New home built PC is not running so well.
July 28, 2007 10:36 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'm echolalia's husband...and have an...intriguing computer problem I apologize for the length of my tale and any crossposting that may have gone before, but some of this hardware stuff is pretty new. My graphic card blew out the other day and I decided to not only replace it, but waay upgrade (crysis is coming) I got a geforce 8800.

I did enough research to figure out that that was the hotshit card of the moment, but not enough to see that I needed a PCI express slot.

So, a new motherboard. When I researched it, it LOOKED like it would be compatible with my current processor: not so...

So, a new processor.

When I looked at the docs for both the processor and the new graphics card, it looked like my current power supply (500w) was enough.

It wasn't. Apparently anyway.

Yesterday, when I put it all together, it worked. For awhile. Then it was off and on, then always stalling at some point during the boot up.

So today, I took a trip to Fry's and asked around...ho ya...I needed more power they said. People disagreed with how much exactly, so I went for the gusto and got 1000w.

Thing is, I asked a knowledgeable guy: "so you think i might be killing my stuff slowly by using that 500w?"...nope, yer killing it quickly he said.

So, I buy a new, case as well with lots of fans to make sure its cool and all...then I hightail it back home, worried that I might have fried my brand new hotshit card or my decent new processor. Or both.

I charged up stairs, kissed my wife (echolalia67!) and baby Jack and then set to work.

And work I did...lots of screws, lots of wires later and walla, it worked.

The first time.

The second time, I got an error sound.

The third time booted up, then restarted...I thought that baby jack may have pushed that crazy button, so I paid it not too much nevermind.

The 4th time, it started and I got an error message from windows suggesting some sort of catastrophic software or hardware failure.

The 5th time...nuthing...stalled at boot.

Im going to try the 6th try right now - after some time has gone by.
[So far so good...window bootin']
[ rebooted]
[and again, gosharnit...I think I'll lay off until I hear back from peoples]

So, here's my battery of questions:

What the hell is going on and how can I fix it?
Is my processor dead, fried?
Is my graphics card dead, fried?
Is something not getting enough power even though I've got 1000w in there?
The fans all appear to be can't be overheating can it?
I have the most current drivers for my new motherboard. I can't say I have THE most current drivers for the graphics card, but it is a pretty dang new product, so the drivers that it came with can't be to out of date...could they?
Could I have wired the thing all wrong? (and there alot of wires)
The graphics card calls for one six prong plug direct from the power supply...and so it has got that...the power supply even conveniently marks some plugs with "PCI express" so dummies like me cant get it wrong. Or did I?
Should I just take the dang thing to a local computer shop and have them configure it? How much should that cost?

Ok, any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

posted by echolalia67 to Computers & Internet (26 answers total)
When the guy at the store told you that you were "killing" your stuff with too small a supply, what he meant was that it couldn't live with that small an amount of power. It didn't mean that it was frying the silicon.

I suspect you have to reinstall Windows from scratch. Sadly, that means everything on your HD is probably lost forever unless you do some other things (with another computer) to get those files off.

Once you've either recovered your data or decided you don't care, you'll need a Windows install CD and you'll need to go into the BIOS and make sure that it's enabled to boot off the CD drive, and that the CD drive is earlier on its list than the HD. Then you pop the CD in, tell the BIOS to reboot, and let Windows install do its legendary thing.

I'm pretty sure that the problem here is that you've changed so much stuff in the hardware that the OS has thrown its hands in the air and given up trying to fix it dynamically.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:45 PM on July 28, 2007

The first time you go through this, you may as well tell the Windows install to "update" or "repair" or whatever that choice is called. That means it won't format the drive and will try to keep all the installed software in place, but will do whatever it needs to do to the OS itself to make it work correctly.

It might not work, though, and if it doesn't, then you'll have to do a full nuke-from-orbit.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 10:47 PM on July 28, 2007

Overheating is a definite possibility..

