any kind of computer system, much less a consumer notebook computer. I have also never heard of anybody else being injured by working on one. While I do understand the drive behind any concern for safety, the reality is that there appears to be no risk to the well-being of myself or any of my readers by providing repair manuals free to download, and so I do not understand Toshiba’s cause for concern here.

It is worth noting that Dell, HP and Lenovo provide service manuals for all of their laptop computers for download, free of charge or registration or membership of any kind, on their various support websites, which would indicate that none of these companies share Toshiba’s concern in this regard. I would not seriously take this to mean that Toshiba laptops are inherently more dangerous to service than laptops of other brands, thus causing them to discourage unqualified persons from doing so, but drawing on my own knowledge and experience I cannot see what risk they are attempting to mitigate here.

2. Their repair manuals contain “proprietary information” and they will jealously protect it at all costs. (These costs would, of course, be to me, as part of their demands included the threat of taking action to recover their costs of taking legal action against me.)

As a factual statement, I can’t really argue with this. Again though, Dell, HP and Lenovo apparently do not find this a concern. Having looked at service manuals from each company, I personally cannot see what Toshiba manuals contain that the others do not that might be something a company would reasonably wish to withhold from its customers. It is clear that this is a decision Toshiba have made in the opposite direction to these other companies, and it is not a direction that is in the best interest of its customers.

3. “The manuals are only available to Toshiba authorised service providers under strict confidentiality agreements.” … “It is not our company policy to grant authorisation for the use or reproduction of Toshiba manuals to anyone who is not an authorised Toshiba service provider.”

The clear message here is that unless you are an authorised Toshiba repairer, they do not want you anywhere near the information that would allow you to more easily service and repair your Toshiba products yourself.

4. “Toshiba copyright repair manuals.”

This is the big one. As the original author of their laptop repair manuals, Toshiba owns the copyright on them and has the legal right to control their dissemination. They have not followed in the footsteps of other companies and made the decision to disseminate them to the public for open use. They are, in fact, tightly limiting access to their manuals only to their authorised repairers, and as such locking its customers out from information they could use to service or repair their laptops on their own.

Copyright law does give other parties some rights to copyright material in certain circumstances under fair dealing exceptions (fair use in the United States). These exceptions are along the lines of granting access to educational institutions, or making personal copies of copyright material for the purpose of creating backups. There currently appears to be no such exception, however, to either Australian or US copyright law that would apply to repair manuals for computers. As a result, we have no specific rights to any official documentation Toshiba have created that might allow us to more easily and economically repair or upgrade laptop computers.

I have investigated the possibility of pursuing action through legal channels. The long and short of it is that I cannot afford the legal representation necessary to even question Toshiba in a court of law. I cannot personally risk taking this route myself, and so as a private citizen I am left with no alternatives.

Dell, HP and Lenovo are three companies that have made the decision to allow us the privilege of accessing their repair manuals anyway – a decision that is 100% in the interests of their customers, and in their own, as people are more likely to buy a product they know they can easily fix if it goes awry. Because of this decision, when someone asks me to recommend a laptop, I will generally go to one of these brands for a suggestion.

Toshiba notebooks are known for their reliability, and I have generally found them to be high quality products. In light of this, it is with a certain sadness that I can say I no longer recommend Toshiba products to anybody, for the simple reason that they are not open with their repair information. It utterly pains me to say that I cannot help those of you who have asked me to help in finding a Toshiba repair manual. Due to the obvious legal reasons, I have not shared copyright Toshiba material since I was first contacted on July 31st, and unfortunately this is how it must be.

Many of you service laptops for a living. Many of you repair and refurbish second-hand laptops for charity and for the less fortunate. I’d like to thank each and every one of you for doing what you do. If you have been affected by Toshiba’s decision in refusing to allow me to share their repair manuals with you, I urge you to contact your local Toshiba representatives and let them know what impact this has had on you, your business or your livelihood. Let them know that you will avoid Toshiba products in the future, and will not recommend them to others, until they are as open with their information as are other competing companies. Perhaps in the future, with public opinion stacked in favour of open repair policies, they will change their mind.

