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back to article Mother of All Whistlers: Virgin Media superhub. Listen to recordings

Virgin Media is resorting to sending its subscribers to Maplins and other electrical outlets to deal with its now long-standing whistling power supply problem that has blighted the company's troublesome* SuperHub modem/router combi kit. Netgear, which supplies the equipment to the telco, has failed to comment on what has gone …

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FAIL

Switched-mode power supplies are often like this

I've heard similar noises coming from a lot of switched-mode power supplies, although to be fair, if you can hear it at a distance of more than an inch or two from the power supply, then it would be intensely annoying. I suspect low manufacturing and quality control standards.

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Re: Switched-mode power supplies are often like this

What's the solution? Better quality control? Better quality power supplies?

God no, they'll probably instruct the poor Chinese workers to smother the coils in hot glue.

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Re: Switched-mode power supplies are often like this

That whining you hear, is actually a built in indication that your efforts to reduce power supply cost have gone past the point where they affect the proper functioning of the unit. It's time to put just a wee bit more money into the parts and buy some inductors that are more tightly wound on cores that are bonded together with something more robust than hot glue.

Quality Chinese Engineering at its finest, I would suspect.

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Re: Switched-mode power supplies are often like this

Ah, memories of old Amstrad machines with several power supplies inside to get the mis-matched bits to run.

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A better solution...

...let us connect our own modem/routers and get rid of the SuperFlub.

Heck, I'm even willing for it to be a list of "approved" devices; just so long as I can chuck Tomato or OpenWRT or something, I'll be happy. Yes, I know all about "Modem mode".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A better solution...

For the techies yes, this is the best option. But for the masses? nope. They'll pop down to PC world and come back with a Belkin which will be even worse than the superhub.

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Re: A better solution...

WIth ADSL, that's do-able. With cable, that's asking for trouble. Even though your communications are encrypted with the latest DOCSIS standards, you're still sharing a cable with neighbours at points, and still able to eavesdrop their traffic. Think of DOCSIS cable as using lots of ADSL modems on the same copper, but you all end up on different frequencies (that any of you could hear if you tuned in, but that you "avoid" each other to get the best signal). This is why, for example, I have a SuperHub, and set-top-box, and an external box that supplies the telephone line ALL just spliced crudely onto the same coax that goes out to the street - they all negotiate their own data paths over a common cable (think of it like several computers running on 10base2 networking - which *could* run over simple coax + BNC - and you'll get what I mean).

Restricting the modems that operate on the network means you can restrict what hardware people can use, and thus restrict what devices can be hacked to get access to your network (yes, since the early days of cable, hacked devices have been present on the network and getting "full" access on other subscriber's accounts). Something with open-source back-ends on the cable side would be a security and billing disaster, for instance. Currently, modern cable systems use the latest DOCSIS standards which include things like certificates in each device so you can authenticate the device on the network. There are other DOCSIS modems out there - dozens of them, just Google, but they aren't used for a reason.

And if you restrict the modem, then whatever else is feeding into it doesn't matter - you're effectively doing the same as "modem mode" on the SuperHub - letting some "approved" device connect to the cable network and converting the data to Ethernet standards, and supplying your own device from there on.

If you don't like this, don't use cable. ADSL goes over individual lines and doesn't even let you or your neighbours "eavesdrop" on each other - you all get a separate copper cable to talk over. Cable network's *don't*.

If modem mode didn't work, or if DOCSIS technology didn't share the cable between neighbours, then you might have a case. But, as it is, the SuperHub in modem mode does everything you want, without any problems. I know. I use it. And refused to upgrade from a "proper" cable-modem to the SuperHub until it did work. And in modem mode, I don't have to worry about the SuperHub's wireless security getting outdated or anything else.

