Crazy troubleshooting problem - any ideas?

Meeho

Supreme [H]ardness
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Aug 16, 2010
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TL;DR at the bottom


So, I get this PC for repair. MBO declared dead, needed replacement. Celeron E3300 CPU, 2x1 GB Kingmax RAM, integrated GPU on the dead MBO.

Win7 x64 - had to keep the existing installation if possible, which normally isn't a problem since Win7 handle hardware migration quite well.

Also received the replacement parts (ASRock P5B-DE, AMD 5450 + 2GB Transcend RAM stick) and went to work. Got everything set up, booted Windows, cleaned old drivers, installed new ones one by one...everything seemed OK...until I installed the GPU ones and restarted. POST goes fine, Windows logo shows and then, instead of entering desktop, black screen with only cursor visible! Hmm, that sounded awfully familiar. Had similar problems with bad video cards. Limited functionality with bare drivers and dead when pushed with full ones.

Booted safe mode, deinstalled Catalyst, checked everything was working and it was. Reinstalled Catalyst - problem. Checked if MBO had latest BIOS - it did. Just to be sure, booted my Linux Mint live DVD and got rainbow artifacts, could barely see a moving block where cursor was. So, it wasn't the old Windows installation, and it worked fine until VGA drivers anyway. To be extra sure, installed the card in another PC and tried booting Mint DVD - the same. OK, definitely VGA (at least I thought).

Not to leave anything to chance, ran Memtest, Prime etc. to eliminate other hardware problems. Everything checked out great.

Sent the 5450 back and asked for replacement, got the replacement and...SAME! :mad: OK, two bad cards in a row - highly unlikely, bot not impossible I guess. Just to eliminate some weird compatibility problem between MBO and VGA (had that with my new 2500K build between Asus P8Z77 and AMD 6850), I sent the second 5450 back and got Nvidia 210. Installed the card, booted Windows, everything working...so far so good. Installed Nvidia drivers - BAM! Blank screen with cursor only again! :mad: :confused:

This was getting really puzzling. Out of desperation, I turned my attention to RAM. Could it be that there is some weird voodoo going on with 4 GB of RAM and Win7 memory mapping when 1 GB VGA is being used (yes, I was grasping for straws), or some other freekish incompatibility caused by different RAM sticks, that would for whatever bizzare reason manifest itself only when VGA is being fully used? After all, the system didn't have that 2 GB stick and dedicated VGA originally. So, I went through a cycle of RAM sticks mixing and matching, slot moving, BIOS settings...nothing helped. Then, somewhere in the middle of it all, I ended up booting with only one of the original 1 GB Kingmax sticks...AND IT WORKED!!! :eek: Windows booted fine, Nvidia drivers were installed and working beautifully...just puppies and happiness all around!

Well, maybe I've flexed the MBO during all that and got it in the right space-time continuum position, or prevented a short circuit with the case somewhere (though I checked that sometime during the initial troubleshooting)? No, it was definitely the amount of RAM that made the difference. With two original sticks it wouldn't boot to desktop, with all three neither, with just the 2GB one also no success...

And, the final cherry on top - after getting the green light to kill the existing Win installation and doing a fresh one, the system worked with all the RAM installed! :rolleyes: No problems whatsoever!


I am really lost here. Any ideas why Windows would break with more than 1 GB RAM installed, and that only if VGA drivers were installed?!



TL;DR

- installed new MBO, VGA and RAM and kept old Win7 x64 installation
- everything worked fine until I installed VGA drivers - after that I only got black screen with cursor after Win loading logo
- found out that everything worked if I kept installed RAM <2GB
- fresh Win installed worked with all the RAM



Oh, and big thank you to my Mint 11 DVD for leading me to wrong conclusions :p What's that about, anyway? Some AMD Linux drivers glitch?
 

Liger88

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Feb 14, 2012
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That's a strange issue indeed although from the sounds of it the only conclusion I can make is that either the memory modules weren't the same size/speed (which I'd assume you fixed in the bios if that was the case) or the previous installation just wasn't salvageable with the new hardware.

If I'm reading this right, multiple parts died and you basically re-installed the new hardware on top of the current installation? From my experience that has always gave me problems either in the short term or the long term. Motherboard especially. Not something I'd like to do myself, instead opting to do a backup and fresh install just because so many critical components on the motherboard are asking for strange errors.

You note that the fresh install with all RAM worked just fine and dandy though? If I'm reading correctly I'd definitely say the previous motherboard and installation was conflicting with the new hardware. What exactly? That is the million dollar question lol.
 

Meeho

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That's a strange issue indeed although from the sounds of it the only conclusion I can make is that either the memory modules weren't the same size/speed (which I'd assume you fixed in the bios if that was the case) or the previous installation just wasn't salvageable with the new hardware.

