Raise The Dead...Fragbox

I mentioned last week that Win7 on my My fragbox 2 came down with a BSOD and I could not boot from C: drive anymore. Then worse happened and my fragbox 2 stopped powering up all together.

I contacted Falcon Northwest Technical Support by sending them an e-mail and leaving a couple of Voice Mails. Falcon keep their support in US (a great plus!). They are in PST time zone which works out fine for me as I can work with them when I get home.

Anyway, a support engineer called me back and I described my problem. Then we scheduled a call when I get home. I had pretty tried everything other than resetting CMOs. So, he went over the steps he wanted to try:
  • Keep computer connected to power switch but turn off the switch so there is no power but machine is grounded
  • Remove Graphics Card, for which I had to remove the fan over it
  • Reseat RAM sticks
  • Reseat power switches for CPU etc.
  • Disconnect power cord
  • Clear CMOS, which means moving a jumper as per ASUS P5E-VM DO documentation
  • Wait for a couple of minutes
  • Put the jumper back
  • Connect Graphics Card
  • Put everything else back
  • Just connect Keyboard, Monitor Cable and Power
  • Power Up
Fragbox is a small box. Everything is neatly placed and as the support engineer put it, "they do not expect things to go wrong", so it is not build to be very easy to remove parts. I am used to taking machines apart so I was able to follow instructions.... and it powered up just fine.

We went into BIOS to set the correct settings for my set up. Falcon Northwest documentation is great. They had sent each and every change they had done to BIOS defaults. Plus, support engineer had the settings as well. So, we set them, saved them and rebooted.

I was pretty convinced my had HD gone bad and unfortunately I was right. We ended up where we started: BSOD with "Unmountable_boot_volume". We kept on troubleshooting... He sent me an e-mail with links to Seagate's SeaTools HD Diagnostic page and instructions on what he needed.

I ran them and SeaTools confirmed that my D: drive was healthy but my C: drive had Electical Issues. Log went like this:
Started Short DST 4/7/2010 @7:44.14

DST -- FAILED - Electrical Element

Short DST FAILED 4/7/2010 @7.44.21 

I ran the long test as well but it simply confirmed the issue. I powered down the PC, sent an e-mail to Falcon Northwest support about results and left for work in the morning.

I got an e-mail back later in the day that confirmed drive was bad and mentioned that Seagate might still have my disk under warranty. It had links to check if I was covered. Good news was, yes I was covered. I started the RMA process but at some point realized that I did not have the 'CODE' they were asking. Apparently, there was a newer version of the tool (2.17) than I had downloaded (2.16) which was returning this code.

I downloaded the new software from Seagate; burn the image into a CD and booted from it. I got the code they needed and finished the RMA process. When I read their documentation, which is a subject of another blog post probably, I realized that they will not give me a new HD but replace it with a refurbished one :(

Anyway, there is more to story actually. When I came back, my power up issue was back as well. I had hoped that clearing CMOS would fix it but apparently it had not.

Here is how it goes:

  1. I click power button
  2. I hear fan noise 1 sec, it stops
  3. 2 secs of silence, fan noise again for power up for 1 sec and it stops
  4. same as above...
  5. 15mins later...
  6. fan does not stop this time and computer boots up
 I felt like this was either a Mobo or PSU (possibly capacitor) issue and descibed this in an e-mail to Falcon Northwest support. I got a call back and we discussed what needs to be done and I tried to remove the Hard drive but as I mentioned above it's not really build so that you can easily remove parts. In fact, I realized that there is no way for me to remove the hard disk without 'breaking' something.

At this point, support engineer told me that he will talk to his supervisor to see if my machine would be covered, what will be the warranty situation and give me a call back tomorrow. I am kinda stuck because I cannot take out the HD anyway and I do not know at this point if the power up issues I have been having ever since I got the Mobo replaced last summer are at all relevant to this HD or not (my guess - NOT!).

I checked Falcon Northwest site and they have 3 years warranty on Fragboxes but it seems that mine had only a year :(  My previous Mobo change was covered under warranty but I kept on having issues since then as well and it got worse and worse with power. So I do not know if they will stand behind their product or not at this point. We will find out tomorrow. Hopefully, I will post good news!