Download the Ultimate Boot CD, and run some of the burn in tools (memtest86, a CPU burn in program, whatever else looks interesting). Give memtest time for a couple of full passes, and give the CPU burn in program a few hours.. If you get any errors from that, it is a hardware problem (overheating, bad part, or whatever - we can cover that when you come to it).

Next, try Knoppix for a few hours of web browsing.

If all that works, it is probably an OS problem (although I'd still be wondering about video overheating..).

It is very likely that you don't even need 500W.
Well.. Your graphics card has a total disapated power (TDP) in the 150-200W range, apparently.. Add 100W+ for CPU, and some odds and ends.. So maybe 500W, but not any more.
posted by Chuckles at 11:06 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

1: Never, ever believe what they tell you at Fry's. As I told a friend, "At Best Buy, the employees don't care if you live or die. At Fry's, they do care...but only because they're hoping you die."
2: Probably not the power supply--the video card won't really suck the juice until it's in 3d mode. But the system will also use more power while booting than while idle. If you think this is the problem, temporarily remove any extra hard drives, DVD drives, lights, usb toasters, etc, to reduce the load.
3: Am I reading this right: you upgraded the motherboard without reinstalling Windows? Cause that's just madness.
posted by IvyMike at 11:14 PM on July 28, 2007

Overheating: Probably not. I don't think you are getting enough up-time to overheat.

Power Supply: That 1000W is more than you will ever need. Take it back and get yourself something between 600 and 750.

Hardware issue: Possibly. Start with the basics. Try to get the motherboard, video card, and your main hard drive to play nice together and then install the rest.

OS: If you have not installed the OS after replacing the hard drive, you need to find a way to back up the contents of your drive and then install your OS from scratch.

If all else fails, take all this new stuff back to Fry's and check out ibuypower, but you should be able to resolve this issue. I would love to give you better information, but your issue seems to be all over the place. First you are getting boot errors, then OS errors, then boot errors and so on. We should be able to narrow this down further. I would start with the OS.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 11:29 PM on July 28, 2007

On modern computers the power supply plugs into TWO places onto the motherboard. On a modern video card, not only does it need to go into the slot, the video card itself needs to be plugged into the power supply too.

First off, there's nothing wrong with a 500w supply for that system. You have other problems. Sounds like RAM. Try swapping out your ram.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:30 PM on July 28, 2007

More than likely you haven't burned anything out unless you did something really dumb like, well... cross a bunch of motherboard circuit lines with a screwdriver or something. And then you'd be able to tell because the distinct smell of burning would be in the air. There's a 99.9% chance that the issue is you didn't reinstall Windows when you replaced the motherboard.

Basically, Windows depends on hardware drivers to gain access to the various bits of silicon inside your system—video card, hard drives, CPU, etc.—and will complain when those drivers are missing. Sometimes this is no big deal (like when you plug in some neato USB peripheral you just bought); sometimes this is a big deal (like when you install a new video card and it only shows you 640x480 because you haven't installed proper drivers yet); sometimes it means your computer doesn't boot (like when you put in a new motherboard—kinda like your situation!). Luckily, none of your hardware is likely to be damaged; you'll just need to fix up your Windows install so it recognizes your new hardware.

If you still have all your old equipment and the idea of reinstalling Windows breaks your heart: read this right the hell now. If not, you'll have to reinstall Windows—reinstall over your current install or reformat the hard drive and install from scratch, it's up to you. I highly recommend the first option if you don't really know what you're doing, as reinstalling Windows is not exactly fun, because then you have to go search for all the old CDs of software you had installed previously.

