HTPC unstable - should I rebuild please advise

sapper

Active Member
A couple of years ago (maybe summer 2003?), I built a HTPC based on the following components:

A7N8X-E Deluxe motherboard, AMD Athlon XP3000 and 1GB of Crucial DDR400 Memory
1 x Gigabyte GV-N66256DP 6600 256MB Silent pipe AGP Video Card (N-video graphic card 6600)
80GB Hard Drive, 250 GB Mirror array
Liteon 16x48 IDE DVD-ROM Drive
Nebula DigiTV Card
Black Gold DigiTV Card MCE
MCE 2005.

Lately I have been having problems with the system, inbeing unstable. crashing. Error messages are numerous but two common reoccurring theses are…

A basic component fault i.e. RAM, CPU, Motherboard , power supply
Video graphic card, please down load the latest drives.

With support from the IT guys at work, we have ascertained that I had faulty memory Dimm and purchased some new memory. But the system is still unstable, unreliable.

SO I thought I would remove all the added on boards, reformat the hard drive and reinstall MCE and slowly add onto it to see if I could ascertain what the issue is.

So I have removed the TV-cards, and the SATA array, and just using one hard drive, I am trying to re-install MCE

But during the early stages of installation, the PC crashes with the driver _lessthen_or _equal_to error.

I am at a loss now what I should do.

First option I guess is to try and stick to this system and see if I can get it to work. If so has any one got any sensible ideas? Can any one recommend a memory test for me please so I can try that – if this memory is faulty, then that might help explain it but it is brad new.

The second option is to replace my motherboard/CPU/RAM (which I have just bought new stuff), and to rebuild the HTPC with these new items, and see if that happens. Additionally I would consider replacing my 400 w power supply with something more juicy, the IT guys were concerned that I was running too much of it. However my other PC which has a similar system and is using the same case has no obvious power supply problems.

If so, what motherboard/CPU/memory combination should I consider? I would like to keep my existing case etc for the time being but my upgrade in the future. But I would like to maintain my existing facilities such as a mirror array, tv cards, etc.

One final request is software. What is the preferred software for MCE hese days as in regards to video codecs etc. If I am having to rebuild the PC I would like to ensure it is as future proof and stable as possible.


Any advice, comments, suggestions would be appreciated

Adrian
 

Andy98765

Distinguished Member
Just reading through your tales, the first thing in the system I would dump would be the Hard Drive, if you are struggling to even load MCE there could lie your problem. The drive is too small anyway and you would have nothing to lose getting a bigger one as it could be used in future systems.
 

smashie

Active Member
hello mate, as fara the codecs you should be using, i use the most current stable build of ffdshow (but do not install any of the windows media codecs from this pack as ity will bork your install of mce).. also as you have a nvidia based graphics card you should be aiming to install nvidias pure video codec for all your tv decoding needs and i use nero 7 as my main burning tool so that takes care of the dvd playback.. all the best!! merry xmas!! :)
 

sapper

Active Member
Just reading through your tales, the first thing in the system I would dump would be the Hard Drive, if you are struggling to even load MCE there could lie your problem. The drive is too small anyway and you would have nothing to lose getting a bigger one as it could be used in future systems.

I deliberatly had a small drive for the software as i use other drives to store my data....

But i could use the other IDE drive to see if that works...

Thank you for the sugggestion it is worth a try :)

ADrian
 
B

BigBry

Guest
Is it a 'driver irq not less or equal' error that you refer to or a different one?

RAM tests include Microsofts tool;
http://oca.microsoft.com/en/windiag.asp
However I've had faulty RAM that has passed this (and other) tests before. I'd be very suprised if your new corsair RAM is the issue.

A failing component could be causing the problem and I'd suspect the PSU at this stage. Few parts tend to really degrade over time but the PSU will, particularly if it's a cheap one. Your comments about the PSU suggest it's a non-branded one supplied with the case. I'd recommend you try a temporary replacement first and then when/if that proves to be the problem spend a reasonable amount on a trusted brand one.

Was there anything you did at the same time the errors started? Did you move or clean the HTPC? Did you install any software or hardware?

If your HTPC is meeting your needs, apart from the crashing, then spend some time resolving this problem rather than spending cash on a new CPU/board etc.

