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How to diagnose hardware problems


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#1
jabulani_jonny

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There is a related thread here:

http://www.geekstogo...le_-t40936.html

That thread talks about the problems I was having with my wireless card after I did an LCD inverter repair.

And now, the rest of the story....

I have taken out the wireless card, but the computer is randomly freezing. It's happening inconsistently. I may be able to work for 3 hours doing audio production work, then I go to open something on my firewire drive and it freezes. CTRL +ALT+DEL does nothing. I have to do a hard power off then power back on. I can' really replicate the freeze because it just does it at random times.

When I check my Event Viewer, the only X's I see are PerfNet and PerfLib. I thought these weren't supposed to cause a crash, but the times on the errors coincide with the time the computer freezes.

So now I'm wondering...how can I diagnose if it's a hardware issue? Is there software that can be used? Is there a way to test my RAM, MoBoard, CPU, HD, etc. to see if there is an individual element that's causing the issue?

I would really rather try diagnosing and fixing this rather than taking it somewhere that is just going to go online and do the same problem solving that I can do and charge me $65/hr to do it.

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Oh yeah, here are my system specs and what I run regularly for virus/malware stuff.
-------------

Acer Aspire 1710
P4 2.8ghz, Northwood MB
1 gb Corsair PC3200
80gb Seagate 7200 rpm
XP SP-1 (because recording software has conflicts with SP-2)

Done regularly:
Adaware full scan
SpyBot fullscan
Panda full scan
CCleaner
Ewido- running guard and suite
Defrag- about every 2-3 days

Reformatted HD about 2 weeks ago. Problems not fixed.


Thanks for any and all help!!

Edited by jabulani_jonny, 05 July 2005 - 08:56 AM.

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#2
gtippery

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... the computer is randomly freezing.  It's happening inconsistently.  I may be able to work for 3 hours doing audio production work, then I go to open something on my firewire drive and it freezes.  CTRL +ALT+DEL does nothing.  I have to do a hard power off then power back on.  I can' really replicate the freeze because it just does it at random times.

View Post

Was "when I open something on my firewire drive" an example of a random time, or does only happen then?

Does it always restart after power cycling?

A repeating hard freeze is usually a hardware problem, especially if it's inconsistent. Power supply, RAM, something like that.

When I check my Event Viewer, the only X's I see are PerfNet and PerfLib.  I thought these weren't supposed to cause a crash, but the times on the errors coincide with the time the computer freezes.

View Post

Um, do you run much software that is "supposed to cause a crash"? :tazz:

(I've no opinion on the significance of these logged events, as I don't use XP much.)

So now I'm wondering...how can I diagnose if it's a hardware issue?  Is there software that can be used?  Is there a way to test my RAM, MoBoard, CPU, HD, etc. to see if there is an individual element that's causing the issue?

View Post

I'd try here first:
Acer Support

Otherwise, look for "burnin" type tests that run for extended periods of time, logging as they go.

At least a couple of memory outfits have free RAM testers that you boot directly into (no Windows loaded):
DocMemory
MemTest86
You'll need be able to boot from a floppy disk or CDR you make from the download.

Googling "diagnostics download" gets a lot of good hits. The Ultimate Boot CD is a favorite of a lot of people; there's also a 'Windows version", but that shouldn't have any effect on hardware testing, just on Windows "fixes" vs. Linux ones.

Tom's Hardware is a good source of information and Tom himself is often very helpful, at least in the newsgroups where I see him.

I would really rather try diagnosing and fixing this rather than taking it somewhere that is just going to go online and do the same problem solving that I can do and charge me $65/hr to do it. 

Any and all help is greatly appreciated.

Oh yeah, here are my system specs and what I run regularly for virus/malware stuff.
-------------

Acer Aspire 1710
P4 2.8ghz, Northwood MB
1 gb Corsair PC3200

View Post

Have you any other RAM you could substitute as a test? Or if this is more than one memory "stick", can you try doing without one at at time for a while?

