February 26, 2012

Skyrim Lag Over Time (PC) [Solved, Sort Of]

Skyrim has this, uh, feature that depending on how you play (what spells you use, what items you have, what order things are done, which butterfly flutters it's wings, etc, etc), sometimes your game will start to experience lag.  Specifically, input lag.  For me, it's barely noticeable, but I still do.

Anyway, if this happens to you, just do an "ALT-TAB" to go back to Windows and then ALT-TAB back to Skyrim.  You may need to do this a couple of times before the game actually comes back, but when it does, you are good to go.


February 25, 2012

Website Developers: PLEASE STOP!!!

Please, for the love of all that is holy, STOP sending web pages back in a language other than what the browser is sending you for "Accept-Language"!!!!  It's there for a reason.  Almost every website, from Google to Myspace to Facebook to Blogger, sends you web pages in a language based on your IP address.  WHY????  Use the "Accept-Language"!!  UGH!  Seriously, can someone explain this to me?

See RFC 2616 HTTP/1.1 Accept-Language.

February 23, 2012

Nvidia Power Savings

Just saw this while tweaking my video settings.  Looks like Nvidia cards are also doing frequency modulation in the name of power savings.  Something to change if you are troubleshooting video issues.


February 21, 2012

Status of the Apparatus

Skyrim being the appartus.

As of right now, Skyrim seems to be stable on my system.  Actually, not to put too fine a point on it, Skyrim is working with my current save file.  After all the testing I've done in the past several months, I've determined that my hardware is not the issue.  The problem that causes Skyrim to crash my system seems to be related to the game itself.  In interviews published last week, Bethesda's Skyrim director Todd Howard gave some insight to some of the issues that Skyrim developers have been aware of for some time now.  Specifically, it is NOT related to large save files:

"That’s the common misconception. It’s literally the things you’ve done in what order and what’s running. Some of the things are literally what spells do you have hot-keyed? Because, as you switch to them, they handle memory differently."

"We tried doing it through e-mail. We need to open the saved game comes up and look at it. We’ve got one guy who has seven dragons on the other side of the world, and a siege about to happen in this city and another 20 quests running. And, ok, this is what the game is trying to do and it’s having a hard time running that."

Not All Crashes Are Created Equal

After countless forum/website/blog reading, there seems to be several types of crashes.  Listed below are the ones I've categorized in my head as well as the theory I have and the suggested actions.  At the bottom of this post are some links to tools and some information on using them.  Note the information below (except the Skyrim specific ones) can be applied to any game or program that is giving you heat (sorry for the pun).

Crash to Desktop without Error Message - this happens while playing Skyrim and the TESV.EXE application just exists and dumps you to the desktop.
Theory: This is likely due to some kind of corruption with the game. 
What to do:
  • Stop overclocking CPU, RAM and Video Card (just to be able to test with a default setup)
  • Run RAM stress test to look for memory errors.  Replace defective RAM modules if necessary.
  • Run Video Card stress test to look for artifacts, crashing, etc. 
  • Upgrade Video Card drivers to latest STABLE NON-BETA release.
  • Replace defective video card if necessary.
  • Check for overheating

Crash to Desktop with Error Message - the error message is related to the video driver crashing and recovering
Theory: Something caused the video card driver to crash
What to do:
  • Stop overclocking CPU, RAM and Video Card (just to be able to test with a default setup)
  • Run Video Card stress test to test stability of video card and drivers
  • Upgrade Video Card drivers to latest STABLE NON-BETA release.
  • Check for overheating

Crash to Blue Screen - the standard Windows OS crash with a blue screen background with lots of data on the screen.  You all know this one, I'm sure.
Theory: Normally, a driver crashed, but the cause could be a bad driver or hardware the driver was talking to.
What to do:
  • Stop overclocking CPU, RAM and Video Card (just to be able to test with a default setup)
  • Identify the driver by looking at the Bluescreen or the dump files and test the driver and hardware associated with driver.
  • Definitely get help on this one.
  • Also, check to ensure that your Power Supply can keep up with your system.
  • Check for overheating

