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computer on the fritz

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  • computer on the fritz

    this is somewhat directed at gary richardson, whose hardware wisdom i trust, but please, anyone, feel free to comment.

    my computer has lasted a good long time, probably 4 or 5 years now, but finally blew a gasket...somewhere. it started showing signs a few days ago, at least obvious signs and maybe a few signs, not so obvious for a bit longer than that. it acts like a heat problem, mostly. the machine would boot up ok and everything start up as normal. tonight, it just suddenly turned off. on rebooting it started up again and after only a few minutes, seemed to go into sleep mode, except i couldnt bring it back out. the harddrive light stayed on continuously and i finally had to just kill the power.

    now, once or twice prior to tonight, i had similar things happen. i didnt think too much about it since computers do do odd things at times. but tonight it was persistent and i couldnt keep the machine up more than a minute or so and then it would simply turn off, not even a harddrive light on. it would simply shut down.

    now, the only thing i've got to go on as a possible cause is dirt. normally, i clean the fans every once in a while and even the heatsinks. but, i'd gotten lazy about this and hadnt done it in a while. when i checked the fan blades they were pretty dirty, but they were working. i cleaned them, both the cpu fan and the power supply one and tried booting up again. still the same problem.

    so, i took a closer look at the cpu fan and heat sink and sure enough, the heat sink was filthy, surely blocking air flow. so, i took it off the cpu and thoroughly cleaned it and re-installed it. i tried rebooting again and still the same problem.

    so, i'm only guessing here, but i'm guessing something got too hot and has deteriorated to the point where, when it's still cool, it can boot up, but then gets hot too fast and thermal cutoffs then shut things down.

    ok, that's all guesses. what i'd like to know, or at least hear about is, is there a way, short of replacing, cpu, motherboard, and/or the power supply to get this machine back up and running? there is still thermal paste between the heat sink and cpu, so that seems ok. i also noticed that some capacitors near the heatsink have something that looks like corrosion on the tops and when i rake a nail across them it comes off in flakes. heat damage to the capacitors? something else?

    it doesnt act like a harddrive, at least not a way that i'm familiar with. it does boot up...or did before this got worse. it acts like a heat problem and i'm guessing the clogged heatsinks caused some damage to the cpu or nearby parts. but i guess i'd sort of like some at least semi-confirmation on this before i go out and buy a new motherboard and cpu.

    so, any help here would be welcome.


  • #2
    Does sound like a heat issue, but not necessarily a disastrous one (though if it is corrosion then you probably do need an new MOBO - could be burn dirt tho ) - have you checked that all the fans are working when the machine is on?
    If it boots up cold but then shuts off and wont reboot, almost definately a heat issue - can you get into your bios? It should give you information about fan speeds and temperatures.
    My mum had a similar problem with her laptop that went on for ages, took one look at it - CPU fan had bust - was fine with a pastic freezer block on it till she got a new fan, despite running it for months in this condition there was no permanent damage.
    You say theres still thermal paste left between the heat sink and the CPU?! thats pretty incredible, I have to replace mine any time I remove the heatsink. Are you sure its in the right place? It might ooze out the sides a little but the CPU generally melts its mark as soon as the two meet. But then again - I'm running an Athlon and they do run a little hotter than pentiums.
    Last edited by NancyJ; 08-12-2006, 10:36 AM.


    • #3
      It may be worth your while to check and clean your video card and ram slots as well (incl fan/heatsink on vid card if applicable).


      • #4
        Lol Nancy, I used to have an athlon...great as a heat source during winter, but in the summer it turned into a miniature sun, one day it went supernova and left a lovely crater in the motherboard- yay!


        • #5
          start pulling ram chips out and see if there are any changes....faulty ram can mimic anything from a bad monitor to a fried mobo


          • #6
            Hi Craig,

            Looks almost certain that its a temp problem.

            Easiest way I know to check, is to buy a freeezer spray (available from Radio Shack or that type of store), try cooling processor right down before starting, and see if it takes any longer before the problem recurs.

            This should confirm whether its temp or not.

            The caking on the capacitors could be due to electrolyte leakage when they got too hot (only the electrolytic capacitors (can type) will suffer this way), though it has to get damned hot to do this. Any scorch marks on the board?

