Solution for Compaq Presario 2100 Laptop Random System Lock-ups With a PCMCIA Wireless Adapter

April 28, 2011

Over the past few months a strange problem had surfaced on my Compaq Presario 2100 laptop where it would lock up completely while it was in use. If any sound was playing it would skip endlessly, the mouse and keyboard would not respond, the hard drive led would remain lit. The system would freeze completely and not respond until it was powered off and on again (by holding the power button down for 4 seconds). The problem became more frequent over time and was completely random, making it extremely frustrating to use.

Troubleshooting:

My Compaq Presario 2100 was running Windows Vista (using the driver setup from my earlier blog post) and had initially attributed it to a possible driver issue with my hacked Vista setup. I tried many different configurations (different versions of the drivers, various BIOS and driver settings, different PCMCIA wireless cards and drivers) in an attempt to locate the incompatible driver(s). Eventually I performed a clean install of Windows XP, and was dismayed when it started locking up (before I had even finished installing the drivers and system updates). This confirmed that the problem must be related to the physical hardware.

I cleaned the vents and internal fans with compressed air and confirmed that there was no problem with excessive heat inside the laptop. I ran a full chkdsk (with the option to test and locate bad sectors) which found no problems with the file system and didn’t lock up during testing, which indicates to me that the hard disk is good. I swapped out the two sticks of DDR SDRAM and it didn’t seem to affect the issue at all. This was extremely frustrating because I knew the system had worked fine before, yet after so much troubleshooting I was unable to find any reasonable cause or solution for the laptop locking up constantly.

The Cause:

There are numerous reports from people having problems with the Presario’s PCMCIA/CardBus under both Windows and Linux. After reading through many manuals, technical documents, FAQ’s, forums and various other bits of information related to the Compaq Presario 2100, I found that some Compaq Presario laptops have poorly implemented PCMCIA/CardBus chipsets or non-standard sockets that do not supply enough power to the cards. Some are so bad you simply cannot use any PCMCIA cards at all.

This is no surprise… Compaq used cheap hardware components and many of their systems were poorly designed. The USB on the Presario 2100 is also underpowered, when you plug devices into both USB ports it can cause the system to stop responding (until one device is unplugged) or the USB devices may behave erratically. The onboard MacPhyter ethernet controller also has problems with being flakey and having poor network performance.

The Solution:

Avoid using any PCMCIA cards in the laptop.

I stopped using my PCMCIA wireless adapter and the laptop has not frozen a single time since.

I haven’t tested a wide range of cards but I did try three or four different PCMCIA wireless adapters and all of them caused the laptop to lock up (some more often than others). I will try a few other cards in the near future and see if they still cause problems, but I suspect all of them will cause the laptop to lockup.

Other Solutions for Connecting to Wireless:

If you use a PCMCIA wireless adapter then there are a few solutions for wireless networking on the Presario 2100 which do not use the PCMCIA slot.

A USB wireless adapter or tethered mobile device (like a cell phone) will work fine, however performance may not be the best. The Presario 2100 doesn’t have USB 2.0 so the transfer speed of the USB ports is fairly slow. There are also problems with the power to the ports (as mentioned above), which may cause issues if another USB device is plugged in or the wireless adapter draws too much power.

The Presario 2100 has a mini-PCI slot on the bottom of it’s motherboard which you can access via a removable metal panel on the bottom of the laptop. The panel is unmarked (no icon beside it or on it) and positioned to the right. You have to remove two small black phillips screws and the panel should open up revealing a single card slot.

The mini-PCI slot is standard and can use any kind of mini-PCI wireless card you put into it, even models from other laptops. You may have issues with some Intel wireless adapters which rely on an Intel chipset for some functions (and will not work properly on an ATI chipset like mine has). Broadcom wireless cards are very popular and should work without any problems. The mini-PCI slot is fast and will not have any issues with performance like you would have using USB.

