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The worst PC problem I've *ever* had...

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The past couple of months I've had a really nasty PC bug plaguing my productivity. It all started when one of my development PCs (XP SP3) would randomly freeze in the middle of me doing programming stuff. At first I thought it was just a fluke since it happened so infrequently but eventually the problem intensified. Since I had two development machines, both with the same hardware, I just switched over to the second one and used the first one less frequently. That's why I built two low budget development machines instead of a more expensive higher end one. In the case something should happen to one of them, I'd always have the other to fall back on.

Anyways, everything seemed to be fine on the second PC for quite some time until one day it froze just like the other one.


For the next month or so, I just tried to work around the problem by saving often, but then the problems seemed to intensify more and more. Now, I had two almost identical machines with the same problem. At first, I thought it was because of my hard drives. They both seemed to report some S.M.A.R.T. issues so I went ahead and swapped out the hard drives in one machine with some other spare ones. I spent a couple of days reinstalling everything and getting my development environment back up. It seemed ok at first, but after starting up Visual Studio 2008, *BAM*, freeze.

So now I know it wasn't the hard drive. Next, I figured it was possibly the ram. I've never had ram go back on me before, but I went ahead and grabbed MemTest and ran it for a day to see if that was the cause. Almost 24 hours of running it and 0 errors. It wasn't the memory either...

At this point, I'm really aggravated since I can't get anything done since the freeze only happens with Visual Studio and I spend the amjority of my day working in Visual Studio. I never had the freeze trigger from movies or games or music, so it was really becoming a nightmare.

I decided to check the video card next. I was using an old ATI 3870, but I didn't really think it would be the problem since playing intensive video games never locked up the PC. I took it out and enabled my onboard graphics, a HD 4200 chipset. Lo' and behold, I start up Visual Studio and it freezes again!


This time though, I got a nice BSOD after the freeze referencing the ATI video driver. I'd never gotten that error before but it mentioned an endless loop error code. I had not removed my ATI Catalyst drivers before trying the integrated graphics so I went ahead and uninstalled it. After I rebooted, I installed the default drivers for the integrated graphics and attempted to start Visual Studio 2008.

No freeze!

Following the next logical step in this process, I reinstalled my 3870 but choose an older 9.X version of the Catalyst drivers. I started up Visual Studio 2008 once again and got no freezes! I then uninstalled the 10.X drivers on my other development PC and installed the 9.X ones and retested the same way.

Yay, problem solved! (for now, I think)

I still have to do more time consuming regular use testing, but at least now it seems the problem has been fixed. I simply can't believe running the latest AMD drivers caused such a horrible problem like this. I thought it was software related at first, but I never thought about graphics drivers being the culprit. I use Visual Assist X so I was beginning to think it was the problem until I had uninstalled it and still got the same freezes. I also tried different anti-virus and other software I thought might have done it, but I always got the same freeze each time.

This has been by far the worst PC problem I've ever had since you have to litterally check *everything* hardware and software just to try and track down the problem. At least now I know to check for downgrades first before going crazy reinstalling everything over and over and messing with hardware.
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Ugh, sounds horrible. I spent the first 8 days of the new year raging at how my game no longer worked, without me having touched a line of code. After eight days of anguish, turned out it was the most recent ATI driver for my Radeon. Yes, the 10.x Catalyst drivers. Wasn't as bad as yours, though; it only froze my game and not my computer (Maybe Windows 7 isolates the damage better).

Glad to hear you solved it!

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