            Fan may not be running at full revs if its on the way out, and therefore may not be cooling efficiently (new fan is cheaper than new boards, so may be worth trying).


            • #7
              I had an almost identical problem, and more than one person that should know about such things indicated it was most likely a microscopic crack on the motherboard that opened when things got hot, and even when things weren't hot sometimes garbled data.

              But don't be sad, look at it as a wonderful opportunity to finally upgrade to a 21st century machine!
              Learn by teaching
              Take responsibility for learning


              • #8
                Thermal Problem

                Certyainly seems like a classic thermal shutdown. The only 2 items which have thermal protection are the CPU and Power Supply (former for cost reasons, latter for safety certification). Usually for the CPU the fan dies or the thermal sensor fails. If the sensor goes, freezing it won't help. If you have a freezer, you could freeze the entire box to cool it down enough to give you the extra few minutes req'd to run diagnostics. Particularly to monitor the temp profile of the CPU.
                Good luck. Regards, Murray


                • #9

                  If you have capacitors that are stained on the top and your motherboard is a socket 478, this was a common problem with these boards, ie: leaking capacitors. If you have 3 or more bulging and or leaking capacitors, it sounds like you have a board with the faulty capacitors on it. They bulge and leak and even some explode under heat stress. Eventually this is a death nell for the motherboard. If this is the case, your cpu will be fine, it is only motherboard from my experience.

                  We have seen this problem with Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, Compaq, HP and many other Socket 478 motherboards.

                  I personally am nursing one of these motherboards myself, knowing full well that I am eventually saving up for a new one (now will be a cpu and motherboard upgrade). I have taken the side off my computer and this has given greater longevity to the leaking capacitor issue.

                  From recollection, apparently the cheaper inferior capacitors saved something in the order of cents per capacitor at the manufacturing end which was widely taken up by many of the motherboard manufacturers!
                  Last edited by Cassidy; 08-12-2006, 09:28 AM.


                  • #10
                    well, thank you all for the responses. that's exactly what i was looking for. i posted this thread last night and checked it this morning and based on the responses here i checked the motherboard again, only closer this time. i particularly looked at those capacitors again and yes, this is socket 478 machine. there are about 10 of the same type capacitor near the heatsink. they are about an inch tall, cylindrical, and about 3/8 of an inch in diameter. almost every one of them had some type of caked-on white stuff on the tops. so, i dont think it was burned dirt. a few had reddish marks like corrosion or rust and one, in particular, had burn marks on the top.

                    so, after reading the responses here and looking at the board again and those capacitors, i just decided that was the culprit. it may not be, but it was enough that i just decided it was. so, time to go to the store.

                    i figured i'd get a new motherboard, cpu, case and power supply and that i had a budget of $300. i also like certain things on my motherboards, like 5 pci slots and 4 ram slots. i wanted at least an agp slot but didnt need pci-e but also wasnt opposed to getting it if it fit the budget. i wasnt really worried about dual core or 64 bit processing, but again, ok if it fit the budget.

                    understand that what i'm coming from, what burned out, was an e-machine computer with oem windows xp home. it was a 1.7 ghz machine with agp onboard graphics and no normal agp slot (that was a mistake when i bought it). at the time this was supposed to be just an emergency machine for another that had died. it ended up being my main machine. i bought a pci video card and disabled the onboard crap and later upgraded the video card to a better pci card....mind you, not pci-e, but pci. surprisingly, i've never really been disappointed with vid card performance, so dont always buy the hype.

                    at any rate, even if my diagnosis on the now dead machine was wrong, it was about time for an upgrade. i've had that e-machine for 4 or 5 years now.

                    so, what i got was a new case with 4 bays, will handle a full atx form factor (the e-machine was micro atx), has front side usb's, 1 large fan and all the standard port stuff on the back. the new motherboard is a Gigabyte K8 Triton series with a 939 cpu slot. this is a 64 bit board. model number is GA-K8U-939. the processor is an AMD Athlon 64 processor, ADA3500DEP4AS.

