Hang problem on Tyan K7 Thunder resolved -- SB Live! heads-up

From: Eric S. Raymond (esr@thyrsus.com)
Date: Sat Aug 11 2001 - 21:52:32 EST

I'm very pleased to be able to announce that the hang problem I reported on
the Tyan K7 Thunder dual-Athlon board last night seems to be resolved. Thanks
to everybody on lkml who responded -- you did, in fact, provide the crucial
knowledge needed to solve this problem.

It appears the pre-2.4.8 versions of the emu10k1 driver that the SB
Live! uses have a problem -- they tend to cause PCI bus lockups when
the PCI bus is heavily loaded (e.g. by disk activity).

The evidence for this is indirect but strong. The hang happened in every
pre-2.4.8 configuration we tested if there was an SB Live! actually in the
machine. It never happened if either 2.4.8 was running or the SB Live! was
removed. This theory also accounts for our failure to observe hangs during
moderate to intense X GUI activity -- that traffic was going over the AGP
bus, and we had enough memory in the box that it never swapped.

Now that we seem to be out of the woods, I can cop to why I'm doing
qualification tests on bleeding-edge PCs. I'm writing an article for
Linux Journal on building the ultimate Linux box. I won't spoil the
surprise by telling you what else is in the machine, but I will tell
you that it is jaw-droppingly fast and sexy hardware and that you'll
get to read all about it before the end of the year.

In the meantime, here is my draft writeup on the hang problem:

<sect1 id='horror_story'><title>The Inevitable Horror Story</title>

<para>Sadly, life got much less pleasant for quite a while after that. We
started seeing mysterious hangs -- the machine would lock up hard and
random intervals, usually during disk I/O operations. This is almost the
worst kind of problem to troubleshoot, as it leaves no clues other than the
bare fact of the machine's catatonia -- you get no oops message, and all
the state you might have used to post-mortem disappears when the machine is
reset. The only kind of problem that's worse is one that adds
irreproducibility to the catatonia. But fortunately, we found that doing
<command>make clean</command> or <command>make world</command> on an X
source tree produced the hang pretty reliably.</para>

<para>Approximately thirty hours of troubleshooting (interrupted by far too
little sleep) ensued as Gary and I tried to track down the problem. We
formed and discarded lots of theories based on where we had not yet seen
the hang. For a while we thought the problem only bit in console mode, not
in X mode. For another while we thought it happened only under SMP kernels.
For a third while we thought we could avoid it by compiling kernels for the
Pentium II rather than the Athlon. All these beliefs were eventually
falsified amidst much wailing and gnashing of teeth.</para>

<para>Once it became clear that there was a problem at or near the hardware
level, we still had a lot of hypotheses to choose from -- with all of them
having pretty unpleasant ramifications for our chances of qualifying this
box before I had to fly home. Quite possibly the motherboard was bad. Or
we might have been seeing thermal flakeouts due to insufficient cooling of
the motherboard chips or memory.</para>

<para>About eighteen hours in, just before we both crashed in exhaustion,
we posted the problem to the <email>linux-kernel</email> mailing list. We
got a rather larger number of responses than we expected (nearly twenty)
within a few hours. Several were quite helpful. And the breakthrough came
when a couple of linux-kernel people confirmed that the SB Live! is a
frequent source of hangs and lockups on other fast PCI machines. With a
few more hours of testing (during which our X source tree probably got
cleaned and rebuilt more times than is allowed by law) we satisfied
ourselves that the lockups stop happening when the SB Live! has been
summarily yanked from the machine.</para>

<para>The most helpful advice we got came from one Daniel T. Chen, who
reported that he had nailed some similar lockups to the SB Live! running
over a Via chipset -- and that they stopped when he upgraded to 2.4.8 and
the newest version of the emu10k1 driver. So while Gary took a much-needed
break (and his wife and kids to a David Byrne concert), I built 2.4.8 (with
emu10k1.o hard-compiled in) and ran our torture test -- first with the SB
Live! omitted, and then with it in the machine. No hang. Victory!</para>

<para>Perhaps it's belaboring the obvious, but the way this problem got
resolved was yet another testimony to the power of open-source development
and the community that has evolved around it. Once again, our
technology and our social machine complemented each other and delivered
the goods.</para>

		<a href="http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/">Eric S. Raymond</a>

What is a magician but a practicing theorist? -- Obi-Wan Kenobi, 'Return of the Jedi' - To unsubscribe from this list: send the line "unsubscribe linux-kernel" in the body of a message to majordomo@vger.kernel.org More majordomo info at http://vger.kernel.org/majordomo-info.html Please read the FAQ at http://www.tux.org/lkml/

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