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Archive for April, 2011

Fried Electronics: Netgear Gigabit Switch

April 29, 2011 1 comment

I came into my office this morning and had no connectivity on any of my computers, or my desk phone that also works over an Ethernet connection. It didn’t take long to figure out why:

After the third image, it briefly powers off, then repeats the process infinitely. Great if I wanted my own desktop light show, somewhat less effective as a communications switching device. Taking it apart I didn’t see any visible damage, we’ll chalk this one up to a random failure inside of an IC somewhere. The switch is about 5 years old, if I remember correctly.

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Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish (3) – Grunow 589

April 26, 2011 7 comments

Update: The series is complete. For more articles and information, visit these other posts:

Part 1: Identification and Task List
Part 2: Intake Checks
Part 3: Capacitor Replacement
Part 4: Resistors and Controls
Part 5: First Power-Up
Part 6: Socket Replacement and First Alignment
Part 6.5: Diagnosing an RF Intermittent
Part 7: Conclusion

Continuing to restore the Grunow 5-U chassis that’s on my bench, we’re picking back up with replacing the old capacitors. In part 1, I identify the components of the antique radio and give an overview. In part 2, I checked out the durable components such as coils and transformers to make sure the radio was even worth attempting. Feel free to revisit one of the previous segments to catch up on anything you missed.

When we left off, the radio chassis was on my bench and I’d completed checking all the coils and transformers. A couple of controls (the band switch and volume/power switch) will need some cleaning or replacement attention, but we’ll get to that later. Otherwise the radio looks to be in good physical condition, with no open windings or broken coils, so it’s on to the real work!

First thing’s first: some minor updates. The power cord originally installed 74 years ago was badly cracked, frayed and splitting – unsafe to operate in that condition. I’ve replaced the line cord with a brand new, UL-listed replacement with a polarized NEMA 1 plug, the standard household appliance cord type. Wall sockets are polarized in most modern homes, with the smaller blade on the plug carrying the current and the wider blade tying to your home’s Neutral line. It’s a best practice to always switch the “hot” side of the AC cord, so I installed the replacement with the narrow blade connected to the power switch.

While in replacing the power switch, I also made a circuit modification which improves performance and reduces noise. I connected two 0.05uF X1Y2 safety capacitors, one from each side of the line to the radio’s chassis. Safety capacitors are designed to fail-open, rather than fail-short as many other types do, which in the event of a fault keeps the radio from shorting out. This modification serves two purposes: it reduces interference from the power line by diverting it to the circuit ground, and it also provides a partial RF return path for the antenna coil in the absence of an external ground. In most radios around this age, it was necessary to connect both a long wire antenna and a solid grounding rod. The chassis and antenna grounds tie together, and radio waves travel down the antenna, down the primary of the antenna coil to chassis and then into the earth. Without a solid ground connection, performance was reduced. By coupling the chassis ground to AC Neutral, which connects to Earth Ground at your home’s service panel, the radio will have better reception when not attached to a physical ground.

Continuing on from there, I worked the chassis roughly left-to-right replacing capacitors as I went along. Most caps are marked with their values, but there is a full parts list on the schematic for the ones where the markings are no longer readable. While under the radio’s chassis, it’s easy to see the repair history of the radio. The original capacitors were waxed cardboard tubes, labeled with the word “Grunow” in script. One is visible above just below the blue safety caps. There are, however, several other capacitors with different markings, Aerovox Tubular Capacitors. These are evidence of the radio being serviced at some point in its past.

Here you can see a cutaway view of a 0.1uF antique capacitor. Inside the wax-coated cardboard tube are concentric layers of metal foil separated by a thin insulator. As the years carried on, moisture penetrated the wax and causes corrosion which leads to leakage and eventually, short circuits.

While replacing parts, I carefully de-solder one lead at a time, or if the terminal is too crowded or looks to fragile (tube socket tie points with many connections), I’ll snip the wire leaving about 1/4″ and bend it into a loop, then use that as a new tie point. This lead-looping is a standard repair.