Different memory modules were one of the first things that I thought of, even though I've never had problem with that, not even different models and sizes mixed in dual channel. But all the stability test were fine and I tried running with only the original 2x1GB identical sticks and only with 1x2GB new stick.


If I'm reading this right, multiple parts died and you basically re-installed the new hardware on top of the current installation? From my experience that has always gave me problems either in the short term or the long term. Motherboard especially. Not something I'd like to do myself, instead opting to do a backup and fresh install just because so many critical components on the motherboard are asking for strange errors.

You note that the fresh install with all RAM worked just fine and dandy though? If I'm reading correctly I'd definitely say the previous motherboard and installation was conflicting with the new hardware. What exactly? That is the million dollar question lol.

I was told that motherboard had died and had been given a new one. Since the new one didn't have integrated VGA, I also got a new 5450. Additional 2GB stick was thrown in.

I'm sorry if I made it confusing, it was very late. I would understand if new setup gave problems with the old Windows installation, but the problem is it worked great until graphic drivers were installed. New mbo, new memory configuration...nothing was a problem for the old Windows installation. It was only with VGA drivers that it fell apart. And then, only if I had more than 1x1 GB stick installed. That just doesn't make sense to me :)
 

B00nie

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Win7 has a history of getting broken installs when 4Gb ram is installed during the install. Maybe these problems weren't completely fixed in your copy? If I understood right you installed 2x1Gb and a 2Gb stick? Mixing different types of ram is like digging your nose with a shovel. You may draw blood.

Linux Mint is crap IMO. I've never had a Mint distro yet that would have worked reliably. I use Xubuntu that I've tailored myself to look pretty much like XP and it's the best version I've tried so far (and I've tested more than a couple dozens of distros starting from arch). In addition to that AMD drivers on linux are crap. They perform horribly - when they perform at all that is despite AMD having much better support for open source. Nvidia drivers work much much better even though only a couple of techs maintain them as a hobby at Nvidia.
 

Meeho

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Win7 has a history of getting broken installs when 4Gb ram is installed during the install. Maybe these problems weren't completely fixed in your copy? If I understood right you installed 2x1Gb and a 2Gb stick? Mixing different types of ram is like digging your nose with a shovel. You may draw blood.

Makes sense, but why did it manifest itself only after installing graphic drivers? And the original install was with 2GB of RAM.

Linux Mint is crap IMO. I've never had a Mint distro yet that would have worked reliably. I use Xubuntu that I've tailored myself to look pretty much like XP and it's the best version I've tried so far (and I've tested more than a couple dozens of distros starting from arch). In addition to that AMD drivers on linux are crap. They perform horribly - when they perform at all that is despite AMD having much better support for open source. Nvidia drivers work much much better even though only a couple of techs maintain them as a hobby at Nvidia.

Yeah, I've heard of AMD Linux not so great drivers. It was unfortunate how it all came to light just as I was troubleshooting GPU problems :)

Haven't played much with linux, but found SimplyMEPIS to be ok.
 
Joined
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Might have been solved by disabling "Memory remapping" in BIOS (I'm assuming that it was enabled). Possibly some remnants of the old Intel PCI driver were having issues with the GPU memory above 4GB. If "memory remapping" was disabled, you made a booboo.

Another possibility is that an old driver or "tweak" utility put wonky settings in HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session\MemoryManagement. That could have left insufficient space to run the video driver or Windows session into memory.

As for Win7 "handling hardware migration just fine," I would have to disagree since (without sysprep or similar 3rd party utility) it does not handle hardware migration at all.

Does anyone know of a tool you can use to display Windows kernel memory and/or driver memory use and limits? That would be pretty helpful for this kind of problem.
 
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Meeho

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Might have been solved by disabling "Memory remapping" in BIOS (I'm assuming that it was enabled). Possibly some remnants of the old Intel PCI driver were having issues with the GPU memory above 4GB. If "memory remapping" was disabled, you made a booboo.

Yes, one of the first things I've tried changing in BIOS. Didn't help.


Another possibility is that an old driver or "tweak" utility put wonky settings in HKLM\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session\MemoryManagement. That could have left insufficient space to run the video driver or Windows session into memory.

Hmm, maybe. Too bad I can't check it anymore. Would have been interesting to see. I'll make a mental note of this for future troubleshooting. Thank you for the tip.


As for Win7 "handling hardware migration just fine," I would have to disagree since (without sysprep or similar 3rd party utility) it does not handle hardware migration at all.

I haven't done much of those, but didn't have any problems before and have read mostly success stories online. Most recent one I've done was P45->Z77 w/ HDD->SSD.
 
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