Computer: Crash
Hardware Computer Status Monitor   (0)  [vote for, against]
Add-on card tells you stuff

Okay, I know this idea is partially baked in real life because they've been selling diagnostic add-in cards for PCs for years (most of which are completely worthless, btw). But this is not what the idea is about.

How many times has this happened to you: A program hangs your computer, or an action hangs your computer. Suddenly everything stops working. There's no blue screen, just the screen and/or mouse and/or keyboard have frozen. So what do you have to do? Usually you turn off or reset the PC. It sucks and you worry what's going to be messed up.

An electronics expert would have to comment, but would it be possible to have a separate computer on a peripheral card that can monitor and understand things going on in the first computer, and basically have a display that mounts on the front of your computer case which tells you whether your computer is actually locked or just really, really busy? Electronically speaking, is there even a difference between the two?

Anyhow, it'd be nice to know whether it's actually going to be worth waiting a half hour for the damn thing to finish or time out.
-- Size_Mick, Jan 21 2004

Stratus Computer
Fault tollerant mini-computers [1st2know, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 05 2004]

The option to reboot without losing the contents of memory might be useful.
-- silverstormer, Jan 21 2004

Stratus computers (see link) use a method similar to what you describe. They are basically two computers sandwitched together, one is always asking the other if it's alive. The instant side A stops responding, side B takes over. Hardware-wise, these machines will run forever, but the cost is quite prohibitive - figure 20,000USD or 15,000 euros for an entry level model.
-- 1st2know, Jan 21 2004

I wished to have that a lot of times too on a PC. Good old VAXes and other mainframes, the "super" process always stayed alive (unless things were really on fire of course). As far as I know that was done by hardware.

Perhaps a smart BIOS manufacturer could implement this on PC hardware. The BIOS could bypass Windows or Linux and dump all info to a dedicated serial port as plain ASCII.
-- kbecker, Jan 21 2004

Normally when your computer hard-locks because of something that went awry, be it software, hardware, user incompetence, etc. I'ts not really vital to know exactly what went wrong, and where. If your computer locks-down as a particular game starts, update your video drivers. If the video drivers are alright, then check the sound drivers. Are you running at least the minimum system requirements? Do you have anything running in the background that conflicts with the program in question? At best, you could only run hardware diagnostics to determine IF hardware was to blame ... and I know there are plenty of motherboard manufacturers that have 2-digit trouble code displays. If something is wrong, it stops at a certain 2-digit number, you look up the corresponding error, and its done. But for hardware actively troubleshooting software, I don't see it as feasable.
-- Letsbuildafort, Jan 21 2004

The ASUS company encorporates the voice error identification on their newer motherboards ...
-- Letsbuildafort, Jan 22 2004

This is very common on the sort of hardware people developing processors and computer systems use. Most processors have hardware debug facilities so you can hook a cable up to them and another computer can take control and scan the contents of the processor's registers, memory etc (the interface most commonly used is called JTAG). It should be possible to add a little port on the PC motherboard to connect an ICE (In Circuit Emulation) interface connected to another computer, allowing the experts to explore to their hearts' content.

Slight digression: a common way to get around the problem of hanging systems is to use a hardware component called a watchdog timer. The operating system normally resets this timer very regularly, but if it's not reset for a few seconds, it sends a high-priority interrupt to the processor, interrupting whatever it is doing. This sort of thing is used in real-time applications like car engine electronics and machine control, where hanging for long is utterly unacceptable. I don't understand why this feature wasn't added to PCs long ago.
-- kropotkin, Jan 22 2004

Fairly baked. Only Windows does this these days. UNIX machines (inc new Macs, Linux) still run if a program goes AWOL/FUBAR. Mac even lets you restart the desktop/ finder process if you need to (it is just another process)

[kbecker] Worked on VAXes for over 10 years. It was not hardware, but the OS - VMS. Rock solid - makes UNIX look like Win95.
-- timbeau, Jan 22 2004

Still using VME myself.
-- DrBob, Jan 23 2004

timbeau: It's not just Windows that crashes. I've seen both Linux and Solaris totally seize up a number of times. Windows can recover from applications crashing, but problems come from drivers and other modules running at a high privilege level; it seems to have a vast number of badly written third-party drivers. But a kernel or device driver bug on any system can cause it to lock up or crash.
-- kropotkin, Jan 23 2004

Thanks everyone for your input. It seems that some of you didn't quite get what I intended,which is not to explain why things are taking so long or if a program has crashed. I just want to know if it's possible for an add-on device to tell if a computer is really frozen, or just busy doing something. That's all, nothing else. Say, a red light for frozen and a green light for when it's working but not busy, and a yellow light for when it's working but just SEEMS frozen because it's doing some really heavy duty math or something.

The only way I can see this really working is by using separate circuits to monitor things, and I'm sure a lot of you would love to watch the diagnostic outputs and blah blah, but I just want to know whether I should wait or hit "reset", that's all. I realize that badly written software can get stuck in a loop and all, but usually windows task manager or whatever can handle that stuff. I want to know what's going on when all my controls seem completely frozen and the computer is not responding to me at all, but yet hasn't generated any error messages or anything. If I know it's because the hardware has "locked up", I can at least be confident in a power cycle or reset. If I know the software is stuck, I might have the patience to wait awhile and let the PC finish doing its thing.
-- Size_Mick, Mar 07 2004

random, halfbakery