Archive for April, 2011

A Defect with the HD-PVR will eventually fail for all

April 9, 2011 12 comments

Wow, it’s been a rough month for my Media Center and this was the last thing I needed.  This morning when I switched to a channel that uses the HD-PVR, it gave me a “Weak signal” message and the blue bling light was going off and on.  Also it would on occasion show a frozen, but distorted video frame of the correct channel.  I assumed the satellite receiver was cutting in and out.  It was raining at the time so I thought maybe the picture is breaking up, so I switched over to the HDMI output on the Satellite receiver and it was crystal clear.  Uh oh.  Then I thought, maybe the SPDIF cable that feeds the audio to the HD-PVR got pinched.  When the digital audio goes out so does the video on the HD-PVR, but replacing the SPDIF cable didn’t fix it.  Then I noticed something odd.  The blue bling light was ever so slightly flickering.  I didn’t recall it ever flickering.  Then I noticed the power LED was doing it too.  So, I disconnected everything from the HD-PVR except the power, then power cycled it.  Still flickering.  I thought, it’s almost like it’s not getting enough power.  So, I tested the power adapter with my digital multimeter and it was putting out 5.16 Volts (it’s supposed to be 5VDC 2A output).  I guess that’s ok, but I still thought the power adapter was not right, so I borrowed the 5VDC 1.0A power adapter from my HDHomerun and the flickering was gone, but it would not start streaming, which is exactly what I would expect from an under powered device.  OK, so I decided to go to Radio Shack to get a replacement power adapter.  Threw DSC02256the kids in the car and off we went!  When we got to Radio Shack they had one, for $40!  Ridiculous!  A power adapter like that is worth no more than $10.  So we went to Arby’s for some food then home.  OK, now I went digging into my parts and found an old USB hub with a power adapter that had the perfect output.  So I cut the plug off the suspect power adapter and spliced it to my replacement.  I tested with a multimeter to make sure it was positive on the inside and negative on the outside and plugged it in….  YAY!  It lives.  The HD-PVR was running perfectly once again.  So I thought, what happened to the old one.  I have nothing to lose, so I cracked it open with a vice and whoa Nelly!  What I saw just made me DSC02260angry, so angry.  A capacitor had popped and another two were bulging.  And these are not the high quality metal cased Japanese ones…  oh no, these where the plastic wrapped cheapies commonly associated with Capacitor plague.  If you haven’t heard about it, here is my cliff notes version (go to wikipedia for the longer version): basically, a Chinese company stole the formula for the chemicals that go into the capacitor but they didn’t know what they wDSC02262ere doing and got it wrong.  But, they were able to undercut everyone because they didn’t spend any money on research and development.  So, their crappy mix found it’s way into a massive number of electronics, making them all ticking time-bombs.  The whole thing just makes me so angry.  Anyway, it is highly probable that all of the adapters that come with the HD-PVR will have the same problem eventually.  If your power adapter looks like mine below, be aware of the symptoms.  It is also likely that it could cause streaming to stop intermittently as the capacitor loses its capacitance.  I very nearly bought an new HD-PVR before I figured this out.  I wonder if this is to blame for some of the problems I’ve (and others) had in the past with the streaming failing sometimes.  It’s possible that if you pick a high bit rate for encoding and it draws more current, that the bad capacitors will not be able to provide enough power causing the streaming to stop momentarily.  It could also explain why some people never see the problem and others are plagued by random failures.  Just speculation.  And, it doesn’t completely explain everything because I have had solid/reliable performance for the last 6 months leading up to this failure.   

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My Sandybridge Upgrade Fiasco

April 5, 2011 3 comments

Well, my previous system was unfortunately limited to 2 CPU cores because Intel never released a CPU with 4 cores and integrated graphics.  I really needed 4 cores because when we were watching TV on 3 TVs, the performance degraded.  Also, I needed more power for Remote Potato which transcodes the video on the fly to stream it (I think) and commercial detection and Video disk ripping.  So, when the Intel Series 6 CPUs and motherboards came out (aka. Sandybridge), I jumped on it.  That was January.  And I am not happy.  Perhaps this is the price for being on the cutting edge.  If you don’t want to read all the details, the take-home message would have to be (I hate to say this):

Avoid the ITX form factor!

I’ll get to the why a bit later…  So, here’s what happened…  The hardware, the Intel Core i5-2500 Quad core processor with integrated Graphics and the Foxconn H67S motherboard.  DSC02213

On paper the board looks like a fine, cheap board, but unfortunately, it has a critical problem.  The obvious issue is that the Sandybridge chipset had a flaw in the SATA controller and was recalled.  The less obvious issue is that my eSATA port multiplier card won’t work with it.  You see, I have a Silicon Image Sil3132 Controller card to connect my TR5M harddisk enclosure.  It has always worked well for me, but when installed in this board, I don’t even see the post-BIOS config screen.  So I bought another Sil3132, which again did not work.   Which suggests a BIOS compatibility issue.  But wait, this is not BIOS, it is the new UEFI system.  Maybe it’s not UEFI compatible?  But wait, according to this news article, they have a firmware update that makes it compatible.  So I finally find the firmware file and discover that the update utility is built into the device manager in its own tab.  So, I update the firmware and… nothing.  It still doesn’t work.  At this point, a B3 H67-based ITX board is in-stock at Newegg, so I order it immediately hoping that the ASRock UEFI works better.  So, I get the ASRock H67M-ITX and same DSC02233problem…  So now I am getting desperate.  This whole time, I have had my enclosure connected in my office, accessed over the LAN and performance has sucked.  With my usually high WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) tanking rapidly, I have to get this working, so I order a few parts.  So now, I order a RocketRaid 622 card hoping that will work.  I also order a SansDigital TR4UTBPN which is a 4 disk USB 3.0 enclosure.  Thinking that the USB would be a slam dunk, I don’t even try the RocketRaid card and send it back.  Then I tried the USB enclosure which worked great… for a few hours.  Then, the disks disappear from Windows explorer and my Wife’s recordings all stop!  Catastrophe!  She said:

Why can’t we have a Cable Box like normal people? 

Yikes, I had to figure this out quick.  Confidence in my Media Center was declining more imagerapidly than I thought.  I checked out the event log and I see some sort of paging error.  Out of desperation, I try another cable, then the USB 2.0 ports… and that is working.  Two days of perfect operation and counting…Whew.  Although this is not ideal, it’s working.  I have since read in a few places online that the ETronics USB 3.0 controller chip used in this motherboard is buggy.  I read that some USB 2.0 devices will BSOD (Blue screen of death) windows when plugged into these ports. 

So, the reason why I am down on Mini-ITX is that this is the lastest example of, “if I had another card slot or 2…” I could work around this with an NEC based USB 3.0 card.  Well, who knows if the NEC is better, but I would have more options for sure.  Mini-ITX is just cutting it too close and you live and die by the integrated components working…

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