2010 State Of The PC Address

There seems to be something going horribly wrong with my PC recently and I’m having trouble pinning down the source of the problems. I know that I’ve posted before about my “nebulous concerns”, but this time it really seems that something serious is going wrong.

Admittedly the whole system has been temperamental at times.Sometimes during start up the screen turns solid black, but windows still appears to be running the background. I hear the windows start up sound, and there’s hard disk activity. If I press the Caps Lock key the Caps Lock light turns on and off on the keyboard, and it’s sometimes possible to shut the machine down blind with the keyboard. Other times the screen is blank, but the Caps Lock key doesn’t work so I have to turn the system off manually and hope for the best. There are more severe occasions when the system is either in the process of booting, or has just reached the windows desktop, that the screen will suddenly turn a solid light blue and halts instantly.

The worst of it started about a week ago the whole machine repeatedly refused to boot to the Windows XP desktop at all. I could see a Blue Screen of Death flashing up during the windows start up phase, but it flashed past too fast for me to be able to read it. This happened repeatedly even when I attempted to boot in safe mode, or even the command prompt safe mode. I sat and watched as it rebooted, blue screened and then restarted endlessly. I gave up in the huff and ElKay and I decided to nip out to get some dinner. She predicted it would probably be OK by the time we got back, and it seemed she was right when it booted up first time on our return. The system seemed stable, and didn’t display any odd symptoms for the rest of the night, but the following day when i turned it on to check my emails I was instantly greeted by the Light Blue Screen of Doom. I rebooted, but the Light Blue screen appeared again, and again, and again. I think it did it about twelve times in all before the system finally started up.

The final confirmation that something was seriously wrong occurred not long after I finally got the machine running again. I had fired up Silent Hunter V to have a game. Now firstly let me say that Silent Hunter 5 hasn’t been the most stable of games on my machine anyway. It seems to crash semi-regularly, taking the whole system with it, but I had assumed that this was a fault of the game rather than the system. The Ubisoft forums are alive with reports of random crashes and odd bugs within the game so it seemed a fair assumption at the time. That was until the entire system turned itself off just after I had launched two torpedoes towards a fat British Tanker wallowing somewhere off the Essex coast.

I sat there a bit dumbfounded and murmured, “Holy fuck what just happened?”

OK, so Silent Hunter’s a bit unstable I though, but no matter how unstable a game is I’ve never seen it turn the computer off. I tried to start it up, but had some trouble getting windows to boot. Light blue screens, and odd crashes galore. It took three or four attempts to get the thing to boot up properly, but after it was started it seemed entirely stable. Maybe it was just a power fluctuation from the electricity supply. I booted up Dawn of War 2 instead, and I’ve played it for hours on end before without issue, but after about 40 minutes of chewing up alien monsters the PC suddenly turned off AGAIN.

Weird, and concerning.

Normally when a PC shuts itself off, and especially if the PC has been under heavy load as it would be during 3D games, it means that something, somewhere, is probably dangerously overheating. It’s usually not immediately obvious if it’s the CPU, RAM, Northbridge or something else on the motherboard, but most modern components include some kind of internal temperature sensor. I tried running RIVATuner while playing Silent Hunter 5 with it set to monitor fan duty cycles, internal GPU temperature and a host of other things. After an hour or so nothing seemed particularly untoward with the performance of the game, and there was no sign of crashing. I exited and consulted the RIVATuner logs. The fan never ran about 50% duty cycles, and the temperatures remained well within normal operating ranges for the card.

No problem there then.

I ran a couple of CPU monitoring programs that I had and descended into the briny deep of Silent Hunter once more. The CPU was a bit hot, but not outside a reasonable range for running a complex 3D game. It seems unlikely, given these results, that the problem is heat related, but of course I can’t rule that out. I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a new cpu cooler, but that will have to wait till I can research them better. I don’t want to end up buying a lemon and making things worse rather than better.

The appearance of these symptoms, and their disappearance, seems entirely random. I’ve made no changes to the hardware since the installation of my new power supply and the 260GTX graphics card back in. I’ve been wondering for some time if maybe the Coolermaster eXtreme Power 650W power supply that I bought to  isn’t quite up to the job. The BFG 260GTX OC that I’ve got is pretty power hungry, and the AMD Athlon64 4200+ isn’t a slouch either. The eXtreme Power should be sufficient to power everything on paper, but as we all know theory is often difficult to translate into practical reality.

Finally, after everything else seemed to be discounted I considered that the odd crashing may be evidence of a virus, but after exhaustively scanning each and every disk both via windows, and using f-prot via Knoppix, which was an interesting refresher on Linux I might add, I’m fairly certain that there aren’t any nasty bugs infecting the machine. I don’t make a habit of downloading things from untrusted sources so I wasn’t surprised that nothing showed up.

Ultimately I think I could spend days pulling the machine apart, scrutinizing every little part of it, in the vain hope of maybe discovering the underlying cause of the instability. I think though, as a long term solution, I’ll be looking into upgrading and replacing the majority of the system’s components before the end of the year.

3 Responses to “2010 State Of The PC Address”

  1. 1 N315 LNS April 28, 2010 at 12:10

    I gave up building my own PCs years ago – at least with a Dell you’ve got a years guarantee and some comeback and they’ve tested all the components together to make sure that everything is compatible for the most part.

  2. 2 GreyKodiak April 28, 2010 at 14:11

    Ye make a good point chief, and I’ll admit that I gave some consideration to buying a prebuilt system, but half the enjoyment for me is building and configuring the thing in the first place. It turns out that the few places that would build a machine with the bits I’d like charge an arm and a leg for the privileged.

    Also the chances are, and McDowall will no doubt confirm this, I’d manage to hack it about so much within a week that the warranty would be useless to me. It’s probably my half witted tinkering that’s buggered the thing in the first place 🙂

  1. 1 That New PC Smell at GreyKodiak Trackback on May 18, 2010 at 09:29

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