Ubuntu really, really hates me.

Yes, I’m still struggling to make Ubuntu run properly on my work laptop. For awhile it seemed I had solved the crashing problem by installing, of all things, the BSOD screensaver. Of course that’s total nonsense, but for about four days I had no crashes to speak of and the only change I had made was installing said screensaver which I had done in a fit of pique. Then on Monday whenever I locked my screen forcing the screensaver to kick in I’d come back to my desk to find a login prompt staring at me as the GUI had apparently crashed and kicked me out to the login. I couldn’t even pull up the screensaver preferences to change it without it crashing out so I had to uninstall the screensaver completely.

I decided it must be the proprietary ATI drivers causing all the trouble so I went ahead and uninstalled those as well. The one good bit of news is that the default Ubuntu drivers are now able to detect my external monitor connected to the docking station, the bad news is it won’t allow me to run it at a higher resolution than the laptop without totally screwing up the screen layout. So I have this nice monitor that should be running at 1900×1200 running at 1280×1024 which is all kinds of distorted, but I’m living with it. This also seemed to fix my problem until tonight. Whilst browsing the web I was once again greeted with a GUI crash that kicked me out to the login screen.

So I’ve still not managed to figure out what the hell the problem is, but I have successfully lowered the incidence of it occurring. Instead of crashing eight to ten times a day it’s now crashing once or twice every other day and that, at least, is some improvement. Meanwhile the laptop I don’t touch all that often sitting right next to this one which has an absolutely base install of Ubuntu with nothing else added hasn’t crashed one me once since I set it up. I couldn’t tell you why.

Very, very frustrating.

Not happy with Ubuntu today.

One of the first things I do when I get to work is check my email, personal and work related, which are both web based. After logging into my laptop I was dismayed to find that I wasn’t able to access the Internet. It seems Ubuntu has decided it doesn’t want to hold onto an IP address for more than a few moments at a time for no apparent reason. I’ve been running a ping in a command line window for the past 20 minutes or so and it’ll ping fine for awhile and then it gives a “network is unreachable” and then starts pinging fine again. That’s when I have the network configuration set to roaming mode. If I set it to DHCP or configure it as Static then it just won’t work period.

The weird part is that the damned thing was running just fine all day yesterday and the only thing that I know for certain has changed is I went home and came back. I’ve tried everything I can think of and all the suggestions I could find on the web (which I’m accessing from the kiosk PC I’ve been working on). I’ve tried it undocked, I’ve tried it on a different known-to-work network port, I’ve tried it using a different cat5 cable, I’ve even gone so far as to wipe out the installation and reinstall on the off-chance that it was an package update causing the problem. So far all of that has been to no avail. The only thing left is to track down a PCMCIA network card to see if perhaps it’ll work which I’ll be doing after lunch. Again I’m sure my relative lack of experience with troubleshooting Linux doesn’t help, but neither does the fact that all the different distros seem to put their config files in different places so consulting a Linux+ certification book is actually counter-productive because it deals mostly with Red Hat and therefore is useless for figuring out where stuff is under Ubuntu. If this were Windows I’d probably have figured out exactly what the problem is by now.

So posting to SEB may be light today as my primary machine is currently trying to decide if it wants to network properly or not. I love it when stuff breaks for no apparent reason.

With computers it’s the little things that make you pull your hair out.

Just the other day I mentioned how I might have to switch back to using Windows XP as the Vista audio drivers were causing my system to crash after an hour or so of use. Turns out it wasn’t the audio drivers at all, but — as is often the case — my own actions that brought about the instability.

I’ve mentioned previously how Vista runs pretty well with 1GB of RAM, though that’s the absolute minimum I’d recommend having for Vista, and I’ve been running at that level for some time now. I am, as you already know, a gamer and it turns out that trying to be a gamer under Vista with only 1GB of RAM is often annoying. This is mainly due to the simple fact that Vista is just like every previous Windows release in that in uses up more resources than XP did so a game that ran great with 1GB of RAM ended up acting like a game running with only half that much memory. World of Warcraft is notorious for lag when you enter one of the capitol cities because that’s where the greatest concentration of players tends to be and that means loading a whole bunch of custom textures due to the variety of armors on the avatars. This generally happens on systems with only 512MB of RAM and the simplest solution is to bump up to 1GB at which point the problem pretty much goes away. Well running at 1GB on Vista makes WoW act like you’re running with only 512MB on Windows XP. The solution was obvious and simple: Time to bump up the RAM in this box to 2GB.