                    case with 350 watt power supply = $49.95
                    motherboard = $68.06
                    cpu = $211.05
                    2 year extended warranty on the motherboard = $9.50
                    sub total = $338.56
                    tax = $19.74
                    total = $358.30

                    so, you can see i went a touch over my $300 budget but i almost always do that when buying computers

                    i made sure all this would be compatible with what i can save from the old system. the old was using 1 gig of DDR pc 333 ram and the new uses the same. the old nic will work, the old modem with work (though i rarely use it), the vid card will work and so on.

                    the biggest problem is going to be with windows. since the e-machine machine had oem windows this is not likely going to work with the new system. it may, or so the store guys said, but they also said 'not real likely. maybe a 5% chance it will.". i already have a full version of windows xp home so the task is going to be installing a new version of windows and transferring or re-installing a LOT of software that was on the old system.

                    so, if anyone's got any ideas on making that less painful, do let me know. i'm currently thinking i'll make a new partition of the space that exists on the current C: drive and install the new windows on that and change the other part to the D: drive. but the old registry is pretty much going to go bye-bye from what little i know of this. i do have the current C: drive backed up fully on an external harddrive, so i can always borrow things back to the new system...somewhat. again, this is sort of where i get lost in all this; what can i keep intact and what cant i? so, again, any help here would be great

                    anyways, again, thanks for all the help! that was just what i needed



                    • #11
                      When I build a new machine I just stick the old harddrive in the new one and I'm good to go - ofcourse XP changed all that - it doesnt like new CPUs - M$ decided in their infinate wisdom that you buy a copy of windows for your CPU not your computer as a whole - therefore if you get a new cpu you have to get a new copy of windows - but if you dont care about the annoying security alert when you boot up then its fine. But the difference with WinXP is you cant just plug and play the old hard drive - you pretty much have to reinstall. All your software will still be there tho - you just need to reinstall for the stuff that needs the registry entries to work, all your config files and pluigins etc will be intact

                      I cant believe you would buy an AGP mobo after already making the mistake of getting on-board before.
                      AGP is dead, they just arent making the cards anymore - by getting a new agp mobo, you're limiting the life of your computer. I game a lot so my gfx card has to be the best I can afford - infact my card costs more than your whole computer (approx £270 - and that was less than I usually pay) but I cant afford a whole new system so I had to buy the best AGP card around - ever, they're just not going to make them anymore. AGP has hit its limit. If you want a machine that will stick around for another 5 years - you need PCI-E. Ok you'd need a new card too, but you can get one for about $40.
                      Last edited by NancyJ; 08-12-2006, 04:19 PM.


                      • #12
                        Rebuilding your machine

                        Excellent value for the buck, there. Can you recommend a parts source?

                        As an aside, having recently lost all my PhotoShop customizations (under Prorams-PS-plugins and presets) in a needed XP "Restore", sure wish you could find some way to save yours.


                        • #13
                          When I start afresh I just reinstall everything...yeah, it's time consuming but most painless option in the long run and gives me the opportunity to do some serious culling I have two hard drives which makes life so much easier, so the second drive is where I backup all my files(and photoshop scratch and plugins) so my primary (boot) drive mostly has all my installed programs on it so it is not so much a hassle or anxiety to reformat the entire drive. As for agp graphics, yeah they are on the way out especially for gaming and 3d animation/graphics, but if you don't dabble in that sort of thing the later agp cards will be supported for a while yet and if it does what you want it to do then it's all good


                          • #14
                            thanks guys, but at the moment, all is moot. seems the motherboard has no carraige for the heatsink/fan arrangement over the cpu. the cpu socket is there and fine, but the plastic carriaige that holds the heat sink is missing. so, no way to lock down the heatsink/fan. always fun to find this out when the last thing you do in the assembly is the heatsink/fan. i've got all the other basics in place and just now found this out.

                            i think i'm going to go back to my old sig, 'I hate Windows'.



                            • #15
                              Craig, as you have a full backup of the system on another hard drive, you should boot to your Windows CD and it should start the installation processs. Just after the licence agreement part, it should look for an existing installation of Windows and offer you the option of either repair or upgrade. This usually will repair your Windows to be compatible with the new hardware and your existing files and programs should remain in tact. If it does not find an existing installation of Windows to repair/upgrade, do not proceed.

                              If it cannot find a hard drive at all then you most likely will have to make the driver disk from the motherboard cd and use the f6 option when windows starts its loading process from the cd (it does prompt for this across the bottom of the screen).


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