Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

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Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:09 am

I've been having a hell of a time with an Acer Aspire 5135 laptop, which the customer wanted Windows 7 on. The clean install went absolutely fine, all the tests I ran had no problems, chkdsk, defrag, installation of a few apps, all good. Then I hooked up the old hard disk to copy the customer's personal data across into a separate-from-everything folder on the new setup and the laptop hung during the copy.

It then proceeded to hang 75% of the time when trying to do anything with an external disk connected via USB. Even picking a different disk (for testing) made no difference, it would hang during chkdsk or robocopy.

I was just writing an e-mail to some friends about it, asking for any suggestions, and when I was listing all the drivers I had updated, I realised I hadn't updated the NIC driver, and ever since then it's been fine. However I haven't tested it for quite long enough yet to be completely confident that it has worked, so I'm in the place between feeling uneasy and relieved that the problem is seemingly fixed :)
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:52 am

Bollocks, spoke too soon.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:15 am

Hard to imagine the NIC driver affecting USB stability, but stranger things have happened. I suppose these sorts of seemingly nonsensical interactions should be less surprising these days, with pretty much everything integrated into the same southbridge chip. And a single driver with unrestricted access to system RAM and a wild pointer bug can wreak all kinds of havoc...
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 9:41 am

Have you just tried to hook the USB HD to another computer and move it over the network to the laptop? If the customer doesn't use an external hard drive, it may be a decent workaround.

also, what happens with a USB flash drive?
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 10:03 am

Is it a full system hang, or just the copy operation?

Really starting to sound like a bad USB port or controller... have all of the failures been connected to the same port, or have you tried different ports?
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:29 am

TheEmrys wrote:Have you just tried to hook the USB HD to another computer and move it over the network to the laptop? If the customer doesn't use an external hard drive, it may be a decent workaround.

Yes, but a problem like this simply shouldn't happen, and I'm worried that the laptop will have issues in future because of some underlying problem which is causing this symptom.

also, what happens with a USB flash drive?


I only have one USB drive and it's 4GB. Out of the two hard disks that I've connected to the same enclosure, the larger one is most likely to have the problem. It seems to me like an "USB under sustained load" issue, but I'm not sure.

(in response to someone else's question) It's a complete system hang - no response to keyboard or mouse, and caps/num lock lights don't respond. Pressing the power button once makes no difference, but holding it down for 5 seconds switches off the machine forcibly.

I've tried a different USB port as well. The problem happens running chkdsk from the command prompt or using robocopy.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:38 am

just brew it! wrote:Hard to imagine the NIC driver affecting USB stability, but stranger things have happened. I suppose these sorts of seemingly nonsensical interactions should be less surprising these days, with pretty much everything integrated into the same southbridge chip. And a single driver with unrestricted access to system RAM and a wild pointer bug can wreak all kinds of havoc...


I thought this was a power-saving issue originally (as the computer sometimes hangs while the screen is off), as I've seen an odd one on another Acer laptop where the machine would just go into standby while the customer was using it. That was with a clean install of Vista. Disabling standby mode fixed the problem, which was fine for her because she uses it as a desktop anyway (most importantly, she's happy with that). In hindsight I'm not particularly happy with that solution, maybe if I ever have the computer in again I'll take another look at it.

Anyway - I thought it was a power-saving issue to begin with, so I disabled all the power-saving techniques in Win7, but no difference to the problem. As I've seen a power-saving issue on the desktop boards I use at the moment where if the original NIC driver is used, the machine refuses to come out of standby to the point that the power has to be disconnected!

Another possibility is that the NIC hardware could share an IRQ with something awkward like USB. I've had the ethernet disconnected though and the problem has happened. I'm hoping (though I find it unlikely) that this is a USB incompatibility with my USB hard disk enclosure. I'm testing it with a Seagate FreeAgent drive instead at the moment. If that doesn't work, I'll disable every bit of unnecessary hardware to see if that makes any difference.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:41 am

Do you know how each of the hard disks are formatted? Is there a difference?

Have you tried to put an older USB driver on?
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:52 am

TheEmrys wrote:Do you know how each of the hard disks are formatted? Is there a difference?


The first two in the enclosure were NTFS, the FreeAgent I've set up as exFAT.

Have you tried to put an older USB driver on?


It was using the stock Win7 drivers to begin with, I installed the Intel INF update and AHCI driver on as a response to the problem.

- edit - the problem has happened again, but with a worrying twist - the machine switched itself off during a copy, and would not switch back on at all, and the power / mains lights went off on the laptop. I disconnected the mains, tried again, no difference, then disconnected the battery, waited 30 seconds, then reconnected it, then the system booted.

I've responded by disabling all unnecessary devices and rebooting, but a new idea has occurred to me, BIOS update. I'll try this first, as I'm nervous about laptop BIOS updates because of a stupid mistake I made once :)
Last edited by mikeymike on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:56 am

mikeymike wrote:Another possibility is that the NIC hardware could share an IRQ with something awkward like USB. I've had the ethernet disconnected though and the problem has happened. I'm hoping (though I find it unlikely) that this is a USB incompatibility with my USB hard disk enclosure. I'm testing it with a Seagate FreeAgent drive instead at the moment. If that doesn't work, I'll disable every bit of unnecessary hardware to see if that makes any difference.

I thought you tried a different external drive already?

Another question: Is this a USB-powered external enclosure, or does it have its own power brick?
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:30 pm

The enclosure is mains-powered, the FreeAgent is bus-powered. See the 'edit' I made to my previous post for more recent information.