What I don't get is why people have these boxes on show and thus hear the squeal that EVERY PSU makes (trust me - get a laptop, listen to the PSU closely when you run a powerful game). It's just a matter of volume / proximity. Sure, it might be annoying, but then I find the little red/blue light a thousand times more annoying - just tuck your equipment away. You don't need your modem on show (and certainly not the PSU) and wireless will carry through your house even from inside a cupboard (or, in my case, will carry over a cable to a enclosed WAP and a powerline-Ethernet device that carry the signal through the house).

They got a dodgy batch, they are replacing them and funding people to get their own replacements. Quite what the problem is here, I can't see. They appear to have gone further than a lot of ISP's when there's been trouble with their kit.

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WTF?

Re: A better solution...

"Yes, I know all about "Modem mode"."

Obviously not though, or you wouldn't still be complaining. Once in modem mode it becomes a faultless little device that just does its job (as a modem), so no need for any alternative device. (Note: The lower power requirement in modem mode has also been known to reduce the noise from some of the noisy PSUs.)

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TRT
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Facepalm

Re: A better solution...

Oh! Of course! I thought it was just the power brick acclimatising... Mine made exactly the squeal in the recording for the first 20-30 minutes of operation. Once I'd registered it and switched it to modem mode, the squeal was gone.

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Alert

Re: A better solution...

What problems are you having with Modem Mode?

I recently got a SuperHub as part of an upgrade. I had a lot of reservations about it, and it took a little while to get it working, but modem mode has worked without any problems for about a month now. (I have my own NAT router and WAP on it.)

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Happy

Re: A better solution...

Same here. After all the stuff El Reg has published I'm almost disappointed that it hasn't been a disaster (and that's using it as intended as a wireless router as well).

Admittedly the PSU does whistle, but only noticeable if you stick your head within a foot of the PSU (or perhaps if you're operating a slient PC in an anechoic chamber). Still far, far less noisy than the heads seeking on a 3.5 inch hard disk, or the whirr of the fans of a desktop.

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Re: A better solution...

@Lee Dowling - thank you very much for the detailed reply, it explains an awful lot. I may have to resort to using "modem mode" in the future in that case, which is going to be somewhat problematical.

Or drop VM and go to ADSL.

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Re: A better solution...

I was luck enough to be able to place it in a room which I don't use. As soon as the house is reasonably quiet you can hear it from a few metres away...until you close the door that is.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A better solution...

"Sure, it might be annoying, but then I find the little red/blue light a thousand times more annoying - just tuck your equipment away. You don't need your modem on show (and certainly not the PSU) and wireless will carry through your house even from inside a cupboard (or, in my case, will carry over a cable to a enclosed WAP and a powerline-Ethernet device that carry the signal through the house)"

Some of us can hear squealing PSUs, high pitched battery charger whines and things a few rooms away- some frequencies carry like motherfondlers. When a battery charger starts squealing in the living room, it often wakes me up in the night- I end up getting out of bet to switch it off, lest it drive me bonkers.

(That sounds terrible, but most of the room is isolated from the mains, not on standby, just the router/phone/chargers that are running are left on, with a power strip of their own)

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Re: A better solution...

Yeah, I used to be able to tell easily if someone had left a CRT monitor switched on in the computer suites when locking up. Now, with SMPSU and TFT/LCD/LED... not quite so easy at all.

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Re: A better solution...

@Lee Dowling - I find the little red/blue light a thousand times more annoying

Meant to say earlier, a little bit of black leccy tape over that front button works wonders. Now I don't get lasered in the eye when I sit down to watch the goggle-box.

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FAIL

Not just the power supply

The whole kit is the flakiest piece of crap I've ever used. I've ended up disabling the wireless and plugging a more reliable wireless router (also a netgear) into it and using that as my wireless access point. which of course immediately uses up one of the Gb ethernet ports. I plan on getting a better router and just enabling modem only mode on it.

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Re: Not just the power supply

Don't just disable the wireless, switch it fully into modem mode. That switches off all the internal NAT'ing, filtering and firewall stuff as well and will give you better performance.

