I really think it's dead this time
July 19, 2006 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I am ready to toss my computer out the window, do you think I am doing the right thing?

A few weeks ago, I asked this question - http://ask.metafilter.com/mefi/40880

I borked my computer a few weeks back, at which time I queried the hive mind for some troubleshooting advice. I got lots of great suggestions, but I was unable to resolve my issue on my own, so I turned to experts for assistance. Both hardware and software geeks alike were unable to help, and everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) I have talked to claims to have never seen anything like my particular problem. I can get the computer started in safe mode and fuss around inside, I can even reinstall Windows, but every time the computer goes into sleep mode, the problem recreates itself.
So what have I done (in addition to submitting our problem to bewildered technicians) – I have reinstalled Windows about eighty brazillion times, reformatted the hard disk, replaced the memory module, and I finally even replaced the hard drive. No dice. Please please please, read my previous question, and think really hard about my issue. Ask your friends and neighbors – what the hell is going on with my computer? A shiny gold star and a big wet kiss for anyone who can at least identify the problem. I am ready to buy a new computer at this point.
posted by msali to Computers & Internet (21 answers total)
Response by poster: Sorry, the link to the last question
posted by msali at 5:56 PM on July 19, 2006

Here is a dumb question in response to your question: if sleep mode borks your computer, why allow it to go to sleep?
posted by MegoSteve at 6:06 PM on July 19, 2006

No, the preferred response is to rend the damn thing in half with a chain saw - please post the video here afterwards.

Of course, the more conservative, and less fun, response is to wipe and reformat the hard drive and then do a new clean install. Frankly, that is for wimps. Real men show their frustration, slice that mother into pieces and post the video.
posted by caddis at 6:10 PM on July 19, 2006

Here is a dumb question in response to your question: if sleep mode borks your computer, why allow it to go to sleep?
posted by MegoSteve at 6:06 PM PST on July 19

True that. But I asked my husband (computer guy), and he says the first thing he'd try is updating the usb drivers. Presumably, you were using the usb port when the thing died. Clearly you have a hardware issue, as no software issue could make it through a new hard drive and windows reinstall. Every time you reload Windows, it's likely installing the same drivers. Go into your device manager and update them. If it still happens, try manually disabling your entire usb system. At least, this will allow you to rule out the usb as the problem.
posted by theantikitty at 6:12 PM on July 19, 2006

So what have I done (in addition to submitting our problem to bewildered technicians) – I have reinstalled Windows about eighty brazillion times, reformatted the hard disk, replaced the memory module, and I finally even replaced the hard drive

Think that about covers your wimpy suggestion caddis.
posted by theantikitty at 6:13 PM on July 19, 2006

If you have replaced the hard drive, etc., I think you may be looking at a motherboard issue. In which case, I suggest the chainsaw. Very satisfying.
posted by headspace at 6:16 PM on July 19, 2006

Toss it
posted by growabrain at 6:17 PM on July 19, 2006

I suspect my technical knowledge pales in comparison to everyone you've consulted, but given that it can't be anything software-related 'cause you replaced the hard drive, perhaps it has to do with the BIOS. Unfortunately, this is where my knowledge stops.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:25 PM on July 19, 2006

Response by poster: I personally am with the toss it/destroy it creatively crowd, but my husband is still trying to fix the computer. Thanks theantikitty (can't agree with your name, though, I am sooo about the kitty) for the suggestion. As soon as my man gets off the phone with the HP drones, I am going to give it a shot. Just for the record, HP has been completely useless.
On preview: if I had a motherboard issue, would I even be able to get the damn thing started in safemode?
posted by msali at 6:27 PM on July 19, 2006

To make sure I understand correctly: When you reinstall Windows, are you using an HP restore CD, or a Windows install CD? And when you reinstall, does everything work just peachy until the computer goes into Sleep Mode?

And, on the off chance that you're not joking, don't toss it out the window--give it to me. I'll pay shipping. Email's in profile.
posted by box at 6:36 PM on July 19, 2006

Could you be more specific about what happens when it doesn't boot? Do you still get an error? (If so, can you post it?) Does the machine hang at a certain point? Does it get past the Windows logo? Does it show you your desktop and then the mouse freezes, or the screen goes black, or there's video distortion, or there's a blue screen with lots of numbers and letters, or... ?

Also, could you let us know what else is plugged in. Just the built-in stuff, or are there attachments hanging off the ports? If so, have you tried detaching themand booting?

Let us know.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 6:41 PM on July 19, 2006

if sleep mode borks your computer, why allow it to go to sleep?
"Doctor, it hurts when I do this."

"Don't do that then!"

But seriously: msali, I didn't see your question the first time around, but if I had, I would instantly have been able to tell you that this is a hardware fault.

Windows -> Wandows
partition -> partitaon
system32\drivers\ -> sqstee32\drivers\

Let's have a look at the ASCII codes for all those bunged-up letters. "i" is 0x69, "a" is 0x61. "y" is 0x79, "q" is 0x71. "m" is 0x6d, "e" is 0x65. In each case, the difference is 0x08 - the characters you're seeing onscreen have bit 3 set to Zero when they should have it set to One.

Not every character is buggered up. "\" is 0x5c, and with bit 3 stuck low, this would translate to 0x54, which would render as "T"; "n" is 0x6e, which would translate to 0x66 and render as "f". It looks to me like the brokenness is happening on every fourth character, which says to me that we're looking at one bit stuck low on a 32-bit bus somewhere.

