All I want to do is play games on my gaming laptop!
July 14, 2012 4:00 PM   Subscribe

Why does my laptop crash to a black screen only while gaming?

Model: Gateway FX-7805u
CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26 GHz
Video card: GeForce 9800M GTS 1GB

My laptop has only been acting up while only playing games. I've never had this problem before while running Windows Vista, but back in 2011 I had an issue where the laptop would hang at a black screen with only a mouse cursor before the windows login screen. So I decided to finally do a clean install Windows 7.

This laptop only crash to a black screen without warning while playing games (Sims 3, L4D2, Eden Eternal, Trine 2 to list a few). Even while playing at lower settings than what I used to run in Windows Vista it will still randomly crash without warning, and some of these games I've played with no issues when running Windows Vista. No blue screen, no error, no nothing. It will randomly crash during the game, the screen with go black, usually with no sound but the laptop will still appear to be powered on (power button & media bar are lit, along with wifi light & number lock, but hdd light is off.) I have to manually turn off the laptop and turn it back on. Upon start up, windows tells me that my laptop unexpectedly shut down.

I don't believe it's an overheating issue because the laptop is running pretty cool (cooler than before I installed Windows 7). At idle, GPU will be at 42C but while playing games it will be around 75C. I've cleaned/de-dustified the GPU & CPU fans. I've ran a memtest for 4-6 hours and it ran with no issues. chkdsk also did not report any issues. Kaspersky reported no viruses when I did a full scan.

I've also tried changing drivers to no avail, including Dox's drivers, the one listed for Windows 7 on Gateway's website and on Nvidia's website. Using Driver Sweeper each time when installing new drivers.

This also may or may not be related but I did have to replace the original A/C charger a couple months after installing Windows 7 because the wire started to fray and had a burning odor.

Please help me play games on my laptop again!
posted by QueenHawkeye to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Because there's a bug in some part of your video card driver that never gets used except by games.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2012

Are you sure that the drivers you're updating are for Windows 7? It sounds like there must be some driver issue with Windows 7, if you did not experience this on Vista but are experiencing it on Windows 7. Someone with more knowledge than I will probably be able to help you troubleshoot more, but it sounds like it has to be something with your graphics card and the driver you're running.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:37 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

This sounds familiar, and forcing an update of the video card driver sounds like a good idea.

If that does not solve your problem, you might look into overheating. Over time dust and hair can accumulate on the heat sinks for the processor and/or video card, or just clog the vents and fans that are supposed to keep the unit cool.

I recently learned the hard way that some components will shut themselves down to avoid heat damage. Blackscreens were happening more and more often while gaming, and it was only after a month of tinkering with driver updates and scratching my head over error logs, that I opened my machine to discover an eighth inch of dust and cat hair had felted over the main heat sink. Once that was removed everything went back to normal.

My machine was a desktop, however. Getting inside a laptop for a look around may be more complicated.

Good luck. Please do post the solution when you find it.
posted by Broccoli Bear at 5:30 PM on July 14, 2012

Definitely sounds like overheating.
posted by notyou at 6:08 PM on July 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had the exact same black screen problem (not gaming but while viewing video with multiple tabs open in Firefox plus using Photoshop) and got excellent advice here a few weeks back - I ordered a new graphics card but haven't yet replaced it because updating the drivers for the old card has fixed the problem (touch wood!).
posted by humph at 2:08 AM on July 15, 2012

At idle, GPU will be at 42C but while playing games it will be around 75C. I've cleaned/de-dustified the GPU & CPU fans.

75C is pretty hot for something freshly dusted. Did you take it apart at all, or did you just get at it from the outside? You really want to get in there.

Also take a look at where you place the computer when you play games. My laptop hates being used on my bed; it's much happier in my lap or on a table.

Take a peek in the BIOS setup; most computers have an auto-shutdown temperature. Take a look at what yours is and compare it with what you see when you're playing a game. Also don't forget the CPU and hard drive temperatures! Or the fan speeds! There's usually a setting in BIOS to manually control the fan speeds. Test it out with fan RPM locked on 100%.
posted by clorox at 3:01 AM on July 15, 2012

This sounds a lot like overheating. My laptop started doing this after a couple of years; I bought something like this and the problem stopped immediately. (Note: I went to the first Google result; that is not the actual brand I use and I cannot vouch for it.)
posted by Scattercat at 6:25 AM on July 15, 2012

Vista and Windows 7 have the same video architecture and use the same drivers, so this is less likely to be a Vista vs 7 issue than a specific driver version issue. Find your nVidia driver version using Device Manager, then Google it; you might find that it's one known to have problems, and that you will get better results from either upgrading or downgrading it.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 AM on July 15, 2012

Response by poster: @pazazygeek: Yes I'm sure the drivers I'm using are for Windows 7. I've tried the driver listed on Nvidia's website for Windows 7 and on Gateway's website for this specific laptop but it doesn't make a difference in the crashing.