(Sorry, if that is what you actually meant but thought I'd point out the difference in case it wasn't. I know in the early days when modem mode wasn't available many people went with simply turning wireless off but still having the VM hub acting as a router+firewall, i.e. a double-NAT setup, not good for performance or anything really.)

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Re: Not just the power supply

+1 for modem mode. Works well for me, I've often see >100Mbps download speeds.

I use mine with an Apple Time Capsule (802.11n WiFi router and NAS backup). Whatever you think about Apple, this has been the best router I have used and I have used many Netgear (incl. blue boxes) and LinkSys routers over the years (with Apple/PC/iPhone/Kindle & Android WiFi clients).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Not just the power supply

WOW that must make you a professional.

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Surely if they got one of the whistling power packs back from a customer and got it sent to netgear it wouldn't be hard to identify the component causing the problem.

Perhaps its only teenagers who can hear the noise though, one of my young co workers is always complaining about hearing this sort of noise from power supplies in the office but us oldies can't usually hear it.

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Anonymous Coward

I don't think it is component related, just a really cheap piss poor design in the first place.

Many wall warts wouldn't pass EU tests if you tested them. Many of them are just smuggled in and labelled with bogus information.

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I can barely hear the recorded whistling from the article with the volume set to 11.

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Pirate

Many wall warts wouldn't pass EU tests if you tested them.

But they have CE marks on them!

Oh, sorry...that would be the confusingly similar (read: identical except for microscopic differences invisible to the untrained eye) "China Export" mark.

(indicating that the article in question was exported from China?)

I tend to view any and all certification marks on Chinese manufactured products with the greatest of skepticism.

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I can't hear a whistling at all, just the sort of hum that comes from a computer fan. However, I do have quite serious tinnitus ... My wife is forever complaining about "noises" that I don't have a clue about. I actually think that an acute sense of hearing is a disability.

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FAIL

And all this is not taking into account that other thread -possibly a Guinness Book of records contender- currently appearing on the VM forum complaining about the SuperDud R36 firmware which means it is now repeatedly either rebooting itself randomly or else needing to be rebooted manually because it has decided to ignore the wifi devices it's meant to serve.

(In my case I have both of those issues so if I'm lucky they cancel each other out.

And since I don't get the whistling noise I guess I'm one of the lucky ones).

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Anonymous Coward

whining from virgin?

usually because they want public money.

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@mark 12 A good point. My teenage kids complain about the Belkin car to USB convertor that I use for the satnav and stuff when we're out. I can't hear anything but it drives them mad.

Though, that said, they've never had a problem with our SuperDud's power supply.

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Coat

The King and I.... SuperHub

Whenever I feel afraid

I hold my head erect

And whistle a happy tune

So no one will suspect I'm afraid

While shivering in my shoes

I strike a careless pose

And whistle a happy tune

And no one ever knows I'm afraid

The result of this deceptionIs very strange to tell

For when I fool the peopleI fear

I fool myself as well

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Loop Stability

Generally an SMPS whistles if the feedback loop goes unstable or the supply enters what is termed subharmonic oscillation. It's probably a single switch flyback converter so if it does not operate above 50% duty cycle then subharmonic oscillation should not be an issue. It is still wise to include slope compensation though.

If some do and some don't then it is more likely to be a feedback problem that has arisen due to some component being 'out of spec'. Perhaps output capacitor ESR or, if they use isolated feedback, the opto-isolator are prime targets. Ideally the compensation used would have accounted for such tolerances and their variations but if something goes seriously out of whack then...

Of course one of the other biggies is how the power supply behaves with the load it is being presented with, again a stability issue. Netgear might have shipped millions of these particular 'bricks' but if the SuperHub is a 'new' design the supply should have been rigorously checked for correct operation with its intended load.

People often buy COTS SMPS equipment, randomly dangle things on the output{s} and end up with disappointing results

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Bronze badge

An observation re homogenity and problem reporting

Is the problem magnified in perception (as in widespread rather than the amount of noise) because it is the commonest device across the cable network.