About the BIOS update idea - from the Acer website, this worries me a tad:

By using these firmware/drivers you agree to accept the possibility of product failure.


:o

http://support.acer-euro.com/drivers/no ... _5315.html
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:45 pm

Well... that's basically them playing CYA. Any BIOS update carries a non-zero risk of bricking the hardware.

But you may also want to read this thread before you start down a path which might result in you needing to deal with Acer's customer service...
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:11 pm

Yeah, I'm just putting this issue to perspective again. The owner of the laptop is a teenager who needs it for school. It seems unlikely that she's going to throwing around serious amounts of data via USB, and if I put this question to the customer about whether I should try this risky update, she would immediately say no, I'm pretty sure of that.

I'm not particularly happy with Acer either from previous experience. I don't mind manufacturers saying things like "you should really only install BIOS updates if you're having serious problems and/or the updates mention fixes for those problems", but it shouldn't go as far as "well, if your laptop is almost a brick then you won't mind it becoming a brick". At least what I've read and previous experiences have sealed my opinion that Acer can jump off a cliff before I'll consider buying any of their kit.

I just wish I could think of some more things to try on this machine. I wish it had an eSATA socket so I could try doing a data transfer via that. The only things I can think of are to roll back some driver updates from Windows Update for the display and wlan.

I've already managed to transfer the customer's data onto the machine, as the problem doesn't happen every time, but I would say it's 75% of the time.

- edit - Dammit, why didn't I think of that sooner? I have the old disk with the Vista install, try the same test on that! I've got to wait for a disk check that I'm running on the Win7 boot disk at the moment.

- edit 2 - I'm listening to this repeatedly to try and calm down a bit, it's not been a great day :)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1bFr2SWP1I
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:37 pm

Have you run Memtest and perhaps some other kind of stress test? While unlikely, it's possible you have flaky RAM or an overheating issue that would show up under any intensive use, and this transfer just happens to be the first thing to cross the threshold.

I realize that this is a machine that was already running with a previous OS and didn't have any hardware changes (right?) but a new OS with a new driver model (if the previous OS was XP or if you went from 32bit to 64bit) will exercise hardware in different ways, and some marginal component that worked fine before might be falling over under the new conditions. I've seen it happen in the past.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 1:45 pm

UberGerbil wrote:Have you run Memtest and perhaps some other kind of stress test? While unlikely, it's possible you have flaky RAM or an overheating issue that would show up under any intensive use, and this transfer just happens to be the first thing to cross the threshold.


I ran memtest86 v3.5, and also orthos on blend test for about 50 minutes I think.

I realize that this is a machine that was already running with a previous OS and didn't have any hardware changes (right?) but a new OS with a new driver model (if the previous OS was XP or if you went from 32bit to 64bit) will exercise hardware in different ways, and some marginal component that worked fine before might be falling over under the new conditions. I've seen it happen in the past.


Well no, the laptop originally had 1GB RAM and so with its Celeron processor it crawled on Vista. Acer had set up the hard disk in a stupid fashion, as well as it being a stupid size in total (80GB on Vista, then split into two partitions!), though we went for a new 500GB disk. Vista 32-bit was on there, I went with Win7 64-bit.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Wed Oct 27, 2010 8:26 pm

Problems with USB drives on a Win7 Acer notebook sound oddly familiar. Try taking a run through msconfig's startup tab and disabling all the unimportant items.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Thu Oct 28, 2010 2:46 pm

It was a clean install of Win7 64-bit plus Windows updates, so if it freezes then, it's not going to be an optional component.

I tested the previous setup on the old hard disk (Vista 32-bit) a fair bit, I ran a chkdsk, a file copy operation (not a long one because the internal hard disk only had 30GB left on a spare partition), but also a 2-hour long operation with the files from the external drive being copied onto itself.

In desperation I tried Win7 32-bit, clean install with no updates, same problem. Argh.

I'm going to try a transfer in safe mode - less memory used, probably DMA disabled too. I wonder whether it's a bizarre memory issue.

- edit - froze again.

I'm now trying with only the original stick of memory. For the record, the trapdoor cover on this laptop is a bitch to remove!

- edit - it didn't freeze on the same test with the original gig of memory in safe mode, but I'll try it again a few more times before I'm sure that it's the memory.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Fri Oct 29, 2010 8:03 am

Argh, it's not the memory. I'm running a full diagnostic with Western Digital's software.

One further detail - the transfer process seems to get through about 50 - 55GB before freezing, every time the problem happens. The problem happens about 75% of the time I think.

One other thing I'll probably try is a Vista install on the new disk, if the diagnostic turns out fine (which I expect it to unfortunately). The old disk is too small to get about 50GB of data on it.

- edit - I decided to first completely rule out the memory by trying the new stick in on its own, in case the old one had some bizarre issue, but the problem happened again.

- edit - It turns out that the original configuration has this problem as well. Which is a relief, in a way.
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Re: Win7 stability troubleshooting, letting off steam here :)

Postposted on Sat Oct 30, 2010 12:44 pm

I'm going to talk to Acer on Monday about this laptop, in the hope that they might be aware of an issue in this respect. However, considering the technical prowess their rep showed when I rang them on Friday, I'm not keeping my hopes up.

The problem is that after processing/transferring (usually) about 50GB via USB, the machine hangs. Once I had to remove the battery to resolve it, but the rest of the time, holding down the power button did the trick. The two tests I've performed involved chkdsk or robocopy, and I've tried using a different external storage device. It fails about 75% of the time.

The customer says that the laptop has hung from time to time before I had it in for the Win7 upgrade.
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