Note 2 update: Sudden Death Syndrome

dead_androidIn October of last year, Samsung sent me a Galaxy Note 2 phone to try. I blogged about it a couple of time, and have been using it as my primary device since. I like it a lot, and was getting used to its large dimensions.

But then it started to act up. Random reboots and freezes, crashing apps. Not good. I did some research, and my unit appears to be suffering from “Sudden Death Syndrome”. Here’s what I’ve found out so far.

Symptoms

Phones suffering from SDS tend to freeze, crash and/or reboot. Usually, this starts happening after about six months of use, and judging from reports I’ve read it seems to get progressively worse. In many cases I’ve read about, phones will eventually not turn on anymore and are “bricked”. In other cases, phones die suddenly, but I get the feeling that “Slow and Agonising Death Syndrome” would have been a better name.

Likely cause

I don’t think Samsung has confirmed this, but the likely culprit is the phone’s eMMC chip. This chip contains the internal memory of your phone, and early 16 GB models of the Note 2 had what’s now called an “insane” chip. These chips can become corrupted, and corrupted memory (in any computer) causes crashes and all sorts of instability. 32 GB models seem unaffected, as are more recent 16 GB ones.

There’s an extensive thread on the XDA forums about this problem, with many users offering tips that have helped make their phones more stable. But in most cases though, those tips come down to the same thing. Keeping memory usage low. Disabling apps with large cache storages might help a little. Not using corrupted memory segments probably means the bug will get triggered less, but the hardware defect is still there.

What can you do?

First of all, upgrade your Note 2 to Android 4.1.2. Samsung put a “fix” in the 4.1.2 update that should prevent (further) memory corruption. It’s not going to repair earlier damage, but it seems the appropriate first step. If you’re using a custom ROM, check that your ROM has this fix in place.

If you own a 16 GB Note 2 (model number GT-N7100), I recommend installing the eMMC Brickbug Check app. It checks whether the eMMC memory chip in your phone is vulnerable. Below is the output for my phone.

Screenshot_2013-06-04-11-57-25

As you can see, my chip is “insane”. The “VTU00M” and “0xf1″ confirm this. If you see the same thing, there’s another app that can help you troubleshoot. Dummy File Generator is an app that lets you fill up your eMMC storage with bogus data. Doing so on a device with SDS can trigger the bug, which allows you to confirm the diagnosis. Here’s how.

  1. Download Dummy File Generator from teh Play store
  2. Select the “internal storage” tab
  3. Click “Generate (FULL)”

Depending on the free space on your phone, this may take a while. In my case, the process froze about 2/3 though, and I had to remove the battery from my Note 2 to get it to boot again. Some people also report that running this app has made their phone more stable. It is assumed that it helps the filesystem map bad blocks.

Hardware repair

Once your eMMC has become corrupted, I don’t think any software fix will help. Chances are your phone will need to have its motherboard replaced. Since the Note 2 has only been on the market for seven months, getting it fixed warranty should in most cases not be a problem. If your phone has an “insane” chip, you’re experiencing these symptoms, and you’ve used it with Android 4.1.1 or earlier, I guess getting it repaired is that best option. I’m going to try getting this done without a proof of purchase. Wish me luck.

P.S. Forgot to mention that Sudden Death Syndrome is also available on the Galaxy SIII. Ouch.

UPDATE (June 5th, 2013)

In was planning to visit a Samsung Service Point today, to claim warranty. I knew they might ask whether I’d tried re-installing the phone’s firmware and doing a factory reset, so I did those things. And now my phone hasn’t crashed in hours. Here’s what I did.

  1. I installed Samsung Kies on my laptop
  2. Connected my phone and backed up some stuff
  3. Let Kies do a full firmware upgrade/re-install (this took quite a while, even though I was already running the latest version)
  4. Did a full factory reset on the phone (through the settings menu, not connected to Kies)
  5. Installed Dummy File Generator and let it “Generate (FULL)” (see above)
  6. Proceeded to personalize the phone, install apps, etc

The strange thing is that “Dummy” was now able to fill up the entire internal memory of my Note without the phone locking up. It’s not frozen once since I ran “Dummy”, and only once before that. It seems that this little app indeed has some healing effect. Although probably only when combined with the other steps I listed. I’ve set up some 50 apps, changed the launcher, and basically used the device quite intensively today, and it seems fine.

