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February 25, 2006 7:46 PM   Subscribe

HardwareFilter: trying to revive an old computer. Help me defeat the psychedelic screen of death. [more inside]

Computer boots up fine, runs for 5-30 mins, then locks up. The screen goes all psychedelic (inverted colors?) but no movement can be detected by moving the mouse/ctrl-alt-del, etc. Hard reset fixes the problem fine. Whats the best place to start here? Graphics card? Fan? It is pretty dusty, could a good clean alleviate this?
posted by sophist to Technology (7 answers total)
Try a live-cd (like Damn Small Linux or the ultimate boot CD) and see if it does that then. If it is still doing it then I would look at trying to swap the power supply, graphics card, memory or processor. Otherwise, backup, wipe, reinstall. And it never hurts to clean out all the dust bunnies. Make sure to get in the heat sync for the CPU.
posted by psychobum at 7:56 PM on February 25, 2006

Best answer: My first guess would be heat... it sounds like something isn't being cooled properly. Clean everything carefully, and try aiming a big fan inside the case. If the machine stabilizes, then you probably have a failing (or outright failed) fan inside somewhere. Might be the video card.
posted by Malor at 7:58 PM on February 25, 2006

A good cleaning with compressed air or even isopropyl on a clean cloth (unplug the box first!) is probably a good place to start.

Things that work fine for a while and then wig out can sometimes be heat-related. Here's a diagnostic question: When it goes 30 minutes and then wigs out, does it wig out again more quickly the second time, like after 5 minutes?

If it's heat-dependent, then once it's warmed up, it'll become useless pretty quickly, no matter how many hard resets it gets.

If you've got a second graphics card, swap that out first. Graphics cards get hot, and are the structure most likely to introduce psychedelia.

On the other hand, if a reset after 30 minutes buys you another whole 30 minutes, then it's probably not heat.
posted by Pliskie at 7:58 PM on February 25, 2006

Also, heat can make a hidden, primary problem symtomatic. Particularly hairline cracks on boards. Such boards can act fine when cold, because the contacts are touching...the whole board is "tight". Then as it heats up, everything expands and something along the hairline loses contact.
posted by Pliskie at 8:02 PM on February 25, 2006

Definitely a good cleaning (try vacuuming first, maybe saran wrap a plastic straw into your "narrow" attachment - to suck up the majority of the dust before you use compressed air and blow dust everywhere).


Scan for spyware/viruses, clean, & test.

Unplugging and re-seating the graphics card would be my next step.


A Memtest run after that.

If it works out... ?
posted by PurplePorpoise at 8:05 PM on February 25, 2006

I second most of what's been said above. I also recomend ultimate boot cd it includes Memtest86 (as PurplePorpoise recomends above) as well as several other diagnostic tests all on one cd.
posted by borkencode at 8:43 PM on February 25, 2006

My old (Athlon 1GHz) system's fan died and so it went into a beeping fit, instead of just shutting down.

When I rebooted, it'd last all of 5-10 seconds before locking up.

I removed the heatsink and put on a new one, after much straining.

Except that I didn't reapply the thermal paste. So it still heats up. (Thermal paste fills any milimeter-sized gaps that may form and allows a "seal" to form between the die and the heatsink, ensuring full thermal conductivity.)

So now it still locks after 10-20 seconds. Charming.

Heat's almost certainly your problem. Check to make sure fans are working, but if you remove them, make sure you reapply thermal paste (to CPU at least, and GPU/FSB if necessary)
posted by disillusioned at 12:16 AM on February 26, 2006

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