The new signal capacitors are much smaller, and will probably last forever. They are all rated at 630V and are all metalized polymer construction.

In addition to the signal capacitors in the radio, there are larger-value electrolytic capacitors used in the power supply circuit. These capacitors filter and smooth the output to the tubes to provide a constant high voltage, and were mounted on the top of the chassis as we saw in Part 1 on the right side:

These are physically large. Signal capacitors range in value from a few picofarads, up to about 1uF. Most in this radio were in the .001-.2 range. On top of the chassis, the filter capacitors are rated at 10uF and 1.414 times the high-voltage winding of the transformer, 450V. Modern replacements are much, much smaller:

The black cylinders are the replacement filter capacitors – approximately the size of a thimble, compared to the largest of the top-mounted cans that’s about the size of a cardboard toilet paper roll. Materials science has really come a long way. In the top right, the can is insulated from the chassis; on the left, the negative goes directly into the chassis. Both provide filtering from the power supply.

The yellow cylinder in the center of this shot is another capacitor. The 0.5uF model previously in its place was bad, and instead of adding a wire lead to the end of a smaller capacitor, I used one in a different packaging which allowed me to make the connection without additional wire. The replacement is 0.47uF. Manufacturing tolerances on antique capacitors were typically on the order of +/- 20%, so any value from 0.4-0.6 is just perfect; in this case the replacement is only “off” by 6% and will work perfectly.

This radio was also equipped with a feature called a Bias Cell. At this point in history, the entire field of electronics had only existed for about 20 years and so scientists and researchers were still determining properties of vacuum tubes and circuit design. Early radios applied a small negative charge, about as much as a watch battery, to the grid (input) of certain tubes especially in the audio sections. For more detail on why this was necessary, I’d encourage you to pick up Elements of Radio (1950) or Radio Physics Course (1933) but suffice it to say as circuit design improved it became apparent these bias cells were no longer needed within just a couple of years of their introduction.

I’ve modified the circuit to eliminate the bias cell entirely. This was accomplished by changing the 1M grid resistor to a 4.7M grid resistor, and jumping across the battery’s terminals. It’s since been removed. Some people like to replace the outdated carbon-zinc battery with a modern lithium watch battery, or rejuvenate their old cells, but there’s no benefit for either of those approaches over modifying the circuit to use a later design.

All paper and electrolytic capacitors have been replaced, as well as an out of tolerance resistor on the antenna coil (not photographed due to the mounting angle) and removed the bias cell. From the task list in part 1, this is how it looks so far:

  • Replace all wax and electrolytic capacitors.
  • Check resistors for drift and replace as necessary.
  • Clean or replace band switch.
  • Clean or replace power switch and volume control.
  • Replace power cord with polarized power cord for safety, and add interference-suppression to the power line input.
  • Add inline fuse on the power transformer primary for safety.
  • Adding an isolated auxiliary input (RCA jack) for playing an iPod or other music device.
  • Replace bias cell with lithium battery or eliminate and replace with 5 Megohm resistor.
  • Replacing rubber chassis and tuner washers to ensure proper alignment.
Coming up next, I’ll be verifying the resistors and the condition of the tiniest 3 capacitors which are Mica construction and don’t typically need to be replaced.

Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish (2) – Grunow 589

April 22, 2011 7 comments

Update: The series is complete. For more articles and information, visit these other posts:

Part 1: Identification and Task List
Part 2: Intake Checks
Part 3: Capacitor Replacement
Part 4: Resistors and Controls
Part 5: First Power-Up
Part 6: Socket Replacement and First Alignment
Part 6.5: Diagnosing an RF Intermittent
Part 7: Conclusion

Continuing in the series Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish, we’re moving on to Step 2: Intake Checks. Feel free to revisit Step 1 for a general overview of the parts of an antique radio. Picking up from where we left off, the radio was on the bench waiting for attention:

We’ve seen that the radio looks like it’s in decent physical condition. A can of compressed air like you’d use to clean a computer keyboard was useful in cleaning 74 years of accumulated dust from between the plates and coils; wet wipes and a damp sponge helped to clean up some of the surface grime. Now it’s time to start initial tests. We’ll begin with the tubes.