I’ll keep you posted!

UPDATE 2 (June 6th, 2013)

Crashes are back, and getting more frequent. Looks like the “solution” above is – at best – a temporary band-aid. I’m now convinced that my phone’s eMMC is beyond repair. I’ve switched back to my old HTC, and will try to get the Note 2 fixed. If that turns out to be too pricy, I’m thinking of getting an entry-level Windows phone like the Lumia 620.

UPDATE 3 (June 13th, 2013)

Investigated whether the SIM card was causing crashes, because it seemed to work better without one present, but that turned out to not be the case. Sent the phone to Samsung today. I hope they do a good job testing the phone, and do not return it unfixed.

UPDATE 3 (August 8th, 2013)

I got my phone back earlier this week. The repair slip said “board swap”, and it now has a “sane” chip. It’s given me precisely zero issues since. Not a single crash and no sign of any instability.

156 Comments

  1. Anyone else had this…

    N7100 freezing CM10. Suspected SDS. I have Insane Chip (vtu00m rev. 0xf1). Crap!

    So I read that Fix is to use Perseus Kernel – that had no effect

    Then I read that any Android > 4.1.2 is ok and safe so I try others ROMS

    I’ve had freezes on all Custom Roms tried (CM10, CM11, DN3, MIUI, Stock with Root) using Android 4.1.2, 4.3, 4.4.

    I installed and ran the dummy file thing about 20 times – at first it crashed lots but eventually went through and I was able to go through the full memory with no crashes (still some small freezes though). I thought I’d cracked it but it was still freezing.

    So I ring up the Samsung Repair Centre (Manchester, UK) who said they were only aware of SDS on the Galaxy3 – I said it’s all over the internet and my chip was showing one of the bad ones – he said that Samsung haven’t publicly admitted anything wrong with the chips (not even on the SG3), but to bring it in and they would look at it…

    … but obviously not a many-times-flashed, rooted phone… so I learn how to unflash and set all counters to 0 – so it looks all official like.

    I flash Stock Recovery, Use triangle away to clear the counters, and then install stock ROM (Android 4.3) N7100XXUEMK9_N7100OXXEMK4_OXX using ODIN (Unzip it then load the four MD5 files into ODIN).

    Hooray everything is now back to official so I can take to the Samsung Repair place…. HOWEVER… now the frikkin phone is performing beautifully !!! No freezes at all. Even using the Dummy file generator doesn’t produce a freeze!!

    I’ve taken the phone in anyway to see what happens (I don’t want to waste my hard work!). I’ll update when I get it back.

    Comment by Cholsonic — April 28, 2014 @ 9:16 pm

    • I got it back and, as expected, they haven’t changed the board / emmc chip. They said it was a software issue and have reflashed the official software on it. I tried to argue a little but they said it would be fine.

      Anyway, I really don’t get on with TouchWiz so I have now Flashed it with MIUI (Android 4.2.2) and don’t see any of the freezes.

      We shall see……

      Comment by Cholsonic — May 1, 2014 @ 8:14 am

  2. I got a Note 2 from the US as a gift in Dec 2012. Used it for an year. Precisely in Dec 2013, it started showing up. Got it checked. Resolution: Motherboard Problem. Sent the phone to the US through a friend and got the mother board replaced. Problem got solved. But it costed me a bomb too. The phone got back to India. I started using it. Everything was rosy and fun. A month and the SDS returns back like a phantom. The phone’s dead now. Again. Got it tested once more. The motherboard’s a wreck. Again! And then, today, I see this post. :( I wouldn’t have asked the Note 2 as a gift in the first place if I’d known of these problems. I cannot afford another motherboard replacement now. I’ll move. Perhaps a Moto X.

