A while ago I bought a HP z540 media center PC. I have this PC up in my media room in my audio rack. It has been an acceptable experience -- a little too much like a PC for my liking, but still acceptable.

I've left the PC to look after itself via Windows Update since I bought it, but yesterday I checked HP's site for software updates and found nearly a dozen upgrades and patches, many of them covering issues I had experienced using the z540. I guess Microsoft only wants Microsoft to update software on your PC, and it leaves HP out in the cold. About half an hour later the HP was all patched, my extender upgraded and everything was working.

And then I came home from work.

System Thermal Notice

Both the extender in the living room and the media center were displaying the notice "System Thermal Notice: Your media center is overheating" and warning that it would shutdown shortly. It also politely explained the ventilation requirements of the media center. It was a hot day yesterday so I rebooted the media center into the bios page and took a look at the CPU temperature: 148 degrees F. Hot, but not out of control. I do have the media center fairly tightly packed in my audio rack.

(Begin humming theme to Mission Impossible) After removing one amp (for whole house audio, which I rarely use), I spent the next hour reworking the spacing of all the components in my rack to give the media center some much needed ventilation. The media center had been off the whole time and was nice and cool when I turned it on.

"System Thermal Notice: Your media center is overheating"

Bullshit. My media center automatically logs on using a limited use account, so I logged out and logged in as administrator so I could look through the event logs. What's this? When logged in as an administrator I do not get the overheat message. Hmmm. I switched the media center account to be an administrator and logged back in. Again, no notice.

So my computer only overheats if a non-admin logs into it.

I Googled the problem and came across this post which happily shows a way to disable this damn thermal notice altogether. The machine will still shut down if it gets too hot, but it just won't tell me about it. Now honestly, I did tamper with the default settings of the media center when I bought it because I don't like to run as admin all the time. But, if you read the above post, you'll see that this affects anyone who uses a media center extender (the extender logs in through a limited use account too). That means that HP's update actually broke all media center extenders, even the ones HP sells!

I now understand why Microsoft keeps such a tight hold of Windows Update. If HP can roll out a patch that is so untested that it breaks half their product line using the default configuration, I can really understand why Microsoft would not allow that kind of update to flow down automatically.

Windows Vista to the Rescue?

I see this kind of crap all the time in all sorts of software. Microsoft software is some of the best tested software in the world, and it still has loads of problems when running under limited user accounts. Many other company's software fares much worse. I can only hope that Microsoft finally takes a somewhat hard stand: security is more important that compatibility. Really, it is. Vista is taking some strides to enable limited user permissions as the default, but then again, they tried that on XP for a while too and backed off when too few applications ran correctly. I say screw the apps. If they don't run correctly because they require admin privileges we need to point a finger at the product team that produced the app. Yes, this includes Microsoft, who is getting better but still doesn't test as much as they should on normal user.

Incidentally, after disabling the thermal shutdown on my media center I did end up leaving my media account as an admin. The front panel display on my media center has never worked...and it turns out that the applet that controls it requires admin permissions too. Thank you, HP, for making the world a safer place by requiring everyone to be an administrator. I guess that's why you bundled what seems like Symantec's entire product line on my media center before you shipped it to me. Now for only $30 a year I too can be protected from viruses. Viruses that I probably wouldn't or couldn't get on my media center if only I didn't run as an administrator all the time.