September 20, 2005

I’m frustrated, and have to blog about it

Summoning computer geeks: Do you recognise the following symptoms?
My computer has had an ailment for a few years now. Every summer, it goes through this little period of a few months when it strops hard. From a cold boot, it will generally freeze on “Detecting IDE devices…”. And if I reset, it will probably do the same thing again. Next time I reset, it will make it a bit further along with the boot process. And the next reset will take it a bit further along still. After ten minutes of such coaxing, I will make it to the desktop. Once it’s made it this far, it’s generally stable.
Last year I swore that I’d do something about it over winter. I decided the problem was probably in the motherboard, so I’d replace that, and the processor and RAM while I was at it.
But I never did get round to it, and this summer I dealt with the problem by basically leaving the computer switched on for weeks at a time, only turning it off when I knew that I wouldn’t need it for many days.

Last night, after the computer had been on for about six hours, I went back to it and discovered it had frozen. Curious, I thought, so I shut it down.
This evening, I got home from work and went through the whole boot-up ballet. However, this time I got some piles of miscellaneous and meaningless error messages once I got past the bootloader. “Right,” I thought, “enough is enough. Karen, we’re going to PC World.”
So we got to PC World and I waited for an assistant in the PC Clinic. They’re generally not very bright, but I figure that it’s always worth getting as many thoughts as possible. I was disappointed to discover that not only did they not have any AMD processors in stock, but they also didn’t know when they’d be getting some, and they had already been waiting for a month. Dabs it is, then.
Secondly, I explained the boot-up ballet to the guy behind the desk. He suggested reformatting the hard drive. “It’s not a software issue,” I replied, explaining for the second time that it happens in both Windows XP and Linux. He suggested that the problem may not be in the motherboard or processor at all, but in the hard drive.
Now, I’m not overly inclined to drop everything and target the hard drive, but the fact that I’m not instantly dismissing his suggestion seems to indicate that he might be right, even if only by accident. Now I’m toying with the idea of obtaining a new hard drive just so that I can do a fresh installation to find out for sure.
Anyway, I’m really quite lost and jaded by now. I’m considering just handing in my geek card and buying a prebuilt system, so that I don’t have to think about it any more.
I suppose what I’d really like is for one of my geeky readers to say “Oh, I’ve had that EXACT problem, and it turned out to be the power lead. Replace the power lead, and I GUARANTEE that it will work again.” Failing that, I think I have these options:
1. Keep replacing parts, one at a time, and have a fresh disappointment every single day. Worst case scenario: the problem is in the frobjet, I buy a new scrobpig, the crazy frobjet destroys the new scrobpig, I replace the frobjet, my system still doesn’t work and I’ve wasted money on a scrobpig. Second to worst case scenario: I end up replacing everything.
2. Replace everything up front. Order motherboard, processor, RAM, power supply, hard drive from dabs. Cross my fingers and hope that they are all compatible with eachother.
3. Buy a prebuilt system that suits my needs. This may feasibly work out cheaper than option 2, despite the fact that I’m paying for a replacement case and DVD drive, unnecessarily.
Please say nice things to make me feel better. I beseech you.
UPDATE: Further tests – warning, this may be hard to keep up with. I unplugged the hard drive from the motherboard, and booted from a Linux CD – all worked fine. I then powered down, reconnected the hard drive, and booted normally – looks like it is working again. From this I deduce that the problem is hard-drive related, but I think it’s the hard drive controller on the motherboard. Why? Because if it was within the hard drive unit itself, then it would have perceived the second boot (the one from the hard drive) as a cold boot. The fact that the second boot behaved as a warm boot suggests that the problem is on the motherboard (which was already warm from the CD-induced boot).


22 thoughts on “I’m frustrated, and have to blog about it

  1. I handed in my geek card ages ago. The mac is so prebuilt I don’t evenknow how to get int he box.
    I do however have a spare 40gb drive you can borrow for testing purposes. You’re welcome to it for a couple of months if you want.

  2. Hey, no problem Vaughan.
    Adrian, your offer is much appreciated. I don’t know when I’ll be able to pick it up though – I’ll get back to you on that.

  3. Kevin has a few suggestions for you, to try and locate the problem.
    He agrees you should try replacing suspect components with any spare parts you have access to (if it happened to Kevin he’d have one of my hard drives out of my computer like a shot 🙂
    A more specific suggestion, which is maybe worth trying first, was to unplug the hard drive from the master IDE controller and plug your CD drive into it. Try booting from your Linux CD again and if it fails you’ll have some fairly good evidence to replace the motherboard.
    A less likely candidate is the PSU – Kevin speculated that it perhaps has a dry joint which is reducing its wattage, rendering it not powerful enough for the number of devices you have attached. You could try unplugging the CD drive and seeing if it boots smoothly then.
    Kevin would have typed the comment himself, but it’s late and he’s lazy 🙂

  4. Addendum: apparently (so I’m told) you can most likely rule out it being a problem with the memory or the processor. Kevin says that since it’s failing on the IDE detection, where it doesn’t need the RAM or processor, it’ll probably be the motherboard, the hard drive, or a connection between the two.
    He also apologises for a) potential incoherence and b) not being bothered to type things himself; he’ll be more awake tomorrow if you want 🙂

  5. Why don’t you just take the relevant parts out of my computer? I can use the iBook.

  6. This has been going on for two years, and THEY had the answers all along.

  7. I spy a problem. Historically (ie for the last two years) as soon as we hit September and the temperature drops by ten degrees, the computer starts behaving again. I fear that it may be too late to perform any useful tests this year.
    I’ll let you know how it goes.

  8. The problem with puppies is that you can’t plug USB devices into them, only PS/2.

  9. You *can* plug USB devices into them, but it’s a bit messy.
    Sorry, before I’ve even finished it, I’d already like to apologise for this comment.

  10. hrm. try cleaning the heatsink/fans on the processor and inside the case then. Mine was running way hot and making things unstable.
    I have a neat little app that can let you watch processor and case temp via the system tray.
    I can’t remember offhand what it is, but I’ll post about it again when I get home. V useful for checking system stability and/or letting you know when to hoover out the inside of your pc case.

  11. Phew. Now that’s fixed, any chance of a Smirnoff Blue? And a beer for the good Doctor P?

  12. Pix, I use xmbmon regularly. The motherboard temperature is generally around 22-24 degrees C, and the CPU temperature at about 34 degrees. Last cleaned out a fortnight ago, though the intake fan has a filter, so it doesn’t get too dusty in there.
    The system is only unstable when I first turn it on, so I doubt that the problem is overheating. However, the fact that the problems are seasonal suggests that it might be related to thermal expansion and contraction.

  13. The last time I had this type of problem, I kicked the unit and it never failed again. I kid you not.
    Now I just need to sort out the dent in the case.

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