About your power supply: 1000W is insane overkill. You might need that much if you had eight hard drives and three video cards or something. Most 500-600W power supplies are rated as sufficient for SLI, which means two graphics cards, which means more than you've got. If you were really paranoid I'd say go for something like an Enermax 600W-700W or the Corsair 620HX, which is very well reviewed. Enermax, Corsair, Mushkin and OCZ (though less so OCZ) are all reliable mainstream suppliers.
posted by chrominance at 11:45 PM on July 28, 2007

damn dirty ape is correct in saying "On modern computers the power supply plugs into TWO places onto the motherboard. On a modern video card, not only does it need to go into the slot, the video card itself needs to be plugged into the power supply too." but he may not be right in suggesting that a 500W power supply is sufficient for your system. You need a supply which can hold up the +12VDC rail under the worst conditions of current demand of all your components. There's not that much internal difference in the 1000W supply you probably purchased and 700 watt supplies, and you pay very little penalty, price wise or energy wise, for the larger supply, as it probably has a high power factor, meaning it is designed to run very efficiently, compared to standard supplies of a few years ago. I'd probably keep the big supply, if you can stand the fan noise.

You need to make sure you have +12VDC supplied to the mobo via both the 24 pin ATX connection and the 12VDC aux plug, if there is one, as there is for most SLI capable motherboards. This is usually a 4 or 6 pin Molex style connector, and you can use a second SLI +12VDC connector, if there isn't a dedicated auxiliary power mainboard connector. You may need an adapter if you have a 6 pin board connection and only a 4 pin SLI supply connector (the reason mainboard have 6 pin connectors is to spread the current supply over more copper trace area). Note in the linked photo that the Molex connector has one keyed pin (lower right corner) that is not round, and that it has a retainer clip on the side that you must make sure is snapped in place.

You then need to make sure your video card is connected to the supply with its own +12VDC connection, as you seem to have figured out. Good idea to carefully check all connections again, with a fresh set of eyes, one by one.

It's at least possible that you're having thermal issues with your processor, so I'd keep that possibility in the back of your mind, for investigation, if you continue having problems with booting, but as that can be an extensive problem to check, I'd probably try to get through the next steps, if possible. But if you can't get to a stable boot for the following re-installation procedure, you should next check your processor heat sink installation, etc.

And then, you're going to have to rebuild the Windows Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) accordingly. You'll need to do that anyway, because you've replaced your mobo chipset, and perhaps you've gone from a single core to a dual core processor, and getting all the new stuff to work correctly depends entirely on the HAL. The right way to do this is by performing a Repair Install. You can not successfully "copy new drivers" over an incorrect HAL, as chrominance's link suggests.

You have to do the Repair Install, which basically jacks your current Windows installation up, reprobes all your hardware, creates a new HAL with appropriate drivers (you may need to supply them from the mobo disk and the video card disks when prompted by Windows Setup, as Windows will not have generic drivers it can use for these newer components), and then Repair Install creates new System Restore points, a new Registry backup, and sets your current Windows installation back down on the new foundation, with all your programs, preferences, user accounts, etc. still working, just like they were before you did the hardware change. You may be asked to revalidate Windows after doing this (probably you will be after a processor change), but this is a formality, you can do over the Internet. Nobody with a valid copy of Windows has ever been denied validation, that I know of.

If your current Windows XP installation media does not contain SP2, you may first want to prepare a slip streamed version of Windows XP install with SP2, both to save time, and to avoid problems with service pack downgrades during HAL rebuild.
posted by paulsc at 1:05 AM on July 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'll just give you a couple of tips.

First: if you got an 8800GTX, you MIGHT need a new power supply, but if you got anything 8800GTS or lower, you're fine with your 500watter. There's this big thing about overselling power supplies right now, and it's very rarely necessary unless you have a ton of drives or an 8800GTX. On this Core2 Duo/8800GTS/4gb/1 hard drive/2 DVD-ROM system, I'm running just fine on a quality 430w.

Second: you need to isolate problems. Take everything out of the case. Plug in the absolute minimum for a power-up test; the motherboard, the GPU if you don't have onboard video, the CPU, and one stick of RAM. Make sure all your heatsinks are in place, and test if it powers up. Fiddle with it awhile and see if it seems solid.

Note that if you bought high performance memory, much of it requires a higher voltage than the motherboards will provide by default. There is no autoconfiguration of voltage, so you have to look up your RAM voltage to be sure. The default is 1.8v; some performance RAM needs as high as 2.1, and won't boot in a board's default configuration.

