I’ve been in a sort of cyclical hell that goes by several names but seems to centre around my home computer. It all started 6 months ago when my computer, already flaky, started getting very loud to the point that certain people (myself included) were pulling their hair out listening to that damn fan spinning around while the hard drive buzzed. Does one buy a new computer just to make it more quiet? That was the question. Fortunately fate stepped in and changed the question … very quickly the question had become, does one buy a new computer when it is:
- The CD/DVD player no longer works
- One of the hard drives blows out
- The other hard drives seem spiteful
The answer of course was yes and soon a bright, sunny day arrived and along with it a big box of new hardware. I have assembled computers before so there was no concerns about the ensuing assembly, only unbridled hope for my PC-future. Alas, the road ahead would be rocky.
Open Heart Surgery
I pulled the surviving hard drive out of my old PC and put it into the new system (P35 motherboard, Intel Quad processor, 4gb DDR2 RAM, 1tb hard drive, Blue-ray DVD, and a Cosmos quiet case). I was running Vista (32-bit) and thought it might be a bit unhappy with the severe hardware transition but it made it. Sort of. Weird things were happening that I couldn’t explain like:
- The hard drives would suddenly “disappear” for two or three boots only to show up again the next time
- Occasional BSOD’s (that’s “blue screen of death” for the rookies out there)
- TCP/IP stack corruptions that would block almost all (but not all) Internet traffic
It was all becoming too much and it was only getting worse. Probably my fault for bringing such a severe change to the environment and expecting it all to go swimmingly. I decided to move into phase II of the transition, a phase I’ll refer to as “Bad Juju!”
Complex problems are often multiple problems posing as one. The “bad juju” days were filled with this composite hell. As I consider myself an expert in PC assembly and gadgetry, I must abashedly admit that there were moments when I was genuinely concerned I wasn’t going to make it to the other side. Well let me bring you up to speed on what actually happened.
I have always wanted to use a 64-bit OS and Vista — from what I’d read — was now largely through its teething pains (initially there was a real driver shortage) so I decided it was time to start afresh. I installed Vista (64-bit) as a clean install. This was going to be great because one of the ‘benies of a 64-bit OS is that it can take full advantage of larger RAM sizes like my newly purchased 4gb. Also with a fresh install I could clean out all the rubbish that had been building up for the past few years; for any of you who have done this before I’m sure you’ll join me in wonderment on how much faster Windows is after a clean install.
It installed. It was much faster. I laughed. It crashed. It crashed again and with vigour. It got to the point it would only stay up for less than a minute after logging in before jumping to the all too familiar BSOD screen. I cried.
Bad Juju :: the Vista Rage
After searching through the Internet discussion forums I came upon a startling realisation: Vista 64 had a problem with memory over 2gb. There was a patch but you had to first install Vista with 2gb, install the patch, then add more memory. How the hell did that get past quality control?!? Having over 2gb of RAM is one of the biggest benefits of moving to 64-bit OS’s for most users and it doesn’t work? Nice work Microsoft. I started to feel the Vista rage growing.
Sure enough running on 2gb worked and 4gb did not. The only problem? I had already installed the Microsoft patch and the problem was still there. I was going to have to dig deeper.
Bad Juju :: the Hardware Rage
I started to think attention — and my growing rage — might be better directed at the motherboard (“the mother-fucker” as I had started to refer to it as). I had a ASUS PK5-E motherboard that not only handled quad processors like mine but also had the ability to support the brand spanking new Penryn processors (which i couldn’t afford yet). Maybe I had ventured too far out onto the bleeding edge? It had certainly happened before, but most people on the Internet actually had good things to say about ASUS and their motherboards (including mine). I tried upgrading to the latest version of the BIOS. No change. I tried playing around with a few BIOS settings that I thought might help. No luck. After discussing my problems with a very helpful support rep from ASUS he suggested a hardware reset of the CMOS. This involves pulling all power of the board and then flipping jumpers around on the board. Not for the faint of heart but actually pretty straight forward.
My CMOS reset brought 24 hours of trouble free operation. My clean install and 4gb’s of RAM were out for a Sunday drive, the darkness had lifted, and it seemed only sunshine and laughter lay ahead. Monday arrived with a start. If my computer had actually been working I’d have played “I don’t like Mondays?” by the Boomtown Rats but of course it was sitting in a steaming pile in the corner of the den and playing MP3′s seemed like a distant memory. I was in the stone ages.
Bad Juju :: the Hardware Rage II
Fuck! Well what was next? I called ASUS for some moral support and a clue on what to look at next. Unlike the prior representative, this one was a righteous prick. What a difference the right support personnel makes. I asked to talk to his boss. His boss was a prick too. I’ll over-generalise and say there are two types of pricks: dumb pricks trying to hide their stupidity and smart pricks who are angry at the world for not being aware of the things they are. I was talking to the second variety so I swallowed my pride and stuck it in there with this bitter, spiteful man. He suggested it had to be a memory problem. Had I run a memory test yet? No? Why the hell not? Was I stupid? How had I made it this far in life with such inadequate deduction skills? Before hanging up I thanked his righteousness and asked pity for my overwhelming stupidity and the pain that he must have suffered in talking with me.
Mojo or Mirage
I ran memory tests using the freeware utility that the support god/prick had pointed me to (Memory Test 86). Cool little program. Unfortunately its verdict was that my memory — Crucial Ballistix PC2-8500 — was fine. I was, however, starting to think dickhead was onto something. The only left was changing the relationship my motherboard had with the memory. Instead of setting the timings to “auto” I manually set them to 5-5-5-15 and restarted. The computer has been up all day with no BSOD. Is this another mirage? Maybe but for my mental health let’s hope not!