Crash to Black Screen - this is what I've seen - it's a crash where the monitor loses signal and the sound loops and sometimes reboots your whole system.  Sometimes you have to power off manually.
Theory: Something in the game engine causes the video card hardware and/or RAM to access a part of memory that does not exist (computers don't like that). 
What to do:
  • Stop overclocking CPU, RAM and Video Card (just to be able to test with a default setup)
  • First, rule out the hardware:
  • Run RAM Stress Test
  • Run Video Stress Test
  • Run CPU Stress Test
  • Run the above overnight
  • Check that your power supply can keep up with your system
  • Check for overheating
  • Fix any issues identified
If all the above are good, then do the following:
  • Turn off the system and let it sit for a minute.  Also, to be sure, try removing the power cable for a few minutes to ensure that any artifacts are removed from memory.
  • Power on the system.
  • Start Skyrim.
  • Turn off ALL Auto Saving.
  • Reload your last saved game.
  • Clean House!  This means remove any favorites that you don't use regularly, unbind unneeded hotkeys, get rid of ingredients and potions and anything else you are carrying around that you don't need (put them in a chest in your house or just drop them somewhere).
  • Create a NEW save game.
  • Exit Skyrim.
  • Start Skyrim.
  • Load that new save game.
Generally, if you suspect it's the last item above (i.e. a save file that is causing the crash), you'll want to keep that save file (make a copy) and then use that repeatedly.  For example, load it, make it crash so you know exactly what to do to make it crash and then restart, load it, make a change and see if it crashes at the same place.  If you get beyond it then do it again, don't do what you just did and see if it still crashes.  Then make the same change and see if it doesn't crash again.  In other words, make sure it's repeatable and demonstrable so you can pinpoint the change that makes it not crash.

Video card drivers - just go to your manufacturer's website and find the appropriate driver.  Be sure to do a "clean install" if possible - Nvidia driver installation has this option during the advanced install.

Hardware Testers:
Prime95 - Let this run at the highest settings overnight.  Be sure to test all of your RAM.  Any RAM issues should surface.
Linx - Another RAM tester.  Same as above - let it run against all your RAM overnight.
OCCT - http://www.ocbase.com/perestroika_en/index.php?Download - this tests multiple aspects of your system. Use it to test your GPU RAM and your CPU.  Again, let it run for a long time to encourage any hardware issues to surface.
Kombustor - this will test your GPU in DX9, DX10 and DX11 modes (test each one to be sure) - let this run overnight and any errors should surface.
Heaven - this one tests your game rendering.  Let this run overnight.  You can also choose DX9, DX10 and DX11 tests.  I suggest running them all, one after the other.

If you do the above tests, AT THE VERY LEAST you will feel good about your hardware being solid.  I've run the first four items AT THE SAME TIME for hours and hours and no issues surfaced for me and yet I experienced Black Screen crashes.

Monitoring for Overheating
I strongly recommend using HWiNFO (32 or 64 depending on your OS).  Start this and set it to log your stats to a file.   If you do crash, you can go back and check many, many things, like your CPU utilization, CPU temperature, System Temperature, GPU Temperature, GPU utilization, RAM usage, GPU RAM usage, etc, etc.  It's a very handy tool.  Feel free to send me your log files if you need help figuring out what it means.

Remember, this is an awesome game and there is a lot of mis-information out there.  When troubleshooting, you always want to get to the root cause of the issue.  Software developers will always blame your hardware first and hardware manufacturers will always blame the software.  Forget them - get to the truth yourself, learn something in the process and hopefully at the end you can enjoy your game.

February 15, 2012

Skyrim Update

Interesting thing happened when playing last night - at one point, just outside of Whiterun, I ran into an old Orc who wanted to "die a good death" and after I started to grant his which, the screen froze for 1/2 second, the sound started to stutter and it seemed like the start of a black screen/reboot crash, but then it recovered and no issue for the next four hours.

So what happened?  I think the game started to change all kinds of variables based on that decision to engage the Orc and that caused the stutter as things were loaded and changed.

I think if *THAT* situation happens AND there is a auto-save at the same time, things go downhill really fast and the whole system crashes.  Since I disabled auto-saving, then it didn't crash.  Sound reasonable?

I shouldn't say nothing else happened the rest of the session - after a period of time, I noticed a slight "heaviness" to the whole game.  Seemed a little jerky vs the normal super smooth.  It's barely noticeable.  But I saved the game, exited to desktop and restarted Skyrim and loaded the game and it was back to smoothness (this only took about 20 seconds for me).  I think this is just the engine having too much garbage (memory leak anyone?) in memory and reloading the program cleared it out.  Next time this happens, I will try just saving to a new save file and then loading it to see if the heaviness is lifted.