Once you've got the minimum system apparently working, then start adding stuff, still outside the case, and make sure things stay solid. If you get all running outside the case, then disassemble it and run it INSIDE the case. Once it's stable there, button it up and you're good.
posted by Malor at 7:28 AM on July 29, 2007

I would think that any obvious human-error would have made itself known relatively quickly after turning the computer on. In general with computers, and this is just as applicable to hardware as to software, it either works right away or it doesn't.

The only exceptions to this rule are, for hardware, anything having to do with heat, and for software, infinitesimally small errors that compound themselves until a runaway condition occurs.

If the system booted up to Windows, that means power isn't the problem. Hard drives use practically nothing after they're spun up, so as long as you don't have a million USB devices leeching juice, that shouldn't be a problem.

I don't think your problem is with hardware (fans, etc.) at all, actually. I think the problem is you're probably using an old BIOS or driver version and there were still incompatibilities between your video card and, most likely, your motherboard's chipset. You wouldn't happen to be running an nVidia board, would you?

If you can get another hard drive you can try reinstalling Windows (use new drivers and update the BIOSs if you can). You should then be able to recover the files on the other hard drive, provided Windows hasn't had a chance to "fix" your problems for you.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:37 AM on July 29, 2007

This really sounds like a RAM issue to me. If you have multiple sticks of RAM, try starting up the system with one removed, then the other. If that still doesn't help, try swapping the slots they're in (might be a bad stick, or a bad slot, or heaven forbid both). If this hardware is all new either of these problems is grounds for a warranty claim or RMA.

I just fixed a problem with a very unstable laptop by removing a dud stick of RAM, so I know that it does happen. Then again, I'm also in a "bad RAM breaks stuff" mindset so I may be seeing a problem where none exists. Either way it's worth a shot while you're trying to troubleshoot, I think.
posted by Alterscape at 9:17 AM on July 29, 2007

Response by poster: Wow. Behold the power of mefi.

Thanks much for the detailed answers.

It seems that the consensus is to reinstall windows, using the repair install if possible. I'll prep that for now.

I think PaulSC is right on the power supply: it doesn't hurt and the price difference between 1000w and 850w is only ten dollars.

For the record, it is a GTS 640mb OC.

The case against it being a windows issue: when I booted up successfully with the current configuation, all the drivers SEEMED to be installing/acknowledge after windows had logged on. And it ran prefectly fine for abut 2 hours, before I turned it off.

I tested as much as I could: sound card, running a 3D Game (soldier of fortune 2...nothing crazy), internet the ext. drive, the secondary internal drive, etc...and it all worked just fine.

Here's a list of peripherals:
sound card (creative soundblaster...several years old)
usb 4 port (only a few months old)
video card (brand spanking new)
video camera (6 months old - not highend)
printer (2 years old)
external drive
2 internal drive (primary is old, 160gig: secondary is brand new 500gigs)
dvd drive (about 2 years old)
dvd recorder (about 4 months old)
floppy...way old
I have some other usb devices, but they arent plugged in and wont be until I resolve everything.

Oh and the ram is brand new: 2 sticks of 1g each DD2, same manufacturer. They fit perfectly and seem to run perfectly.

I'll be starting the windows repair install around noon today unless someone here shouts at me not to do it...

Thanks again for the advice guys.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2007

I can virtually guarantee you don't need more than a 750 watt power supply.

Right now I am running a system with a beefy nVidia 680i-chipset motherboard from Asus, slotting an E6600 Core 2 Duo, 4GB of DDR2 800MHz, a GeForce 8800GTS, a Creative Labs Audigy 2, a standard 250GB HDD and a dual-layer DVD writer all off of a 450-watt power supply while mildly overclocking the CPU/FSB/GPU/VRAM.

Running full bore while accessing both the HDD and DVD, this system is rock fucking solid.

