Infrastructure

A short introduction into the everyday life of a SysAdmin

0x000000f4 or “The Lenovo-Incident”

Before I set foot in this office as an employee I already started to shape the computational future of Stylight – I confirmed an order for 8 brand new Lenovo T430s, widely used laptops in companies all around the world. It seemed to be a reasonable choice, but then, after thoroughly setting them up and getting them ready for being rolled out, my from now on declared arch enemy 0x000000f4 appeared in its typical humiliating blue surrounding – a BSOD or blue screen of death.

Just to give you a short glance what happened from unpacking until that moment – a more detailed view at all the steps taken can be found here

After the childish joy I experience during unpacking new hardware all of the Laptops got booted into PXE-mode and where outfitted with a fresh install of Windows 7 Professional followed by matching drivers and various software, all automated and proven in various installations before this batch of PCs. As always there a few drivers still missing, those got manually installed and the automated installations received a quick check to see if any errors occurred in the described process. All of the T430s looked good so far, connections to the domain where established, roaming user profiles worked just fine and so I started handing them out to employees in need.

It took exactly the time it takes to go from the IT department to get to ones desk for the first user to encounter the BSOD and about twice as long for him being back at my desk, being all frustrated and a little annoyed. And this is the very one moment where the fun began. After a short check the behavior was reproducible on all machines by sending them to sleep state (S3) and “waking” them up again. Googling the error code gave me approximately 8.392.123.394.423.121.323 different causes and to make matters worse I was packed in a more than tight schedule for the day.

After rescheduling most of my duties I started to fight this beast – checking all drivers while trying to find possible causes applicable to this hardware configuration. Most results pointed me in the direction of the SSD and the related SATA-Controller built in this laptop, apparently a US university encountered similar problems with an earlier hardware revision so I applied the fix suggested by them and Lenovo themselves, a simple update of BIOS and chipset drivers. First reboot looked well, but NOPE, BSOD after sleep.

y-u-no-guy_smallaMy next approach was based on those information, a update of the SSD firmware used seemed like a plausible cure – too bad it was the most up to date version and after almost 3 month being publicly available there have been no reports so far of related BSODs.

Meanwhile I obviously had to take care of my daily duties – user support (e.g. “MY SCREEN IS NOT WORKING” – “Is your PC running?” – “Oh…”), infrastructure support (e.g. “I can’t add this <piece of hardware> to its management backend!” – “Have you checked if it already added itself automatically?” – “Oh…”) and conceptual work (Sorry, no funny annotations here – there’s no fun in that).

The next few approaches where partly detailed (e.g. replacing specific drivers or specific software) and partly well, let’s say “widespread” (e.g. replacing ALL drivers and software, generally swearing, praying and of course dooming), but nothing brought me nearer to a solution. Lunch – incredibly good pasta, fresh home made juice and a remarkably espresso – helped to clear things up. All machine are Intel i7 based, one of Intel’s biggest advantages is hardware visualization features included in these CPUs and those features have caused many sleepless nights among SysAdmins by causing random BSODs, but NOPE – not in this case.

freddie_mercury_small

But, and here comes the clue, I got me to manually checking all BIOS settings myself. While doing so I googled for BIOS related causes for my friend, BSOD 0x000000f4, and found one single user reporting the same error being solved by enabling the security chip. This sounds abstruse and he reported it for a different model and already in 2011 but I was desperate. What can I say, it did the trick.

One might ask why I didn’t rely on the Lenovo support team – I did, their suggestion was to re-install my OS.

Benedit Koller

Having been a Sysadmin for the better part of my career the lines started to blur between Sysadmin and Sysops a while ago, and this is what I do now - a little bit of everything.

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