It’s always the simple solutions that end up being hideously complex in totally unexpected ways. RAM is dirt cheap these days. Or at least it is if your motherboard is capable of using DDR2 RAM. It should go without saying that mine isn’t one of those motherboards. Mine still uses the previous generation DDR RAM. 2GB of DDR2 RAM (that’s two 1GB sticks sold together) can be had for less than $40 these days whereas 2GB of DDR RAM goes for around $140 or so. Yes, that’s a $100 difference in price and we’re talking the “cheap” DDR RAM as the premium stuff is even more expensive. That is more than enough for a decent new motherboard that runs DDR2 except you’d also have to buy a new processor which pumps the price up a bit more. I already had two 512MB sticks to make the 1GB I had in my box so I thought I’d try to save a few bucks by buying two more 512MB sticks — which would be cheaper than buying two 1GB sticks — and put them in the remaining two slots.

This simple decision was the beginning of my folly, though I wouldn’t realize it for days to come.

When I got home and slapped the new sticks in my system I found that it no longer wanted to get past the POST sequence. I had bought a high end DFI motherboard when I built this system which means it’s somewhat fussy about what you put into it and it didn’t like having two sets of RAM sticks from different manufacturers in its slots (the initial RAM I bought was also high end stuff). I locked the machine up badly enough that I had to reset the CMOS to get it working again, which meant that a few settings in my BIOS needed to be reconfigured. Being that I don’t tend to mess with my BIOS once I get things working properly I’d long forgotten what settings I’d used and as I was poking around in the BIOS one of the things I did was to disable the SATA RAID controller so the system wouldn’t waste time checking for a RAID array during boot up. I could’ve sworn I’d done that previously and I had, but not on this motherboard. This was my fatal mistake though I wouldn’t realize it for quite some time. I took the two 512MB sticks I’d bought back to the store and exchanged them for two 1GB sticks which I slapped in my machine in place of the original 512MB sticks I had in there.

Everything seemed fine when I started up Vista and I didn’t receive the first sign that something was wrong until I started playing World of Warcraft and I got my first lockup. My system froze and the audio made a terrible clacking sound. This also happened while playing Call of Duty 4 and because of the racket that was being made I assumed that it was my audio drivers suddenly acting up, which confused me because they’d been working fine for quite awhile. Still I poked and prodded and downloaded the latest drivers and generally grew more frustrated. If not the audio then the only other thing that had changed recently was the RAM so I started poking around in the BIOS to see if I had misconfigured one of the RAM settings and, after several attempts at tuning the RAM didn’t work, I ended up yanking the new RAM and put the old RAM back. It didn’t help that I found a couple of forum posts that suggested my DFI Lanparty SLI-DR Expert didn’t like the Corsair Value Select RAM I’d bought.

Only the problem didn’t go away. After yet more RAM timing tweaks in the BIOS I began to think that maybe it was the audio drivers after all so I decided to back everything up and restage to Windows XP. You can imagine my surprise when, after the initial OS install was done and I was in the middle of reinstalling WoW while copying data from the backup hard drive to its proper place on the main drive, my system once again locked up in the very same fashion as previously. Something it had never done previously. This was when I started yelling my what-the-fucks at my PC as I was beginning to wonder if I’d somehow done some damage to the PC when I had mixed the two RAM types earlier. Now one thing I didn’t mention is that during all this putzing around I was also taking time between crashes to scour the web looking for info on issues with this motherboard and Vista drivers and RAM timings, etc. and it was during one such session this evening that I happened upon a passing comment by some forum poster on DFI BIOS settings in which he mentioned he always left the SATA RAID enabled.