@broccoli bear: As I've said in the body I've changed video card drivers multiple times and it still crashes while gaming. I've also opened up and cleaned out the inside of the laptop but it doesn't make a difference. I have had experiences before with laptops overheating but usually the laptop shuts down completely (meaning the power button isn't lit, fans are not running, etc.) which makes this crash a bit unusual as the laptop is still "on" (power button, media buttons are lit, fans are running.) but the screen is most definitely off with no sound or weird looping sounds that stop soon after.

@humph: I've updated my drivers & tried different ones too but they haven't been making a difference for me. I hope my video card isn't trying to kick the bucket since they aren't replaceable in laptops (from my understanding)

@clorox: 75C is pretty average for this specific laptop, I know for desktops that it's usually lower than this. Yes I have opened it up and cleaned it up from inside multiple times now. I only play games on my laptop on tables and heck my desk is right in front of an air conditioner and it's still crashing while gaming!

I have not checked into the BIOS setup (this is actually the first time that someone has brought it up to me) but i'll look into that now! Will the BIOS setup tell me what the auto-shutdown temperature is? I don't believe that the laptop is getting to the auto-shutdown temp since when I was running Windows Vista, my average gaming temperature would be closer to 90C when playing L4D2 on the higher settings and I never had it crash until now and I'm not even getting close to that temperature. (if anything, it would be me crashing since I get motion sickness while playing FPS games...)

@scattercat: I also own a laptop cooling pad/fan but it really doesn't make a difference for me while gaming because I'll still get crashed. It'll cool down my laptop maybe by 5C but that's pushing it.

@flabdeblet: I've tried multiple drivers and they still yield the same result.

Just to make some things clear, I was able to run these games at higher settings, at higher temperatures without it ever crashing before. Now when running Windows 7, I am unable to play games at the same settings (or lower) at lower temperatures, without crashes. Which makes me think that it's not an overheating issue but maybe something else.

The only time when the laptop crashes is while gaming but it never crashes at a specific point during a game or at a certain time. I was playing Trine 2 on the highest setting recently and it crashed 15 minutes after I started the game but then afterwards I was able to continue playing for over an hour on the same settings without it crashing. The only difference was that I was playing on battery power the second time.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 2:34 PM on July 15, 2012

back in 2011 I had an issue where the laptop would hang at a black screen with only a mouse cursor before the windows login screen. So I decided to finally do a clean install Windows 7.

Did you ever identify the actual cause of that black screen hang, or did you just install 7 on spec? I'm wondering whether the fault you're seeing now is in fact a hardware fault that grew out of one that was messing with Vista.

Yes, GPU chips run hot by design. Even so, running hot is hard on silicon and the hotter it runs, the shorter its service life.
posted by flabdablet at 7:14 AM on July 16, 2012

Sorry for the failure of reading comprehension about the de-dusting. Probably I was projecting based on recent experience.

Groping in the dark at this point, but if the BIOS setup doesn't offer any clues, maybe it's worth trying a CMOS reset?
posted by Broccoli Bear at 10:59 AM on July 17, 2012

The only difference was that I was playing on battery power the second time.

Might be an adapter problem! Does the replacement have the exact same specs as the original? Your new adapter might not be putting out enough juice for the graphics card to run at full blast.
posted by clorox at 12:39 AM on July 21, 2012

Response by poster: flabdablet: No, I wasn't able to figure out why it was doing that. It didn't happen while I was in safe mode but I was unable to fix it so I just installed windows 7. (Finally gave me a reason to since I had the key lying around for a couple of years.)

Broccoli Bear: I checked the BIOS setup but it didn't have anything about fan speeds or the like in there. I think that's for desktops only, I may do a CMOS after I look into it more.

clorox: When I compared the replacement to the original it appeared to have the same specs but I'm starting to lean towards this idea. I'm going to have to play some more games to figure out if the charger is the problem. It's a bit difficult because the laptop will only have enough battery power for 2hrs max when gaming and the crashing doesn't always appear within 15 minutes or so. The timing seems very random.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 10:14 PM on July 21, 2012

Safe mode uses a generic VGA driver rather than the manufacturer's GPU-accelerated one to drive the display. It's possible that a GPU that still works with the VGA driver but can only display the cursor sprite when used with an accelerated driver is indeed faulty.
posted by flabdablet at 9:04 AM on July 22, 2012

Response by poster: For future reference, I'm pretty sure I solved this problem by underclocking my video card with RivaTuner and I haven't experienced any crashing since.
posted by QueenHawkeye at 11:58 PM on October 8, 2012

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