Thursday, May 5, 2011

Computer Rebooting Problem Almost Made Me Pull My Hair Out

        Happy Cinco de Mayo!  As promised, after fixing my friend’s netbook, I’m going to tell you about how I had to fix my own recently acquired laptop a couple of weeks before. After the initial setup, I transferred all my files and settings from the old laptop to the new one using Windows Easy Transfer. I then downloaded whatever updates were necessary, then connected all the USB devices (printer, Magic Jack, TV tuner with DVR, external hard drive, cordless mouse receiver, and cell phone charger. Since I kept the computer on all day during the first day, I didn’t detect any hardware/software conflicts, nor error messages. The next day, while doing a warm reboot, the system went into an endless loop at the Windows splash screen and would not complete the boot process. Even when I pressed the power button for a few seconds which would have turned the computer off, it didn’t. I had disconnect the power cord and remove the battery. When I did a cold boot, there was no problem and the computer booted as usual except for a warning saying the previous boot did not execute properly and if I wanted Windows to do a system check and attempt a repair. I did that but Windows didn’t find any problems. When I did another warm reboot without the battery without the cell phone attached to the charger, I didn’t get an endless loop. What I got was a system freeze which stopped at the point where the screen said: Starting Windows. This time, when I pressed the power button, the computer turned off. Ok, so what was the problem here? I surmised the cell phone took too many resources for the system to power up successfully. I researched the endless loop problem beforehand and their solutions were much more complicated involving going into the registry.  I called tech support anyway and they said that it shouldn’t be doing that. They suggested that since the computer was new, I should restore it to the original factory settings because there might be a corrupted file somewhere. All I had to do was run a built in program. So that’s what I did and this time I didn’t transfer the files and settings afterwards. I thought that was part of the problem. By the way, I was mistaken, it was not part of the problem.
Having restored the computer to it’s original settings. I did another warm reboot with all peripherals still connected. Again the system froze. So I disconnected all the two USB hubs where the peripherals were attached, and the problem disappeared. The next steps I tried will be slightly confusing and I am not able to explain it plainly, so please hang in there. First I disconnected the HDMI cable. I reattached the USB hub on the right side where the MagicJack, wireless mouse, and cell phone charger were. The rebooting problem returned. I connected the hub to another port, still same problem. Another USB hub on the left side had the printer, TV tuner, and external hard drive attached to it. Without the right side hub, the computer booted properly. Now I’m guessing that maybe the USB port on the right side had lesser power than the one on the left. Daisy chaining a 4 port USB hub to another 4 port USB hub on the left side port didn’t help though. I decided to  remove individual devices starting with the cellphone charger (I was charging the phone at that time) and the hard drive. Lo and behold, the computer rebooted! The charging cellphone  and hard drive must have taken a lot of resources. However, if I reattach the cell phone charger and external hard drive after Windows boots completely, it doesn’t affect the USB port or hub at all. The hard drive and charger works normally.
At this point I started thinking that the warm reboot problem was not caused by corrupted files but rather caused by underpowered USB ports with too many peripherals attached. Maybe a self powered USB hub might help. That’s the kind that has it’s own electric cord to plug into a wall socket. I found one on with 10 (!) ports, and after reading the glowing reviews from previous owners, I ordered one. When it arrived, I couldn’t wait to attach all my peripherals (with much room to spare). Keeping my fingers crossed, I warm booted the computer, and… badabingbadaboom, it worked! I did it a couple more times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. So there it was, too many peripherals plus underpowered USB ports make for a rebooting problem regardless of the computer having a 3 megahertz processing power. Problem finally solved with a self powered USB hub!
On a side note, the thing about updating Windows: you download and install an update, which begats another update, and begats another, and so on and so forth. Kinda like one of the books in the Old Testament where so and so (starting from Adam and Eve, I believe) begat somebody, who in turn begat another, then begat some other.

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