From left to right, the radio came to me with the 6A7 (modulator/oscillator), 6D6 (IF amplifier) and 75 (first audio) tubes (shown in the top row.) From my own parts stock, I’ve found a type 42 output tube and a type 80 rectifier tube pictured on the bottom row.

Vacuum tubes are high-voltage and high-temperature devices, and years of operation under those harsh condition can cause the emission surfaces to wear out, increase in resistance, or even short or go open like a lightbulb filament breaking. Inserting damaged tubes into a radio can cause permanent damage, so it’s important to test tubes for any professional restoration. I use my Precision model 10-40 tube tester to check the tubes condition:

The Precision 10-40 is a “Dynamic Conductance” tube tester, which partially approximates actual operating conditions in the radio. It’s not a perfect test, but is useful for quickly sorting good from bad tubes. The controls on this unit allow you to set the operating parameters for the tubes (filament/heater, plate, grid and bias voltages) and set their connections. It checks for bad tube elements, as well as overall emission. Shown here testing the 6A7, which was good. I repeated this process for all 5 tubes, and found that 4 test solidly good and only 1 tests marginal.

The only marginal tube is the 75 First Audio, which just barely falls on the “replace” side of the weak line. Even significantly weak tubes can continue to perform okay, but at a certain point the audio starts to lose volume. This one will be fine for testing purposes, and probably fine for another decade of listening, but will end up being replaced at the end.

This radio is in great shape for its age and there are no immediately obvious defects. I’ve seen radios with mashed in tuning capacitors, tubes snapped off in the sockets, dangling wires and such and this radio has none of those. If the passive components in the radio (components, coils and transformers) are in good condition or are repaired, the radio will work. Now it’s time to check the durable passive components: the antenna coil, oscillator coil, both IF transformers, power transformer, speaker output transformer, field coil and voice coil.

This set was sent to me identified as a Grunow model 586. When I started to trace out the circuit, however, I noticed differences in the coil and bandswitch arrangements. This led me back to the original chassis tag which identified the chassis as type 5-U, not the type 5-W chassis installed in the model 586. The Grunow model 589 (or possibly the 587 or 599) is the correct identification for this model radio, depending on the cabinet and speaker options installed.

Shown in this snip of the schematic is the input stage of the radio from the antenna and antenna coil on the left, oscillator coil in the center and the 6A7 modulator/oscillator tube. A tube serving as both modulator and oscillator is also frequently called the “converter”, and for brevity’s sake I will be using that term going forward. It’s called the converter because it converts the incoming radio waves to the intermediate frequency in one step using one tube where earlier designs needed to use two tubes. The top schematic is the correct one; the bottom schematic is the incorrect schematic, just for comparison.

On the left is the antenna coil. The primary goes from the Antenna input down the winding to the chassis ground as does the Doublet (dipole antenna) input. Each of the two secondaries is switched depending on which band is selected using the band switch knob. The oscillator coil is similar, towards the center. In the 586, the oscillator coil secondary is center-tapped and the switch bypasses part of the coil; in the 589, the broadcast and shortwave oscillator coils are wound separately.

That’s about the only difference between the two chassis. It’s a slightly more complex coil arrangement, and might yield slightly better performance, but it’s really a very minor difference. The limiting factor in this set’s performance will be the fact that it has only five tubes.

Checking the antenna coil’s integrity is easy, just use the multimeter. Shown here the antenna coil primary measuring 23.5 Ohms.