In the meantime, the following websites have some user-created information on repairing some Toshiba models:

http://www.irisvista.com/
http://www.ifixit.com/Device/Toshiba_Laptop

Correction – Lenovo IdeaPad service manuals

It’s been brought to my attention that Lenovo now offer hardware maintenance manuals for what appears to be all of its IdeaPad range as well as for ThinkPads (some links here). I’m not sure when this change was put in place, but it’s a welcome one and I’ll update my site to reflect that change. Thanks, Lenovo!

Donate your old laptops and phones to science!

The wonderful people over at iFixit are accepting donations of hardware so that they can strip them down and turn them into new homemade repair manuals. If you’ve got a faulty or disused laptop, phone or tablet from the last few years kicking around, please consider sending it in – in return they will send you a $5 coupon for their online parts and tools shop, or $20 if it’s on their most-wanted list!

Reactions on Facebook

I’ve seen a few posts on the Facebook pages of Toshiba US and Toshiba Australia with some great comments. It’s interesting that of all of these, the only one anybody at Toshiba actually replied to included a link to irisvista.com – it’s clear to even their customer service people that Toshiba could be doing more for its customers.

Coverage

This has become unexpectedly popular, starting with the link I posted and discussion on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/12ydou/for_three_years_i_have_run_tims_laptop_manuals/

This has also been posted to Hacker News on ycombinator: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4766177

I’ve also just been alerted to the fact it’s on Slashdot as well: http://slashdot.org/story/12/11/10/1334221/toshiba-pursues-copyright-claim-against-laptop-manual-site

12/11/2012: I’ve been featured on The Register: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/11/12/toshiba_orders_blogger_to_remove_manuals/

Also on a Dutch site, webwereld: http://webwereld.nl/nieuws/112425/toshiba-weigert-publicatie-laptophandleidingen-.html (English translation)

13/11/2012: A fair few people have emailed me about this one: http://tweakers.net/nieuws/85477/toshiba-laat-servicehandleidingen-offline-halen.html (English translation)

I love this one, on Techdirt: http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20121110/22403121007/toshiba-you-cant-have-repair-manuals-because-theyre-copyrighted-youre-too-dumb-to-fix-computer.shtml

I’m also on the front page of Wired.com: http://www.wired.com/opinion/2012/11/cease-and-desist-manuals-planned-obsolescence/

Has this been featured on other sites as well? Email me and let me know!

Solved: BSOD 0x7e after installing SP3 in XP

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Do you service computers running Windows XP? Do you occasionally rebuild them with new components? Then keep the following in mind.

We had two PCs at work that we rebuilt with new CPU/board/RAM, noticed they were only running Service Pack 2, then as a normal part of servicing we ran the installer for SP3. Both of them seemed to install fine, but when we came back they were stuck at a blue screen – 0x0000007e.

This rung a bell for me, as we’d had this sort of thing happen before, and I managed to remember: If you have an Intel PC running XP SP2, then rebuild it with an AMD CPU, then install SP3, it will BSOD. It’s still trying to load an Intel-specific driver that causes major problems if you switch to AMD, so as per this Microsoft KB article, you need to boot it into safe mode, fire up regedit, and change the value of the following registry key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\ControlSet001\Services\Intelppm

…from whatever it was to the number 4. Reboot into normal mode, and away you go.

New page: My F6 driver guide

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

I’ve finally had the time to finish my F6 driver guide. I’ll eventually augment it with as comprehensive a list of F6 drivers as I can build and host, but for now it’s just an absurdly detailed walkthrough.

