Bad Geek Karma: Revisited

A while ago, I talked about something that I called Bad Geek Karma and mused as to whether or not it was a real thing. It is. I’ve spent the last five days living in it. And man does it suck.

About a month ago I bought an IBM ThinkPad T41, model 2379-DJU. I got it to replace a Sony Z1A that was slowing down and heating up, which was a bad combination to me, so I traded up. Steve had gotten an IBM T40 a few months ago and he, like a number of other people out there, were in love with it. How it felt, how it was built, how it responded… and seeing as I “needed” a new notebook, I went ahead and got one.

And for the most part, it was good. Very good. Faster than the Sony, cooler than my last two Sony notebooks, and a killer screen. The only draw back was the fact that it had a 40GB HD which was smaller than the 60GB I had had in the Z1A – it wasn’t worth an extra $500 to step up to the next model which had 60GB – but I figured I could live with this. Boy was I wrong! I got this in the middle of a two month contract and I was using the notebook as my primary machine. After installing Visual Studio.NET 2003 with MSDN, VS6 with MSDN, two eMbedded Visual C++ versions, two versions of InstallSHIELD, and miscellaneous SDK’s… well, I was running out of room.

So I bought a new HD – a 60GB/5400rpm to replace the 40GB/5400rpm. Same heat, same power consumption, same noise level. Just before I installed the new HD, however, I got two random blue screens of death on the IBM, usually after coming out of Standby. I found this to be odd because I think I have gone over twelve months without seeing more than one of these. Actually I hadn’t seen that many since switching to Windows 2000 – I just figured some crazy driver got installed or got corrupted or something, and given the dev-bed of software on there, it would make sense. Besides, I was ready to re-install everything, and I was leaving off all of the old stuff.

Drive slapped in with no problem. I put the old 40GB in a USB enclosure and let the IBM Rapid Restore go to town on the new drive – this way I would have the Service Partition available again – and waited an hour. Then I reformatted and installed Windows XP SP1a, Office 2003, and a bunch of other things, just like before. Within a day or two, two more blue screens – this time it let me read the error message before restarting: IRQ_LESS_OR_NOT_EQUAL.

Ever see this message before? It can be caused by anything. Overheating, bad memory, bad hardware, bad software, mis-configured hardware, missing software… you name it and it can cause this error message to appear. If anything, I’m shocked that I don’t see it more often, given what can cause it. And it happened twice. Just before it appeared, the WiFi connection died on me… wouldn’t you think that’s the WiFi card? Me too.

Called IBM support on a Monday. They had me a replacement part by 10am Tuesday morning. No lie – that blew me away. Installed it. Machine won’t recognize it at all. !! This is where I say fuck it. Obviously my drivers are shot and something didn’t get installed when I reformatted it by hand. Oh and now I start to notice that the keyboard bounces as I type on it – called back to IBM to get a replacement keyboard sent out; again no problem, but I’ll still have my software problems… Fine. We’ll let IBM have it’s way with my hard drive. And so I reformatted again and this time I let IBM restore everything. When it was done, not only did I have less room on the hard drive, but I found that it was taking 5-15 seconds long to boot now… why? Application overload. Most stuff than I knew what to do with, actually. Even an IBM-based Java VM – gack! Meanwhile, the new WiFi card is still pissed off – won’t connect to anything.

Re-open the machine, put in the old WiFi card, reboot. Card works again. Three sessions later, *bang* IRQ_LESS_OR_NOT_EQUAL. Check the BIOS: everything under PCI is set to IRQ 11. Well that’s weird… I go to Google. IRQ_LESS_OR_NOT_EQUAL and T41 returns only one relevant page and it’s in German, which I can’t read – according to the text there, it looks like the guy there set the PCI stuff to “Auto-Detect”… there’s a thought. What does Babel Fish translate it to? Most of it is OK except for “Bringt auch nichts…” which is what the guy says as a result to the setting to Auto-Detect… that translated to “Also nothing brings…” – what the hell do I do with that?! Does it mean “Nothing changed – it still crashes” or “Nothing has happened since”?!

Anyway, given the now slowness of the machine, I opted to try again: I reformatted. Again. Third time this week. This time I install the drivers using the IBM Restore utility. I download the updates. This seems better – at least it did for a while. After I got the stock drivers installed, it blue screened on a reboot. Error type? Doesn’t say. I install the updated drivers from online. One reboot fine, next reboot, crash – no reason shown again. OK, fine. Installed the post-SP1a XP patches. Reboot: fine for a while. Three hours later, crash. Check the event log: the IR service does show an error and some text from the last blue screen message was there – again, the overclocking, overheating, oops there’s a hardware error message again…

Next to go is the Crucial memory SIMM – they’re going to cross shipment a replacement because they agree that this could be causing a problem – and I’m now running at 256MB RAM for the first time in years… it’s actually not too bad, really. And if I get the new SIMM in there, and it keeps crashing, then I dunno what to try next. Odds are it will mean I ship in the notebook for some service, because I’ll be done. And the service at IBM and Crucial have been awsome – I’m just a bit peeved that I’ll have to send a notebook in for repair again. Aside from the old Powerbook, this would be the only other notebook that I’ve had to send in for repair… it will suck but it might be required. And when people ask me what kind of notebook to buy, I tell them that any hardware can break but it’s the service is what counts in the end… I’d tell them to get an IBM, given this experience, because even though I’m having problems, the service is killer.

Just another day of living with Bad Geek Karma.

4 thoughts on “Bad Geek Karma: Revisited”

  1. And back it goes to IBM. I crashed again this morning, within 5 minutes of us. IBM told me to run some DOS based diag – everything there checked out ok, but this is rediculous now.

    The only blacksheep at this point is eCost/PCMall who tell me “if you called US for a case number, we could return it for you, but since it’s beyond 30 days since the date of sale and you didn’t, we can’t do that for you”. When I told them that it took me this long to troubleshoot it but was happening since day one, they told me I could talk to a manager – I’m waiting for him to call me back, but I’ll probably have to go through the repair route. And switch back to the old HD before sending it in. Merde…

  2. Just a thought based on my experience with my T40. I had a rash of blue screens same as you, hardware type blue screens. It happened while I was trying to connect to various WiFi hotspots. I reloaded and everything was fine… until I activated my WiFi card – then it would start bluescreening again.

    But, after I was out of the area I experienced the problem in… it went away. I’ve seen it happen again occasionally, and I think there is some weird gremlin somewhere in the driver code that bonks us like that.

  3. My T40 started this crap the other night. Thought I had a bad drive so replaced it and still blue screening and locking up. Removed the wifi card last night to try a PCMCIA wireless card. It seems everytime I get the locking up the wifi light was flashing. The night all this started, my wireless connection kept dropping then the locking started.

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