Looks good. I tested the secondaries through their entire signal path (from the grid cap on top of the 6A7 through the band switch in both positions) and found them to all be good, so moved on to the oscillator coil. The primary windings of the oscillator coil are switched from Pin 4 of the 6A7 converter through the band switch to the junction of a pair of resistors that feed the 6D6 IF amplifier.

Unfortunately, during this test it turned out the band switch has a short inside the switch body. Both sides of the switch segment that switch the oscillator coil primary have continuity at the same time. This shouldn’t happen, and it means there’s probably some crud stuck inside the switch. I’ll have to clean it thoroughly later. The secondaries are switched from another set of terminals on the band switch; from the center pole to ground on one winding and to the edge of a trimmer on the other. Both primaries and secondaries are intact. This is the band switch that will need repair:

Next up is to check the IF transformers. There are two transformers, each with two windings, so a total of four tests. Selecting the tie points for the leads from the schematic, I test continuity the same as the antenna and oscillator coils and find that all IF transformers are intact. And so is the power transformer!

Unfortunately, though, another discovery: the on-off-volume switch is either completely clogged, or dead. The primary winding, 5V and 6.3V filament and heater windings, and B+ are all intact however. That just leaves the speaker coils (transformer, field and voice):

All those coils check out as well. In addition to these pictured checks, I tested the tuning capacitor for shorts by attaching one lead to the stator, and one to each rotor segment, and moving the plates through their full range of motion. The plates showed no connection throughout their full range of travel, so there should be no dead spots on the tuning dial and it should track properly.

Based on this initial assessment, this Grunow 5-U chassis is going to need these repairs:

  • Replace all wax and electrolytic capacitors.
  • Check resistors for drift and replace as necessary.
  • Clean or replace band switch.
  • Clean or replace power switch and volume control.
I’ll also be making some small upgrades:
  • Replace power cord with polarized power cord for safety, and add interference-suppression to the power line input.
  • Add inline fuse on the power transformer primary for safety.
  • Adding an isolated auxiliary input (RCA jack) for playing an iPod or other music device.
  • Replace bias cell with lithium battery or eliminate and replace with 5 Megohm resistor.
  • Replacing rubber chassis and tuner washers to ensure proper alignment.
And finishing off with an alignment when complete.
Coming up next: replacing passive components. So far aside from a light cleaning, nothing has actually been done to the radio besides a lot of poking and prodding – that changes soon.

Puppy Cam

April 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Bald Eagles may have been a bit more majestic, but these Shiba Inu puppies are a lot cuter. They have just become active enough over this week to move themselves towards the pile when they get cold, instead of having a mysterious hand reach in from off-camera and move them manually.

Take a look!

Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish (1) – Grunow 589

April 20, 2011 10 comments

Update: The series is complete. For more articles and information, visit these other posts:

Part 1: Identification and Task List
Part 2: Intake Checks
Part 3: Capacitor Replacement
Part 4: Resistors and Controls
Part 5: First Power-Up
Part 6: Socket Replacement and First Alignment
Part 6.5: Diagnosing an RF Intermittent
Part 7: Conclusion

I’ve frequently posted snips of information about antique radio restoration and repair, anecdotes and photos and such – but that’s not a very comprehensive look at the hobby. A new radio to repair has just arrived on my bench from a client, and his radio has the honor of serving as the feature in this upcoming series of blog posts, Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish.

In this first post, I’ll be identifying the major components of an antique radio and talking briefly about their features. Some terms that may be unfamiliar are linked to their articles in Wikipedia, if you’re interested in further reading.

The radio in question is a 1937 Grunow model 586589. Grunow radios were produced by General Household Utilities Co. and this example is excellent for demonstration because of its simple and straightforward design: 5 tubes, with AM and Shortwave reception. Not a lot of bells and whistles, but a very solid radio with a reputation for quality. And quite pretty when installed in the cabinet, too! (photo from Radio Attic Archives)

Freshly unboxed, the chassis and speaker (not pictured) arrived. They were extremely well-packed, double-boxed and with protective cardboard over areas that could be damaged by punctures.

