Vaio gives "system timer error"
June 3, 2008 7:58 AM   Subscribe

My laptop gives a "system timer error" and so I probably need some guidance in replacing my laptop's CMOS battery

I've an 8 yr old Sony Vaio laptop, model PCG-F590 (a.k.a PCG-9201), which for practical purposes, stopped working 3 weeks ago. The computer boots into XP, but during the login screen, or shortly after logging in, freezes altogether, not responding to any input. Occasionally, it gets stuck during POST itself, displaying "KEYBOARD ERROR" and "SYSTEM TIMER ERROR". Some web browsing tells me that it's likely that the CMOS battery has a lifespan of around 10 years and that could be the issue here.

Before I replace the battery, is there something else I should look into? There was no physical trauma inflicted on the laptop, and I guess the system timer hardware itself hasn't gone kaput. This initially happened all of a sudden while watching a video (the sole purpose of the laptop) 3 weeks ago.

I searched online and this store indicates that the battery is NiMH 2 cells with a mainboard connector. How specific do I have to be with the battery purchase besides the voltage and the connector type?

Most importantly, before I open my laptop, I'd like to know where the battery is located and how I should go on about replacing it? Despite my best efforts, I can't find a motherboard schematic for this laptop. The laptop's way past warranty and besides I'm not the original owner. Repair businesses here charge exorbitantly, so I'd like to do it myself.
posted by daksya to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
 
" The computer boots into XP, but during the login screen, or shortly after logging in, freezes altogether"

I would be very surprised to hear that the problem described is in any way related to the CMOS battery, which serves no function whatsoever when the computer is turned on. More likely the PS2 controller or PIC is going, which is going to involve motherboard surgery. Having said that, if you want to tear it open and swap the battery, it's going to be less invasive than swapping the entire motherboard.

"...not responding to any input."

Does this include pointing device input, both built-in and external?

"There was no physical trauma inflicted on the laptop..."

This may well be true, but the cheap and flimsy construction of the VAIO products combined with both its advanced age and the staggering failure rate of Sony laptops of that vintage means that the mere act of being used may have damaged the thing.
posted by majick at 9:12 AM on June 3, 2008


majick: Does this include pointing device input, both built-in and external?

It includes the internal one; I'll check with an USB mouse later.

The system timer error could be related to the CMOS battery, right?

What are the chances of motherboard surgery being successful?
posted by daksya at 9:36 AM on June 3, 2008


External USB mouse fails as well. One more thing, the speakers give out a low buzz.
posted by daksya at 9:44 AM on June 3, 2008


2nd what majick said -- your CMOS battery may or may not be dead, but it's unlikely to be the cause of your computer freezing up.

Replacing the battery will be easy once you find it, but there will be considerable disassembly of the computer first. Be slow and careful about the disassembly.

Speaking as an idiot who hastily disassembled his laptop last week (to replace the processor's thermal compound), I can tell you I wish I'd carefully documented every screw I removed, because doing so would have saved lots of time on the reassembly.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:47 AM on June 3, 2008


"The system timer error could be related to the CMOS battery, right?"

That's exceedingly unlikely to the point where I'll just say "hell no." The system timer isn't the same thing as the RTC, which is the battery-backed clock you seem to be thinking of. It's just a PIC.

"External USB mouse fails as well. One more thing, the speakers give out a low buzz."

None of these things describe a situation where the CMOS battery is the root cause. Most of them describe a situation where the motherboard (or an integrated component thereon) is bad.
posted by majick at 10:11 AM on June 3, 2008


"What are the chances of motherboard surgery being successful?"

Considering you aren't experienced enough with the PC architecture to distinguish between the PIC and the RTC, let's just say "no chance." You're looking at swapping the motherboard at the very least, and that's going to rapidly approach the cost of just buying another old beater and transferring your files, in terms of parts and time.

Your ancient laptop is, from the market perspective, essentially worthless. While I don't at all advocate treating older hardware as disposable, unless you're able to repair it yourself your money is better spent replacing it with an equivalent $200 junkbox from eBay.
posted by majick at 10:17 AM on June 3, 2008


Given that the laptop is a deadweight right now, worthless and I've no important data on it, I wouldn't mind tinkering around with it. Any tips on where can I learn more about these issues and attempt a repair?
posted by daksya at 12:11 PM on June 3, 2008


Very strange.

Since the initial incident, I've switched on the computer about a couple dozen times, hoping that it turns out to be a transient issue. But the laptop inevitably froze, at most ceding some variation in the time it took to do so, at most a couple of minutes. The last few times, it froze before even the XP login screen appeared. Until today. On a whim, I again switched it on. Smooth boot into XP. I hesitantly moved the mouse, anticipating lockdown any second. Nothing. Not even a hint of a problem. I open explorer, move and delete some files. Then I open Winamp, play a few songs. Then a video player, and a couple of videos. The left speaker seems to have gone (faint sound), although full stereo output through phones. Finally, scrolled through a PDF or two. All in all, I used the laptop for 25 mins, with no hint of trouble, before I had to leave. I'm hoping this state of health persists.

For those with a clue, especially majick, what do you think is happening?
posted by daksya at 8:57 AM on June 18, 2008


The technical term for this is "flaky." There's an intermittent failure -- a cold solder joint, a cracked ribbon cable, microscopic fracture on the board, badly seated chip -- that may or may not be fixable. It's spooky as hell and more common than you'd think.

Experience has shown a kind of uncertainty effect for this: The more you poke at it the less you know about why it's going wrong. It'd take a fairly serious electronics test bench (and ideally, schematics) to really troubleshoot the problem. The days where you could reasonably expect to hand-repair a motherboard for most problems ended around the time of the 386.

"But the laptop inevitably froze, at most ceding some variation in the time it took to do so, at most a couple of minutes."

That -- as opposed to the POST errors you were seeing before -- sounds vaguely like bad RAM. Obsoleted memory is expensive to buy new but sometimes you can scrounge some up on Craigslist or something. Every couple of years I unload scavenged parts like old memory, usually for free or at most a token fee.

No, I don't have any, but I did look.
posted by majick at 10:31 AM on June 22, 2008


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