1000 watts? You should be able to do SLI 8800GTX's and RAID 0/1 with 750. Seriously.
posted by Ryvar at 10:19 AM on July 29, 2007

Ah. You posted your system specs just as I was finishing my post - factoring in margin of error, you should be good with a 600 watt power supply. Obviously you should get it from a decent manuf. Do a bit of research and save yourself a LOT of money.
posted by Ryvar at 10:22 AM on July 29, 2007

Response by poster: Ryver: wow....then it's definately not my power supply.
I'll keep my feels pretty safe for any future endevors that may come up...and it doesn't hurt.
And I don't want to make that 40 mile trip down the peninsula and back to return it. Yeah, laziness is a factor.
posted by echolalia67 at 10:37 AM on July 29, 2007

I would run memtest86 for at least one full pass, before reinstalling.
posted by Chuckles at 12:34 PM on July 29, 2007

Yup, it's normally a good idea to run memtest86[+] on a new system; memory errors are rather common (especially with cheapo brands and nonames), and even a 10 minute run can save a lot of hassle.

It's a lot better than spending ages getting things just right and a bit flipping in the wrong place leaving your with a broken install, or worse.

PSU wise, yeah, 1KW is surely complete overkill (I run a pair of dual core Opterons, 8GB of memory, 7 HD's and some fairly beefy PCI-X cards off a single 650W one), however, I would be more concerned about the make than the rating; if you just spent $30 on a 1KW PSU I'd be rather suspicious ;)
posted by Freaky at 1:15 PM on July 29, 2007

1000 W of power is fine if you need to power a small toaster off the USB port. Or if you need to jump start your car with your computer. My 24 drive storage system doesn't have anything close to 1000 W of power, and the Electrical gods haven't frowned on me yet.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:12 PM on July 29, 2007

Response by poster: The power supply is silver stone : strider...a fine brand.
not at all concerned about power. I have enough, more than enough...and enough to not need to think about it for a very good long time. I probably won't ever need it, but the cost/savings/time ratio isn't worth returning it.

Once i get windows through its repair install, ill check out memtest86.
posted by echolalia67 at 3:49 PM on July 29, 2007

Response by poster: oy vey.

I'm sitting here, getting the windows repaired/installed, and the monitor goes black witht the standby light flashing - indicating that it isn't speaking with my computer, even though the computer is on and I haven't heard any error beeps.

I don't want to restart in the middle of an install, but if i must, i must.

I just ran a back up on my vital files (hopefully all of them).

any ideas now? Do I need to do a full install?
posted by echolalia67 at 3:53 PM on July 29, 2007

I think we just successfully narrowed the problem down to videocard or motherbaord, echolalia :)

First off - is the videocard plugged in? I don't mean into the socket (although check the seating) I mean the 4-pin plug that goes into the front of every 8800GTS for extra power beyond what the PCI-E slot can deliver. Make sure that this is plugged in.

Assuming it is, and I know this sucks, you might try rebuilding with your old system + new power supply and 8800GTS. That way, if the problem is the videocard or the power supply you'll quickly know. If neither of these things makes the source of the error very apparent, and you've done everything you can think of, and you've tried reseating *EVERYTHING*, you might have to consider RMAing the new motherboard.
posted by Ryvar at 4:34 PM on July 29, 2007

Though I've had a difficult time following this thread and figuring out what you've done and not done I do suspect it's a hardware problem. In any event, I'd guess Windows is hosed and will need a full reinstall at some point. BUT NOT NOW!

If you have not followed Malor's advice from above, do so now:

you need to isolate problems. Take everything out of the case. Plug in the absolute minimum for a power-up test; the motherboard, the GPU if you don't have onboard video, the CPU, and one stick of RAM. Make sure all your heatsinks are in place, and test if it powers up. Fiddle with it awhile and see if it seems solid.

The purpose of the following is to test the hardware first before doing anything further with Windows.