Grunow radios are known for their beautiful Teledials. The entire dial face rotates to indicate the station at the 12 o’clock position on either band, and the station markers can be moved to indicate positions of favorite stations on the dial – a primitive preset function. I obtained the schematic for the radio from Nostalgia Air which is always helpful when working on a radio. Radio schematics for the old radios are in the public domain and scans can be readily found online.

Here is the chassis from a few more views, and then I will point out some of the important components.

This radio uses five tubes. Two of them are not pictured (the 4- and 6-pin tubes on the left of the top-view photo), and the remaining tubes are the 6A7 Modulator/Oscillator, 6D6 IF Amplifier and 75 Detector/First Audio. The missing tubes are the power rectifier, type 80, and the power output tube, type 41 or 42.

Let’s identify the top-side components:

  • Power Transformer: Takes the incoming electricity from the wall and converts it to levels suitable for use in the tube radio. Radio tubes require a very high voltage on the plate (100-300 volts typically), called the “B” voltage, and one or many smaller voltages (5-12V typically) for the “A” voltage to power the tube heaters.
  • IF Transformers: In this type of radio (a superhetrodyne), these Intermediate Frequency (IF) transformers pass signal from one stage to the next at a tuned frequency usually around 455KHz (in this case 465KHz). Because these transformers only need to be tuned once (contrast with a Tuned Radio Frequency receiver) they can be more efficient and have fewer reliability issues.
  • Filter Capacitors: These passive electronic components filter the incoming electricity after it has been rectified and converted to DC by the type 80 power rectifier.
  • Tuning Gang: The tuning gang is another type of capacitor – except this one is variable. Movable metal plates slide in and out of fixed metal plates with a very tiny air gap, changing its capacitance and thus changing what station the radio is tuned to.
  • Controls and Dial: These knobs and display are used to control the radio (on-off-volume, AM/Shortwave, Tone [equalizer] and Tuning.)
  • Speaker Wires: Connect to the speaker field coil and speaker output transformer.

There are also components under the chassis, too. Let’s take a look at the bottom. I find it’s easy to use C-Clamps and pieces of wood to raise the chassis above the work surface, so it isn’t resting on any of the components on the top. They’re not “fragile” per se, but supporting the radio’s full weight on a couple of rivets isn’t the best idea – not to mention, this raises it up another foot for a more ergonomic working posture while standing.

Now, with labels:

  • Antenna In: connections for the radio’s antenna to receive signals.
  • Capacitor: A passive component, these wax paper capacitors age, dry out and leak causing short circuits and must all be replaced.
  • Resistor: A passive component, these carbon resistors can absorb moisture as they age and increase their resistance, potentially changing the behavior of tubes or choking off the flow of electricity to circuits.
  • Tube Socket: The bottom of the tube plug-in, with connections to the rest of the components.
  • Bias Cell: A primitive early battery about as powerful as a watch battery, used to place control voltages on tubes.
  • Oscillator Coil: In conjunction with the oscillator tube, the 6A7, this coil forms part of the tuned circuit that resonates at 465KHz to provide the intermediate frequency fed into the oscillator.
  • Antenna Coil: Provides loading for the antenna and reduces parasitic effects to improve performance.
I will be posting updates to this series, Repairing Antique Radio Electrics from Start to Finish, periodically as this radio advances through my repair bench. I’ll also include some theory when appropriate. Stay tuned!

Managing Expectations in a Mobile World

April 20, 2011 Leave a comment

I’d like to share some frustrations I’ve been having with my Android phone, the T-Mobile G2. I was a completely satisfied customer of the G1, which was released about 2.5 years ago – an eternity in mobile technology, but not really that different from the current iteration of devices in a significant way.

