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The nonsense-free step-by-step guide to Y2K
assessment and remediation of the PC desktops

by Igor Sidorkin


Since you are here it is very unlikely that this is the first Y2K page you have visited. I assume you don’t want to read any more lame explanations describing Y2K, Y2K compliance and why are things the way they are. So, let’s get dirty.

Y2K affects all desktop users regardless of platform. The problems most likely to be encountered fall into these four main levels:

There are three more layers - the code layer, the data exchange layer and the legal layer, but they are out of our scope.


Hardware

In search for better BIOS

It would be a good starting point on your journey to Y2K compliance to visit your manufacturer's web site to check your model's compliance status and the availability of a free BIOS upgrade. (Here and henceforth by saying 'manufacturer' I mean 'computer manufacturer' for brands and 'motherboard manufacturer' for clones.)

Even if your computer is new, even if you have no idea what BIOS is, and regardless of Y2K, you need to apply a new version if one is available. The reason is simple - your computer will work better.

To upgrade your BIOS you will, most likely, have to know your current computer's BIOS version, part number and release date. Usually this information appears at the bottom of your screen after power on, during memory count up. The PAUSE key should work at that point, so you can pause the screen to read the information. The part number also appears at the top of each BIOS Setup screen.

Unfortunately, in some cases, the manufacturer removes that information. If this information does not appear, try Microsoft Diagnostic Utility (MSD).

Having difficulties? This is a place to visit if you intend to flash your BIOS or just want to know more about it.

Testing

OK, now, I assume, you are back. You had your computer BIOS flashed, if available, and you know your hardware compliance status according to the manufacturer.

No matter what the manufacturer told you - test your computer yourself. You never know what they mean by saying 'your computer is compliant' because there is no standard definition and they never provide you with enough details. You will see that details matter and a simple 'yes/no' approach is not applicable here.

So, since we are going to start testing, you will need tools. Yes, you really do need these. You may have seen instructions to do it manually. Well, they are all wrong.

See more about that and other 'popular' mistakes and hoaxes you can run into reading about Y2K (coming soon).

OK, how do we get tools and, most importantly, are they trustworthy? Since there are about 100 utilities for Y2K hardware testing, another problem arises - the problem of choice. So, do we care to choose or do we pick the first one? What is the difference?

Apart from buggy ones, they all do the same (well, almost) simple tests - to check what RTC, BIOS and OS report when:

  1. Computer is ON at century rollover;
  2. Computer is OFF at century rollover - test for the first boot-up in year 2000;
  3. Computer is ON at some 'critical' dates. (Although some software applications may fail on those dates, it does not apply to hardware. However, I suppose that from the hardware manufacturer's point of view it is much better to show the user that his/her PC failed just two tests and passed (guaranteed) the other 4 (or 10, or 20) instead of telling the user that his/her PC failed both tests.)

The real difference between testers is how they interpret test results and what kind of reading material they provide. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are full of nonsense at this point. See more about that and other 'popular' mistakes and hoaxes you can run into reading about Y2K (coming soon). BTW, If you want to know more about RTC, BIOS and the Y2K problems related to them, I recommend http://www.phoenix.com/year2000/.

But do not worry, I am not going to leave you with a frustrating page full of links to a couple of dozen applications to choose from. Quite the reverse, for your convenience, I have chosen three decent (and free!) RTC/BIOS testers. See which of them best suits your needs and get any of them here.

Here are short descriptions of each of them.

Rightime's Test2000 is a trustworthy tester and comes with very handy ViewCMOS utility. So, if you want to, you can see what is really happening with your computer's clocks at the most critical moments. Reading material at their site is very informative and support is prompt and knowledgeable. I'd recommend it for all types of users, especially for advanced ones.

Viasoft's Test and Fix is a reliable and free solution for most 'not-so-compliant' PCs. The 'Test' part is well designed and easiest to use of the three reviewed. The documentation is worth reading. The only drawback - it requires Windows 3.1 or better to run the setup program (of course, neither test nor fix part needs Windows but you could not get them without running Windows-based setup).

NSTL's YMARK2000 became, sort of, a standard tool for Y2K hardware testing and this is the main reason it is presented here. YMARK2000 comes from a reliable vendor and is recommended by PCY2000 alliance, so, it is a catch for brand-lovers, but keep this in mind - it comes with no support. On the other hand, one might say this is exactly the tool they want you to use to get fewer complaints, since YMARK2000's results interpretation is not 'aggressive'. I do not share this point of view but would not recommend this utility for general use anyway, because of the following. YMARK2000 can be used on systems which are 'Y2K-OK' (see cases 1 and 2 in 'Test results' section) to ensure Y2K compliance. However, if problem does exist, the utility does not tell you what exactly is going on, and, therefore, you cannot make an intelligent decision what to do. Moreover, the documentation (readme.txt file) is frequently misleading and incorrect.

It probably is hard to believe, considering the source and popularity of this utility, but unfortunately is very typical for desktop related Y2K material. Visit this page, which is about 'popular' mistakes and hoaxes you can run into reading about Y2K (coming soon).