That’s when another detail that had been rattling around in the back of my head came to the forefront. Anne had been using the PC the past couple of days as well without experiencing a single lockup. The difference being that she wasn’t doing anything particularly disk intensive. She was browsing the web and checking email whereas I had been playing games and moving huge amounts of data around when the lockups occurred. I recalled that I had disabled the SATA RAID thinking it would improve performance. So I went into the BIOS and enabled it once more and proceeded to do a fresh install of Windows Vista.

The true test would come after the OS was loaded and I decided to go all out. First I put the new 2GB sticks back in the PC and then, after applying the initial Windows Update patches, I went ahead and launched a new install of World of Warcraft while simultaneously copying all 16GB of MP3 files back from the backup hard drive, playing some of said MP3 files in Media Player 11, while browsing the web and whistling Dixie just to put the icing on top. My system ran smooth as silk without so much as a hiccup whereas just installing WoW under XP had brought on a lockup. And it has continued to run just fine during the entire time I wrote this entry while completing the rest of the data restores to Anne’s account and installing the Burning Crusade expansion while listening to multiple plays of Green Christmas by the Barenaked Ladies.

It’s always the little changes that you’re absolutely certain you’ve done in the past that trip you up and make you yank out what little hair you still have on your head. So I’m back to running under Vista with a healthy 2GB of RAM to give it some elbow room. I already know that WoW runs great on Vista with 2GB from the small sessions I had between crashes earlier so I’m looking forward to experiencing it without the periodic lockups. The lesson to be learned here is that I should probably take notes on what my BIOS settings are before doing things that might cause me to have to reset them.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. I’m just stupid that way.

When it rains it pours…

First the PC I recently built for my parents starts acting up and is in a state at the moment where it won’t boot. Not only is that frustrating seeing as I’m working for the next 11 days straight so I can’t go up and see what the problem is, but it’s downright embarrassing considering they’ve only had the thing a month or so. Then I help my sister-in-law’s boyfriend with a new motherboard he bought that wouldn’t post, which turned out to be a faulty power supply that was actually electrifying his whole PC case (why are my finger’s tingling??). Then the McCormick family, Courtney’s relatives from her mother’s side, ask if I can take a look at a couple of their PCs when I picked her up from her Memorial Weekend stay with them so I brought one of them home to tinker with. Then in the middle of restaging Anne’s PC to correct some quirks it’s developed it suddenly decides to die and not want to boot up properly any longer.

Then I get sick and spend a good portion of my time in bed.

Ugh. I have no idea what the heck is wrong with my parent’s PC, but I’m hoping it’s just a BIOS tweak or something else simple. I haven’t had a chance to peek at the McCormick’s PC yet, but I hope to get to it this weekend when I’m feeling a bit better. Anne’s PC is either the processor, video card, motherboard, or power supply, I think. Turning it on results in the fans and drives spinning up, but no video initialization and no boot up. A couple of tries, however, will sometimes garner a beep and a BIOS message stating it was shut down incorrectly and the CPU frequency needs to be reset in the BIOS, but just a few minutes of running will cause it to shut off suddenly once again. It did that three or so times before it simply refused to post at all. I get no beeps from the motherboard at all when it’s in this state. I’m inclined to think it’s the processor cause I’ve tested another video card in it, but it could also be a slowly dieing power supply as systems won’t boot if they’re not getting enough juice and I just fixed such an issue with the aforementioned sister-in-law’s S/O’s PC.

So I’m going to try hooking up the power supply in my PC to Anne’s motherboard and see what happens. If it boots like it should then I know we need to replace that part and if it doesn’t then I’m going to go with it being the processor. Trouble is it’s an older Socket A AMD motherboard and finding Socket A processors these days is tricky. I have an old Duron or two laying around that I can also use as a test to be sure and then if that’s what it is I’ll have to hunt down someone still selling Socket A processors. I think the local Microcenter store has at least one model still in stock so that’s one possible solution.

A PC tech’s work is never done…