Mobile devices have reached a shocking level of compatibility and functionality. Paired with a suitable data plan, the modern smartphone can legitimately be compared to a computer. You can watch video from sites like Hulu, YouTube and Vimeo; capture, edit and share photos and videos to other mobile devices, computers or web services; create and edit office documents, access web pages, stream music, send e-mail, chat and connect over any of dozens of web services, manage your finances, find near-by points of interest, turn-by-turn navigation…..the list of computer-like things a mobile phone can do goes on and on.

Note I said computer-like things because, despite all the progress that’s been made, cell phones are still sorely lacking in actually being able to do most of the things I’ve listed quickly and easily. Cellular providers share some of the blame, which I’ll get to in a few moments. Cell phones have advanced well enough to where they can be judged on the same standard as a basic desktop computer – and are falling flat on their face as a result. Just being good “for a phone” isn’t enough any more when the end of the PC is approaching and marketing efforts are setting customers up for disappointment if they’re expecting a full-featured experience.

The G2 is about as unmodified of an Android build as you’re likely to find on a mass-production phone – and it’s a mess of usability issues, bad design, poorly thought out features and to top it off some of the limited potential it does have is being choked off by the cell phone companies. Take for instance Android ActiveSync, the application that connects Android phones to Microsoft Exchange servers. It frequently loses the ability to synchronize, forcing me to reboot the phone to restart sync. It doesn’t effectively sync subfolders, meaning that my “Alerts” folder nested inside my Inbox is never synced if Inbox is the active view. And occasionally it spontaneously forgets I ever attached an ActiveSync account, and instead of my e-mail in the morning I wake up to the Add Account wizard. That’s utterly unacceptable for a production device – but this happens not only on my Android device, but on multiple phones on different providers belonging to others.

Flash on the phone has been another area where phones have effectively fallen on their face. There are some technological reasons behind this failure, but the fact of the matter is, Flash that works just well enough to render the applet’s interface but not well enough to let you actually interact is completely useless. Flash is being sold to Android users as being able to unlock the “rest of the web”, but I can’t even manage to load the Pandora desktop SWF functionally.

And speaking of Pandora, we come to the role of cell phone providers in this whole mess. I live in a dense metro area, the 23rd largest city in the country. The area is blanketed with fast “4G” coverage measured in megabits per second. Pandora offers a mobile application for devices – with significantly reduced audio quality from the desktop application, which they blame on the cell phone providers:

Pandora on phones is limited by hardware and bandwidth. Many carriers have trouble streaming even the “normal” quality audio on phones (32kbps). The High quality is 64kbps.

Desktop normal quality is around 128kbps, and high quality is 192kbps. If providers really have trouble streaming audio in the same quality as we had on desktop computers in 1998 – 13 years ago – there is a serious infrastructure issue in our country. Net Neutrality might help with this somewhat, but most likely not.

There’s a long way to go before the “end of the PC” really arrives.

Stromberg-Carlson 520-PG: After Action Report

April 18, 2011 2 comments

My Stromberg-Carlson 520-PG (previous parts 1 2) is finally finished! The radio came out ahead of my expectations, even, and was delivered to its new home yesterday where I expect it will continue to serve for years to come. See these in-progress photos, or jump to the bottom for the “after” picture!

The radio was fairly beat up when I found it – dirty, scratches, missing the speaker cloth, and completely original electrically.

After assessing the condition of the coils and transformers, it was time to mount the chassis to the bench and start the real work.

After replacing pretty much everything that needed replaced or probably would soon, the radio was back to full electrical integrity and ready for alignment:

Alignment completed, it was time to work on the cabinet:

And, at last, time to re-cover the speaker and reinstall! The final results:

It plays beautifully on line input, and picked up distant AM and Shortwave broadcasts (including Radio Australia, a Russian CW and an Entertainment station, Japanese music, English-language religious programming, and a Cuban broadcast. Now, it’s on to the next project!

