Tag: satellite

Toshiba keyboard and touchpad both not working or malfunctioning? The solution may surprise you.

THE  PROBLEM: A Toshiba Satellite L305-S5933 laptop came into the shop recently with a non-functioning internal keyboard and touchpad. The keyboard worked fine in the BIOS and prior to booting an operating system, but in Windows neither device was functional at all, and in the Tritech Service System (a custom Linux distribution we use at Tritech Computer Solutions for checking out computers) keystrokes would be severely delayed or would miss completely. Either way, the keyboard clearly worked okay before an OS fully booted, and stopped functioning when an OS was running. USB input devices work fine.

THE SALT IN THE WOUND: There are posts all over the place mentioning problems similar to this, with theories about Windows updates and BIOS updates and drivers all over the place, but none of them are helpful and none of the posts were solved or had any kind of follow-up. In short, no one seems to have any solid lead on fixing this issue.

THE SOLUTION: In the case of the Toshiba we inspected, the touchpad was bad. The failed touchpad also kept the keyboard from being able to operate while in an operating system. To confirm this, we removed the keyboard and disconnected the touchpad, which immediately caused the keyboard to start operating correctly.

THE TECHNICAL EXPLANATION: On a laptop, the keyboard and mouse (touchpad) are what’s known as PS/2 devices. Since the days of the IBM PS/2 computer, a dedicated chip called the 8042 keyboard controller has existed in PCs, powering two special serial ports, one for the keyboard and one known as an AUX port which is always used for a mouse. Though the 8042 chip is no longer a standalone component, identically functioning circuits are in practically every PC laptop and desktop computer that exists. What does all this have to do with the touchpad knocking out the keyboard? It’s actually quite simple: the 8042 controls both devices, and the defective touchpad was flooding the 8042 chip with garbage data. If one channel is flooding the controller chip with data, the other channel is “starved” of bandwidth and can’t send its information through the 8042 chip. Think of it like someone yelling words rapidly into your left ear while you were also trying to listen to someone talking normally in the right ear. You can’t possibly follow both conversations because one is drowning out the other. That’s how your toasted touchpad can cause your keyboard to not function at all.

HOW WE FIGURED IT OUT: The key knowledge here is that the two PS/2 devices are attached to the same controller chip. Bringing up the “top”  command in the Tritech Service System shows us the CPU usage of running processes in decreasing order of CPU usage by default. We noticed that two of the “kworker” threads were eating 1.5% to 1.8% of the CPU at all times. (A kworker thread is a “helper” program that runs directly from the Linux kernel to help it perform various tasks, not as an actual program.) The next logical step after noticing this unusual behavior from a clean system that has worked very well on every Toshiba Satellite L300-series laptop prior to this one was to unplug the keyboard and touchpad, and see if anything changed (this requires minor disassembly of the keyboard area of the laptop to perform.)

Unplugging the keyboard ribbon cable had zero effect. However, sliding out the ribbon for the laptop touchpad caused the kworker threads to completely cease using CPU. Connecting the keyboard back up and attempting to use it confirmed that removal of the mouse/touchpad from the equation brought back full functionality in the keyboard. Diagnosis: bad touchpad.

One of the reasons that we advocate for aspiring technicians to seek general knowledge about how computers work instead of specific situational solutions like an A+ certification test would target is for situations like this one. The knowledge that the keyboard and mouse run through the same controller chip was the only thing that prevented an average technician from knowing where to troubleshoot further and solve the problem, and the diagnosis could just as easily have been performed in Windows as in Linux.

It’s important to understand as much as you can about the general workings of a computer; the standard PS/2 keyboard/mouse controller chip has been around for a very long time, and is easily ignored by an aspiring technician in an era where many new computers only use USB connectivity and have thrown PS/2 hardware out the window. Don’t ignore something just because it’s slightly obscure or because it’s an old carry-over from the computing days of old! You never know when that obscure knowledge will turn out to be a missing puzzle piece to a confounding and frustrating issue that you’ll waste many hours poking and prodding at.

Guerrilla dishonesty! Thanks, DirecTV!

I ordered DirecTV service for my home a month or so ago, because where I live we have Charter Communications for cable and Charter’s prices are astronomical (and service level significantly lower than what I’m used to.)  It’s unfortunate that Time Warner isn’t the cable provider in the area, because as an ex-contractor for them and as a long-time customer, I felt that overall Time Warner Cable was about as good as a monopoly cable company could get, and while no big company seems to do the customer right 100% of the time, they at least seemed to give half a damn about customer satisfaction and value for the money.  Honestly, I was disappointed that I’d have to move to satellite service, especially with the threat of things like long-term contracts looming.  Yes, you have to commit to a contract with DirecTV, but I understand that it’s a way of subsidizing the equipment installation costs, so it’s not that big of a deal to me.

What is a big deal, however, is the “teaser deals” and impossible-to-understand terms under which the service was sold to me.  I ordered a $40/month package because it was the lowest I could get with a DVR (vital to keep the wife happy, lest I be tormented for the rest of my days).

Imagine my surprise when I receive a bill with a base package price of $65.  That’s before some of the kooky fees that come along with the deal.

Here’s how it works: the sweet deal only lasts one year (12 months), and to get the sweet deal, you have to mail in or electronically submit a rebate request with an apparent 6-8 week wait for processing.  The representative forgot to mention that little detail, and I have to pay the significantly higher bill now, then wait until this rebate is credited back to my account at some arbitrary point in the future.

They really do make it impossible to know what you’re getting into.  You know all the fine print under their packages on their website?  Here’s copypasta of the one for my package (emphasis added):

Offer ends 3/3/09 and is based on approved credit; credit card required. Price reflects an $18 bill credit per month for 12 months after online or call-in rebate, plus an additional $5 bill credit per month for 12 months when you enroll in Auto Bill Pay program and provide a valid email address for the latest news and special offers from DIRECTV. New customers only (Lease required. Must maintain programming, DVR Service and/or HD Access). Lease fee $4.99/mo. for 2nd and each additional reciever. See offer details.

You have to have a credit card, pass a credit check, fill out a rebate form, AND give them access to your account or card, AND be willing to receive DirecTV spam, just to get the price they advertise.

Where did honesty and transparency in business practices go in this country?  Why do I have to jump through 100 hoops just to pay the price that the salesweasels at DirecTV shout about?  Doesn’t this seem a bit dishonest to anyone else out there?  If I ran my computer business the way DirecTV does their sales, I’d be out of business within a few months.  Every major electronics retailer seems to do the same thing with covertly hidden “pre-rebate” pricing and attempts to “add value” in ways that only add value to their wallets rather than the customer’s actual needs.

Let me be very clear: I feel that rebates are a dishonest business practice.  It’s a way to prey upon peoples’ personality flaws that prevent them from successfully and correctly submitting the rebate in order to extract more dollars from them.  Big business seems to be exclusively in the game of extracting as much cash from each customer as possible regardless of the morality of how they go about doing so and regardless of actual customer needs. It infuriates me to no end, and I’m tired of it.

When someone walks into Tritech Computer Solutions, they see each and every thing on my price sheet quoted with the actual final price.  There are no rebates.  There are no ripoff “extended warranty plans” to mess with.  The price quoted is the price paid.  No deception, no distraction, no questions necessary, period.

Why can’t every business work like that?  Dread the thought that a business actually keeps its customers happy and listens to their needs!  I suppose that’s the corruption of trying to pad out your books for the fourth fiscal quarter so your stock doesn’t take a hit!