Archive for the 'techsup' Category

My latest venture

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

I have started a new project, in the same vein as my driver guide. I’m collecting service manuals of every laptop computer I can find and hosting them on a new page here:

These files contain parts lists for each model, and how to disassemble them, down to the LCD screen and the motherboard. As a repair aid, they are invaluable, as they can easily halve the time it takes to replace a keyboard, and attempting a motherboard swap without one is a risky, unreliable procedure.

The manuals are often difficult to find, though; very few manufacturers actually publish them for the general public, and I strongly applaud and recommend those that do. Those that don’t, on the other hand, only make it more difficult to repair their laptop computers, which reflects badly on them as companies who care more about their sales than their support.

I invite everybody to have a look, email people the link, digg it, tweet it, whatever. The more people who see it and know it exists, the more will (hopefully) help me expand and improve it over time.

MMS/PXT on Exetel with Vodafone

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

This has been bugging me forever. I pay Exetel for my mobile service, and have never managed to get MMSes to work. Sending or receiving.

Vodafone (who Exetel resell) have a page that sends their MMS/GPRS/etc settings to your phone. I’d tried this a few times, and while the settings for net browsing worked fine, nothing I did ever made MMS work.

I finally got around to looking for a solid fix for this, and found a post on Exetel’s forums suggesting I go to my phone manufacturer’s support site, and get them to send me MMS settings.

I have no idea why this should work – Sony-Ericsson are many many steps more removed from my problem than Vodafone is – but it did work. Apparently S-E’s Vodafone settings work, while Vodafone’s Vodafone settings don’t.

Go on, try it. It worked for my K850i, it worked for that guy’s Motorola.

You think BIOS beep codes are hell? Try understanding the incomprehensibly wide array of settings required to make a mobile phone talk properly to its network. I hate phones.

That little orange light

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

A frequent question at work is whether or not you should turn your computer off at night. The answer is pretty simple: leave it on if you’re coming back to do something later, and leave it off overnight unless you’re downloading something.

(The above situations are kind of perpetual to most geeks, and answer 1B is often “get a second, low power, quiet computer to do your nightly torrenting for you while the firebreathing tiny god sleeps”.)

Not many people realise that their monitors also drain lots of power – large LCDs are often no better than the CRTs we used to lug around – and they still chew current in standby mode. One recent customer, though, was more worried about something… else.

Customer: Should I turn my monitor off at night? Does it do any damage leaving it on?
Coworker: It’ll still use a bit of power in standby mode, but it won’t damage anything to leave it on, no.
Customer: Oh… won’t that little orange light wear out though?
Coworker: *blink*

bodge job: chassis intrusion switch

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

A local business recently retired its elderly Xeon server, replacing it with something a little more powerful; the Xeon was repurposed as a normal desktop PC, with a new copy of XP Pro and all. The guy who was to get it asked us to install a sound card, so we did that.

And then it stopped working, saying we’d triggered the chassis intrusion alarm. On most computers, you’d go “oh, okay, that’s cool”, hit F1, and go about your business.

Not so with a server based on an ASUS NCLV-DA. This board yanks on the air-raid siren, barks at its own barking, and thumbs its nose at you if you take the side off the case. It refuses to boot until you reset the CMOS, which of course wipes out the clock and other settings.

At least one other unlucky tech had come across this problem before me; someone’d stickytaped the switch down, so it wouldn’t trigger if the case side came off. This had served well until today, when the tape let go and the motherboard went into panic mode in front of me.

I had a more permanent solution up my sleeve: I stuck a jumper across the intrusion sensor pins on the board, effectively closing the circuit and cutting the little switch and its ever-so-thin wires out of the loop entirely.

hey, these wires feel hot strangely

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

burn1 burn2 burn3

This computer had been hanging frequently, after killing one PSU two months ago; it was only while swapping out RAM during testing that I noticed the damage here.

I shudder to think what might’ve happened if I’d left it memtesting overnight.

My exact words were “Hmm, those wires feel… what the f… jesus, the… wow!”.

Solved: No wireless and weird CPU usage on Toshiba Satellite Pro P300

Sunday, May 10th, 2009

This was a brand new P300 out of the box. Customer wanted XP on it, so we re-imaged it with the supplied recovery CDs and took it back from Vista to XP.

And wireless networking stopped working. It has an Intel Wifi Link 5100 card, which is definitely new enough, but 99% of the time it could see no wireless networks, and the few moments it could detect them, it couldn’t connect to them.

The strangest thing was the reported CPU usage – Task Manager reported the SYSTEM process to be using 20-40% CPU, all the time, yet the System Idle process was sitting at 99% as well.

Yes, I realise those numbers don’t add up. That’s what it was doing. I wish I’d had time to get a screenshot.