80gb Seagate 7200 rpm
XP SP-1 (because recording software has conflicts with SP-2)

Done regularly:
Adaware full scan
SpyBot fullscan
Panda full scan
CCleaner
Ewido- running guard and suite
Defrag- about every 2-3 days

View Post

How much of this stuff is resident? Have you tried running "clean", without anything you don't actually have to have loaded? No AV, no "screen saver", no system tray utilities... You don't need resident scanners, etc. except when you're online or opening unknown files (including email). Resident programs sometimes conflict (or are just buggy). Simplify your environment and see if that has any effect.

Reformatted HD about 2 weeks ago.  Problems not fixed. 

View Post

After the reformat, did you reinstall from the original CD(s) or restore a backup (possibly also "restoring" the problem)?
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#3
jabulani_jonny

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Hey G,
Thanks for the reply, I appreciate it.

Was "when I open something on my firewire drive" an example of a random time, or does only happen then?

Does it always restart after power cycling?


Yeah, that was just an example. Last night it locked up when loading a web page. It always restarts just fine.


Have you any other RAM you could substitute as a test? Or if this is more than one memory "stick", can you try doing without one at at time for a while?



Yes, and that's my plan for tomorrow. I'm gonna put the 512 stick that came with it back in, along with the wireless card and try going with a pretty naked system for a while.

How much of this stuff is resident? Have you tried running "clean", without anything you don't actually have to have loaded? No AV, no "screen saver", no system tray utilities... You don't need resident scanners, etc. except when you're online or opening unknown files (including email). Resident programs sometimes conflict (or are just buggy). Simplify your environment and see if that has any effect.


I shut off my AV when I'm not online and my computer is setup for "best performance", ie. no screen savers, none of the "nicer" XP graphics stuff, no XP sounds and it's setup for Background Services for my recording environment. I generally keep a pretty streamlined setup due to needing all the CPU and RAM performance for audio production.

After the reformat, did you reinstall from the original CD(s) or restore a backup (possibly also "restoring" the problem)?


I used the system disk that came with it. That was my first inclination that it was hardware. After RF with the system disk, all drivers would have been fine and everything should have worked swimmingly. However, I was still getting glitches. That said it was more than software related.

Thanks for those links. That's the kind of stuff I was talking about as far as RAM testers and what not. I did find some hardware diagnostics stuff that was neat, albeit out of my price range for what I'm trying to do.

The Acer support is not great. In fact, that was my first route. Since my laptop is out of warranty, there's a flat fee of $450 just to send it to them and they'll repair up to two major components. That's what drove me to replacing the inverter myself in the first place. I found that out on a $25 phone call to tech support. Out of warranty calls are $2.50/min. You gotta love it.

I'll check out those other sites and I'm gonna run with another stick of RAM and see if that helps. I'll keep you posted. Thanks for your help!
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#4
gtippery

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...
I shut off my AV when I'm not online and my computer is setup for "best performance", ie. no screen savers, none of the "nicer" XP graphics stuff, no XP sounds and it's setup for Background Services for my recording environment.  I generally keep a pretty streamlined setup due to needing all the CPU and RAM performance for audio production.
I used the system disk that came with it.  That was my first inclination that it was hardware.  After RF with the system disk, all drivers would have been fine and everything should have worked swimmingly.  However, I was still getting glitches.  That said it was more than software related.

View Post

Yup, definitely sounds like hardware.

 

Thanks for those links.  That's the kind of stuff I was talking about as far as RAM testers and what not.  I did find some hardware diagnostics stuff that was neat, albeit out of my price range for what I'm trying to do. 

The Acer support is not great.  In fact, that was my first route.  Since my laptop is out of warranty, there's a flat fee of $450 just to send it to them and they'll repair up to two major components.  That's what drove me to replacing the inverter myself in the first place.  I found that out on a $25 phone call to tech support.  Out of warranty calls are $2.50/min.  You gotta love it. 

