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Weird .NET / Athlon / Windows XP problem


Dear Forum

Has anyone suffered intermittent lock-ups on a new computer?

A few months ago, I bought a new computer which intermittently locked up. It was really random, it could happen during boot-up, after a few minutes or hours, or not at all for days. The lock-up was more frequent during disk access, or when the computer was being used (keys pressed, graphics updated, installing from DVDs etc). It hardly ever happened if the computer was idle. When it did lock up it was total, no mouse movement, no keyboard action, Ctrl+Alt+Del had no effect, no error messages, no blue screen, no error dialog, no screen corruption. You had to reset or switch off.

I lost patience when this happened (i) in the middle of restoring from a system-restore point and (ii) during a .NET installation. The latter was really bad, as it left the framework in a half-installed state. I couldn't remove the framework as it thought it wasn't installed, but I couldn't reinstall it as it thought there was a previous installation. The computer supplier successfully reinstalled XP to fix this (it was under warranty) but it didn't fix the lockup. They also tested it with a different CPU (which reduced the frequency of lock-ups) and different memory chips (no difference).

The suppliers were very reluctant to change or refund the computer. From their point of view they couldn't reproduce it in the shop. Also they said the computer was intended for 'home use' not development activities, and my usage was equivalent to taking a normal production car and using it for rallying (their MD's words). They also said it was a problem with the .NET environment and I should contact Microsoft. In the end they gave a refund. The supplier is a local company that sell perhaps 1000 units per year, and they have a good reputation generally. The configuration was:

- Windows XP, original release.
- Athlon 2000 processor (real speed about 1500 MHz)
- 512 MB ram, 80 GB hard disk
- Realtek LAN card about 8 years old
- Yamaha CD-RW drive
- 'No-name' DVD drive.
- On-board graphics using a slice of the existing RAM.

My questions are:

1. Has anyone had stuff like this happen?

2. Surely a lock-up that freezes the mouse is a hardware problem? However buggy .NET is/was, it couldn't cause this?

3. How can a botched .NET installation make the framework unusable?

4. Surely using a PC for 'development' is no tougher on a PC than normal home use? (I mean development using high level languages, I'm not referring to assembler and ring 0 code). It's just a CPU running opcodes and reading and writing memory.

5. Is this something Athlon CPUs are prone to? It's the first time I've had this happen, and the first (and probably last) time I've had a computer with an Athlon processor.

All thoughts welcome!

Bill Rayer
Monday, September 29, 2003

I use Visual Studio .Net Professional 2003 on my Athlon box without any problems.

This sounds strongly like a hardware problem, although Windows itself could have become corrupted.  The only way to know for sure would be to reformat the hard drive, reinstall everything, and see if the problem persists. 
Athlons are known for running quite hot, so one possible problem would be inadequate cooling. 

That company sounds pretty clueless.  It's trying to shift the blame elsewhere -- to Microsoft for that mysterious .Net Framework, and to you for having the audacity to use your PC as a development machine.

That "rallying" excuse is particularly pathetic -- Visual Studio is just another software application, and not a particularly demanding one.  (It runs fine on far slower machines.)  There's absolutely no reason why a "home" computer shouldn't be used for developement.  I'd steer clear of that company in the future.

Robert Jacobson
Monday, September 29, 2003

I have worked a lot on AMD Athlon XP and Duron machines.

The Athlon XP and the Duron are excellent processors.

They are rock-stable!

So, it may be:

- bad Windows installation
- bad memory
- bad motherboard
- bad CPU cooler
- bad AGP video board
- etc.

Striker
Monday, September 29, 2003

I've twice had those types of symptoms.  One was when my CPU fan was dying and the other time, I had a high-end capture card that I didn't have adequate cooling.  If no one has better ideas, I might throw one of those PCI fans in there.

Another thing to try is lowlevel scandisk.. Or just replace the drive. 

I suppose it could be a memory problem, maybe replace that next.  You get the idea.

HTH

Lee
Monday, September 29, 2003

Local shops that build there own computers often mess up. If the uber-geek builds it then it is generally just fine. But I have seen more than once seen shops become so popular that they hired cheap students to build the boxes.