Same as with the Acer laptop a couple of weeks ago, I loaded Process Explorer and found the same old Deferred Procedure Call hog. Like the Acer, disabling a certain device made the problem go away; in the case of the Toshiba, it was the wireless card.

Toshiba Australia told me to re-image it with the recovery CDs again, and if the problem still occurred, to contact our supplier for warranty. Only after going through that process again and calling our distributor were we told there was a known problem with the P300s running Windows XP involving wireless, and the fix for it is updating the BIOS to the latest version.

Toshiba’s AU page is here, and it uses such a weird URL structure I don’t think I can give a direct link to the download page. It’s not that hard though – Support on the left, Drivers, BIOS, Utilities, Software in the middle, Notebooks -> Satellite Pro -> P300-(PSPCxA) depending on your exact model – first two links are Windows-based BIOS flashers, depending on whether you’re using 32 or 64 bit Windows.

I updated the BIOS, handed it to the customer, everything’s all good now. Don’t forget hardware-fault-looking problems on brand new hardware might be fixable with a BIOS update – even and especially on laptops where the problem device isn’t actually a component of the motherboard!

Stuff I fixed this week

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

I’ve seen three different computers in the last month with this bizarre problem. Laptop or desktop, if you tried typing, it’d just click at you from the PC speaker and type nothing on the screen. Mouse is fine, everything else is fine, just tick tick tick as you typed.

Oddly, this is actually a feature of Windows called Filter Keys, which ignores brief or repeated keypresses in case you find it hard to type normally. It’s an option in Accessibility (irony!) the Ease of Acces Center, and can be turned on or off by pressing and holding the right shift key for eight seconds.

I’m not joking. The PC troubleshooting part of my brain couldn’t come up with a sensible reason for this behaviour outside some kind of hardware fault, and I didn’t think of accessibility settings until the USB keyboard plugged into a laptop did exactly the same thing.

Given the frequency (3 times in a month and never before…), we think it might actually be a sign of a virus or hoax AV messing with your head (Look! Something’s wrong for real! Buy me!). Stay safe.

Filter Keys in Accessibility, Windows XP.

Aside from that, Microsoft Office has been up to its usual tricks. Credit for solution and this screenshot to this CNet thread.


Note the messed up titlebar spacing, and that the ribbons are missing their more typical Fluent blue theming. If Office 2007 appears like this for you, you need to do at least one and possibly both of the following:

  1. Remove anything that calls itself a “mirror” driver from the Display Adapters section of Device Manager. It’s some kind of video acceleration for a particular remote control application;
  2. Turn High Contrast off in Accessibility. The guy in that thread was using Vista, and removing the driver was apparently all he had to do; my customer was using XP, and we had to take this extra step to get it back to normal.

High Contrast setting in Accessibility, Windows XP.

chain of fail

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Fact: Customer’s laptop was doing something strange – if he opened Outlook Express, Windows dropped into 8 bit colour mode. You could set it back to 32 bit temporarily, and closing and re-opening OE didn’t reproduce the problem, but it came back after you rebooted and opened it again.

Fact: My first reaction was that it was some kind of video driver problem, except it was a Dell laptop with an Intel 945 chipset and I’ve never seen Intel video cause any kind of problems. I tried the latest driver from Dell anyway, but no dice.

(The official 945 driver from Intel refused to install, saying I had to have the one from the original manufacturer. Dell loses five points for the proprietary BS there.)

Fact: Opening Outlook Express on XP causes Windows Messenger to open, because Messenger is what handles your contacts if you use OE.

Fact: A little digging around revealed said customer’s kids – or possibly angry karma goblins – had apparently changed Messenger to use 256 colour compatibility mode. Leading to 8 bit colour the first time he opened OE after booting.

Fact: I uninstalled McAfee Security, and his laptop’s boot time halved. Seriously internet, Antivir is where it’s at now.

what video corruption looks like

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

The ilamlvelienae is the least of your worries.


Solved: Billion 7300a not forwarding port 80

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

It’s weird. I have ports 80, 2120 and 2121 forwarded to my Linux box via my Billion 7300a modem. The latter two (picked for random things because they’re cool numbers) work fine; requests to port 80 just stop dead at the modem and time out.

Everything’s forwarded correctly, my ISP doesn’t force me to opt-in to opening port 80, my DDNS URL resolves correctly to my home address, but nobody comes to the door when you knock.

Actually, it’s the modem hiding behind the door, and it’s got no intention of answering. The modem’s webconfig runs on port 80 as well, although yes it’s only available on the local network, not from outside.

According to this, you have to change the port the webconfig is running on – despite it not responding to hails from outside my network anyway – before forwards to another machine on port 80 will work at all.


It’s not just the 7300a that does this – I mentioned it to a friend, and he said his 5100c did exactly the same thing.

My next modem, when it comes time to replace this one, won’t be another Billion. My quest for the perfect modem continues.