Shopping for a new (gaming) PC

Now that my lovely fragbox is dead :( I wondered what's the latest out there in terms hardware. My Fragbox 2 cost me about  $2K in Aug 2008 and came with

  • nVidia 8800 GTS 512MB PCIe 
  • Intel Core 2 duo E8500 - 3.16 GHz 1333FSB
  • Crucial 2x2GB DDR2 PC2-6400 800MHz
So, 1.5 yrs later, my nVidia card is about 3-4 tiers down from today's top graphics cards as per this recent article from Tom's Hardware Guide - Graphics Hierarchy Chart.

Similarly, Tom's Hardware Guide - CPU Hierarchy Chart of March 2010, puts my then top of the line CPU as a third tier CPU now.
These are great articles to help understand where technology is now compared to my current gear. I will keep on adding links here while researching.

More Fragbox Issues

My "fragbox" is causing me so much frustration these days. I feel like I am done with it and although I loved it when it's running , at this point I feel like a new (gaming) rig is in order. So, how did this happen? Unfortunately, it kept on going worse over time...

At some point in the last 6 months, when it went into sleep mode, it would not come back and I had to power off, power on again (here is one of my previous blog posts about this).. So, I disabled all sleep modes to keep it up and running. Then again, I did not want to waste so much energy, so I started powering my pc off at night. For the last couple of months, when I power it off, it would take me an hour to power it up. It's the most puzzling thing I have ever seen...

  • Phase 0) I connect the power cable, see the motherboard light up and nothing happens when power button is pressed...
  • Phase 1) At some it powers up, I see fans spinning but it only does that for a sec and then stop.
  • Phase 2) I keep on pressing power and reset buttons and disconnect/reconnect power cord, in that 1 sec period when fans are spinning and they keep on spinning, but when I take my fingers off of the buttons, the stop again.
  • Phase 3) Finally, when I take my fingers off, fans keep on spinning, HD spins up and pc starts running just fine.

I kinda got used to the frustrating routine. Power outages are not common so I kept my pc running. I still had to go thru this every other months for some brief power outage (winter has been harsher this year). Unfortunately, it got worse...

Yesterday, all of a sudden pc crashed. Windows 7 has been rock solid for me, so I was surprised and immediately started thinking about any recent updates I made to it... Could it be the nVidia driver update that was supposed to fix overheating issues?

My question was answered when I tried to recycle and see the ugly face of real problem:

  • 0x000000DE Unmountable_Boot_Volume
I had noticed (especially when playing wow) that my computer would freeze for a sec, as if it's trying to read a sector but cannot do it immediately and I would hear ticking sound of my hard drive.

I also recalled seeing some Ubuntu event logs sometime ago that suggested something was not right with the hard drive.

I tried hitting F8 to bring up boot options to see if Safe mode would work but none of the options worked. Even trying to boot with Win7 CD failed (I ended up in a black screen with mouse only). So, I gave up on the hard drive, which really did not have anything other than OS and a couple of settings (Google Picasa, WoW addons etc) I would want to keep.

Enter Ubuntu Live CD (v8.04). I booted using the live CD to see if I could access my drives and move data to my Qnap NAS. 

I was able to access Qnap, my D drive but C drive (boot drive) was not accessible. I started google'ing and saw a nice article that basically was suggesting the exact same steps. The step I had forgotten was to create a temp folder to mount C:

sudo su -
mkdir /media/disk
mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /media/disk -o force
I got a warning but it worked, I was able to access C drive. Unfortunately, I could not copy everything I wanted off to NAS as it gave me 'read source' errors time to time but got most of it.

Then I used the following command  to mark my C drive as 'dirty' for Windows to pick up and fix (at least that's the theory).

ntfsfix /media/disk

I wanted to give Win7 cd another try at this point. The good news was that it worked this time and brought me to the install screen. The bad news, however, was that it no longer detected my primary hard disk where previous installation was.

I went ahead and installed Windows 7. All went fine.... until I came back in the morning to notice that PC was somehow shutdown and I was back to Phase 0. My searches for Asus P5E-VM DO returned nothing about why could this be happening and at this point it seemed that I have to talk to Falcon Northwest support to get this shipped and fixed over there...again (see RIP - My Falcon Fragbox 2).