Sporadic loss of wired internet, while wifi works fine
October 22, 2013 8:04 PM   Subscribe

My Win 7 desktop computer sporadically loses internet connectivity for hours at a time every 1-2 days, while wifi continues working fine. I think there's something wrong with the software that drives my Ethernet card. Can you help me fix it?

The Window troubleshooter says "An Ethernet cable is not properly plugged in or might be broken," and the light on the modem that indicates an Ethernet cable is attached is off. But I've tried three different cables, and besides, after a number of hours the connection will be restored, without my doing anything. I have tried resetting the modem and restarting the computer, but that didn't help.

I think it is the software that drives my Ethernet card, because I had a computer shop install a new graphics card for me just before my troubles began. While I watched, the tech went through and deleted all the NVIDIA programs (apparently without looking at them), because my old graphics card was an NVIDIA. It turns out my Ethernet card is an NVIDIA also, so I'm guessing now that something may have been deleted that the Ethernet card needed to function.

Device Manager says my Ethernet card is working properly. I updated the drivers (while the internet was working) -- but that did not solve my problem. I rolled back the drivers -- and that did not solve my problem either. Does my Ethernet card need some software besides the drivers to function? How would I find out what that was? Or can drivers be messed up somehow, but not be fixed by Device Manager -- I would need to manually install the drivers? This is problematic, because I went to the NVIDIA drivers page, but could not find the drivers for my card.

My Ethernet card is an NVIDIA nForce 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet.

What do you think -- is my diagnosis plausible? Is there something else it could be? Thanks for any advice you can give me.
posted by pH Indicating Socks to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
Are your hard line and wireless both coming from the same router?
posted by Happydaz at 8:58 PM on October 22, 2013

Response by poster: Yes, and at this moment internet is out on the desktop, but working fine on two laptops.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:59 PM on October 22, 2013

Maybe you can plug a laptop in using an ethernet connection and see if the problem moves? If the laptop is experiencing the same issues you will know that it is not the desktop. But my money would be on the desktop. What is truly strange is that it works for a while and then not only does it go down but also the link LEDs go off. I would think that this is more of a hard ware issue, but hey. When stuff happens sporadically heat could be an issue, but I have not heard of ethernet NICs getting that hot that they fail.

Maybe, if you get fed up with troubleshooting this, you could get a PCI ethernet card, or is there a USB card you could use? I am not sure what is out there these days, considering what interfaces you have in your desktop. Just a thought.
posted by nostrada at 9:35 PM on October 22, 2013

Response by poster: Good thought, Nostrada! I plugged in a laptop by Ethernet cable and disconnected from wifi, and the Ethernet light on the modem went on, and internet is working. So it is my desktop.

I don't know about heat -- it doesn't seem to lose connectivity when it's hot out, or I'm doing something graphics intensive like a game (I'm told that heats up the computer a lot). It seems random when it goes off, often when I'm not even using the computer and BitTorrent is the only thing running.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:51 PM on October 22, 2013

I have no answers, but I have thoughts that might lead to answers, which must come from within.

Not having a link light does make the physical layer a likely candidate. Nostrada's suggestion to get an external Ethernet connector would at least give you a workaround, if not a solution.

If you have an spare router sitting around (any old linksys that grandma might have left in the attic, for instance), you can, when things are failing, hook computer to a new router or switch and hook that upstream to the real router. Then you can see which device has a link light on.

You can also hook the laptop to the desktop to verify link.

Are you always plugging the cable into the same port on the router or did you try other ports? (assuming there are such).
posted by Mad_Carew at 12:02 AM on October 23, 2013

If it's nforce, look up the latest chipset drivers for your motherboard as well. The NIC on those is built into the northbridge as i remember, or at the very least is a quite integrated part of the motherboard.

Since you've already determined that the modem/router and the cable are fine(and are you SURE on the cable? i'd swap it out just for the fuck of it) i'd start assuming it was something with the card itself, and NOT a driver issue if the light goes off. If you go in to the "network adapters" section of network places in the control panel and disable the card, does the light stay on? on nearly 100% of the cards i've used it stays physically linked and just shuts down in software. If the light stays on then, it's not a driver issue since the driver is generally unloaded in that situation if i'm remembering my windows system intricacies correctly.

I've had problems like this before at least 3 times with onboard NICs. Once it was the cable, the other times something just went... wrong with either the physical connector or something in the signal path for it on the motherboard.

Personally, i'd file this one firmly in the "not worth the amount of my time it's wasting" camp and go buy the cheapest PCI/pcie NIC at fry's electronics or any local computer shop and never use the motherboard port again. Or use wifi until this shows up. The light actually shutting off makes me seriously skeptical you'll ever solve this with software wrangling, or really at all. It just sounds like something is physically/electrically failing.
posted by emptythought at 3:51 AM on October 23, 2013

Best answer: As emptythought says, the nVidia Ethernet driver is part of the nForce chipset driver and no, you don't need anything beyond the driver to make an nVidia Ethernet port work.

