Friday, December 17, 2004

MCE 2005 Salvaged

I am posting this in the hopes that it will save someone the agony that I have gone through with my Media Center lately.  For the last month, the machine has been entirely unusable.  It would work for only brief moments at a time and then fail with “Loss of Signal” errors.  I have not been able to record a thing for the last month or so - I would come home to find the machine locked hard and needing to be physically reset.

Initially, I blamed the new 2005 version of the software, and I tried every MPEG decoder known to man with no success.  I must have tried 10 different PVR card driver and MPEG decoder combos and to no avail.  The problem?  It turns out that SATA drivers were to blame.  Specifically the IDE versions of the drivers.  I am using an NForce2 board with SATA RAID.  I was trying to figure out the problem and was checking the Event Logs when I saw a large number of disk errors in the logs.  Initially, I had thought this was because MCE was getting locked up and then having to do a hard reset I was causing disk errors.  Actually, it turns out that those errors were some of the symptoms leading up to the lock-ups and “Loss of Signal” errors.

As I dug deeper in the SATA drivers, I found that they were already 2 years old, so naturally I went looking for the latest drivers.  Turns out, I had the latest drivers, they just had not been updated in 2 years (I have a SiL 3114 SATA controller btw).  Digging into Nforce2 forums, I found others reporting similar errors with the controllers.  One clever person found out that if you enable RAID, and use the RAID drivers those errors just seem to go away.  You don't actually have to be using RAID, you just need to use the drivers.  So, that was the eventual solution - I just enabled RAID in the  BIOS and installed the RAID drivers.  I am not using RAID, but the problem is solved.  My Media Center has been chugging away for two days straight and nary a hiccup now.  I have checked the logs again, and no more disk errors.

Why “Loss of Signal” errors?  From what I gather, the SATA IDE drivers are so bad for this controller that the SATA drives have trouble sustaining any sort of data stream.  I suspect that particular error was caused by the drives being unable to keep up with the streaming MPEG as the were written to the drives.

It's nice to finally have a Media Center again.