Yeah, most people have moved on from using 2000/XP/2003, but I think that’s all the more reason to have this information still kicking around – this bit of knowledge is slowly dropping out of the working memory of most geeks simply because it’s no longer needed most of the time, which means finding people who know about it will get harder and harder.

Anyhow, have a read of it if you’re so inclined, and let me know if there’s much I could improve about it – everything on that page is perfectly clear to me, but it may not be so for others, and I’m only one of the people I’ve written it for. :)

Updated: How to fix a reassigned C:/ drive letter

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

More than two years after I wrote this first blog entry dealing with the subject, having come up against this problem time and time again without being able to fix it, I went and did some experimenting on a PC at work to see if I could find a solution.

Short version: Instead of trying to swap the drive letters around by renaming the \DosDevices\ registry keys, I’ve discovered that if you delete the lot of them, Windows will recreate them when it next boots (as many of them as you have discrete disk drives plugged in at the time), and on the machine I tried it at work today it worked flawlessly: it reassigned the boot drive as C:\, the CD drive as D:\, the four card reader slots as E:\ through H:\ and everything was fixed.

Longer, more helpful version: If you’ve just added a hard drive to your PC (typical scenario: it’s the ex boot drive of an older PC you’ve just decomissioned, and you want the data off your old XP install) and Windows no longer boots, getting stuck instead just before the welcome screen with just the windows XP logo showing and no “Please wait” text below it, it’s very likely that XP’s suddenly developed an identity crisis of sorts and is referring to the new drive as C:\. It’s stupid, really quite illogical, and basically poleaxes that install unless you’re willing to play chicken with the registry.

Fortunately, this game of chicken is reasonably tried and true, and it’s easy enough to figure out if you’ve got even a bit of technical familiarity with your PC (as you probably are if you’ve just opened it and plugged another hard drive into it).

Hit Windows + R to bring up the Run dialog (probably you can also get to it by clicking your Start menu and then “Run…”), type regedit and hit enter. This will load the Registry Editor, which is basically a precision scope that lets you look inside your operating system’s brain. This particular registry key – HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE / SYSTEM / MountedDevices – lists the mapping between various disk drives on your computer and their respective drive letters as visible in My Computer.

What happens is that it sometimes gets confused about how to refer to your boot volume, and if your boot volume’s drive letter changes after you install XP, it will probably get stuck partway through starting up and hang just before the Welcome/login screen.

The information here might also be of interest/use to you if that drive letter was D:\ or E:\ or something else other than C:\ from the moment you installed XP, and you want to change it back to C:\ without having to reinstall again.

The fix: Deleting each of the \DosDevices\ values shown in the registry in the above screenshot will cause Windows to recreate and reassign the drive letters in your computer. If XP’s not booting anymore, obviously you can’t just run regedit like above, but there are ways around it. There do exist commandline tools you could run from a floppy disk or something, but by far the easiest way is to grab a registry-editing liveCD of some sort. I use Mini XP on Hiren’s BootCD, but this tool should do the trick easily enough for most.

This procedure has so far worked to bring Windows XP back to life on both a customer’s PC at my work, and on my own laptop at home (on which I dualboot XP and 7 for just this sort of messing about). If you try this method, leave a comment or email me and let me know how it went!

Update 10/2: If you have programs installed to drive letters other than C:\, be aware this could wreak havoc with those. Windows may be intelligent enough to reassign the driver letters with respect to installed programs, or it may not be. I haven’t tested this, and being a rare set of circumstances I doubt I’ll ever have the opportunity to. Your best bet in that situation would be trying the old manual renaming method. Remember you could delete the DosDevices entries to fix things enough to make it bootable again, and then swap drive letters D+ to your heart’s content to get your other programs to work without reinstalling those.

Uninstalling Trend Micro without the password

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

A customer at work wanted me to take Trend Micro Internet Security off his PC. The only problem was someone’d helpfully password-protected Trend, and nothing could be done without the magic word. After some fruitless googling, I gave up and called Trend Micro Australia for help.

