Dave, my mind is going. I can feel it.
November 15, 2011 11:57 AM   Subscribe

My homebuilt, always-on HTPC has ground to a halt. It won't boot past the BIOS, which slowly - slowly - fills the screen like it's being downloaded by a very old dial-up modem. What's my "checklist" for zeroing in on the problem?

First, a quick overview of my specs:

-Case/Power Supply: Micro-ATX Case w/ 300W power supply
-Processor: Intel Core i3-2100t (35W Sandy Bridge w/ Intel Graphics)
-Motherboard: ASRock Z68 PRO3-M LGA 1155 Intel Z68 Motherboard
4GB Memory (G.SKILL, 2 x 2GB)
-HD: OCZ Agility 2 90GB SATA II SSD
-Optical: LITE-ON Black 12X Blu-ray Burner
-Tuner: 2 K-World UB-435q USB tuner devices
-OS: Windows 7 64-bit, Home Premium

I've programmed the computer to reboot every morning around 5am. Yesterday morning I turned on the TV and saw that live television (via Windows Media Center) would hang after about a second of viewing. I navigated to the desktop and noticed that the Aero animations (opening & closing of Windows) were incredibly sluggish. I went to reboot the system and noticed that it would sit on the BIOS screen for a few minutes, then attempt to begin Windows, but nothing would happen. Perhaps if I wait long enough Windows will open again but I haven't had the patience to try that yet...

Possible causes: I thought through a few things I did right before this all happened, and can think of a couple.

1) I plugged a Fisher Price Cradle Swing into the same (quite loaded) outlet that is used to power the 50" plasma, computer, receiver and speakers. Perhaps the PSU isn't getting enough power to all the components? [As an aside, I've needed to unplug and re-plug the USB TV tuners quite a bit lately to keep the TV signal going.] If the power supply is faulty, do I need to buy some electrical gear to test it, or is there another way?

2) I use Boxee, and opened the Boxee Media Manager through the firewall so it would stream our iPad. I opened it for both Home/Private and Public, in case that matters (could a nasty virus have invited itself in?).

So to my question: how do I diagnose the problem? I made Live CD's for both Memtest and Inquisitor (both using Linux) but couldn't get past the BIOS (I waited for about 30 minutes for each).

So I suppose I should take apart the computer piece by piece and see if I can narrow it all down.... How do I do that without driving myself crazy? Is there a checklist or something? I'm somewhat of a newb at this (first homebuilt PC).

posted by BobbyVan to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If the optical drive and hard drive are powering up, I suspect the power supply is OK, but ya never know. If it's not getting through the BIOS, it's probably the motherboard.

I'd take literally everything except the CPU off the motherboard and see if it ever even gets to the point that it complains about a missing drive...I dunno if it'll work without the RAM at all, but you can try the sticks one at a time.
posted by pjaust at 12:05 PM on November 15, 2011

Can you get into the BIOS settings? (F12, Del, whatever it is on your motherboard.) Depending on exactly where it's failing, it could be a few different things.

But, as pjaust says, unplug everything you can, and try different minimal RAM stick configurations until it boots fine, then plug things back in until it works.

Since one of the first things BIOS's do is turn on the video card, if your integrated video is failing, you can try plugging in a PCI or PCI-E video card and see if that fixes it. It looks like the default setting, if you can't get into the BIOS settings, is to have onboard video to "Auto", so if there's an additional video card, it maybe would skip dying on the onboard (if that's the problem).
posted by skynxnex at 12:10 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: Yes, I can get to the BIOS settings... but navigating the BIOS is a chore. I have to wait several seconds for menus to change/redraw themselves after keying something in.

The 4gb of RAM is still recognized, as are the SSD and optical drives.

And yes, the optical drive tray opens and closes with the same zip as before...
posted by BobbyVan at 12:14 PM on November 15, 2011

First thing I would try is resetting the bios.
posted by Lorin at 12:33 PM on November 15, 2011

Yah, clear the bios, disconnect any unneccessary parts and try to navigate the bios again. If it is still sluggish then you likely have some kind of hardware issue. I've never seen a "slow" bios before.

If it works OK in this state, try to boot off of a usb drive with a linux live distro on it, or hook the optical drive back up and try your live disk again.

* in this case you only need motherboard, cpu, ram, video (if not on motherboard) and power. Disconnect all drives, network, and any other periphereals.
posted by utsutsu at 12:43 PM on November 15, 2011

That is a wierd issue, there is a new bios revision for that board as of July, if resetting the cmos doesn't help you can try updating to the latest version
posted by T.D. Strange at 12:44 PM on November 15, 2011

Best answer: Look for a device that is causing interrupts even during BIOS operations. A dud mouse, or a keyboard with a stuck key could do this. What happens if you unplug the keyboard and mouse and reboot?
posted by blue_wardrobe at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Or an HTPC wireless keyboard with a low battery - if you use a wireless keyboard or mouse, unplug the dongles/receivers from the HTPC itself.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 1:17 PM on November 15, 2011

Best answer: Look for a device that is causing interrupts even during BIOS operations. A dud mouse, or a keyboard with a stuck key could do this. What happens if you unplug the keyboard and mouse and reboot?

Yeah, try disconnecting everything. This sort of thing was happening to me, and unplugging my (presumably broken) USB hub fixed it.
posted by dfan at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for some great ideas. Hopefully I can fix this issue before cutting the patient open and ripping its guts out!
posted by BobbyVan at 2:19 PM on November 15, 2011

Response by poster: So it turned out to be one of my K-World USB HDTV tuners... Threw the sucker away, and all is right with the world again.

Thanks for all the help.
posted by BobbyVan at 4:51 PM on November 15, 2011

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