Friday, March 28, 2008

Sins of a Solar Empire = Miracle Cure

A cloud has (touch wood) been lifted from my digital existence.

For the last few weeks my computer has been acting up. It started crashing randomly. The events ranged from programs crashing unexpectedly to the desktop all the way to forced reboots.

I have been tearing my hair out trying to get to the bottom of it but the intermittent nature of the fault made it almost impossible to track down. On several occasions hope rose after a change appeared to grant several days of uninterrupted computing only to be dragged down once more by the hieroglypic vomit of Microsoft's blue screen of death.

I wasted many hours in failed debugging attempts focussed on the most obvious suspects: a recently changed graphics card, a new power supply and a modified chipset heatsink. I diligently performed anti virus scans, chkdsk scans and memtest scans all to no avail. Nothing I did gave me conclusive evidence of the cause of the problem and the intermittent crashes always returned.

To tell the truth the whole affair was getting me down. I began to despair of ever getting a working computer. It was a contributory factor to my decision to take a break from playing LOTRO. The last thing needed in a raid instance is a player with a flaky PC.

Then unexpectedly fate took pity on me.

I tried to install the demo of "Sins of a Solar Empire" and my PC crashed. Nothing remarkable about that. I have become depressingly familiar with unexpected visits to the reboot screen. I tried to install it again and it crashed again. In fact every time I tried to install the demo it crashed.

BUT..every install attempt resulted in a different crash at a different point in the installation. Sometimes it would crash gently to the desktop at the start of the process, other times my machine would get half way through installation and reboot. The random nature of the crashes suggested this was not a software glitch or driver compatibility issue. I dared to hope that these crashes were the direct result of my hitherto intermittent fault occurring predictably and under my control. So it turned out. "Sins" was the magical stethoscope I needed to detect the cancer at the heart of my machine.

I immediately undertook a rigorous structured debugging exercise. I redid all the scans and then proceeded to swap out components one at a time. At each step I made several attempts to install "Sins" and it let me know whether or not the fault was still present. It was a slow process but the outcome was never in any doubt. I had enough old computer junk lying around to replace every single component in the machine one piece at a time. There would be no place left to hide.

It turned out to be a dodgy memory stick. I don't know why the normally reliable Memtest386 didn't catch it. I don't know why a simple installer program was able to catch the fault with unerring accuracy.

I must buy a copy of the game, whether I play it or not. I owe it to them.


Anonymous said...

You detective you!

Tipa has a nice write up on Sins' have you read it:

mbp said...

It was Tipa's write up which pointed me to the game at first. Despite the fact that have installed and de-installed the demo at least 20 times I haven't actually played the game yet! I do in tend to give it a go though.