DIY PC Troubles: The Darndest Things

A few months ago I decided to update my desktop PC to Windows 8. I am somewhat ambivalent about the new Metro/Modern UI, but I figured that I would update anyway just to be on the latest and greatest.

Unfortunately, after I updated, I started experiencing a lot of bizarre blue-screen crashes. At the same time, sometimes my machine would refuse to get through the BIOS startup at all, which would seem to indicate an issue with hardware rather than with the OS. I suspected perhaps that it was an issue with the SSD I had installed a while back (a Crucial M4), because the BIOS startup code would hang on drive detection. I tried updating the firmware for it, but that didn’t seem to do anything. Finally, after a more serious bout of being unable to boot for an extended period of time, I got frustrated and started trying to isolate things further.

I turned off my external Blu-ray writer (an ASUS BW-12D1S-U), and then all of a sudden I was able to boot consistently. I thought that was very strange, and then got to thinking that maybe it was because I had plugged it into one of the front USB 2.0 ports on my case, and maybe that was drawing too much power. The reason I had plugged it in there was that a different USB 3.0 hub that I had bought (a SIIG JU-H60012-S1) had always been kind of flaky, and didn’t seem to work well with Windows 8 — I checked the Device Manager, and it was listed as “Superspeed USB Hub (Non Functional)”, which was kind of off-putting.

It turns out that there is a firmware update for that USB hub that gets it to work correctly with Windows 8 (I’m guessing that may be more of a “gets it to work correctly at all” update). Applying that update allowed the hub to work in Windows 8, and, in turn, allowed me to plug my Blu-ray writer into it (a separately-powered hub) rather than directly to my computer. And (crossing my fingers) that seems to have solved my stability problems so far.

My layman’s guesses as to why the problems initially seemed to be related to Windows 8:

  • There might be power-management changes in the USB drivers for Windows 8, that might be changing behavior slightly and triggering problems with my particular setup.
  • I might have switched where I plugged the drive in after I upgraded, not realizing that was what was causing the problem to begin with.
  • I didn’t use the hub that often before I updated to Windows 8, and didn’t realize that the hub itself could potentially be screwing with the rest of my system.

I’m just glad that everything seems to be working now, and I can soldier on a bit further with my system (which is almost 3 years old now!)…

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