Test results Things to do*
1. RTC and BIOS passed both tests.

Nothing needs to be done.

2. RTC failed Power ON test (reports 1900) but BIOS passed. Both passed Power OFF test.

Still do nothing.

3. RTC and BIOS failed Power ON test (both reported 1900) but passed Power OFF test.

If your computer will be turned OFF at midnight December 31, 1999 - do nothing.

Otherwise:

If you are running Windows NT 4.0 - do nothing.

Otherwise:

Install Viasoft BIOS Fix (available here).

4. RTC and BIOS failed rollover to 2000 in both tests, but BIOS accepts 2000 as a valid year.

If you are running Windows NT 4.0 - do nothing.

Otherwise:

If your computer will be turned OFF at midnight December 31, 1999:

- If you are running Windows 98,
do nothing (well, actually, you have to start Windows at least once before year 2001);
- otherwise (if you are running earlier version of Windows or pure DOS),
you may not have to do anything now, but the first time you turn it on in the new year, boot to DOS prompt (important!) - 'F8 -> 7. Safe Mode Command Prompt Only' for Windows 9x, - set correct date (e.g. 01-03-2000) and restart.

If this solution is not satisfactory for some reason or your computer will be turned ON at midnight December 31, 1999 you can:

Install Viasoft BIOS Fix (available here).

If this does not help:

Hmm-m, it should. Check the system's current year (1999), restart you computer, proceed to DOS prompt (important!) - 'F8 -> 6. Command Prompt Only' for Windows 9x - and re-run the test (yes, now you should boot from hard drive instead of diskette in order to load installed BIOS fix).

5. BIOS does not accept 2000 as a valid year.

If you are not running Windows NT then install Daqarta BIOS correcting driver - y2kure.

Otherwise:

If your computer is not networked, every time you restart your computer set the current Date and Time manually at the command prompt.

Otherwise:

If you have the Windows NT 4.0 Resource Kit, you can install a time synchronizing service and point it to an accurate time source such as an atomic clock.

Otherwise:

You can get a free time-synchronization utility like NetTime Thingy 1.1 from any major software download site.

* Some possible solutions are not included. That is because they are not free and do not add any valuable features.


Operating system

This part is the easiest. Go to my download page and get Y2K and other important updates for your OS.


Applications

  • Will I surprise you by referring you to a vendor's web site? If you do not know how to get there - go to my resource page.
  • Updates for most common applications and Catch-UP 1.2 are available here. Catch-UP is a Web-based software updating service that automatically searches for the newest versions of many popular Internet-distributed software applications and hardware drivers.
  • Check your applications with Y2K software scanners (see below).

Data

This may be the most difficult and time-consuming part of Y2K effort. Maybe not!

  • While you are checking your data files for Y2K compliance I recommend you change Short date style - this defines how Windows (and some applications which use Windows settings) display dates. To achieve this go to the Control Panel's Regional Settings applet and under Date tab change Short date style to anything with a four-digit year (e.g.'mm/dd/yyyy'). If clicking on the arrow does not give you such an option just add yy to the existing yy by typing it in. Thus, you will be able to locate problems in your data files easier.
    When you are done, feel free to change it back. Using a two-digit year, in Short date style, does not produce any kind of Y2K problem but saves you valuable display real estate. On the other hand, if you could not memorize your application's date window, using a four-digit year might eventually help you. If, for example, pivot year is 1930 and you enter 29 for 1929, you'll notice that the computer 'misinterprets' the date as 2029.
  • Visit IST's web site. They are knowledgeable folks who make powerful (and expensive) Y2K tools for IT shops. The evaluation (limited to 25 files per run) versions of some of their tools are available for download after registration. Play with them. You might learn something. I also strongly recommend reading their 'Seven things to know'. Fortunately for individual users, besides expensive server-side applications there is a reasonably priced desktop application, which is available for $40 from Horizon Information Group.
  • Download Year 2000 Wizards for Microsoft Excel 97 and 2000 (more info).
  • See common date usage errors in Excel 97 and Access 97.
  • You can use some of Y2K multipurpose packages (see below) for data files scanning. However, those packages are not so sophisticated as IST tool.

Y2K tools to deal with applications and data

Register and use McAfee 2000 ToolBox Online for free!
Pros: Free.
Cons: Software scanner is unsatisfactory. Data scanner is less feature-rich.

Greenwich Mean Time - UTA's Check 2000 PC Deluxe - $28.39 (free UPS Ground shipping!).
Pros: Big database of remediation advice.
Cons: Inaccurate documentation. Average Data Scanner.

Symantec's Norton 2000 - $29.95 plus $5.50 UPS Ground shipping (www.buypcsoft.com) or Download from Beyond for $39.99.
BTW, free 30-days evaluation version, which is available for download from Symantec's website after registration, turns out to be just their RTC/BIOS tool.
Pros: User-friendly.
Cons: Data Scanner produces too many false alarms.


Updated: November 18, 1999 [Home]