Stupid Computer! Part 2 of the Dell Inspiron 1545 SSD Saga

Ok, unlike the last post which I typed up while sitting in the middle of the family room on my gaming desktop, this one is being written on my beloved Dell Inspiron 1545 laptop. Which means, it is finally fixed (Yay). For those of you just tuning in, the supposed death of this wonderful computer was described here, and part one of the fix here.

Now with my favorite writing machine finally up and running, all that was left to do was reinstall Windows 10, Office, and to restore the files from my various backups.

With the exception of the first part, all of this went off without a hitch. I couldn’t find the disc for my laptop’s Office 2007 installation, and after doing some digging I discovered that running Office 2007 today is a bad idea since Microsoft stopped supporting it in 2017. It turns out I had the CD key to Office 2010 from my desktop (updates and security patches good until 2020), and Microsoft will let you download a copy for another computer here. It worked great (although I am somewhat saddened that I no longer have as much motive to try out one of the free Office alternatives).

I figured I’d just tell that part up front to get it out of the way. Because, you know, for every good story about a Microsoft product, there’s a bad one (or ten) waiting in the wings.

Reinstalling Windows 10 Was a Nightmare

I thought this would go easier than last time, when my kids smashed my wife’s laptop and I tried (and failed) to convince Microsoft to let me have another copy of Windows 10. Unlike her local account, my laptop’s OS had been registered with our Microsoft account, so it should have been a simple matter of downloading the Windows 10 installation media, creating a bootable USB drive, and installing it on the laptop. Being an environmental nut (you might know  this from my other blog), I outright refused to waste a DVD (plus I didn’t have any DVDs lying around and I am too cheap to buy some. Come on, it’s 2019 now!). Plus, USB sticks are so simple to use.

Boy, was I wrong.

I spent a day trying to get the Windows 10 Installation Media tool to actually install on a thumb drive. I followed all the steps, making sure the thumb drive was big enough (8 GB minimum). The tool’s prompts are rather straight-forward, and other than telling it to install the 64-bit English version of Win10 onto the thumb drive for installation on another PC, there wasn’t much to do but wait.

And wait, and wait…until finally at 95% complete the tool crashes with this error:

windows 10 install media error
Error Code 0x8004205 – 0xA001A. Now that’s helpful!

Thinking it was a fluke, I tried again with a different 8 GB thumb drive. Same error. Next, I ran the program as an administrator. Same error! I reformatted the thumb drive with different file system settings. Same error!

Crap! Now I had spent most of my free time after work mucking around, with no progress to show for it. I took to the forums, and found many people having similar issues. I won’d bore you with the details, but I tried a bunch of solutions and nothing worked. Just google things like “Win10 media creation tool nightmare” and read what comes up.

In the end I got it working, and it seems to be dependent on two things.

  1. Make sure the Windows Media Creation tool (the .exe file that you are running) is actually located on the thumb drive you plan to use. Why this matters I have no idea, as the tool formats the drive and wipes all the data out on it anyway. But it does.
  2. Make sure the thumb drive is bigger than 8 GB. Microsoft’s line about having a drive “at least 8 GB” in size is crap. It needs to be bigger. My 32 GB drive worked fine, but my 8 GB one did not (perhaps because it is more like 7.6 GB effective when formatted with FAT32). Perhaps the tool was originally designed just for dual-layer DVDs (8.5 GB). An 8 GB thumb drive (at least the PNY drives I had on hand) might be a bit too small.

I will never have those hours of my life back. Microsoft, please, please, come up with an error message that actually means something.

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