    Comment by Subhash J — May 6, 2014 @ 7:34 am

  3. The same problem with my mobile too. I just received call saying my mother board software is not working so they have to replace the mother board. Is this true. I am really sad. I am worried after seeing this threads that if i change will it work or not. God why did i buy ( rather say got a gift)

    Comment by Uma — May 13, 2014 @ 9:10 am

  4. Hiii guys
    I have the similar problem of note 2 lile u i have no warrenty and the galary is saying the device is bricked they are saying to replace the motherboard and asking 8000 rs in india plz tell me the solution in cheap
    My device is gt n7100 the problem is
    1 bluethooth not working
    2 screenscreen slow responding
    3 lagging hanging
    4 i factory reset phone daily
    Plz tell me the solution

    Comment by punit — May 16, 2014 @ 11:13 am

  5. So my phone got its memory full, and it was saying that i should erase some things so it could have some space, but then my dad proceeded to take my phone, i told him i had to charge it, since it had low battery, but he didn’t let me, the battery died, and the memory was still full. The next day i tried charging it, it charged ok, then i tried to turn it on, it turned on ok, it showed the white “Samsung Galaxy Note II”, then proceeded to go to the loading screen you usually get when it’s turning on, but this time it wasn’t the usual 15-20 seconds, the loading screen lasts forever, and it never turns on, the loading screen doesn’t freeze, it keeps going on forever, it went a straight day loading, but it never turned on, the thing kept spinning.

    What can i do to fix this?

    Comment by Caco — May 16, 2014 @ 8:09 pm

  6. This happened to me also, my device has also been stuck on downloading mode for over a week now, samsung service centre says the problem is with the motherboard. I tried flashing with Odin with official firmware no success. And I have always used the official os, never tried rooting my device.
    But I dont understand, why is it that the customer has to pay for samsung’s faulty hardware? I am really done with samsung. This is the end of the road with samsung, I dont think I will be buying samsung anymore.

    Comment by Dev — May 25, 2014 @ 4:11 am

  7. Husb and I both have Note II. Mine has SANE chip, but had a horrific crash yesterday. 3.5 year old has lots of app games on my phone, I’d recently gotten my first book through Play Books. and of course I’ve never deleted a picture or video from the phone… all I can say is thank goodness for Dropbox and Gmail. At least I didn’t lose them all since that back me up automatically. BUT… after the factory reboot, critical apps for my work aren’t set up anymore – I have to start all over! I wish I’d understood that Kies Air was there for a REASON. As in, “Hint, hint, you might need this.”

    At the time of the trouble, I was using the camera, and had several apps open. To be specific, I was taking a long video. The video quit on its own after less than 2 mins. I said “strange…” then started a new video. This time it locked up completely. I had to pull the battery (which I’ve had to do before a couple of times, and it was usually during uses of the video function.) But this time, the BLUE LIGHT OF DEATH WAS SHINING. Solid blue light, maybe with a little ebb to it but always on. And the sequence went (silently): blue circle, Samsung, T-Mobile splash… black… blue circle, Samsung, T-mobile splash… black…etc. No amount of battery pulling fixed this problem. I switched batteries with husb. His came on fine, mine repeated the pattern. Went to T-Mobile store and kid did great job of pretending he’d never seen this problem before. Did factory reset and it came back to life. We deduced that perhaps I’d filled the memory to the brim and that locked it up. He suggested an SD card. I’m thinking now that that really won’t help.

    So now I’m hosed! I’ll never get this thing back to how it was in time for work on Monday, when I NEED to be able to use the things I have on it. And I’ve lost all my text message history! This was very important to my work, too. Gmail absolutely won’t cooperate and show my full account, the way I plainly already have it set up – looks fine on a laptop, totally only showing me one email address in phone, folders I’ve made (hundreds) don’t display.

    But I digress. My only helpful pieces of information here are that I’d seen that solid blue light before when I’d had to pull the battery, and also, the phone was hot at the time of the crash, since I’d been using it for a high-intensity purpose. And that I have a SANE chip, per the Brick Bug app. My model is a SGH-T889.

    The only other oddity I’ve ever had with this phone up to now is that it absolutely REFUSES to play the Google Maps lady’s voice through the bluetooth and out the Altima’s sound system. If I’m talking on the phone through the car, however, I can hear her talking in the background. Infernally frustrating!

    Comment by Locatelli — June 1, 2014 @ 7:44 am