Archive for January, 2010

Dodgy Realtek network card drivers

January 30, 2010 1 comment

Unless you are in a big corporate network where you can bulk buy identical computers for a uniform hardware specification, you are most likely buying computers in small batches with different hardware.

One of the side effects of this is that you are more than likely to get a computer with a Realtek network card in it. Realtek seems to be the choice of budget to mid range motherboards, with Marvell and Broadcom cards in the slightly higher bracket.

I’ve never really had a problem with Realtek cards, I used to love the 8139 100MB network card. Lately however, I’ve been less impressed. During our network migration at work, we had some issues with 11 pc’s not properly applying the Computer policy section of Group Policy. The most telling error was that the computer couldn’t find a domain controller, even though it actually could. Intensive investigation discovered that all the computers had the same Realtek network card in it, the 8110SC.

I had downloaded the latest drivers from the motherboards manufacturer’s website prior to the migration, and we used these drivers. Previous experience has taught me to use these rather than drivers at Realtek’s website, as those are usually plain drivers, incompatible with the modifications made by the manufacturers.

After almost buying a box of Intel network cards, I discovered later drivers on Realtek’s website, and I decided to use those. Lo and behold, after rebooting the computer, everything was working properly. This couldn’t come too soon, as we discovered that our second computer lab had the exact same issue, and buying 38 network cards was out of the question. It seems that the earlier drivers were buggy, and didn’t bring the network card up properly during boot up, hence the Computer policies not applying.

This whole experience has motivated me to make sure that when we next buy computers, they will only be with Intel motherboards in them. While lacking some features, Intel boards are solid and stable, and they have Intel network cards on them, cards I know will never give strange issues.

In short, many network cards out there will work absolutely fine in a home or small office environment, but are totally unsuitable for a bigger network. Be careful, and if you have no choice, try to get the latest possible drivers.

Interesting WSUS problem

January 26, 2010 3 comments

WSUS is a real life saver on a Windows network of any size, it more than pays off its huge initial download size when it serves computers on the network and saves internet bandwidth. However, like any other software, it can be temperamental and have tough to troubleshoot problems.

I recently came across a problem during the migration at my work. We set up the client XP SP3 workstation, ran sysprep and then cloned the box. However, after the deployment, only 1 or 2 computers were appearing in the WSUS console when there should have been 38.

Puzzled by this, and by the fact that computers were still getting updates despite not showing up in the console, I decided to investigate. After a lot of internet searching, I narrowed down the seeming culprit to a setting in the registry.

It turns out that for whatever reason, sysprep is not removing these entries in the registry, so the computers after cloning will receive updates but won’t report to the console. It may have been some change Microsoft made with SP3, or it may be the updated Automatic Update client, no one really knows.

The solution is to delete the SusClientId and SusClientValidationId entries in the following registry key before running sysprep and cloning the computers : HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft

Clone the computer and after sysprep is run, the computer should now report to the WSUS console. Alternatively, you can restart the Automatic Updates service, as well as run wuauclt /resetauthorization /detectnow. If you don’t delete the entries in the above mentioned registry key, they are all identical and WSUS will only pick up the first computer that starts up with those entries.

I haven’t yet figured out if this problem exists in Windows Vista and 7, as I have never had the chance to clone those systems or use the sysprep tool for them.

I hope this will help someone out there avoid the head scratching we went though with this.