Death of a laptop
July 24, 2008 2:43 AM   Subscribe

Laptop is giving up the ghost. Ram? HD? Videocard? Full explaination of symptoms inside, help me get it at least to a place where I can back it up.

Fujitsu-Siemens E7010 with two 256 ramsticks and every Popcap and Real Arcade game ever released just got seriously hinkey. Excuse the length, want to get all details I can think of in.

Other than running hot and slow forever we have experienced no pre-fail symptoms like freezing, crashing, etc. Last night the machine froze, and the screen flimmered at a very high frequencty. Unreactive, we shut it down by holding the powerbutton. Gave it a minute and restarted. Not a peep visually, and no particular startup sounds (disk activity, CD engaging etc) but the fans and screen backlight did go on.

This morning, having given the ramsticks a bit of a push to check they are seated properly I booted up. Got the bootscreen and was given the warning that it hadn't started properly last. Continued and it froze before getting any further. Shut it down and tried a while later. Got it to safe-boot, couldn't find the external HD, and tried a full boot. All well and good, but then it froze again and did the screen-flimmer.
Starting 'er up again gave me no boot screen, just fans and backlight.

I don't want to stress the computer out by trying too many different things, I am a little worried it might be the HD (but no clicking or banging). The only real two things I can think of right now are to check the ramsticks, trying them one at a time in each of the sockets, and otherwise to try hook up the HD to a desktop for backup. Ideally I want to squeeze a few more months out of this baby, so ideally it's the ram and I can just buy new stuff.

Thanks for bearing with me, little help?
(on preview, no POST beeps)
posted by Iteki to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
It's almost certainly not the HD or the ram. Those would just give an error during boot. The heat, the flickering screen, the sluggishness, the lack of POST beeps etc. all point to it either being the main board or the power supply, as far as I can work out.

Try a generic replacement power brick. If that doesn't improve things, I'd suspect the main board, which is possibly grounds for replacing the laptop.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 3:04 AM on July 24, 2008

Actually, I was running it off the battery the last time or two I tried to boot, since I was in various rooms. There is a certain attraction to it being a MB fail, then I at least have the HD and can "live with" having to buy a new machine. Keep 'em coming please!
posted by Iteki at 3:21 AM on July 24, 2008

Sounds like you already know this, but the first thing to do is to take out the hard drive, put it in an external enclosure (can be had cheaply) and back it up. Then you can experiment without risking any data loss (who knows what could happen during one of these OS crashes).

Otherwise, if you can boot off CD or USB you could try some diagnostics, either memtest86 or manufacturer-provided (maybe available for download).
posted by dixie flatline at 4:14 AM on July 24, 2008

so it has failed with both battery and mains? it's worth trying both, since sometimes if the power controller goes, one still works.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 4:59 AM on July 24, 2008

Try booting off a live CD such as UBUNTU which has a memory test as part of its startup process. Having gone through similar throes with a couple of laptops you might also be subject to video card debasement, since the video card shares RAM with the MB.
posted by ptm at 5:35 AM on July 24, 2008

2nd morte de bea... it is probably the main board. Replacements can sometimes be found on eBay, but it's probably not worth it.

Before abandoning the machine, you might try getting some Arctic Silver and replacing the thermal compound between CPU and heatsink... maybe the CPU is just overheating.

And yeah, your hard drive is probably fine. These are not the symptoms of a dead HD.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:05 AM on July 24, 2008

You can usually detect bad ram with ram diagnostic. It'll make a bootable CD-ROM. You can also leave one ram stick in there and swap it out. Usually only one module goes bad at a time.

If the RAM checks out (these tools arent perfect and may fail to detect bad ram btw) you should pull the drive and to a chkdsk on it and see if there are any bad sectors. Even 4kb in a bad sector means the disk is dying. I'd copy off all files before running the chkdsk if possible.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:20 AM on July 24, 2008

When you can get it to boot, does the fan run? It could be just a broken fan. Though it does sound like a bad main board. Try booting with something else like a diagnostics CD or Ubuntu live CD or something.

Does wiggling the battery or the power connector change behavior? Some laptop makers inexplicably solder them to the main board and is a common point of failure. In some cases a little work with a soldering iron can fix it. (Though in other cases the board gets cracked and you're SOL.)
posted by Ookseer at 9:51 AM on July 24, 2008

Fan is running all the time. I am going to try it on the mains again, and then try each ramstick, but before any of that I will take out the HD and back that baby up. I appreciate the hand-holding, the idea of the whole MB going tits up had actually not occured to me. Will give the arctic-silver a shot as a last attempt, you never know what can happen. Can't pick a best cos they were all great, thanks!
posted by Iteki at 10:15 AM on July 24, 2008

Definitely try a live CD, both linux-y and Bart PE. Also try as many utilities as you can from the Ultimate Boot CD (or other diagnostic CD).

If it isn't showing errors on any CPU burn in utilities or Memtest, there is probably still hope for the machine..
posted by Chuckles at 12:25 PM on July 24, 2008

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