Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Well *That* Didn't Work Out So Well

You may recall my recent blog post about Windows 7 being surprisingly usable.

Well, I have to recant here.

I used Windows 7 for about a week and half. While it *worked*, it was a pleasure to use. But after three BSODs in just that week and half, I have abandoned it. I'm now running Ubuntu. (Why not OpenSolaris? Because I need the ability to host VMware and Skype, and I can't do that natively on OpenSolaris -- yet.)

Sure, I could have called up support -- but Microsoft support is provided by my computer manufacturer, and I didn't feel like spending 3 hours on the phone dealing with tech support while they tried to triage my problem. In the end, it was simply faster and easier for me to reinstall with Linux, even allowing for the time it took to download the media.

Sure, the problem might have been my virtualization software, or maybe it was a shoddy audio driver, or maybe it was brokenness in my graphics driver, or maybe it was the 3rd party antivirus software (which begs the question-- why doesn't Microsoft ship with builtin malware protection -- you'd think given all the heat that they've taken over this that they would have figured out that they *need* a solution here that doesn't involve 3rd parties...)

The "automatic solution finder" that Windows 7 ships was completely unhelpful, it didn't find any links. Google was not much help either... with everything to buggy hardware, drivers, and even overtemp problems being cited as root causes.

I'm sure that tech support would have had me running around in circles trying to solve the IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL blue screen. (I'm guessing, from my kernel expertise, that this is probably an assertion fault somewhere that an IRQ level is set unexpectedly high or low -- exactly the kind of problem I know how to fix in Solaris.) Probably plugging and unplugging hardware, unloading and reinstalling drivers and maybe other software, and generally burning an unmentionable amount of my precious time. Especially given that the hardware tech support I'd have been routed to was unlikely to have any real software clue (which is where I think this problem was most likely located.)

Again, faster and simpler to just dump the busted OS, and load something else.

And, with Linux (or any other FOSS), I have at least a fighting chance of trying to debug the problem myself. Sure, my kernel-fu is substantially higher than average joe home user, so my leanings are more towards something I can troubleshoot myself. But, I will say this, so far I've not had a panic ("oops" in Linux parlance) yet in the past four days that I've been running Ubuntu LTS 10.04 (even though I'm running the "not recommended for general desktop use" 64-bit edition.)

Microsoft, if you see this post, I hope you'll learn something from this.


davekoelmeyer said...

Yeah, I leave Windows 7 running in a VirtualBox VM on my OpenSolaris host and that's about it...not all that impressed given the cost, and how well FOSS desktop OSs work of late.

Rob said...

That's too bad. I have also had some BSODs in the year that I've been running Windows 7, but they were all related to lousy drivers and/or bad USB-based hardware.

It's been my primary OS for about nine months and honestly I couldn't be happier with it. Even the wife has said it's way better than Vista...that's saying something when my non-techie wife claims it.

I assume you have found the most recent drivers for your gear. I use VirtualBox regularly with one or two OSes running in it on top of Win 7 with no issues. Oh, I should mention that Windows 7 is VERY picky about RAM. I don't know why, but if you have RAM it doesn't like then your system will be a mess of problems.

I attempted to supplement my two 2GB sticks of OCZ RAM with two sticks of 2GB no-name RAM and Windows 7 did not like that at all. Windows XP, CentOS 5.4, and Solaris 10 had no trouble with it, oddly enough.

Man, this comment was a lot longer than I intended. Hope it was helpful, at least.

Jeff Goldschrafe said...

IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL almost always indicates a problem with the physical memory installed in your machine; I'd wager this is neither an OS nor a driver problem, but that your physical hardware is busted. Run Memtest86+ to verify.

Garrett D'Amore said...

I'll be happy to do that, but I don't know what the basis for this claim is.

I don't know Windows internals specifically, but I *do* know a lot about other operating systems... and the particular error message sounds very much like an IRQ level assertion problem, which would be more characteristic of a driver bug.

If it were bad memory, I'd expect to have other problems, more randomly scattered. (Application crashes, other driver crashes, etc.) Consistently crashing the same way with an IRQ assertion problem feels very unlike a memory problem to me.

That said, I will run memtest86+ plus soon.

Norm said...

FWIW, Microsoft does make their own spyware/malware product, available from microsoft.com/security_essentials. It's actually pretty decent :)

Garrett D'Amore said...

Btw, I did test the memory (memtest86+ v4.0). Its not the memory, as I suspected.

That's not to say that I've eliminated all the other hardware as potential problem sources.

But I've had no crashes with Ubuntu. (Still not proof that it isn't hardware -- Ubuntu drivers may not exercise hardware in the same way as Windows -- but it changes the statistics.)

I still suspect a bad driver somewhere or kernel level software.

UnixRob said...

If there was really bad ram in Garret's computer (which I doubt), I would think that using an OpenSolaris Indiana live CD as a main desktop for a 24 hour period would definitely crash as well.

Seeing how OpenSolaris + ZFS likes to use RAM very aggressively and also noting how every time you "pkg install" something from IPS on the live CD you're installing on to a RAM disk and not to a real hard disk drive, it shouldn't take too long running off of that OpenSolaris live CD for the kernel to write some data to that bad spot in RAM and elicit a crash of some sort.

That OpenSolaris Indiana live CD environment had once found a weird anomaly on a certain stick of RAM in my desktop computer that memtest did not show at all, and swapping out the stick of Ram solved the problem.