I’d long considered this a last resort for any problem, but was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. The guy I spoke to asked for my name and the serial number of my product. I said I didn’t have the serial number, but went on and explained my problem to him.

Far from refusing to help me without that little bit of information (I’ve been hung up on by tech support from other companies for not precisely following their rulebook), the fellow immediately latched onto the problem and told me to Start -> Run -> tissuprt, which is a kind of maintenance program for Trend products. It provided a very simple GUI with a button to uninstall all Trend products from the PC without requiring the password. Exactly what I (and probably you googlers) needed.

I mentioned to him the trouble I’d had in finding out how to do this, and he said it’s actually on their website, plain as day for anybody to read. He helpfully emailed me the link, and here it is.

Full marks to the company for the phone support, but the reason I couldn’t find that page in the first place is because nowhere on it does it have the word “password”. Go look, I’m not kidding. Nobody who’s needed this information has been able to find it, because inevitably their search is phrased around not having that password.

Anyway. Hope tissuprt helps somebody.

Howto: Edit the boot menu easily in Windows Vista and 7

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Startup options in Windows XP. Startup options in Windows 7.

The Windows XP boot menu is determined by the contents of C:\boot.ini, a scary little text file that nevertheless is pretty important to know about if you fix computers. Microsoft changed how the boot menu works in Windows Vista and 7, helpfully removing the Edit button as you can see in the screenshots above.

You’re meant to use the even scarier command-line-only tool bcdedit, but I can’t be bothered learning how that works just to fix the incredibly basic problems I usually see (duplicate entries due to messed-up OS installs or repairs, or tweaking dualboot systems properly).

I’d like to share a lazier solution: VistaBootPRO gives you a perfectly good GUI for boot menu editing. The personal edition sells for US$10 on their site, but there appears to be a free version available here if you’re only going to need it once or twice.

VistaBootPRO on Windows 7.

It gives me a slightly scary error message on startup about Vista not being detected (I’m running Windows 7) and that I may “experience minor problems”, but it’s worked fine for the basic things I’ve done with it. YMMV.

Solved: Error 0x800704dd running Windows Update

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

Frequently referenced as error 80240020. The fix depends on what version of Windows you use. Microsoft happily document each solution on its knowledgebase page here: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/910341/en-us

I wouldn’t bother blogging this, but the fix for Windows 2000, XP and 2003 involves adding a registry key that’s gone missing. Something happens to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Winlogon\Notify\SensLogn, namely that it disappears. Not sure what’s causing it, but I’ve seen it on two PCs at work in the last week, and I quickly tired of re-typing the key information (there’s 14 different fields to fill in…).

Here for your (and my!) quick reference is SensLogn.reg. Right-click, save to anywhere, and merge with your registry on 2000, XP or 2003 to fix error 800704dd.

Solved: Blinking cursor, no boot on Toshiba Tecra M2

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

Here’s a weird one. Today it was a Tecra M2; I suspect it’d apply to a number of models, and in fact a number of different brands too.

This laptop had stopped booting off its hard drive. All it would do – after running through its boot device priority list including CD/FD/network boot – would sit there doing nothing but blinking a text cursor at me from the top left corner of the screen. No error message, nothing to indicate any kind of progress or failure, it’d just get to the point where it should be booting off the hard drive and did nothing.

We tested the RAM – no faults. We chkdsk /r’d the drive – no faults. We ran a different surface scan tool, no faults. I pulled the drive out and checked it on another machine – every file present and accounted for. There was nothing visibly wrong with the thing.

Google results were mostly unhelpful. Apparently you get this if you flash a Toshiba laptop with the wrong restore image. Plenty of people were directed to change the drive, or reinstall Windows, or a million other things that wouldn’t end up helping.