Stromberg-Carlson 520-PG Nearing Completion

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

My current main project, refurbishing my Stromberg-Carlson 520-PG radio (which has been a fair amount of fun so far) is nearing completion. I’ve just completed an IF alignment, which greatly improved the sound quality and volume and general performance.

Radios contained tuned circuits, and like any tuned circuit it can drift over time and become un-tuned. Poorly aligned tuned circuits will result in all kinds of problems – stations showing up at the wrong place on the dial, low volume, distortion, and poor reception. Superhetrodyne receivers, the modern type made popular in the early 1930s and still in use today, convert the incoming radio signals from their radio frequency (RF) level, down to an intermediate frequency (IF). By injecting a signal at the same frequency as the IF and adjusting the fine tuning on the IF transformers, you can measure the changes in output using a meter or even by ear – the volume change is very obvious.

The radio is ready to reinstall:

The last steps are to clean up the cabinet a bit, and repair the grill cloth. I’ve purchased a new grill cloth from Grill Cloth Headquarters (linked on the right sidebar of my blog) and have finally dismantled the mounting board. I’ll be using Howard Restor-a-Finish, #0000 steel wool on scratches, rings and marks and a regular finish application pad for the flat surfaces. This particular cabinet is in excellent shape for its age, and the finish needs just a little touch-up to look great again.

If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to send this beautiful piece of history to its new home in only a few more days.

In this photo, the shortwave loop antenna for distance reception, the cabinet with speaker board removed, the original Webster-Chicago 78 rpm drop changer, and the speaker board. The record changer is still functional, in fact – the motor started up and the mechanism clicked when I turned it on, and pressing the action button made the tone arm lift up, move over and set itself down. Quite a surprise!

Bing vs. Google on Downloading WinRAR [Winner: Google]

April 11, 2011 1 comment

I’m fighting with the beta of System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2012, a Microsoft utility for managing cloud computing resources. It’s a fight I shouldn’t have to engage in as Microsoft requires a pre-requisite that can’t actually be opened by the default tools installed with the operating system, the Windows Automated Installation Kit which is helpfully delivered as an ISO instead of something that can be opened natively.

WinRAR, a well-known and well-respected file compression utility is my go-to utility for opening ISOs as it will extract them into a folder with a single click. It’s also a program I never seem to have the installer on hand for, so instead of digging around for my department’s installer I go find the web page.  Bing is the default search engine for Internet Explorer on Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 and I used it to search for “winrar”, expecting to be quickly taken to a download site. Instead, I received a search result page entirely devoid of what I was looking for.

That’s a screenshot of the data area of the browser, from the server in question. There were three results displayed on the first page (it didn’t want to scroll). Zero of these results are links to download WinRAR, or are even to the company that even produces WinRAR. Two of the results are sponsored advertisements to a WinRAR competitor, and one is the Wikipedia entry about the software. (The page extends to the right as well, with 5 more advertisements I cropped from the screenshot, none are links to the author’s web site.)

I was so shocked by this absolute lack of results I had to open a tab with Google on the same machine and search that way:

The very first result is the official homepage of WinRAR, complete with a quick link to Download. Perfect! The second result is the same as the “Download” quick link from the first result. The third result is another domain name for the same company, as is the fourth. And it continued with several more links to reputable download sites (CNet, etc.), and finally the Wiki entry.

It’s no surprise that less than 1 in 10 web searches are on Bing when it can’t accurately return results for something that’s been around for years, has an excellent reputation and is very widely distributed. Winner in this unexpected challenge? Google. But I would like to thank Bing for a nostalgic trip back to the early days of web search in the ’90s when there were zero good options out there. I’m very glad that’s not the case anymore.

Bing Travel is excellent, it’s a shame their web search is pretty much useless.

Use WinDbg to Solve Blue Screen Crashes

April 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Everyone has experienced a Blue Screen crash at some point or another. Windows Vista and Windows 7 greatly reduced the frequency of this happening, and now it’s pretty rare. I’ve only seen one on my home computer in several years, and it was caused by a faulty sound card, not by Windows itself. And that’s normally the case now: the core operating system is stable, but devices and programs you add can take away from the system’s reliability.

