Sunday, September 30, 2007

My BSOD Weekend

My weekend was filled with BSOD.

The so called Blue Screen of Death was fast and painless, and did not give me time to react. Or to grieve.

So I asked myself, why the hell would I get IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL errors when installing Microsoft Office Enterprise 2007, or having at least 2 memory intensive programs running at the same time? I tried playing my favorite movie Der Untergang while concurrently browsing (using Firefox, of course) and I was rudely interrupted by an unexpected BSOD.

I was thinking that it was a Vista reliability problem, so I updated it with all the updates I can handle (restarting MANY times along the way because of the aforementioned shutdowns), and still nothing.

I start Windows Memory Diagnostics, and when it finished I did not see an error message. This could mean one of two things - there are no errors, or more plausibly, the system crashed before it could generate a report. I take a nap during the test (bad idea) and wake up finding that my machine had rebooted to XP. (My machine is now dual boot, XP is the default as migration is a slow process in my family.)

I then boot into XP. I was hoping to find answers when suddenly my screen turns black. No BSOD, no error message. Another second passes and my machine reboots. Just when I was downloading an Autopatcher torrent... argh! A hardware problem!

Since I was using an onboard sound chip (as I could not reliably find a sound driver for my supposedly Creative card - that is branded differently during hardware detection) and have just upgraded to a brand-spanking-new broadband setup, I decided to ditch my sound card and 56K modem. The modem was always a pain to look for drivers anyway.

And, like clockwork, the system crashes yet again - BSOD.

I was thankful that I had time to do this system maintenance - if I was working at a hospital or some place similar where I didn't have my weekends free, who knows what I could have done to this system because of my shorter provision for failure.

Searching the internet, I read that a lot of the IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL errors are from bad memory. No time to look for a memory management tool that is more reliable than that of Vista.

I just chucked the oldest memory module out, a 256MB DDR-333.

I had 2 modules remaining, and rearranged them. I restarted the machine, and curiously noted that it ignored one module during posting. Bad memory slot.

I resolved that, and was able to install on my Vista partition MS Office 2007 Enterprise running on an Alcohol 120% virtual drive, alongside Partition Manager, Firefox, and NOD32. No BSOD.

Moral of the story: none, unless you consider that learning through (not with) your technology is a painful, but necessary, experience.

There are three options in preventing my experience from happening to you:

1. Paying someone an insane amount of money to maintain your PC, which you will still break even though you only go to the Friendster site once a week, or
2. Migrating to Linux - Fedora Core 7 and Mandriva have nice GNOME/KDE interfaces and are user-friendly, too. But this requires more than just common sense to install, configure, and use. Not for the faint of heart, and definitely not for the casual user who is not tech-inclined.
3. Buy licensed software so you can whine to technical support. Now, I'm not saying that I downloaded these software somewhere... but it'll make your life infinitely easier knowing that your P16,000 spent on a Windows Vista Ultimate license would be maximized by constant calls to the Tech Support hotline.

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