The actual problem is that certain laptops can’t boot off a partition that’s above a certain size. Older laptops won’t see drives above a certain size – Dell Inspiron 6000s came with a 100gb drive for a good reason – but if you have a boot partition above about 128gb, some Toshibas will silently fail to boot at all.

The clue came from this Tomshardware thread, where a guy with a Dell came in on a Toshiba discussion with the ultimate solution. I resized the partition from 160gb (the size of the drive) to 120gb (a size suitably under the 137gb that guy suggests – I initially tried ~135gb but that made no difference), put the drive back in the laptop, and voila. The XP boot logo never looked so sweet.

Worked for his Inspiron 9300, worked for my Tecra M2. Grab a copy of Partition Magic from somewhere and give it a go, you might be surprised.

Solved: Graphics flicker on GA-MA78GM-US2H

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Gigabyte MA78GM-US2H motherboard box.

We just got two of these in at work today, and both went into new PCs. Both had the same graphics glitch: Some violent-looking video flicker the whole way through Windows XP setup, which calmed down a bit once the drivers were installed but then had a weird row of green boxes flickering across the top of the screen.

The guys in this forum thread suggested turning Cool’n’Quiet off in BIOS; that made no difference to me, but updating the BIOS fixed it for everyone. I went from version F2 to F5; it seems to be fixed in F3 and up. Go here and scroll down to get the latest BIOS update.

Our two boards were revision 1.0. There’s also apparently a v2.0 of this board with a slightly different chipset (SB710 instead of 700). I don’t know if it’s affected or not.

I’m surprised this made it through quality control; it’s an obvious problem and all you need to see it is to try installing XP. It happens on both CRT and LCD monitors. It’s easily fixed though – you just put the new BIOS image on a FAT32-formatted drive (a USB flash drive will do) and hit F8 from within BIOS to get to Q-Flash (or the End key from the POST screen).

Howto: Find drivers for XP on new laptops

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

This is increasingly becoming a common situation: You’ve got a brand new laptop, it’s got Vista, it runs like a dog, and you want XP on it instead. You’ve got a spare copy of XP – for one reason or another – and you’d like to install it.

Here’s the catch: Tons of new hardware is being brought out without drivers being written for Windows XP, and laptops are just full of it.

Case in point: an HP dv6836TX, which a customer recently brought in to have XP loaded on it. HP do not provide XP drivers for all of its hardware, only some of it, and it took me a good half a day to find everything. Software for the card reader – a Ricoh R5C822  – came from a similarly-specced Dell Inspiron 1525. The onboard LAN pretended to be a Realtek 8139, which XP has drivers for, but those drivers actually hung the system; it’s actually an RTL8102E, or something like that.

The simplest way to identify hardware in a computer is to run a program that looks at all the individual devices, matches them up to a big list of vendor and device IDs, and tells you who made each thing and roughly what it’s supposed to do. 99% of the time at work, we use Everest for that, which isn’t a free program but the trial version is perfectly capable of IDing hardware.

The graphics gave me the biggest headache by a long shot. NVidia do host drivers for laptop chipsets now, but because HP (and practically every other laptop maker…) subtlely customise their hardware, NV’s software for the 8400M GS failed to see any compatible hardware, and flat refused to install.

It’s the most frustrating kind of incompatibility: it comes down to one little text file missing one little line with some numbers in it, the result of which is that you’re completely dependent on your computer manufacturer for software updates.

Or, to put it another way: You’re not. I mention laptopvideo2go.com in passing on my driver guide, but today they deserve some serious recognition. These guys collect those little lines from all the laptops they and their friends can find, and put them all in one big text file – the .inf file, which lists all the hardware a driver is compatible with – so that NVidia’s own drivers will recognise NVidia’s own hardware.

It’s a bit tricky to do – their site is a little confusing in places, and financially supported by well-placed driver-promising ads where necessary – but their forum is run by human beings, and anybody even slightly technically minded ought to be able to figure it out.

I managed to, and that 6836TX went home running XP like a champ.