What is wrong with my computer?
July 25, 2007 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Knowing full well that diagnosing computer issues across the internet can sometimes be hard: what could be wrong with my computer?

The computer froze yesterday (while I was doing nothing particularly intensive - just browsing the internet), and I had to pull the plug because nothing else had any effect on it. Now Windows won't load anymore: when I start the computer, the loading bar will freeze after a while, and no matter how long I leave it it won't go any further.

Safe mode doesn't work either.

A BartPE CD does nothing (gives the white-text-on-black loading bar, and when that is filled, goes to a black screen and hangs there), and neither does a Linux Ubuntu live CD (just hangs forever on loading kernel). I suspected memory issues, but I'm now on the 14th pass of a Memtest86 test and no errors have popped up.

I've tried to reinstall Windows, both 2K (what I was originally using) and XP; no matter how I do it (format the HD before or not) it still ends up hanging (Win2K setup never gets past the "Setup is loading Windows" part, while XP got past that and then froze on the normal XP loading screen). Ran both chkdsk and scandisk and it found nothing whatsoever.

I'm completely stumped. I suspect motherboard / processor / both, but I haven't the faintest clue even where to begin diagnosing issues with those.

Anybody have any ideas? Thanks in advance!
posted by sailoreagle to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
Definately hardware problem. Sounds like bad memory. If you have two RAM sticks try taking one out, reboot, iof that doesn't help try the other RAM stick. Try swapping out all RAM with RAM sticks borrowed from another box.
posted by StarForce5 at 7:16 PM on July 25, 2007

It could be a bad power supply. Insufficient or "dirty" power can do some strange things. You can test the voltage of the output but I think its probably easier to go pick one up from a store with a good return policy, pop it in and see what happens. If its not the power supply pack it up and return it.
posted by coolin86 at 7:19 PM on July 25, 2007

I know nothing about computers but I did have that precise problem with a laptop that would always hang up when I restarted it. The fix was as simple as pulling the battery out and replacing it once it was turned off. That seemed to reset the computer somehow. For the record, the hard drive crashed for good on that computer last week. Replacing the battery only works so much.
posted by any major dude at 7:23 PM on July 25, 2007

To add to what Starforce and Coolin86 have already said, it could also be overheating.

This can happen when the CPU fan burns itself out, or when the heatsink becomes caked with dust. In rare cases, the heat transfer paste has become brittle and loses effectiveness.

This would cause the machine to function normally for some short period of time - seconds to tens of minutes - and then freeze or reboot.

Good luck.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:25 PM on July 25, 2007

I had a very similar thing happen with my laptop. Turns out it was the crappy memory I had bought off ebay.
posted by gergtreble at 7:29 PM on July 25, 2007

I'd test the memory first (although it's odd that Memtest isn't coming up with anything, you'd think that it would) with some "known good" stuff from another box, and then I'd swap the processor if you have another one that will fir the same socket ... but if that doesn't work, I'd also consider taking a hard look at the power supply.

I had some REALLY strange behavior in a system I was using, and I eventually traced it back to the power supply being overloaded. Modern systems can do some really strange things depending on how the power supply is failing/sagging.

It's hard to say exactly what's wrong, and it may be difficult to diagnose without a test bench and a ready supply of parts to swap in/out, but after memory and processor I'd check the PS.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:16 PM on July 25, 2007

It could be your graphics card. Boot it up with a linux boot CD that doesn't try to run X windows.
posted by panic at 8:28 PM on July 25, 2007

Instead of choosing safe mode in the boot menu, choose logged. Then reboot, and then reboot to a usb key or floppy disk or something, then read c:\bootlog.txt to see where it stopped. RAM check too, just try removing half of it at a time or something.
posted by rhizome at 11:29 PM on July 25, 2007

Had the same problem once. For me it was a gunked-up heatsink/fan (as wisely mentioned by others). Generally, I start with things that are easy and cheap to identify and fix.

Here's my advice:

First, check to see if your CPU's fan/heatsink is clogged with dirt. Used canned air to clean it out. While your at it, blow dirt off of other things in the case, like the video-card fan. And remove your cat from the case. She's in the way.

If that doesn't work, I would unplug everything but the necessities and see what happens.

If that doesn't work, I would probably then swap in a new power supply.

If that doesn't work, I would start worrying about other things like memory, etc.
posted by blisterpack at 12:12 AM on July 26, 2007 [1 favorite]

sounds like ram
posted by jannw at 3:44 AM on July 26, 2007

but I'm now on the 14th pass of a Memtest86 test and no errors have popped up.

In my experience that is an absolutely meaningless metric. If memtest says there's an error, then there is an error. if it doesnt find an error, that does not mean the ram is ok.

Software solutions to finding ram errors is a sign of laziness. The only way to test for bad memory is to swap it out. Or if you have 2 modules, remove one, try again, if get you get the same error, try the other.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:52 AM on July 26, 2007

Note that if you have double data rate ram (DDR, or the type that needs to be installed in pairs), taking out one stick of ram could cause your computer to not boot.

I once had partial success in getting windows to boot by switching the ram sticks around and putting them in the two unused slots.
posted by Arthur Dent at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2007

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