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Reinstall XP - hampered by Virus & Other Problems

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Hello guys & gals...this may be a long message but my machine has been so screwed up that I have to make the most of being able to type.
I have two relatively old Dell laptops - Inspiron 1100 (6 yrs old); Inspiron 2500 (7 yrs old). Last summer I decided to try my hand at Linux and wiped out the 2500 and installed Ubuntu 7.1 - I have yet to get that to connect to the internet so for all intents and purposes - that is useless ( I ordered a new version of 8.1 from Shipit.com and that has yet to arrive - my hope is that that will help the 2500).

My problem is with this machine the 1100. My problems arose with the touchpad going crazy, I re-installed the drivers w/ the help of Dell Chat but they ultimately told me to re-install XP which I am more than happy to do (although it does worry me because I always seem to have trouble (mental block) when it comes to setting up my internet connections. The problem is that my built in CD-Rom died years ago. I do however have an external Iomega CD-RW connected via USB. I am currently running Service Pack 3. When I plug the Iomega into the machine - I see the XP Setup contents fine- however as the Dell Guy told me you cannot re-install XP from within XP.

I have changed the boot order in set-up but clearly the cd-rom opttion is referring to the unworkable one in my laptop and I don't see anything in my Phoenix Setup that allowis me to point to my USB Iomega drive. I am pretty sure I have a very bad virus/worm.....but have moved all my important docs to a Western Digital USB HD - So I am fine with reformatting my drive if that would help.

In the course of doing all my debugging I ran diagnostics on everything; all was well except my hard drive: I got the following Error Code that is probably meaningful only to Dell "00F0:1A44; Uncorrectable data error or media is write protected" - it then started listing all the bad blocks starting with 6445664 (I stopped writing down the block numbers after it hit abot 10 and aborted my Hard Drive Read Test.

So I started reading my old books again to try to understand the mechanics of boot-up.
1.) The Bios resides on a ROM chip?
2.) The Bios (or someother program on the ROM chip) controls which devices can be utilized for the boot-up process?
3.) I think I have the latest BIOS; I flashed my Bios through the Dell website about 5 months ago....

My guess is my hard drive is virus ridden and that was why my blocks were bad. So what should I know?.

First of all is a USB External Hard Drive or External CD Rom considered a SCSI device?

Do 'boot orders' in Setup allow for USB booting?

If I was to physically put in a new ROM (CMOS Chip?) would that allow me to point to my external CR Rom.

Finally before my machine crashes again - is my thinking correct that - the Setup Screen display is actually being presented from the BIOS software. And the Bios Software is on a physical separate chip - often called the CMOS Chip? And after the user saves his boot order changes - the BIOS attempts to transfer control to the Hard Drive or CD Rom etc...do I have this correct?

I hope this made sense.....Any fundamental knowledge about the inner workings of boot up are welcome as well....Thanks for listening - Peter

(I am surpised I was able to get this message out there in the ether; the clouds must have parted temporarily) - If I don't respond right away it is because my machine is once again behaving badly!
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