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Sunday, April 18, 2010

One of the more interesting game problem cases I've worked on.

A poster in a game forum was pleading for help. A pretty high-end system, all the best components, top-end Windows 7, fresh and clean, along with a clean game install.

All was well until a couple of weeks ago, then load times for the maps went to hell, taking five to eight minutes, with the screen alternating between white and black. Once loaded, selection of menu items or login resulted in another minute or so of stalling.

The poster was using one of the highest-end and newest GPUs that had a known minor issue with load times for the game (but usually only resulting in 30 second or so loads for others, with no stalls once loaded) that had been remedied in a recent GPU driver release.

The poster, and an apparently savvy friend, were pulling their hair out, having tried every option reasonable: reinstall game, windows, no anti-virus, different drivers, disable sound, etc. but still no joy.

This was one of the weird ones. Like the PC of an old friend that would randomly play "It's a small world" out of the internal speaker (that took me a bit to figure out...)

I've been doing this a long time, as many of you probably have, giving us an advantage: We've probably seen it before, and had to figure it out.

The problem: USB bus conflict/flooding. I first saw this a few years back on a fellow gamer's machine, after trying all the obvious things to resolve their strange performance issues, I pulled out my USB bus analyzer, and bingo!

For this poster, simply unplugging all USB devices, then plugging them back in completely solved the issue. The same (actually more thorough) can be done by uninstalling the sub-branches of the USB device branch and rebooting the machine, allowing it to reinstall and enumerate the devices.

This very same problem manifested itself for a couple of players I worked with where their game ran in slow motion, as if time were slowed down. Not laggy game play, in fact no jerkiness of any sort, just six million dollar man slow motion effects for everything in the game!

A cool effect of this was they could FRAPS record game play, and when played back, it was normal speed. Spooky! When I had them do this, I'm sure they must have thought I was pulling some kind of practical joke on them.

The same fix (resetting USB by unplugging their USB devices) remedied the problem.

These strange and obscure ones must make life interesting for tech support.


  1. This sounds exactly like the issue I had with Battlefield Bad Company 2. However, I unplugged all devices, plugged them back in, and it worked fine. However, I started having the issue again and can't find a permanent fix. Any ideas?

  2. Welcome to the world of really weird tech. issues! I don't imagine I'd have figured this one out so quickly (relatively) had I not had testing gear not in most consumer's hands.
    Try the suggestion of uninstalling everything in the device manager on the USB device branch and rebooting the machine. If your MB has PS/2 ports, an old mouse and keyboard can be used to do this more easily and completely.

    If you're using external hubs, try without them (including any monitor hubs). Make sure that the devices connected are not exceeding the power capacity of the PC hubs, or use a powered external hub.

    If on Vista/Win 7, you can enable logging on USB to perhaps see what's going on.

    Try installing the latest chipset drivers for your MB chipset.

    Lastly, some MB can be glitchy...

    Good Luck!