For your hard drive(s) is there a SMART setting in the bios? This will give you warnings if the drive is failing. If there's no option there are many tools that you can use to check. A free one is speedfan which has a SMART utility built in.
 

MikeC

Active Member
Shot in the dark here but... do you by any chance have a spare PSU you could try?

Failing PSU's can give all sorts of strange errors......

HTH
 

sapper

Active Member
Shot in the dark here but... do you by any chance have a spare PSU you could try?

Failing PSU's can give all sorts of strange errors......

HTH

Thank youfor yoru suggestiosn so far..

I have tried another hard drive bit to no-avail.

so Istill cannot install windows MCE :(

I do have a nother identical case... so I guess Icould swap power supplies and see if they work. I do recall the power supplies are ANTEc 400 watt units


Adrian
 

MikeC

Active Member
If its failing when trying to install on a different hd, then this implies its probably not the hd at fault (maybe :) ).
I would be tempted to swap the ide lead to another one. I once had a faulty lead which produced odd errors at the end of a 1 1/2hr format .....

Mike
 

sapper

Active Member
If its failing when trying to install on a different hd, then this implies its probably not the hd at fault (maybe :) ).
I would be tempted to swap the ide lead to another one. I once had a faulty lead which produced odd errors at the end of a 1 1/2hr format .....

Mike

Thanks guys ...

The latest so far..

I followed Mike's suggestion of repalcing the IDE cable wiyh a new one that I had laying around... no change.

So I swapped the power supplies.

It is early days but the HTPC PC allowed me to install windows... need to reconfigure down load stuff now :(

This study PC now has the 'dodgy' power supply, and so far it has not crashed on boot up, but only time will tell.

It is early days, but maybe I am on the market for a 600 watt PSU for the HTPC.

Any suggestions?

The case is an Adtepec Sonatra case with a 380-400 w unit. Guess Ishould upgrade to a 600w unit for ease of mind?

Do PSU's have 'standard sizes'?

Agian thank youfor yourhelp so far

Adrian
 

MikeC

Active Member
adrian
I know the current fashion is for big PSU's but 600w does seem rather high (to me neway) for a HTPC.
I would estimate that 300w would be your max consumption (now wheres that link for calculating PSU watts..)
The only high wattage bit of kit you have is the 6600 gfx card, all the rest are fairly low watts requirement and your cpu is probably running cool'n'quiet aswell.

I would think that (the original) 400w seems fine - unless you are anticipating on upgrading gfx card to something meaty - just make sure its from a good manufacterer.
incidentally my HTPC currently has a 275w PSU..... (but it has a less powerful gfx card)

all ATX psu's are a standard size (unless otherwise stated). For HTPC, you are probably wanting one thats fairly quiet so get one that has 12cm fan (almost a standard feature now).
some are now modular where you plug only the cables you need into the psu - stops having all those unused cables getting in the way.

I have in the past bought Akasa but they're not particularly cheap.

HTH
 

sapper

Active Member
adrian
I know the current fashion is for big PSU's but 600w does seem rather high (to me neway) for a HTPC.
I would estimate that 300w would be your max consumption (now wheres that link for calculating PSU watts..)
The only high wattage bit of kit you have is the 6600 gfx card, all the rest are fairly low watts requirement and your cpu is probably running cool'n'quiet aswell.

I would think that (the original) 400w seems fine - unless you are anticipating on upgrading gfx card to something meaty - just make sure its from a good manufacterer.
incidentally my HTPC currently has a 275w PSU..... (but it has a less powerful gfx card)

all ATX psu's are a standard size (unless otherwise stated). For HTPC, you are probably wanting one thats fairly quiet so get one that has 12cm fan (almost a standard feature now).
some are now modular where you plug only the cables you need into the psu - stops having all those unused cables getting in the way.

I have in the past bought Akasa but they're not particularly cheap.

HTH


Cheers Mike.

The Dodgey PSU seems to be holding out on this PC so far (this being the 'study office PC'.

I will use both psu's for a few days and see what happens. Maybe there was a poor connection, and removing the PSU and connecting up the other one resolved this?

Only tiem will tell, but maybe I can have my plasma calibrated for Christmas rather then a new mother board bundle.