I'd try reinstalling the nVidia nForce chipset driver using either the setup program for it that came on a setup disc with your mobo, or one downloaded from your mobo or system builder's support site; there's a tiny chance that something mobo-specific might stop a generic nForce driver downloaded from nVidia from working properly, and avoiding that is probably more important than getting a bleeding-edge release.

If that didn't fix the issue, my next step would be deleting all instances of the existing device, then letting Windows redetect it and reinstall its driver. To do that:

1. Open a cmd window in administrative mode (click Start, type cmd into the Find box, then hold down Shift and Ctrl before tapping Enter; leave Shift and Ctrl down until Windows prompts you for authorization to allow cmd to make changes to your computer, then let them up before clicking Yes).

2. Type or preferably paste the following lines into the cmd window:
set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1
This will bring up the Device Manager.

3. In the Device Manager's View menu, check the option to show hidden devices.

4. Click the little + sign next to "Network adapters" in the Device Manager's main pane, to expand the list of adapters. You should see your nForce Ethernet adapter listed there. You might also see otherwise-identical entries with dimmed icons - these are "non-present" copies of the same adapter, and should not be there, and may well be what's screwing things up. One at a time, right click on each Ethernet adapter entry, choose Delete and work through the confirmation boxes (don't delete the driver software, if given the option to do that; as it's part of a chipset driver package I don't think you will be but if you are, don't).

5. When all your Ethernet adapters have gone, right-click on Computer in the top of the Device Manager's main pane and choose "Scan for hardware changes". Windows should then re-detect your Ethernet adapter, auto-install the driver it already has for it, and you should be good to go.
posted by flabdablet at 6:42 AM on October 23, 2013

I've actually been having a similar issue for maybe half a year. I have a "NVIDIA nForce 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet" which is integrated onto my motherboard, but unlike you, I am running XP. At first I thought it was my router, but eventually I realized it had to be the ethernet adapter itself.

I didn't think about this until I read your post for the second time, but my problems may in fact have coincided with my getting a new nVidia graphics card. My thoughts had led me toward a hardware issue caused by age or lightning damage (I bought a new ethernet card, but haven't gotten around to installing it yet) but there in fact might be some sort of driver conflict, I'm speculating. However given that this is an old motherboard, there's little reason to expect that nVidia will fix this issue.

If reinstalling drivers doesn't do anything for you, I say buy a new ethernet card, it's cheap.
posted by Standard Orange at 7:29 AM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: Yay! It looks like reinstalling the drivers as Flabdablet described fixed the problem (at least for now). That is, I did that and restarted the computer, and the internet immediately started working (and the Ethernet light on the modem came on). So it looks fixed, but if goes out again, I will just get a new Ethernet card as Nostrada, Emptythought and Standard Orange suggest, and this time I'll install it myself.

Thank you for writing out exactly what I needed to do, Flabdablet; the cmd window is a place I never go without an escort.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:19 AM on October 23, 2013

The other odd thing I've occasionally seen nForce Ethernet ports do is get themselves into some kind of weird state where they start acting flaky until you completely power cycle them, after which they stay good for a few more months. And by completely power cycle, I mean shut the computer down and then unplug the power cord for long enough to let standby power collapse (20 seconds is usually enough, wait one minute to be absolutely sure).
posted by flabdablet at 8:29 AM on October 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and just out of interest: did you in fact see any dimmed-out copies of your Ethernet adapter at step 4?
posted by flabdablet at 8:31 AM on October 23, 2013

Response by poster: No, I didn't.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:36 PM on October 23, 2013

OK. I'd be curious to see whether the device reinstallation you've now done is able to keep your Ethernet port running trouble-free for the next couple months; could you post back here after Christmas and give us an update?
posted by flabdablet at 4:46 AM on October 24, 2013

Best answer: After this had some more time to marinate in my brain, another thing occurred to me to try to absolutely isolate this if it comes back. Nforce is supported by basically every modern linux distro because it's old enough to be basically a standard now like the old intel onboard 10/100.

Burn an ubuntu live cd and fire it up, then open up the terminal and just run a continuous ping on google.com overnight and do a "| print" and write it out to a file. In the morning do a find for "timed" and see if there's any timeouts. That is, assuming you're even still connected.

If it worked no problem all night do it again the next night. If it still stayed up all night but is cutting out regularly during the day then you know it's a software issue.

The reason i'm curious here is that i've honestly never seen the driver failing or the card being disabled in software actually make the link light go out on anything if any device with an rj-45 on it is getting power in any way shape or form it seems to make those lights pop on at both ends of the cable run. I favorited flabdablets post because it reminded me of my flaky nforce equipped late highschool/early college computer and the faith healing i'd have to do on it regularly to make it work, and similarly to that scenario i'm just fairly sold on this being a hardware problem.
posted by emptythought at 4:51 AM on October 24, 2013

similarly to that scenario i'm just fairly sold on this being a hardware problem

It's really quite remarkable how badly driver problems can mess with the underlying hardware, especially when so much of that hardware includes non-volatile memory for keeping track of settings. I don't know why stuff gets designed that way - I'm old school, and would prefer that asserting Reset bloody well reset things - but it does.

