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Possible video card failure, but not sure


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#1
Thrashnak

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Hello, my computer has started having strange crashes where the screen will start to be covered with green snow, then freeze.

It started the first time while running World of Warcraft and speaking on Ventrilo. The screen froze in game and the graphics in the pic became hued with red and green snow and the audio in Ventrilo was stuck in about a half second loop just repeating what someone had began to say.

After restarting, I was able to get back into ventrilo, but as soon as I would try to start the game again, it would immediately freeze the same way. I assumed it was just WoW or a combo of WoW and Vent and planned to reinstall them.

But when I tried to restart a third time, I noticed that after the Windows load screen, where it usually goes black for a second before my blue Windows login screen pops up, the screen was flickering and covered with green snow. It took longer than normal to get the login screen to pop up. When it did and I logged in, I got to my desktop and everything looked fine. I was able to open up Firefox at first, but after a minute or so, the green snow covered the screen and my computer froze again. I tried Ctrl+alt+del and the windows/programs I had open became super sized, low rez, and lacking blue hues in the color. My mouse was unable to click on anything, and the only thing I could do was alt+tab to the task manager, then I could shut down the computer with the pull down menu.

Now, when I start it up, the windows load screen (black screen with the Windows logo), the screen has white lines about half an inch long all over (24" monitor, 1900X1200) while it is loading, then when it goes to the black screen before the login screen pops up, it has the green snow that sometimes freezes the computer there, sometimes it makes it to the login screen. If I get to the login screen and log in, my computer starts to load as normal, but freezes in green snow as soon as I try to launch a program.

One try it did produce the blue screen of death.

Because of the pixelation/snow, I was thinking maybe it is my video card. But there are enough other odd things that I wonder if it isn't something else, either another piece of hardware dying, or if the software is corrupted. I try to be very safe with this PC as far as viruses go, I do 99% of my internet surfing on my laptop and never to risky sites. My PC is generally for gaming and work, and I only use the internet when I need to download software updates for programs I already have, etc. The PC itself is about 2yrs old, so I can see hardware starting to wear out.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Derek

EDIT: Video card is EVGA Nvidia 8800GTX, have Intel Core2Duo (can't get on to remember speed), 4GB ram, Windows XP, Asus P5N32 SLI Deluxw MB.

Edited by Thrashnak, 19 March 2010 - 10:52 PM.

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#2
Digerati

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The PC itself is about 2yrs old, so I can see hardware starting to wear out.

That's still a young machine so the only thing that might "wear out" in that short of time is mechanical, such as motor bearings in fans and drives - but even they "should" last more than 2 years - under normal operating conditions.

It does sound like the graphics card is failing or the drivers are corrupt - but it could be something else too. Check the often overlooked obvious first - are the cables securely fastened? Some monitors have detachable cables so check the back of the monitor too. Is the card properly seated and secured? Is the interior of the computer case free of heat trapping dust and dirt? Do all fans, including the card's, spin properly? Are all the power connectors securely fastened?

Does Safe Mode work and look fine? Are there any errors in Device Manager? Although this does not appear to be a monitor problem, I always like to swap out monitors when dealing with suspected graphics problems just to quickly and definitively rule out a bad monitor. If the problem follows the monitor to the 2nd computer, you know the problem is in the monitor. If the problem stays with the computer and appears on the 2nd monitor too, you know the problem is in the computer.

I always want to make sure I am delivering good power to all my devices. A stressed or failing power supply can manifest into many seemingly unrelated and odd problems. Has new hardware been added lately? What are the PSU specs? See my canned text below on testing PSUs. Please keep us posted.
***

To properly and conclusively test a power supply unit (PSU), it must be tested under various realistic "loads" then analyzed for excessive [url="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ripple_(electrical)""]ripple[/url] and other anomalies. This is done by a qualified technician using an oscilloscope or power analyzer - sophisticated (and expensive) electronic test equipment requiring special training to operate, and a basic knowledge of electronics theory to understand the results. Therefore, conclusively testing a power supply is done in properly equipped electronic repair facilities.

Fortunately, there are other options that are almost as good. I keep a FrozenCPU Ultimate PSU Tester in my tool bag when I am "in the field" and don't have a good spare power supply to swap in. While not a certain test, they are better than nothing. The advantage of this model is that it has an LCD readout of the voltage. With an actual voltage readout, you have a better chance of detecting a "failing" PSU, or one barely within specified ATX Form Factor Standard tolerances. Lesser models use LEDs to indicate the voltage is just within some "range". These are less informative, considerably cheaper, but still useful for detecting PSUs that have already "failed". Newegg has several testers to choose from. All these testers contain a "dummy load" to fool the PSU into thinking it is connected to a motherboard, and therefore allows the PSU to power on, if able, without being attached to a motherboard - great for testing fans, but again, it is not a true load or suitable for conclusive testing.

As mentioned, swapping in a known good supply is a tried and trued method of troubleshooting used for years, even by pros. Remove the "suspect" part and replace with a "known good" part and see if the problem goes away.

I do not recommend using a multimeter to test power supplies. To do it properly, that is, under a realistic load, the voltages on all the pins must be measured while the PSU is attached to the motherboard and the computer powered on. This requires poking (with some considerable force) two hard and sharp, highly conductive meter probes into the main power connector, deep in the heart of the computer. One tiny slip can destroy the motherboard, and everything plugged into it. It is not worth the risk considering most multimeters, like plug-in testers, do not measure, or reveal any unwanted and potentially disruptive AC components to the DC voltages.

Note the required voltage tolerance ranges:

Posted Image


And remember, anything that plugs into the wall can kill. Do not open the power supply's case unless you are a qualified electronics technician. There are NO user serviceable parts inside a power supply.
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#3
Thrashnak

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I have since been unable to get the PC to get to the Login screen, it gets just past the Windows loading screen, then the green snow starts and everything freezes. On occasion it will restart and go through the same loop. I was unable even to start in safe mode.

I did remember I had a slightly older PC in my closet with a lesser video card and installed that. It seemed to work until, while trying to find a better screen resolution, everything went black. I think I switched it to a bad resolution for that card and now I can't get it back to one that works. Everything was fine up til then though, with no snow. When I put the original card back in, it froze after the loading screen again. So now I am unable to do anything on it. I have a new card coming from Newegg that should be here on Monday, but I am planning to run down to the local Fry's and see if there is one there I can pick up this afternoon.

I will update after I put in a new card and test it out. Thanks!

As far as the rest of the machine, I am very meticulous with cleaning my parts and keeping dust out of it, it runs at a constant 30C inside, and I went through each connection and they are all solid.

The only real change that has occurred recently is, after being used on average for about 2-6hrs a day 6-7 days a week for two years, December and January I only used it for 2-3hrs a day, maybe 2-3 days a week, then for all of February and up until earlier this week, I was out of town and it sat unused. It crashed after my third day back using it, averaging a couple hours each day.
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#4
Thrashnak

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Replaced video card, everything is good.
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#5
Digerati

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Thanks for the followup.
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