I built a Windows 7 HTPC / Media Server. It worked beautifully for a few months, but now it's f-ing up. Any ideas?
February 22, 2011 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I built a Windows 7 HTPC / Media Server. It worked beautifully for a few months, but now it's f-ing up. Any ideas?


Win 7 Pro
Athlon X2 250 Regor 3.0 Ghz
BIOSTAR MCP6P nForce 430
MSI GeForce 9400 GT 512
2GB Crucial PC2-6400
500GB system drive, 1.5TB Media storage
Antec Fusion Remote 350

Using Media Center 7 for live TV and DVR, and the Media Browser plugin for....media browsing. MS Security Essentials for antivirus. Running Subsonic, Playon, uTorrent, PeerGuard, Media Center Master, Safe Sync for backup, and Soluto to clean up startup and delay program startups to get to Live TV quickly. That sounds like a lot, but again, it ran beautifully for months. As I type this, I have RAM at 1.02GB used and CPU riding around 30-40% with Live TV playing.

System runs 24/7, with Windows Update, Defrag, and WMC cleanup/updates running nightly.

Within the last couple of weeks we've been getting random WMC crashes (to desktop). Most concerning is occasional bad stuttering/pausing and artifacting of recorded TV. This happens often and affects playback on the HTPC and Xbox360 extender. Overall, there are just more hiccups, etc, and it feels like WinRot. I thought Windows 7 didn't rot...

Full Disclosure: I (carefully) tweak it quite a bit. But, these symptoms did not begin in correlation with any of my tweaks. I keep a close eye on cpu and memory usage, and even recently uninstalled Windows Live Mesh and replaced it with SafeSync, which seems to have a smaller footprint on average.

Does anyone out there have a similar setup, or any experience with HTPC rot?
posted by bradn to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That is not enough RAM.
posted by sinfony at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Id add more ram personally.
Stupid question, is there adequate cooling? Particularly with it always running.
My only educated guess is that perhaps you are having problems with your video card since you mentioned the issues with artifacts and having trouble with studering. I'd try swapping something in place and try to replicate it.
posted by handbanana at 8:26 PM on February 22, 2011

I have a very similar setup, and that is plenty of RAM--HTPCs don't have a huge memory footprint, and since you're only using about half of it, getting more won't help you with stability. Have you tried doing a system restore to some point before you started seeing these problems? Have you installed any addons to Media Browser? If you have, I'd start there.
posted by reformedjerk at 9:46 PM on February 22, 2011

Have you checked your Event Log for errors? If you are getting frequent WMC crashes, and can associate them in time with some hardware or software error condition flag, you are well along to finding the cause.

On another investigative track, most hard drives these days support S.M.A.R.T. so it is often useful to check S.M.A.R.T. stats, using a tool like GSmartControl for patterns of errors/events indicating that disk problems are accumulating. Stuttering of recorded media, WMC crashes, and artifacts in recorded programs can all result from disk issues, or disk cable/controller problems.

Finally, have you cleaned your HTPC box thoroughly lately? A box run 24/7 with a normal power supply and cooling setup will collect a lot of interior dust, leading to overheating, and possible component failure. Power supply of the box is often a source of seemingly random troubles, too, especially on cheaper/marginal units shipped with cases, as kit parts...
posted by paulsc at 10:16 PM on February 22, 2011

Don't bother adding RAM, I'm using an EeeBox PC EB1012P with only 2GB and it's fine at recording and 1080p playback.

Regarding your issues, I'd go with the recommendations paulsc offers.
posted by mr_silver at 5:15 AM on February 23, 2011

Drives die. Especially if they're subjected to too much heat. Same thing with power supplies and, eventually, the motherboard or video card. This is often made worse by putting the machine in a closed cabinet lacking good airflow. That and using a case that doesn't have enough airflow, or one that did and has now become clogged due to household dust and such.

Consider completely shutting down the machine and letting it totally cool off (like overnight). Boot it again and check the temps. See how the temps change once it's been running for a few hours.
posted by wkearney99 at 6:39 AM on February 23, 2011

Great suggestions, thanks to all.

I don't believe that the amount of RAM is inadequate, given that only 1GB is being used during normal operation. Also, 2x2GB packs of DDR2 are running $60-$70, so I'm not going to drop that much on a fix that is probably not the problem anyway.

Cooling doesn't appear to be an issue, but I'll double check. The Antec case has great airflow, and it's in a cavity with plenty of space around it. However, the video card is fanless, so it's definitely worth investigating. The stuttering doesn't feel like a video issue to me though. Audio cuts out, there's artifacting/tiling, it pauses and then seems to catch up and plays fine for a while, and then does it again.

I may have beat the WMC crashes. The dialog's fault module was AC3 something, so I reset my Shark007 codec pack to defaults and haven't seen a crash since. I have spent time tweaking ffdshow (and never have gotten it right) so perhaps I had a bad setting in there.
posted by bradn at 6:48 AM on February 23, 2011

Your RAM is fine. I've run Win7 boxes with 512megs of RAM with no problems other than the occasional paging lag. My HTPC is a Win7 frankenbox with 1gig of RAM and I never come close to exhausting RAM. Unfortunately, people don't understand the difference between RAM usage and cache. I believe MS changed the Task Manager to show this difference in 7/VistaSP2.

Please post the details of your WMC crash from your event log.

I'd update the video drivers first and then do a disk check. You can use the built in utility or you can check SMART values (which are usually worthless imho) and do a basic surface scan with the free version of HD Tune.

You can also stress test your videocard with Furmark. Let it run for 30 or 60 minutes and see if it crashes.

I'd also try playing the same video in VLC and see if it crashes. If not then its related to WMC and not your hardware/drivers/system.
posted by damn dirty ape at 6:57 AM on February 23, 2011

Do you find that a regular restart is necessary with your HTPC? It seems like this thing screws up more the longer it has been running without a restart. I have considered finding a way to schedule a nightly reboot.
posted by bradn at 7:08 AM on February 23, 2011

You can use the Task Scheduler built into Windows to schedule a reboot.
posted by sinfony at 8:49 AM on February 23, 2011

I wrote a little bit of Perl which runs as a scheduled task and checks the recorded TV folder for any files which are currently open (in short, you open each file for appending and if an error occurs then it's because the file is in use). If there are no errors on any of the files in there, then I consider nothing to be recording (or playing back) and so it's safe to reboot the HTPC.

It doesn't have to be Perl, something like VBScript will also do the job.
posted by mr_silver at 7:43 AM on March 7, 2011

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