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2008-09-02

RIP: My Falcon Fragbox 2


I bought a Fragbox 2 gaming computer from Falcon Northwest last month. The first time I ran World of Warcraft on it, it felt awesome. Everything was incredibly smooth; I had all the settings in the game maxed up but I was never getting less than 60fps. I thought it was worth the ~$2000 and 2 weeks wait time!

Some specs:
MB: Asus P5E-VM Micro ATX Q35 Motherboard (AS-P5E-VM )
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E8500 - 3.16 GHz 1333 FSB ( INTC2E8500 )
RAM: Crucial 4GB (2x2GB) DDR2 PC2-6400 800MHz ( CR-4GBK2-6400 )
Video: NVidia 8800 GTS 512MB PCIE (NV8800GTS512 )
Storage: Seagate Sata 750GB HD 7200 RPM
ST50EFCS 500 watt power supply ( SS-ST50EFCS )


Two days ago, I was getting ready for Karazhan raid and suddenly my fragbox started to stutter. Everything became slow and at some point it became unresponsive, I was not able to restart it. So, I hard booted it by pressing the power button and all hell broke lose!

Windows failed to start. A recent hardware or software change might be the cause. To fix the problem:
1.Insert your installation disc and restart your computer
2. Choose your language settings, and then click "next"
3. Click "Repair your computer"
If you do not have this disc, contact your system administrator or computer manufacturer for assistance.
File:\Windows\System32\config\system
Status: 0xc00000e9
Info: Windows failed to load because the system registry file is missing, or corrupt.

I tried to reboot a couple of times hoping it would clear but it did not seem like the kind. So, after trying safe mode and every other option without moving an inch closer to booting into Windows, I gave up and attempted to reload Windows Vista...

Install seemed to go smoothly but after the reboot; same error showed up. As a last resort, I used the Recovery Disc that came with the Fragbox 2 package. Recovery stalled at 30% and I was prompted to either ignore the errors or abort recovery. I chose to ignore the errors but recovery did not go thru.

I attempted recovery again and to my surprise, it completed this time but no joy after reboot:

Windows has encountered a problem communicating with a device connected to your computer.
This error can be caused by unplugging a removable storage device such as an external usb drive while the drive is in use, or by faulty hardware such as a hard drive or CD-rom drive that is failing. Make sure any removable storage is properly connected and then restart your computer.
If you continue to receive this error message, contact the hardware manufacturer.
File: \Windows\System32\Winload.exe
Status: 0xc00000e9
Info: An unexpected I/O error has occured

At this point, I looked at the warranty document and was happy to see that this:

Falcon Overnight Service
Your Falcon Overnight Service Policy: How It Works
Summary: If your Falcon system should develop a serious hardware problem that we can't solve via telephone technical support, we will pick it up via overnight courier, correct any problem, and overnight it back to you, The Falcon Overnight Service covers any applicable instance within one year of the date of purchase.

So, I sent an e-mail to support@falcon-nw.com with all the details of the issue and steps I have taken and asked them to call me back...

That brings us to today. I called them to follow up and talked to a technician who suggested that I should open up the box and re-seat cables... OK, unscrewing a couple of screws and opening up a box is no big deal but I am sure many people may feel uneasy about doing this. They do not need to know how to do this...

Anyway, I went ahead and re-seat the cables which seemed firmly in place anyway and of course nothing is fixed. Falcon support also told me that I should run some hard drive diagnostics. So, I asked where I would get the diagnostic application and he said he will send me instructions.

It's been a couple of hours since the conversation but they have not yet replied to my e-mail with instructions. I called them up a couple of times already but keep on getting Voice mail. So, I left VMs...and waiting.... Arrrgh!

[ Update - 09/04/2008]
Apparently, Falcon Support team was calling me back...but they were not calling my work number instead of the number I left with them. Anyway, person I talked to was a soft spoken, very kind person. After sorting out the miscommunication, I agreed to follow the instructions to download a Seagate tool and use it to test the drive.

I reseated the cables on the motherboard side and re-ran recovery disc as they suggested; which resulted in the same error. Then I downloaded the Seagate Diagnostic tool from http://www.seagate.com/support/seatools/SeaToolsDOS207EURO.iso . 20mins after starting the diagnostic in "Long Test" mode, it stopped at 17% done. Waited for another hour but it was clearly not moving. So, I aborted the process and checked the logs which did not have anything useful about test.

I sent another e-mail to support detailing what I have done and the results. They called me back and and I said "I think at this point, I'd better ship it to you guys'. The sense I get from talking to these guys is that they sure would like to avoid shipping it if possible and work with you to fix it if you are willing to work with them, but they are not 'forcing' you to do that.

I was willing to work with them but I don't think anyone reading this should be worried if they are planning to buy a Fragbox from Falcon and would not be willing to do troubleshooting in case they hit a similar issue.

On the plus side, when I was purchasing the system, they refused to add a second hard drive as the configuration was fixed and they were not willing to modify it. Now that I encountered this issue, I asked the support person if it would be possible to buy a second 750GB Seagate drive from them and would they install it for me. He said yes and told me they could even install a drive that I would ship them if I had any extra. I am waiting for them to confirm the price. I hope it is not too much above market price.
[Update - 09/24/2008]
So, it took Falcon a week to fix issue(s) on my Fragbox 2...
  • First they replaced the Seagate 750gig hard drive and added the second 750gig I bought from them.... During testing, they found out that issue did not disappear.
  • Then, they replaced motherboard. During test, they realized that one of the RAM chips were defective although it had passed RAM test.
  • After replacing RAM, all went well and they installed Windows, updates drivers etc. Falcon creates a Recovery disk. So, that disc did not get created successfully at first but second attempt was successful. Oh, they also print a funny custom DVD cover with my name on it :)

They kept me informed via e-mail updates all along and I told them that although I could not wait to get back on my Fragbox, I would rather a bit and have it tested thoroughly, which they do and at the end they send a list of all checks they performed.

Of course, it sucks that my Fragbox had all these issues only after 2 months but it's clear that they are using the best parts and testing it; so cannot blame them for that. Now that I have a second drive on it, I will be able to use it not just as a gaming (ie. World of Warcraft) computer but as my main workstation at home replacing HP workstation xw6000.

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