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More Interesting Windows Network Troubleshooting

OK, so I had to replace my trusty HP EX-475 MediaSmart Server because its network interface was stuck in beaconing mode. That is, as soon as I plugged the GbE interface for the device into a switch, the rest of the network went down because of its frantic, non-stop broadcast of DHCP Discover packets that can never be answered because that traffic never ceases. It took me a while to figure this out, because the last time I saw a similar problem on one of my networks was back in the 10Base2 days when a jabbering transceiver could — and occasionally did — bring entire networks down (which would have been in the late 1980s, to explain why it took a while to dredge that memory out of long-term storage).

In fact, it was only when I replaced my in-office 8-year-old SMC GbE switch, with a brand-new NetGear GS108, and started plugging network cables back in that I realized what I was dealing with. Plug the HP EX-475 cable in, and the network goes down; pull it back out, reset the router and back up everything comes once again. With the EX-475 out of warranty and HP no longer offering repair service, I plunked down my hard-earned cash at to buy an EX-495 as a replacement, thanks to the whopping 25% Bing cashback offer that currently applies to that unit.

The replacement showed up at my door on Friday, and I got started bringing everything back up on Saturday. It took about 4 hours to get the EX-475 set up, and to load and install all the various add-ins I find useful on that box (and install ClamWin AV, 7Zip, HWMonitor, CPU-Z, and a few other odds’n’ends I can’t live without). Then I got going on re-installing the MediaSmart Server (MSS) client on my various desktop and notebook PCs so I could put the MSS to work on what I consider to be its most important job — namely, backing up my various machines on a nightly basis. Yes, indeed, the photo and media services features are nice, and the new and improved transcoding and media streaming capabilities, pretty tasty, but for me, access to a regular backup with auto-magic “bare metal” reinstall is what makes my MSS investment worthwhile.

Imagine my astonishment, when after firing off a manual backup of my traveling notebook just after lunch yesterday (it’s a 4-year-old Dell D620 notebook, which I’ve upgraded to a 7,200 RPM HDD, a T7200 CPU, and 4 GB of RAM), I found that same backup still running when I sat down at my desk this morning. After lots of fiddling around and some creative troubleshooting that included a 1-hour stint on the phone with the very helpful Froilan Batacan at the HP support desk this morning, I figured out that the problem with this particular machine comes from Windows Vista and the Broadcomm NetXtreme 57xx GbE Ethernet interface built into the D620.

How can I say this? Here are the data points I used to arrive at this conclusion:
1. I observed throughput of no more than 40-80 KBps (320-640 Kbps) coming out of the D620, using the Networking tab in Task Manager, whether I was backing up to the MSS or simply performing a network file transfer to another machine on the same switch.
2. When I switched the D620 from the GbE interface to its built-in Intel Pro 3945ABG wireless interface, throughput jumped to as high as 18 Mbps (2.25 MBps) doing backups and file transfers to other machines on the same switch.
3. When I rebooted the D620 from Windows Vista Business x86 to Windows 7 Ultimate x64, file transfer throughput jumped to as high as 50 Mbps (6.25 Mbps) doing backups and file transfers to other machines on the same switch. I just jumped into an RDP session to the MSS and saw activity in the range from 250 to 400 Mbps (31.25 to 50.0 MBps) for the D620 backup that’s currently underway to that machine running the Win7 OS at this very moment. The whole thing just completed, and took less than one hour to finish what I wasn’t able to complete in something over 18 hours running Windows Vista.

I’m not sure what’s causing this problem, and I can neither find a reliable report of anything close to similar online, nor did my friends in Dell tech support have any light to shed on this phenomenon. But if I needed another reason to run away from Windows Vista, I think I found it. And this just added considerable impetus to my need to update this machine to run Windows 7 as its primary OS (the version of Windows 7 I’m running is the 7100 beta, and that license is now expired. Sigh).

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