Musings of a PC

Thoughts about Windows, TV and technology in general

When IT goes wrong …

… why does it often manage to achieve it in such a spectacular manner?

For regular readers of my blog, you’ll know that I’ve got a custom-built, dedicated HTPC running Windows 7. Recently, I’ve been attempting to test out the archiving capability of Media Center, i.e. the ability to burn a recording to DVD. I say attempting because the “Burn CD/DVD” option just isn’t there on my HTPC, despite there being an optical drive installed capable of such an activity.

To check that Windows understood the capabilities of the hardware, I tried using Windows Media Player to burn a TV recording to DVD … my thinking here was that if WMP transcoded the recording, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I couldn’t get MC to do the job for me. Well, the DVD got written to successfully (which is a good sign in itself) but WMP did not transcode it. It simply wrote the original recording to the DVD along with a playlist file. Oh well.

So I erased the DVD on a different computer, reinserted the now-blank DVD into the HTPC and Explorer got stuck. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events from there but the next major thing I spotted was that the computer wouldn’t boot. The HTPC has a fairly modern motherboard which includes an Intel SATA RAID controller. The controller has four hard drives and the optical drive connected. For some reason, the controller could see that there were five devices connected but it could only identify the four hard drives.

I tried booting into a recovery mode and seeing what could be done there. The upshot of that was a big failure. Windows reported that the MBR was broken and couldn’t be repaired. After thinking things through a bit more, I decided to disconnect the optical drive to see if that was “upsetting” the RAID controller. Looked like it was – Windows then proceeded to boot. Unfortunately, the RAID controller was reporting that the 4-drive RAID 5 array needed to be rebuilt. From what I could ascertain, this could only be done from the OS level and not the BIOS level. I then discovered that I didn’t have the Intel Matrix Manager installed so proceeded to install that so that I could monitor the progress of the rebuild.

Then I discovered that, of course, the computer was attempting to do other things with the drives while the rebuild was going on, which was slowing it all down … to an estimated 48 hours! So in a moment of madness, I thought that a reboot would help. Well, it sort of did and sort of didn’t. As this is an HTPC, I’ve got it configured to automatically log on and when I rebooted the computer, it proceeded to do that and got stuck at the Welcome screen.

Then I discovered that the power management on the HTPC was still working … when the computer kept on going to sleep. I tried to remotely change the power settings but was getting access denied so the only other way I could think of to stop it sleeping was to start a Remote Desktop session. That connected, although left me with a blank RDP window. At least it did the trick though and kept the HTPC awake.

So, 48 hours later, the rebuild has finished … but I still can’t log onto the PC. The good news is that reconnecting the optical drive appears to have given me a working drive again. At least, the RAID controller is seeing it again and isn’t getting stuck. Unfortunately, Windows is still getting stuck at the Welcome screen. Booting into Safe Mode works so the computer isn’t entirely bust. I’ve got two options I can try – log on with a different account to see if the profile is corrupt and then try System Restore to a date last week. After that, if it still isn’t working, I’m out of ideas.

The really annoying thing about all of this is that the HTPC is supposed to be a fairly stable system with not much software installed on it and not much changing. It just sits there running Media Center and a few add-ons.


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