Adrian
 
Z

zeus123

Guest
The driver_irql_not_less_than_or_equal blue screen is a plague. Loads of people have problems with it. In my case it was our ram but its isnt always ram.

First off check you temperatures.

Run memtest 86+ for a good 24hrs.
http://www.memtest86.com/
Its a floppy bootable memory test.
If your ram is fine then you shouldnt get any errors. Even if you get a few... I suppose up to 10 or something I wouldnt worry too much. 10 errors in 24hrs wont make your pc crash.

Because ram and the cpu are working together errors in memtest 86+ might be down to the cpu.
If you do get errors id run prime 95 (a windows program) for another 24hrs. Its a cpu stress test which will halt upon any error.
http://www.mersenne.org/freesoft.htm
Its the stress test you will want to run.
If you get an error in this then it might be the cpu causing the problems. CPU errors are usually from overclocking or overheating. In general CPUs will outlive the rest of the system no problem. Most get binned because they are simply out of date.

If you get through both of these tests without any errors (which id imagine you probably will) I would seriously consider it being the PSU. Watts to a certain extent dont mean squat. I would have thought a 350w PSU will be more than enough from what I can see in your hardware list. What is important with PSUs is the quality. A cheap generic one might not work for even a week before showing signs of dying, you can drag one out for a year though usually. Most cheap branded ones will last for a year, two at the most before showing signs of giving way.

Here is a short list of good PSU manufacturers.
-Enermax
-Antec
-Fortron (FSP Group brand)
-Hiper (easy to get ahold of in the UK) They make a nice Media Centre dvd size case too.
-OCZ
-PC Power & Cooling (for those who want the best money can buy)
-Seasonic (very quiet)
-Silverstone
-Sparkle (FSP Group brand)
-Tagan
-Thermaltake Purepower (for Socket A/Northwood P4s) or Toughpower (A64, Prescott, Core2)
-Ultra (except X-Connect)
-XClio
-Zippy/Emacs

And avoid these like the plague...
-Apevia (formerly Aspire)
-Coolmax
-Logisys
-MGE
-NZXT
-Powmax
-Powermax
-Q-Tec (also, Q-Technology)
-Ultra X-Connect

A good 400w PSU will cost you around £50 but its well worth it. Ive gone for FSP in the past because they are cheaper than most of the other brands! but if I ever get the cash for a top end PC id go for an Enermax.

Use this app to get an idea of what rated psu you should be looking for...
http://www.extreme.outervision.com/psucalculator.jsp
Ive got tons of stuff in my desktop and I only need 391w psu apparently, though I only have a 300w :) No problems at all either. Thats with an FSP.

If you want to check your drive BigBry suggested checking your SMART report. SMART is a system which allows a harddrive to monitor itself and with a small program you can read the report.
BigBry suggested Speedfan http://www.almico.com/speedfan.php though ive always used diskcheckup http://www.passmark.com/products/diskcheckup.htm
Speedfan might be a better idea because it will get temperature info from your motherboard as well as your harddrive.

Wiki has a good explanation of the error codes.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-Monitoring%2C_Analysis_and_Reporting_Technology

The last time I went round in circles with a problem like this it turn out one of the molex plugs was a bit dodgy. It was the plug which powered my harddrive and the whole computer would freeze.
 
B

BigBry

Guest
Yep, I'd agree you shouldn't need a high rated PSU in terms of Watts, but it does need to be stable and have a reasonable peak output - check for a PSU that's sold that has a higher peak advertised rate than the rate they sell it for, that's usually an indication it's an ok supply, cheaper ones tend to sell based on a peak output figure (that is a generalisation).

It may be your office PC has a lower power supply demand and is therefore ok with the 'dodgy' PSU.
 

sapper

Active Member
Thank you all for your comments.

Those memory checks will be ran, possibly tomorrw?

MCE is now installed, and as are the vdeo cards, usng the latest nvidea drivers and pure video drivers.

I have not down laoded any windows updates as yet, and the Pc has not crashed.

I will keep youinformed.

One query though is that I cannot reciecve the radio stations on the freeview digicard, which I could previously? Any ideas? One clue may be that the defualt locatrion is in North America, and not the united kingdom in previous installs. I do occasioanlly record a radio two concert, so I would like this back; or will Ihave to re-install; yet again?

Mery Christmas all.

Adrian
 

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