If you have onboard video take out the video card along with everything but the CPU and one stick of RAM. Completely out of the case: the hard drives and the CD/DVD drives and the video card. If you don't have on board video leave the video card in. The only things in the case at this point should be the motherboard, power supply, CPU and heatsink, and RAM and, maybe, video card. Make sure power is hooked up to the board and card, if needed. I'm serious about those being the only things in the computer. No extra USB ports or floppy drive. No printers or any other peripherals except for a keyboard and mouse.

While you are doing this download a Linux live cd. Ubuntu is nice but Damn Small Linux should be fine for testing. I do believe there's a good Knoppix CD with a lot of testing utilities as well.

One note: if you installed or reinstalled the CPU recently did you use thermal paste but not too much? If you haven't or suspect too much paste reintsall the heat sink with only about a rice grain sized amount or little bigger dab of thermal paste in the middle. Too much can lead to overheating which is a possible cause for your problems.

If the computer POSTS and seems stable then add the next stick of RAM and see if that POSTS, checks out, and is stable.

Next add the video card, if not already installed, and see if that works. Go into the BIOS and hopefully you'll see a spot listing voltages. They should all be very close to their listed values (+12V, etc). If not, then your power supply is faulty.

Next add one CD/DVD drive (not both and no HDs). Your BIOS configuration should make the computer try and access this drive looking for a disc to boot off of. If that checks out then stick in the Linux live cd you've downloaded and burned. The computer should boot off of the CD drive and load Linux to run in RAM.

Assuming the computer is now running, use the Live CD for awhile. Is the system stable? Does the correct amount of RAM show up if you open the terminal and type lshw? Is the hardware all recognized on that list? If so, good. Now let it run overnight. Did it crash or freeze at any point?

If everything is still checking out add the next CD drive and then boot Linux off of it. You may have to change the boot order in the BIOS. Is that stable?

Next add primary hard drive (160GB). But do not let it boot off this drive. Boot into Linux off the CD again. Does the HD show up? It won't necessarily show up on the desktop but there should be a way to turn on access to the drive. If there is, you can try and access the drive to see your files. If you see the files copy anything important onto a flash drive. My guess is this hard drive is on its way out. Once you have everything important off of it, if you can still access the data, let the system run for a few hours at least. Is the drive still accessible? It's possible that the Windows reinstall corrupted the drive and it's not readily readable.

The next step is to add the other hard drive and see if the system is still stable. If so, then go ahead and reinstall Windows. You can add your USB port and floppy drive later, if needed. If Windows is up and running see if it's stable. Restart a bunch of times. Let it run overnight. Do some comprehensive system tests.

The purpose of this is to employ a systematic approach to figuring out what's gone and going wrong. It may not be the 160GB drive like I think. Perhaps its the power supply (some times a new supply is bad out of the box). But you currently seem to be taking a scattershot approach which is bound to only lead to frustration or an accidental fix where you'll never learn what actually went wrong.

I know these kind of problems are frustrating but I do want you to figure it out.
posted by 6550 at 5:01 PM on July 29, 2007

Response by poster: ho boy, thanks for all the suggestions, but after so many times of not POSTing, I have given in, thrown in the towel, and took the damn thing to Best Buy. I know...I can hear your groans already, through the internet and forward into time as you read this.

I've built two systems from scratch and this is the first time I've had this level of difficulty and I can't handle any more.
So's I paid the ticket and hope the best buy monkeys don't screw it up and rob me blind.

posted by echolalia67 at 6:57 PM on July 29, 2007

They are going to take all your porn.
posted by B(oYo)BIES at 8:04 PM on July 29, 2007

Echolalia, sorry to hear that, but I understand where you're coming from. Time is money, so unless you absolutely love toiling about in computer muck, you should hire it out. I used to be the same way with cars.

This is coming from someone who spent most of yesterday re-installing Windows about four times (XP -> 2003 32-bit -> 2003 64-bit -> XP 64-bit -> XP). Yes, I'm right back where I started. No, I don't have anything to show for it except some new swear words I invented.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:26 PM on July 30, 2007

Response by poster: good luck to you, cd
posted by echolalia67 at 5:53 PM on July 30, 2007

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