If this fault existed inside the processor chip, or in the main RAM, or in any of the motherboard pathways between the processor and the RAM, it would kill the entire boot process stone dead; you wouldn't be getting as far as the safe mode menu, and you wouldn't have been able to run the Windows installer. So it's probably associated with one of your expansion cards. One of these will either be faulty, or not seated properly in its slot and shorting out part of the PCI expansion bus.

If your USB ports are on an expansion card, that's the one I'd be looking at first, because that's the one that you're most likely to have wobbled by plugging in a camera cable. Make sure that the USB card is firmly seated in its expansion slot, and that it's not being dragged partway out of the slot due to a mechanical fight between the mounting screw on the back bracket and the positioning of the slot and motherboard. If such a fight is evident, undo the mounting screw, then slightly bend the bracket so that the screwhole ends up in the right place when the card is fully seated in its slot, before tightening the mounting screw back down.

If you can't see anything wrong with the USB card, or if all your USB stuff is integrated into the motherboard, try booting the machine up with no expansion cards installed at all (except the graphics adaptor, if that's not integrated). Make sure the power cord is unplugged from the system box before you do this, and touch a bit of the bare metal casework before you touch an expansion card so you don't blow things up with electrostatic discharge. Wrap the extracted cards in aluminium foil, plug the power back in, and try booting Windows again.

If the fault is still there, and you DO have a separate graphics adapter, try reseating it. Once again, check for mechanical fights between the card's ability to seat correctly in its slot and its ability to be screwed down to the back panel. Even if nothing seems amiss, try pulling it, blowing out any dust from its slot, and replacing it.

Let us know how you get on.
posted by flabdablet at 6:43 PM on July 19, 2006 [12 favorites]

On a reread: the aluminium foil wrapping for your extracted cards is to protect them from random electrostatic discharge while they're lying around on your bench. DO NOT install foil-wrapped cards into a computer :-)
posted by flabdablet at 6:47 PM on July 19, 2006

Wow, flabdablet, that's an amazing diagnosis. The computer's a laptop, though.
posted by box at 6:51 PM on July 19, 2006

On a second reread: given that Windows XP uses a 16-bit representation internally for characters, broken characters in every fourth position might actually mean trouble on a 64-bit bus rather than a 32-bit bus. Could still be a graphics adaptor issue, but there is actually a way that bad RAM could do this too. Since you've replaced the memory module, this is unlikely; but it couldn't hurt to use a different computer to download Memtest86+ and make a Memtest86+ boot disk, then run that in your dodgy computer.
posted by flabdablet at 6:54 PM on July 19, 2006

Laptop! So it is. Forest unseen midst trees.

It's unlikely to be badly seated cards then, because laptops have all that stuff integrated.

Some laptops have a certain amount of RAM soldered onto the mobo, and an expansion bay for extra RAM. If it's the mobo RAM that's sick, swapping out the RAM in the expansion bay wouldn't touch the problem. I don't know which Pavilions, if any, work like that.

So what I recommend now is: try removing any removable RAM (unplug power, touch metal first, put removed card in foil wrap or antistatic bag after) and booting up with a Memtest86+ boot disk. If the disk boots at all, you have internal RAM as well; and if Memtest86+ finds a fault, it's off to the shop for a replacement mobo.
posted by flabdablet at 7:05 PM on July 19, 2006

Unplug everything but the monitor & keyboard, provided the keyboard isn't USB. Try booting.
posted by devilsbrigade at 7:16 PM on July 19, 2006

Response by poster: Damn flabdablet, you rock! You are the first person to explain why my computer reads like some badly coded English these days. I am going to do the memtest86+ test, and if I do require a new motherboard, I am just getting a new damn computer. HP charges too much to replace it, I think it would seriously be cheaper to buy a new computer.
Theantikitty: my husband said that the USB drivers have all been updated already, several times as a matter of fact. I thought that sounded so promising, but alas, once again my hopes were dashed.
I appreciate what everyone has said about not letting the computer go into sleepmode, and I can see the logic in the practice, but the problem would remain. I am not fixing anything by keeping the computer on all the time, or simply turning it off everytime I am done working. What if I ignore the problem, and simply work around it? What happens when I am in the middle of a big project, and I get up to make lunch and forget to turn my computer off? What happens when I come back and realize I have lost my project and the problem has recreated? My computer is my primary work tool, and I can't run the risk of allowing it to yuck up my ability to make $$$. Thanks again everyone for all of your help. Askmefi rocks. I certainly hope that in the future I have the opportunity and ability to aid you in your life problems as well.
posted by msali at 7:53 PM on July 19, 2006

Amazing, flabdabet. Reading that diagnosis was like watching an episode of House MD.
posted by painquale at 9:46 PM on July 19, 2006

Except with less bitter sarcasm.
posted by Justinian at 10:30 PM on July 19, 2006

Try disabling or switching the power management settings in the BIOS. Pavilion laptops support both ACPI and APM try toggling between the two (or disabling it altogether) and see what happens.

It's possible that installing the camera software (either automatically when connecting it through USB, or manually) that some of the power management software may have been modified within Windows that is causing some conflicts with the power management settings of the BIOS (which is why you would have access to Safe mode and not the OS itself).

You didn't mention the exact model number of the laptop. If you haven't already (and are reasonably comfortable with what you're doing) try updating the BIOS to the latest version as well. ACPI is great, if it works. My experience is that it often causes more headaches than it's worth in some situations.
posted by purephase at 4:00 AM on July 20, 2006

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