Crashes and Blue Screens are Normal and a Processor Fan has a Lifetime of 1 year -- Everyday Support Hotline Fun and the Intel Dynamic Acceleration Technology

"What do you expect with only 1 GB memory in Vista?" a random second stage Dell support guy just asked me after I told him that the system crashes with a Kernel_Inpage_Error bluescreen. "It's just not sufficient for Video Processing."

Well my experience has been that mencoder, whether running on Linux, or Windows is so resource friendly that there really isn't a problem usually. And my understanding is also that if any problems should occur, they should be a slow and unresponsive system due to massive swapping -- and not a bluescreen. But of course that's only my lowly knowledge of about 10 years of computer support and 8 years of Linux fun.

Well after I responded shocked and directly asked him whether he was implying that blue screens would be normal and acceptable we withdrew his statement and agreed to have someone look at the device. I'm still not certain, though, if they will stick to their position that because my girlfriend ordered a system from their Vostro business laptop series and their database has her name marked as a company name, that she won't get the 2 years mandatory warranty, but only 1 year as a business would get.

Though actually that shouldn't make a difference with an error that couldn't possibly appear through mishandling of the system but must've been there from the beginning: The system crashes after some time with heavy load (longer times around 50 % may be enough, though). For a while the hard disk, whose SMART data reports a critical heat, stopped working and simply wasn't detected at boot time.

But the Dell guys didn't really understand that either. They said that it could just be a natural phenomena that a fan only has a life time of about a year and hence the system was perfectly fine at the time it was turned over to my girlfriend.

But I don't want to bore you any further with a story that probably happens everywhere to everyone and all the time in the daily Windows world... While hardware problems occur in Linux just as well, at least the people you talk to about them don't treat you like an idiot but really know their stuff.

In the end the error seems to have been the intel dynamic acceleration technology. After I "upgraded" the BIOS to the same version it already had been I looked through the BIOS and thought I'd try disabling it. Now the fan is slightly less loud and more importantly: the computer no longer seems to crash as it did before.

USB Surround Sound in Linux

It's an annoying topic. Not many USB surround sound cards exist anyway, even less of those are good ones. But after an hour of searching the web and reading various articles, I've finally found a USB surround sound card that works well in Linux:

Terratec Aureon 5.1 USB MK-II

Usually the problem is that terratec's drivers are not too good. Luckily, the Linux drivers are often excellent due to the open source community's investments in them. And here the case is similar: Terratec was smart enough to use the standard USB interface, so they need not write drivers for any OS and the Linux USB Audio driver works perfectly - already for a long time.

But German reviews on Amazon suggest that the digital output does not work with surround sound, but only stereo. This means it's just an option if you want analogue sound.

"Enforce USB bandwidth allocation (EXPERIMENTAL)" must be deactivated in the kernel.

If you still need some help with the setup, e.g. for games, try this page.

If you want a really good USB stereo sound card with digital out for Linux (cost "< 20 €"), and you're up for some work, here's a German guide how to build your own.

But according to German Amazon reviews and this website, the

Creative SoundBlaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 USB

is also supported in Linux - at least for stereo. A German guide is in the Ubuntu forums, but it seems it should work with any current Linux.

Both cards have driver issues. It seems the Creative card doesn't work well in Vista x64 (no/bad subwoofer sound). I think in the end I will decide for the Creative card anyway. It's much newer and probably has better sound than the much older Terratec box.

Poulsbo is Already working on Ubuntu 10.04

It's not a flawless support and currently without 3D, but there is a poulsbo driver for Ubuntu 10.04. (The link helps for all Ubuntu versions.)

You can download the driver here.