If you are lucky then your BIOS settings are off. Happened to a friend of mine a few weeks ago. They set the memory timings to tight causing random crashes like the ones you describe. If you have SATA disks then there are also a few BIOS settings that can cause problems if set wrongly.

It could also be a real hardware problem. Some motherboards, memory and CPU's just don't go well together. A good geek knows that, a bad one just checks if it boots up and that's it. I have also seen cheap power supplies cause instability.

Anyway don't accept the crap about instability being normal. AMD's are just as stable as Intels. Bring it back to them and let them fix it and give you your money back.

jan Derk
Monday, September 29, 2003

I have had the same issues in the past.  However, I did not have .net involved.  The answer you seek may lie in startup software.  If you have anything for the DVD or the CD-RW start with the boot. Stop it. Then see what happens.  (Do not just shut it off.  Stop and then reboot.  I cannot explain the difference other than something must remain even after it is closed.) 

Finally, download a memory tester and test your chip(s).  This one just happened to me.  My daughter's box would run great and then a game would kill it.  Total lockout. It would POST fine, but Norton showed a bad chip.  Swapped out and problem gone.


As for the "development box" concept, give me a break.  It sounds like they were trying to avoid responsibility.  A box outfitted like your's was not for Grandma and email.  Even if it was, unless you work for consumer reports, and are doing hardware testing, one and zero are pretty much universal.    (Remember they use to say "just reboot?")

MSHack
Monday, September 29, 2003

Thanks everyone.

"That "rallying" excuse is particularly pathetic -- Visual Studio is just another software application, and not a particularly demanding one.  (It runs fine on far slower machines.)"...

I thought this was the case. The computer is a CPU running opcodes and it shouldn't care whether it's browsing the web or compiling or whatever.

To the other posters, I couldn't experiment because it was under warranty. The instant I change anything, it would be "it worked before, you broke it". They did reinstall XP, change the CPU and test it with different memory chips, though.

They did finally give a refund, after about 20 phone calls and several different excuses. It's just I never had this happen before.

Bill Rayer
Monday, September 29, 2003

I would bet that the machine was overheating or it had a shady driver installed.

If you want to test your RAM you can use this:
http://www.memtest86.com/

it's a free/open source bootable cd that tests RAM.

Steve H
Monday, September 29, 2003

It sounds to me like a heat problem.

I had a similar problem myself with an HP Athlon 900 MHz box. It ran fine, except when I tried to run the Rotor[1] test suite. Then the machine would crash intermittently at random spots during the test.

It turned out that the exhaust fan had about a 1/4 inch of dust caked on the outlet. Cleaned that out, the machine runs like a champ.

The thing is, when a modern CPU is idling, it isn't using as much power, or generating as much heat, as it does while actually doing work.

I'd double check the case/vents/fans. Athlons are well known for being slightly twitchy about temperature.

-Chris

[1] http://msdn.microsoft.com/net/sscli

Chris Tavares
Monday, September 29, 2003

I had similar problems with my machine when I had just purchased it. It is an AMD Duron 650Mhz, the motherboard is an AOpen AK33 based on the VIA KT133 chipset. I'm pretty sure it's the chipset that were causing the problems for my machine. I downloaded new VIA4in1 drivers from www.aopen.com and the problems disappeared (and the onboard sound improved a lot in sound quality).

Check the homepage of your motherboard og chipset manufactor. Check for BIOS upgrades maybee?

It's a sad thing that the first thing to do when you buy a new computer is to download bugfixes...

/captainJack

captainJack
Monday, September 29, 2003

I've got a machine just like that. Well, sort of. Its Win2KPro and it was doing this before .NET and Visual Studio. I found this cute little registry entry in the Run section that had to do with hyperthreading. The Athlon doesn't do hyperthreading so I removed that entry. I haven't locked up since, but that was only a few days ago and I sometimes went as long a week without lockup. Normally however it would take several tries every morning to get booted up. The hardware guys around here have got a new motherboard on the way, but we're going to leave it on the shelf until the next lockup.

Ron Porter
Monday, September 29, 2003

What about the:
" - Realtek LAN card about 8 years old"
Was this an old card of yours that you added, or did it come with the PC? Did you check the Windows XP compatibility list for this card? It seems unlikely that there would be XP-certified drivers for an 8-year-old network card.