By comparison the ADSL users are spread across a multitude of ISPs big and small who supply various brands and models of modem/routers with custom firmware plus there's others who buy their own, or reuse ones from previous suppliers. Hence reporting of common issues is dliuted across various forums.

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designing a good PSU is actually quite hard

They would rather sell you a literal death trap if it saved them 1p on components

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Modem Mode

Modem Mode + Decent wireless router + inexpensive Pluscom 8 Port Gigabit Switch.

Job's a goodun.

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Trollface

HA!

Downloaded the audio clip - better than a dog whistle - wife was trying to figure where the sound was coming from.

This is almost as good as the blue screen screensaver for annoyances* lol

*yes, I am the kind of guy who will install a Justin Beiber themepack on your machine when you're not looking if you keep bugging me. You want this fixed or not?

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Coat

Guess I'm one of the lucky ones

First of all, I'm not trying to defend VM, just sharing my own experience.

I recently was "upgraded" to the superhub (about 6 weeks ago) and did notice the packaging had been opened to put a label over the power socket on the hub saying "Do not use your old PSU".

I've not had any issues at all (except the routing problem which crippled Youtube that wasn't down to the hub itself), I'd be interested to know if the people who have the problems are using older kit?

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Anonymous Coward

Maplins

It's fucking Maplin not Maplins!

Get it right guys!

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Re: Maplins

So you never watched Hi-de-Hi when you were young?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Maplins

Rightly so, in the same way as Tesco, Asda, Comet, B&Q etc.

Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Currys etc. are a different story...

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Windows

Made by NetGear??

I think you should all feel lucky it only whines, and hasnt melted yet!!!!!

(DGN2000 - 14 months from new to puddle)

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Coat

"It's understood that a dodgy component is causing an annoying whining noise to emit once the SuperHub has been switched on."

Would that be the customers on the phone making the annoying whining noise once the SuperHub has been switched on?

I may be lucky in that I rarely have problems with my connection but I do have a separate router should I ever want to go down the "modem mode" route. I've considered it even before that though since the SuperHub won't allow me to forward the same port to two separate IPs which makes it a pain.

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Getting Better

I have moaned about VM since I moved into my house, they were over subscribed in this area. The service does seem to have 'gotten betterer' of late. Still not Branson's best buddy yet though.

My latest Super-hub also came with a warning not to use any other power supply and support were quick to ask if I used the supplied power supply.

There is a very good reason why the Super-hub will not allow you to forward a single port to more than one IP.

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Megaphone

I'd happily put up with the noise if I could get the speeds some of you lot are getting. With 3 of us on the network, we are at 20kb/s download at peak time. Off peak with 1 person on the network I can get up to 200kb/s (1AM onwards) with BT. Quit whining, leave it to the boxes!

We get a high pitch squealing from the Sky+ box though.

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I understand what's gone wrong

" ..problems which have dogged the SuperHub since it was first deployed by Virgin Media in early 2011 are a hot topic of debate in management meetings at the company. "

They need to make it the subject of engineering meetings - and then act on the recommendations.

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Pint

XM Satellite radio PSUs are actually musical

They don't simply whistle, they actually step through several audio frequencies in an endlessly repeating pattern. It's not an isolated case, I have several (from circa 2008-2009) and they *all* do it.

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I'll listen out for any offensive whistling but I have to say that since getting my superhub as part of my 20 to 60Mbps upgrade (replacing my old motorola modem) about a month ago, my connection has been rock solid. It is running in modem mode.

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FAIL

Quicktime audio?

QT? For Pete's sake, why?

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Opps VM problems

Regret that I did not read the Superhub instructions and hence plugged it into a very old Cisco supplied PSU, running at 6 volts. Hence I dont have a whistle to contend with.

I do have a long term stability tested Superhub PSU still in its box if anyone wants to try it

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VM PSU problems

Having been in the computer indsutry for over 30 years, most pSU problems, switch mode or otherwise are designed for 110/220 volts, at 240 are overcooked, and where I live the voltage can be as much as 255

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