How Intel ruined my Christmas vacation

Okay, Intel didn’t actually spoil my entire vacation, but it came awfully close. To understand why, you need to go back a couple of months: it’s the middle of November, and I’ve just booked two plane tickets for me and my girlfriend to go visit my father in Scotland during the holidays. My father’s PC is growing long in the tooth, so I work out a deal with him. He’ll buy a set of new parts, and I’ll assemble them into a working PC when I get there.

I’m usually opposed to building computers for friends and family, since that practically makes me their only avenue for technical support when something goes wrong. However, my dad is fairly tech-savvy and was staunchly opposed to the notion of buying a pre-built Dell or Mac. I therefore instructed him to buy a list of parts not unlike the Econobox from our latest system guideโ€”only I went with a cheaper memory kit and swapped out the Gigabyte mobo and GeForce 8600 GT for an Intel BOXDG33TLM motherboard with integrated graphics. My dad’s not much of a gamer, and I figured the BOXDG33TLM would be a more solid base for a reliable system than competing offerings I was as little accustomed to. After all, Intel should have better quality assurance resources than Taiwanese motherboard firms, shouldn’t it?

On December 25, as dusk was giving way to a gloomy winter’s night (around 4 PM), I dodged torn gift wrapping paper and pine needles to collect the various hardware boxes and set out to work. The installation was a breeze, thanks largely to the delightful Antec NSK4480 case and Intel’s very sensibly designed stock processor cooler. All in all, I must have knocked out the entire system in an hour and a half, and it powered on flawlessly on the first try. Happy with my work, I loaded the Windows Vista Premium OEM disc into the machine’s DVD drive, ran the installation, installed drivers from the Intel CD, and finally ran Windows Update. The system was working perfectly, and its new owner was thrilled.

The guts of the machine and their owner.

The next day, I took it upon myself to transfer data from my father’s old Athlon XP 1700+ PC to the new one and to install necessary applications like anti-virus software, Firefox, Microsoft Office, Skype, and so on. I also carried over a few devices from the old system, including a pair of printers and a scanner. As I was working, Windows suddenly popped up a friendly dialog box informing me that Windows Explorer had stopped working and that it was being restarted. I’ve run into this alert a couple of times before on my own PC back home, so I wasn’t particularly worried. However, the alert kept appearing with an alarming frequency, and the next morning I finally had to admit something was wrong.

At that point, the system had been running for just a couple of days and only had a minimal suite of applications installed, so I suspected a hardware problem. I spent several hours running Windows’ built-in memory test and Prime95, but neither tool found any hardware flaws. I then suspected the anti-virus software, but uninstalling it changed nothing. While trying desperately to fix the problem, I noticed that Vista’s security control panel was now displaying in black and white. Assuming Vista had crapped out somewhere during the installation, I resigned myself to do a full format and re-install.

I was much more cautious the second time around, choosing to install only the network interface driver before running Windows Update. I then proceeded to install, one by one, drivers straight from Intel’s website. Defying all logic, Windows Explorer soon started crashing repeatedly just as it had done with the previous installation. Luckily, I had only installed a handful of drivers and I was able to backtrack using System Restore until I pinpointed the source of the problem: the latest 32-bit Vista driver for the Intel motherboard’s integrated audio.

Yes, this driver is technically made by SigmaTel, but it’s right here on Intel’s website. A brand-new driver offered by Intel should not completely hose a brand-new Vista installation on a brand-new system with no exotic hardware and only software obtained from Microsoft and Intel installed. This isn’t an isolated problem, eitherโ€”looking around Internet forums reveals other users with similar issues, some of them with different Intel motherboards.

I really expected better from an Intel product, especially considering I’ve never run into an issue like this with boards from Abit, Asus, Gigabyte, or MSI. Some folks might blame Windows Vista for the mess, but come on. Both the motherboard and the driver came out months after Vista, and the largest semiconductor company in the world really ought to be able to do better. As for me, I spent several days of what could have been a relaxing week working around a problem that shouldn’t have been there in the first place. My next motherboard will probably be a Taiwanese product from a company I’ve had better experiences with.

Comments closed
    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    mATX mobo in full ATX case = looks lame.

    • raymin
    • 12 years ago

    Oh well. I guess all that CLASS AND GRACE does not extend to their software support huh?

      • Flying Fox
      • 12 years ago

      And you think DAAMIT is doing better?