Philip Dickerson
Monday, September 29, 2003

Windows 2000 has a bug that prevents it from working well with Athlon XP and Duron.

There is a patch from Microsoft which fixes this bug.

Alternatively, you can install Windows XP which doesn't have the bug.

Enesco
Monday, September 29, 2003

Bill,

My Athlon box exhibited much the same behaviour until I upgraded the BIOS. Rock solid since.

Seeya

Matthew
Monday, September 29, 2003

VS runs fine on my Athlon boxen. I did have an install blowup once though. And it was a major screwup, VS couldn't finish the install or uninstall for some reason. Had to reinstall the OS (XP pro).

Clutch Cargo
Monday, September 29, 2003

"It seems unlikely that there would be XP-certified drivers for an 8-year-old network card."

The 3COM 3C509 ISA Parallel Tasking network card, although by today's standard nothing special, is still supported and runs a certified driver. It's also at least a decade old.

Let's face it. Nothing exciting has happened to network cards since they became PCI and got 100Mbit ports. :)

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Monday, September 29, 2003

I'm having the same problem (for some value of "same") with a new machine I got at home.  It's a 512M Athlon XP 2400, Win 98SE, and it sometimes locks up completely, other times BSOD's, and sometimes just individual programs crash.  It's most likely to crash when starting or exiting jEdit.  Starting and exiting jEdit and Mozilla at the same time is the most likely to cause the problem.

Interestingly, I tried putting some memory in from an older machine, and the problem seemed to go away, or at least I had to work the machine *much much* harder and longer to get something to crash.  I wonder if perhaps the older memory forced the CPU to slow down a bit?  CPU Temperature is in the 40's (Celsius), so I don't think it's a cooling problem.  I've already tried doing "clean boots" (i.e. disable all .inis and startup files/programs) and that doesn't fix the problem either.

Phillip J. Eby
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Thanks everyone.

I can't experiment with it because I gave it back a few months ago and got a refund. I was going to post this earlier on, but I wanted to let the experience fade away first!

" - Realtek LAN card about 8 years old" ... I wondered if that was the cause. This was for compatibility with an existing LAN setup. I gave the supplier the card before they started building the machine so they could do tests, if they wished.

The supplier did also install bios patches when this started. About the only thing that made a difference was reducing the clock multiplier, but that turned it from a 1700 MHz athlon (true speed) to a 900 MHz athlon (true speed).

Even though this problem is now over (from my viewpoint) I would still like to know what caused it. Eg was it some weird .NET thing? Or an intermittent hardware fault? From what people say here, I guess the latter.

Bill Rayer
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I build new machines every 6-18 months, depending on who needs what (I end up building machines for myself, my wife, and my friends). Without question, I never had as much trouble as when I was using Via-based motherboards with Athlon processors. My Pentium 4-based machines are rock solid, but the Athlons were always flaky.

At this point, I don't think any amount of money would interest me in Via or AMD again.

Brad Wilson (dotnetguy.techieswithcats.com)
Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I once had a similar problem which turned out to be a bad SIMM.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Anything clues in the Event Log? (Start > Run > eventvwr)

Duncan Smart
Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Oh... you don't have the PC anymore -- anyway, disk problems such as bad sectors or cruddy drivers for an IDE RAID have caused me problems like this in the past. Nothing to do with any apps - problems such as these are much lower level than that.

Duncan Smart
Wednesday, October 01, 2003

"Nothing to do with any apps - problems such as these are much lower level than that."

I'm comforted to hear that. Before returning the PC I was having these arguments with the supplier. He was certain it was a software problem caused by the development work I was trying to do. I was certain it was hardware - I don't even *know* how to write software that locks up a PC in the way it did.

Unfortunately I can't remember the make of the motherboard. That was the only major component they didn't replace, when they tried to fix the problem.

Bill Rayer
Wednesday, October 01, 2003

I have the same problem with my athlon and windows xp. I have reformatted and about anything else you can think of. I don't believe it is a heat problem because it can do it right after start up or hours later. I updated memory and it seemed to make it happen a little more frequently but it could be my imagination. Sent it in twice but they could not get it to happen. Sometimes it will freeze several times within an hour then won't happen for a month. I just live with it now.

Hazcat
Thursday, March 18, 2004

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