What's wrong with my old Win98 PC?
March 11, 2004 1:23 AM   Subscribe

Am I facing possible computer death? I have a five year old PC with Windows 98. It started acting buggy a few weeks ago and now freezes a few minutes after startup or even during startup.... more inside.

My PC is freezing up, usually ten minutes after start up. During a freeze it doesn't respond to Ctrl-Alt-Delete commands and has to be manually restarted. Over the last two weeks it started acting buggy. It would lose my cookies on startup, for example. I have defragged it, scan disked it, reloaded Windows, deleted my son's games and other superfluous programs, even gone in and blown out the dust with compressed air. Is it simply PC Alzheimer's or is my computer trying to tell me something? Processor or hard drive death? Getting a new one is not possible for a few months.
posted by zaelic to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Perhaps try borrowing someone else's RAM and sticking it in there to see if it makes a difference. Or if you have more than one DIMM take one out, try booting, then replace it and take the other out.
posted by Space Coyote at 2:28 AM on March 11, 2004

Has the computer been making noises lately?

5 years is not all that old for a PC. The first place I'd start looking is at all the moving parts. This includes cooling fans on the CPU, the power supply, as well as the motors in the hard disks.

I'd guess it could be a failing or stuck CPU cooling fan or maybe your power supply. Insure that the fans on these two items are working properly .. that the power supply isn't completely filled with dust. My first inclination is that your machine is overheating. Luckily, both of these solutions are cheap and relatively easy fixes.
posted by crunchland at 2:32 AM on March 11, 2004

Response by poster: yes, it has been making noises. I'm now going inside the case to check out the fan... Also - can RAM get old and corrupt? Also, over the last few days it hangs on the "Windows is shutting down" screen when closing down, but doesn't get to "you may now shut down". I manually shut down, and when it restarts it doesn't automatically go to scan disc.
posted by zaelic at 2:39 AM on March 11, 2004

Assuming that, when you reloaded Windows, you did a completely "clean" install rather than just installing over the top of the existing OS, my best guess after checking mechanical failure of fans (I have had quite a bit of experience with old computers, unfortunately) would be the hard drive, followed by RAM then the motherboard. A long shot that sometimes works is to go over the motherboard carefully, pressing down on any component that is plugged in rather than soldered on (or remove and replace it if you are game). Sometimes components get dust in the connections and that, combined with thermal creep, can be enough to turn a connection into a disconnection.

As far as the age of the machine goes, my experience is that, if it is a store-bought clone machine, it is probably on its last legs. If it is a quality brand-name machine or a hand-built one with quality components, it should have a year or two left in it. Sad as it may be, 5 years seems to be about the limit for the average computer these days.
posted by dg at 2:54 AM on March 11, 2004

I would second (third?) the processes here: check the fans and ram and if that didn't work, perform a clean install of Windows 98...or better yet, upgrade to Windows 2000.
posted by mkelley at 6:23 AM on March 11, 2004

zaelic, I hate to tell you this, but this is exactly the kind of behavior I saw in my PC (running Win 98, actually) for about three weeks before my hard drive catastrophically failed this past summer, at the exact moment I needed it most (of course - don't ever let anyone tell you that machines don't know how to choose the exact worst moment to break!)
posted by anastasiav at 7:30 AM on March 11, 2004

Yes, this sounds similar to the symptoms I had as well. The cooling fan failed, which overheated the processor. Eventually, the processor melted and took the motherboard with it.

Back up your data and prepare to buy a new PC. Since yours is 5 years old, you can probably get a much much better PC even if you buy bottom of the range.
posted by salmacis at 9:05 AM on March 11, 2004

Anastasiav, of course they know. It's called the Critical Need Sensor, and it is the only part of a computer that never, ever breaks.

Zaelic, your computer is giving you the opportunity to back up any useful information. If it were mine, I'd back up, fdisk the drive clean, and install everything afresh. Drives are much better than they used to be, but they do fail over time. A rebuild gets rid of scumware and miscellaneous crap. If the rebuild doesn't fix it, then you know it's the hardware. Added bonus, it gives you that fresh feeling.
posted by theora55 at 9:13 AM on March 11, 2004

All good ideas, but in order to really isolate the problem, let's look at the most noticable signs first. You say it's making noise? Try to find out exactly where this noise if comming from. The obvious places to check have all been mentioned: moving parts like cooling fans, power supplies, and the hard drive.

Is it just hanging or are you getting windows error messages? Blue screens or just not responding? Blue screens and error messages suggest data corruption and hard drive failure. Just hanging is a symptom closer, but not isolated to, overheating or power loss issues.

All that said and done, your computer is 5 years old? It is really nearing the end of the reliable life of the harddrive, power supply AND cooling fans. If you don't want to replace the entire computer (which might not be a bad idea now, especially with prices so low right now), then you might want to replace all those parts just as preventative measures.
posted by Hackworth at 10:06 AM on March 11, 2004

Response by poster: Hackworth: You may have hit the nail on the head. I went into the box, blew compressed air around my fans, and noticed my processor fan was sluggish. I checked my fans, googled "CPU fan maintenance" and found a page on using sewing machine oil to re-lube fans. I unscrewed the little bugger, and sure enough, the paper seal on the back (which you have to peel off to get access to the lube-hungry fan cylinder) showed signs of burn darkening!

The processor itself seemed ok, so I oiled the cylyner with a drop of sewing machine oil, cleaned off the excess, screwed it back together. And guess what? I am typing this on my own computer - not my girlfriend's!

Yeah, I need a new computer. I don't live in the US and money is tight. I backed my files up though. My fingers are crossed.
posted by zaelic at 10:43 AM on March 11, 2004

Response by poster: Oh, and to everybody. THANKS!!!
posted by zaelic at 10:54 AM on March 11, 2004

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