But if this isn't straight-up driver screwage, I'm thinking along the lines of buggy hardware or BIOS support for sleep/suspend and/or power management. Lots of early-rev chipsets and/or BIOSes get that stuff a bit wrong.

Linux has a pcie_aspm=off kernel option that disables "smart" power control for all PCIE devices. I've had to use that on our main school VM host server, to stop the onboard Intel NIC from mysteriously absenting itself and requiring a full reboot to overcome its shyness.

Most of the Windows NIC drivers have an advanced pane somewhere in their property sheets that lets you exert some control over the way sleep/suspend/power stuff gets handled per device. If yours is still flaky, it might be worth your while finding your way in there, having a poke around and setting anything that seems power-related to "disabled". Don't worry about getting it all hosed up; worst that can happen is you'll need to delete the device instance and re-detect it as you've already done, which will set it all up afresh.
posted by flabdablet at 7:17 AM on October 24, 2013

Response by poster: My internet went out again yesterday, and that lasted until this afternoon.

Since posting this question, I bought three books. I now know that a mobo is a motherboard and that my computer has one, among many other interesting facts. My computer, which has this motherboard, has Ethernet capability built into the motherboard, not as a separate card, which you knew already.

One thing I didn't think to tell you is that the reason I took the computer to the tech in the first place was that the computer turned itself off and wouldn't turn back on again at all -- it acted as though it were unplugged. I changed out the power cable and tried a different outlet, but nothing. By the time I got it to the repair place, it started up for the tech no problem. So I had him put in a new graphics card and took it home, then I started having this Ethernet problem.

A few days ago the computer shut off again. I left it unplugged for half an hour, then plugged it back in, and it started up. When I found that my internet was out again this morning, I downloaded the chipset drivers like Flabdablet suggested and began to install them. (I didn't do that before only because I didn't know about chipsets.) During the installation the computer shut off. I took the computer back to the repair place, and it started. The tech reinstalled the chipset drivers, then told me that the noise the power supply was making was weird. He tested it and the 12V+ was bad. So he installed a new 600W power supply. I notice that the computer is a LOT quieter now.

My internet is working for now. Could the power supply have had something to do with the Ethernet going out? The light going out on the modem maybe indicated that power wasn't going through that connection, as Emptythought points out. Would one little bit of the motherboard not get power, when everything else did? Or did I have two problems, and now I may or may not still have one problem. If I still have the Ethernet problem, would flashing the BIOS be a thing I should try? Or is it definitely time to install a separate NIC?

If any of you still has any interest in my troubles, please feel free to be as technical as you want in your answer -- like I said, I have three books now.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:24 PM on October 28, 2013

Response by poster: Oh and I did disable the power-saver feature as Flabdablet suggested, before the internet went out this last time.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 4:25 PM on October 28, 2013

One thing I didn't think to tell you is that the reason I took the computer to the tech in the first place was that the computer turned itself off and wouldn't turn back on again at all -- it acted as though it were unplugged.

That's a key piece of missing information right there. Had you included that, my first question to you would have been: have you tried replacing the power supply?

Could the power supply have had something to do with the Ethernet going out?

Yes, absolutely. Flaky power makes everything unreliable.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 PM on October 28, 2013

Would one little bit of the motherboard not get power, when everything else did?

The issue is not so much one of getting power, as the quality of that power and how badly a loss of quality affects your motherboard's various subsystems.

If the power supply's regulation is poor because it's faulty, the effect on your motherboard will be akin to that of rolling mains electricity blackouts and brownouts on your house. Imagine an office building full of little motherboard fairies trying to get work done accurately under dim and flickering lighting and you'll get the picture.

Some of those fairies will just be better at coping with it than others. And for others, the nature of their work is such that you won't notice the fact that they've screwed it up until quite some time (seconds to months) after it's happened.

Modern Ethernet controllers are complex subsystems, pretty much complete and tiny computers in their own right; it's no surprise to me that a faulty power supply could freeze one, and I would be very surprised to hear that replacing your flaky power supply has not fixed the Ethernet issue it's overwhelmingly likely to have caused.

If I still have the Ethernet problem, would flashing the BIOS be a thing I should try?

You could try it for the sake of adventure, but it does involve a risk of bricking your motherboard and I can't think of any reason it might improve Ethernet reliability. Once Windows is up and running, it uses part of the installed nForce chipset driver to manipulate the Ethernet controller's hardware; BIOS (which is nothing magical, just a bunch of built-in software) is not involved.

Flashing the BIOS is generally a last resort, usually used to deal with unreliable system startup and/or suspend/resume. It's certainly not something I'd dream of doing if I were in any doubt at all about the reliability of the power supply.
posted by flabdablet at 7:20 PM on October 28, 2013

i'm just fairly sold on this being a hardware problem

You may have won this round, but I'll get you next time, Gadget!
posted by flabdablet at 7:25 PM on October 28, 2013

Response by poster: OK! Then I'm probably good now, yay!

Thank you very much for attempting to diagnose my problem despite my faulty understanding of what might be germane. This is all very interesting to me, and if my new books don't allow me to diagnose all my problems in future, at least I hope to know what is the relevant stuff to put in my question.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:10 PM on October 28, 2013

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