It's busted, no waittaminnit, it's not!
April 27, 2010 8:44 AM   Subscribe

What happened to my PC and why did it stop? Alienware Area 51 ALX, twin Nvidia 880 cards, Win7 32 bit. On Friday, I got a BSOD and then the system immediately re-booted. On boot, instead of the normal POST hardware enumeration screen, I got what appeared to be random characters and then Win7 went to start-up repair mode. Several cycles of this did no good. Backup was out of date (yes, I know, stupid of me,) so managed to get to a command prompt from the Win7 install DVD and run XCOPY to copy my entire user file to external HD. Took 3 days, I guess running under CMD wouldn't allow USB Speeds. Today, the file copy finally finishing last night, I started the machine intending to run Memtest 86 from CD, it started right up.

Obviously, I'm ensuring backup is set up and automated (both external HD and Mozy.) Once that's completed, I'll be running every diagnostic I can think of to find out what went wrong on the principle that if it happened once, it'll happen again.

So, hive mind, any thoughts what went wrong and why it stopped? Any suggestions for diagnostics or checks to run would also be appreciated. I'd consider myself an intermediate user, so thus not (too) scared of command prompt stuff if it will help. I'll run chkdsk, Memtest as mentioned. Thanks - if I need provide any further info to help pinpoint, will be happy to do so.

Oh, yes, once I've run software based daignostics, will also open her up and do a thorough cleaning (probably overdue,) and check for loose connections etc.
posted by Expat to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Heat issue? Try speedfan on something similar and take a look at your temps.

Worst case, could be a developing motherboard failure.
posted by T.D. Strange at 8:52 AM on April 27, 2010

When I see stuff like this my first instinct is "heat problem."

Take it outside with a can of air and blow the dust out of it; make sure the fans are working (all of them, including the ones inside your power supply) when you fire it back up.
posted by mhoye at 8:54 AM on April 27, 2010

Yeah, usually failures that mysteriously go away after turning off the machine are heat-related. Also check that your PSU is up to the task.
posted by fake at 8:55 AM on April 27, 2010

How old is your box? More than a year?

Did you open the case? Was schmutz and dustbunnies everywhere? Were your filters clean? A lot of heat problems in computers that develop problems over time can be linked back to crap in the computer. A good cleaning can bring them back to life. Don't use a vacuum cleaner (static electricity is bad), but a can of compressed air (computer of photo shops) can work wonders.

If you're comfortable with the repair, a spritz with contact cleaner and reseating cards and memory can often help too.
posted by bonehead at 9:45 AM on April 27, 2010

Another thing to look at after heat is possibly the power supply failing. Check for sagging voltage on the 12V rail(s).
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:19 AM on April 27, 2010

Seconding and thirding the power supply. I installed an nvidia card that was rated for a 400W power supply which is exactly what I had. Running Vista 64, I had nearly the same symptoms you described. I swapped in a card with a lower power requirement and voila, problem gone.
posted by Kskomsvold at 11:29 AM on April 27, 2010

Heat buildup and power supply issues would be my first instinct as well. Alienware is usually pretty good about heat dissipation so I'd lean towards power supply but could be either.
posted by Justinian at 3:20 PM on April 27, 2010

Random characters on the screen is video-memory corruption, which is usually (as mentioned above) due to overheating or poor power supply. Can also be due to bad memory or a dry joint on the video card that's being triggered by heat. Or a slightly bad connection between video card and motherboard - reseat it when you clean to be sure.

Get rid of all the dust and make sure your video fan is running properly.
posted by polyglot at 4:55 AM on April 28, 2010

Seems to have been heat - opened the case and was appalled at the amount of duct built up on the vents, fans and especially the CPU heat sink. Took TWO cans of compressed air to get it all out. Had just added "open & clean out PC" to my to-do list a few days before this happened, after being reminded by a LifeHacker article. Obviously, the situation moved up the priority considerably and it's now an annual recurring task.

Thanks all for the efforts and great answers!
posted by Expat at 9:12 AM on April 29, 2010

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