A Computer Riddle

The Riddler
Normally, I like to post problems to which I have a definite answer to, or at least a highly plausible one. I’m afraid I must deviate from the norm here. I ran into a rather puzzling problem a couple of weeks ago. It’s no longer an active problem, but I fear with out a definite answer, it’s a passive one. Here’s the scoop.

The main circulation desk PC decided to go nuts. The scanner would start incessantly beeping and the PC would freeze. My fail safe ctl+alt+del didn’t do diddly. The PC remained frozen. So I was forced to shut down the PC. If I harbored any hope that it was a outlier, I was soon corrected. Later that day it happened again. So here are the initial steps I took.

Initial Troubleshooting

  1. I noticed in the Device Manager that there was a PCI Simple Controller that needed troubleshooting. So I tried to update the driver. No driver was found.
  2. So then I tried to uninstall the thing, but after rebooting the PC, it kept finding the hardware and reinstalling it…with the same need of troubleshooting.
  3. Next I changed the driver update settings to search Windows update  for a new driver. None was found.
  4. After that, I googled PCI Simple Controller and found that it was related to the CPU.
  5. So I went to Intel’s website and downloaded a Driver Updater Utility. But running that failed because the computer (an HP 6200 Pro Small Form Factor) wouldn’t allow automatic updates. I would have to uninstall the old and install the new. Bust I wasn’t comfortable uninstalling something related to the CPU.
  6. So then I swapped out the physical PC itself, thinking the culprit was the physical hardware. But the spare PC I had was the same model. So it happened again.

Consortium Help

  1. After pondering the problem in the office (’twas a “two pipe problem”, without the actual pipes, though) I realized that the other thing the PCs had in common was that they both had the OPAC open. So I got in touch with the consortium to see if there were any errors on the servers. There weren’t.
  2. But they told me to check the peripherals. One of those drivers might be causing the problem. So I changed the scanner. No luck.
  3. Next I changed the monitor. No dice.
  4. Then I changed the receipt printer. Nuh-uh. 
  5. Then I reread the email from the consortium and found they also mentioned disabling the FireFox extensions, since our OPAC is open source and runs on FireFox. Nada.

Resolution, sorta

Because both physical devices were the same model, the last thing I tried was to swap out a different model. Wouldn’t you know it worked. But before I left it at that, I noticed on last thing.

The computer was plugged into a powerstrip which was plugged into a powerstrip that was plugged into the wall.

As luck would have it we were getting a new desk that week. So when I was setting the computers back up, I arranged the powerstrip nearer the outlet and plugged that directly into the wall. Then I swapped back in the meddlesome model, thinking that the power wasn’t coming in at a constant amperage (or something) due to the daisy-chained powerstrips and that didn’t play nice with the CPU in the original device. Yeah, not so much. I got the problem again.

So in the end, I still believe it has something to do with the hardware in the original device and was forced to use a different model. I don’t know for sure this was the true problem or not. All I know was that was an interesting round of troubleshooting.

So I thought I’d share.

So I did.

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