Anyway, that's my latest update.  And here's a puppy:

February 12, 2012

Could it really be this easy?

After going through the following, I still got two crashes with the same save game - seemed to have been alleviated with saving and loading a new game:

* Speedstep Settings (tried with off and on)
* Core Parking disabled
* Removed Sound Card
* Various other iterations of settings (compatibility mode, audio settings, admin mode, etc, etc)

Problem is: this "black screen/rebooting" thing ONLY HAPPENS IN SKYRIM.

Then I see a post from user "gjm777" on a couple of forums who advises to disable auto saving as he/she believes the problem is when loading a new area and autosaving at the same time.  This actually makes sense in light of the previous times I've seen this crash, including the latest crash: Creating a new save game seems to have made a difference.

Here's his post: http://forums.nexusmods.com/index.php?/topic/561338-black-screen-pc-crashlockup-fix-thread/

Here's what I just did:
1.Go to your %userprofile%\Documents\My Games\Skyrim directory.
2. Within the skyrimprefs.ini change the following lines as follows:


Current theory is that for some combination of hardware, some save games get corrupted, possibly due to timing issues (hey that sounds good), causing the engine to freak out.

New round of testing begins.  The soundcard removal and everything before that was a red herring.

February 10, 2012

Skyrim Black Screen/Reboot Crash Testing: So Far So Good

So far so good with finding the fix for Skyrim crashing/rebooting/black screen issue.  Approximately eight (8) hours of gameplay with no issues.  The current fix (if this lasts 40 hours, I will start calling it a real fix) is:

Disable Core Parking - this is a feature in Windows 7 and newer processors (some i5 and all i7 and higher Intel and recent AMD processors) that powers down unusued cores to save energy.  Tom's Hardware and Anandtech and other sites have looked at this and it is generally recommended to turn this feature off.  You can find instructions on doing so on the web and I have an earlier post that also has links to disabling it.  I am including it here because I know of at least one other user who was hard crashing (black screen/rebooting) and after they disabled Core Parking, no more crashes.

Removing Creative Labs X-Fi Sound Card - For me, disabling Core Parking made the game more stable, but crashes were still observed.  After I removed the CL X-Fi sound card and changed to the on-board audio, the crashes (so far) have gone away.

RECOMMENDATION: At this point, if you are having these crashes and have Windows 7, I would disable core parking and see if that works for you.  Additionally and regardless of OS version, if you have a dedicated sound card on the PCI-E slots AND have motherboard audio, try removing the sound card and switch to the motherboard audio (for me, this was simply powering down, opening the case, removing the sound card and then closing the case and then powering up).

I believe that the Core Parking plays havoc on the Skyrim processes - but at the very least it lowers performance.  As far as the sound card on the PCI-e bus - one observation I had was that my GTX 570 was showing as PCIe x8 instead of PCI x16.  This was also fixed after I removed the sound card, so my theory is that the sound card was somehow causing an issue with the PCIe bus.  Others have debugged and traced a Creative Labs sound card to show a bus-related issue, so it's entirely possible that the sound card + video card on the same bus is a bad thing, at least for some games (i.e. Skyrim).

Please let me know if this works for you.

February 05, 2012

1.4 Patch doesn't fix Resetting/Black Screen/Rebooting

Tested today and found that the resetting/black screen/rebooting still occurs with the 1.4 patch.  Next test item - completely removing the Creative SB X-Fi audio card.  Here's the sequence of events:

  1. Encounter Reset/Reboot bug.
  2. Restart PC
  3. Do exact same thing (i.e. load the saved game), observe same result
  4. Restart PC
  5. Do exact same thing, observe same result
  6. Change one variable (in this case, removing the audio card)
  7. Do exact same thing.
    1. If result is the same, return the change variable to previous value
    2. If result has changed, note the change and continue testing until bug is encountered.
  8. If the change lasts a week of playing (i.e. over 10 hours), then it's considered to be a success.

As of tonight, the current setup:
  • Speedstep enabled
  • Core Parking disabled
  • Memory set to 1333MHz
  • Turbo mode enabled
  • Hyperthreading enabled
  • Defaults in MB settings and GPU settings
  • Creative audio card removed
  • Using MB audio card
So far so good, it's at least running.  Testing continues on step 7-2...