One of the Directors at my company has been experiencing frequent blue screen crashes since upgrading to a new computer. We were suspecting a hardware issue, but weren’t able to pin it down to anything specific. That’s where the Debugging Tools for Windows come in. These are very in-depth, technical resources that dig deep into the internal workings of the operating system, and can determine exactly what the last thing that happened was before the system crashed and was shut down.

Before beginning any debugging steps, you’ll need to make sure you have a crash dump file. This can be enabled in your system’s properties. After recovering from a crash dump, Windows will display a prompt at the beginning of your next session with the location of the crash dump file. Make a note of its location, or copy it to a flash drive for debugging on another machine. The file can range from a few hundred KB, up to the size of your complete physical memory, depending on how verbose you’ve selected. Most crash dumps are on the smaller end.

After downloading and installing the tools above, you also need to download Symbol packages. These contain mappings from memory addresses, to entry points and function names and are necessary to actually see what’s going on. The symbols are a few hundred megabytes, and aren’t included by default because relatively few people need to use them daily. Once you’ve installed the SDK, start WinDbg from the “Debugging Tools for Windows” entry on your Start menu, and you’ll stare at a rather unfriendly looking console.

Now, set up your Symbols: File > Symbol File Path and add the location you’ve installed the symbol files. You can also add a link to an online symbol server, which will help fill in the gaps if you didn’t download the right symbol package.

Navigate to File > Open Crash Dump… and select the crash dump you’d like to investigate. Then wait a moment while it loads symbol files.

Type, or click, on “!analyze -v” to run the debugger through the trace and find out what happened. You’ll get a print-out:

7: kd> !analyze -v
**                        Bugcheck Analysis                                   **   
BAD_POOL_HEADER (19)The pool is already corrupt at the time of the current request.
This may or may not be due to the caller.
The internal pool links must be walked to figure out a possible cause of the problem,
and then special pool applied to the suspect tags or the driververifier to a suspect driver.
Arguments:Arg1: 0000000000000003, the pool freelist is corrupt.
Arg2: fffffa800a420080, the pool entry being checked.
Arg3: fffffa8007c34030, the read back flink freelist value (should be the same as 2).
Arg4: 1002026001f00705, the read back blink freelist value (should be the same as 2).
Debugging Details:

PROCESS_NAME:  UltraMonTaskba
LAST_CONTROL_TRANSFER:  from fffff8000300d70f to fffff80002ee3640

FOLLOWUP_IP: nt!ExDeferredFreePool+cbbfffff800`0300d70f cc              int     3
SYMBOL_NAME:  nt!ExDeferredFreePool+cbb
FOLLOWUP_NAME:  Pool_corruption
IMAGE_NAME:  Pool_Corruption
MODULE_NAME: Pool_Corruption
FAILURE_BUCKET_ID:  X64_0x19_3_nt!ExDeferredFreePool+cbb
BUCKET_ID:  X64_0x19_3_nt!ExDeferredFreePool+cbb

Below the Debugging Details header, is the real interesting piece of information, the PROCESS_NAME entry – in this case, UltraMonTaskba[r]. UltraMon is an add-on utility designed to make computing with multiple monitors easier and more intuitive by making per-screen task bars and allowing you to quickly manipulate windows across multiple monitors. In this case, it appears to have an incompatibility with his particular system configuration and is corrupting part of the system memory.

Updating UltraMon should solve the issue in this case, but if that doesn’t, then it may have to be removed entirely. I’ve used this technique to identify several difficult to diagnose problems including left-over remnants of an improperly un-installed Anti-Virus application, a failing graphics card, a third-party firewall that was stepping on the built-in Windows firewall, and more. The debugging output can be a bit verbose, but most of it can be ignored which makes it that much easier to use.


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