I used a Broadcom BCM4x card which I pulled from an old Acer TravelMate in my Presario 2100 and it worked flawlessly. The only problem I had with this method was that my Presario 2100 had no wireless antennas inside the chassis at all (many other laptops have the antenna wires inside the display or base with open connectors by the mini-PCI slot which you can connect to the card when it is installed). The Presario 2100 has nothing. Without antennas the internal wireless card will not be able to pick up wireless signals properly and is almost useless. I had to salvage two antennas from a broken Dell Latitude and manually install them into the Presario 2100 chassis.


File Copy Between Local Drives Hangs in Vista

July 25, 2010

Recently I have run into a strange issue on my Windows Vista machine. When copying movie files between my local hard drives the file copy process gets stuck and never completes.  The dialogs will remain there forever at the same spot unless you end the explorer.exe process which hosts them or use the Cancel button and then the close box (described further below).

There was a popular Vista file copy problem that was patched a long time ago related to copying from mapped network drives. The problem on my system occurs when copying between hard drives.

I have been trying to troubleshoot the issue and have found a workaround but no solution for the problem so far.

Details

The file copy or move process starts and hangs at a random point within the process. Some files are successfully copied or moved but the rest of the operation will never be completed. The file copy dialog is responsive and doesn’t lock up. It just get’s stuck and reads the same file, speed and time remaining until the explorer process ends. If you hit the “Cancel” button on the file copy dialog, it will remain stuck on the “Cancelling…” operation.

If you check the destination there may be files copied or many not be, depending on how far it got before it gets stuck. If you try to perform another file copy after, it will also get stuck. Often a problem will reoccur with the same file if you just try to copy it again afterward. If you try to delete those files afterwards that may also get stuck.

Vista also usually has a thread I/O request timeout error that occurs when a file copy gets stuck, but for some reason it doesn’t appear when this issue occurs and the copy dialog will remain until the explorer.exe process ends or it is cancelled and then closed.

Troubleshooting

When you check the explorer.exe process under task manager, there is no significant change in I/O reads or writes after it gets stuck. It’s committed memory size and number of page faults do not significantly change either.

At first I thought it may be a problem with the hard drives. I ran a full chkdsk /r (locate bad sectors and attempt recovery) on all my drives and there were no problems found at all.

I had a similar problem when Vista first came out with Symantec Antivirus severely slowing my network file copies because it was scanning huge RAR and ISO files. I tried stopping the Microsoft Security Essentials service and turning off real time protection, but it didn’t affect the issue at all.

I also tried stopping the Windows Search service in case they may be attempting to index the file (and perhaps a bad iFilter) was causing the stall. But there also was no effect on the issue.

Since I often had the problem while copying video files, I thought it could possibly be Explorer’s thumbnail generator causing the stall (maybe in combination with a bad DirectShow Filter). Usually when there’s a problem with a DS filter it ends up crashing the app it is running in but I have seen other things happen, like a splitter causing Windows Live Photo Gallery to stall on the first frame of video. I unregistered (regsvr32 /u) most of the DirectShow components I had installed except for a basic few (DivX, ffdshow, XVid,  Ogg DS) which I also made sure were up to date. I tried disabling explorer’s thumbnail generator (by unchecking “Always Show Icons, Never Thumbnails” in the Advanced Folder options), but there was no effect on the problem.

I will have to do some further investigating with Process Explorer when I have some more time this week. For now I haven’t found the cause, just a way to work around the issue.

Workaround

I tried performing the copy operation from an Administrative command prompt and found that you could successfully copy the files without any problem using the “copy” command. Even while 3 or 4 hung explorer file copy windows are present and supposedly copying the same file.

Strangely, using the “move” command has the same problem as explorer and will just hang until you break out of it with CTRL-C. I don’t know why “move” has trouble because you can use manually use the “copy” command to copy the files and then “del” to delete them afterwards without any problems.

You can also cancel the hung file copy dialogs by pressing the “Cancel” button and then the close button on the dialog afterwards. Just hitting cancel will not work. Sometimes explorer will maintain a lock on the file it was stuck on (preventing you from moving or deleting the file) even after you have cancelled the copy dialog. You have to kill the explorer.exe process from Task Manager and restart it to remove the file lock.