    • eitje
    • 12 years ago

    Could I convince your dad to give Ubuntu a try? ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Fighterpilot
    • 12 years ago

    Hmm…good call there Cyril.
    After reading this article, I found then used the memory checker utility for the first time.It was a bit of a shock when the blue screen popped up tho lol…thought it was a BSOD for a second (0-0)
    I installed the latest version of SP1 over the weekend,so far so good and things are running very well.
    Thanx to TR for providing these update links,hopefully SP1 RTM will address some of the concerns we’ve seen in the posts here of late.

    • Fighterpilot
    • 12 years ago

    Given how the geniuses like Z-Man,Snake,Madman etc have “proved” that Vista is “broken”…what made you decide to “inflict” Vista on your Dad,Cyril and…how does he like it so far ? ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Flying Fox
    • 12 years ago

    That beige optical drive sticks out like a sore thumb. ๐Ÿ˜›

    I nominate this particular blog post to the regular “featured” rotation so those DAAMITians will see Intel bashing (well, technically not quite Intel, but those f**b**s are sort of blind anyways). ๐Ÿ˜€ ๐Ÿ˜†

    • just brew it!
    • 12 years ago

    Cyril, I can sympathize. I’ve been the de facto source of PC tech support and custom-built PCs for my extended family for a number of years now. We can take some small consolation in the fact that even if our relatives bought a Dell/Gateway/Compaq/etc. instead, we’d still get drafted for tech support duty whenever anything went wrong. Especially given the piss-poor quality of tech support from the big system vendors these days.

    JAE, Asus is on my short list of motherboard vendors; but they’re far from perfect. I’ve had Asus boards with weird quirky problems too. Sometimes (as in Cyril’s little misadventure with the Intel board) it comes down to quality issues with drivers from third party semiconductor manufacturers. Other times, you’re just left scratching your head wondering what they were thinking.

    (FWIW my motherboard short list is currently Asus, MSI, and DFI for desktops, and Tyan for servers…)

    • DASQ
    • 12 years ago

    I’ve run into endless amounts of problems with Intel and their integrated audio suites.

    Some motherboards have 3-4 ‘official’ driver packs for audio. And some had varying degrees of problems (Read: Features not working at all).

    • Jon
    • 12 years ago

    “I spent several hours running Windows’ built-in memory test”

    What windows built-in memory test?

      • Cyril
      • 12 years ago

      The one that’s built into Windows. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      It’s in the Control Panel under System and Maintenance, Administrative Tools.

        • thecoldanddarkone
        • 12 years ago

        Just type mem in search, click on it. UAC will prompt you at that point. After the prompt it will ask if you want to “restart and check for problems”.

    • JustAnEngineer
    • 12 years ago

    Cyril, My question is: Where did you get the misinformation that an Intel motherboard would be better than one from ASUS? Who manufactures and sells the most motherboards?

      • Cyril
      • 12 years ago

      Just because a company has a higher market share doesn’t necessarily mean its products are of higher quality. I had no experience with G33-based alternatives from other companies, and I was looking for something reliable without frills. I expected to find just that in an Intel product (really, why wouldn’t I?), especially since I’d always heard good things about Intel mobos. Apparently, my assumption was flawed. I don’t think I should get the blame for expecting a reliable product with good driver support from a company like Intel, though.

        • Flying Fox
        • 12 years ago

        You could have posted in the forums and we would promptly have told you to get the P5K-VM or the GA-G33M-* boards. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        But you are absolutely right. Those Intel boards are supposed to go to a lot of OEM/local SI builds the driver support should have been better. No excuse about that.

    • JdL
    • 12 years ago

    I think we all expect better from the 800lb gorilla. Having built a number of systems myself, I have also been surprised to find that Intel’s drivers are often barely usable, at least for devices other than its chipsets (which have performed well).

    I have had numerous glitches with its graphics drivers (for GMA and X3000 chipsets), for example, and maintaining / troubleshooting the drivers has been difficult at best. I’ve downloaded storage drivers that did not contain any installer files, or even INF’s, and was left to wire the drivers up for myself.

    Oh well. With their intentions of being more competitive in the graphics / multimedia spaces in the future, I guess we can only hope their driver development will also improve.

      • swaaye
      • 12 years ago

      I haven’t had any problems with their video drivers in an office-usage environment. For gaming, I’m sure they’d be a real disaster, but using one of those IGPs for 3D games is just a bad call in the first place. ๐Ÿ™‚ I haven’t used their GMA X3x00 chips, but have used a number of GMA 950 and older products (back to i810).

      I’ve never bought an Intel-branded board before. They are made by “evil” Foxconn, I believe.

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