View Post

Ah, well, the theory was that you might be able to download a service manual, diagnostics, and the like. Some mfgrs have them available for free, others want you to pay for them, and some act like "there ain't no such thing, our computers never fail". :tazz: You're actually lucky you could get replacement parts. Or were you able to fix the inverter with generic components?

I'll check out those other sites and I'm gonna run with another stick of RAM and see if that helps.  I'll keep you posted.  Thanks for your help!

View Post


No problem, please do let us know. Good luck!
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#5
jabulani_jonny

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Hey G,
Excellent Links, especially that Ultimate Boot CD with all the tests and programs on it for virus scans and what not. I'll be making one when I get home. My goal is to also make it a Windows bootable disk along with all the programs. Only thing is I don't really understand the command prompt stuff they were talking about to add the windows boot image.

I also did some reading on Tom's Hardware of the BartPE boot disk. Pretty much the same idea, but takes more work to build it. You gotta add all the plugins instead of already having the plugins and adding the windows boot image.

Have you worked with either? Any hints or tips? Thx!
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#6
Jack123

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How old is computer? . . .How long have you had problem ?
Is it gradually getting worse?

I had same constant/random freeze/lockups after computer was ~2 years old . . . .

Added a game & started to act up . . . .thought about video driver problems . . . uninstalled game . . . put video drivers back & whatever

Problem started to expand onto other applications

Turned out to be DUST buildup on my CPU heatsink & fan assembly

Fins on heatsink were clogged . . . .CPU was heating up and shuting down . . .

Cleaned that little puppy up & everything is good . . ..now I spray out every 3 months

You can monitor CPU TEMP in BIOS, but it is an average & lagging plus CPU is not doing much - - - -TEMP cutoff circuitry is reading PEAK & shuts down quickly (it has to!) so by the time you reset and get into BIOS the CPU has cooled down enough to work for awhile -depending how hard you work it & room temp . . . . .

Without proper test equipment . . . Your only treating the symptoms & experience is golden . . .hence you learn a lot on these Forums . . .just by reading...

Just check your CPU heatsink for proper airflow!! & clean if necessary

PS . . . Read instructions on can if you use the AIR DUST...

Pressured Air turns to liquid when inverted . . . .BIGGER PROBLEM

Jack123
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#7
jabulani_jonny

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Thanks Jack,
I do need to clean it, but that's not the issue.

I use MobileMeter for my temp readings and I was getting lockups on a very cool computer. Then it would run with higher temps on heavier applications and be fine, for a while anyway. I do need a good cleaning and a re-app of Arctic Silver though.

Thx!

Oh, if you're going to monitor your temps, check out mobile meter. Great little app doesn't take up hardly any room or resources.
Find it here:

Mobile Meter
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#8
Jack123

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Thanks for the Mobile Meter link - I put it in my favorites for now . .
I will look into it later

Thanks
Jack123
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#9
jabulani_jonny

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Alright, an update...

Replaced the RAM, still froze. Reformatted HD (again), this time I loaded some diagnostic apps along with all my security stuff. I loaded PCWizard, CPU Burn in, System Mechanic and I upgraded to SP2 immediately after re-installing windows. Booted into safe mode and ran all my scans, along with system Mechanic. I used system mechanic to fix any registry errors and defrag and compress the registry. I defragged and all that good stuff. After getting everything loaded, I restarted in regular mode and used CPU burn in to run my CPU up a little to test if it was a heat issue along with notifying if there were any calculation errors. Got the temp up to about 55 degrees with no problems. No calculation errors.

Now during the day, while I was performing all these tasks, the computer froze twice. Not when I was in the middle of tasks or using CPU burn in, but when I would just be on my desktop, and I would be moving my mouse over to click on a shortcut or something. I mean, literally doing nothing. Freeze bam. As a matter of fact I'm typing this on my desktop while my laptop is sitting here frozen, again. I was going to let it just sit for a while to see if it would magically snap out of it.

So I'm back to square one, it's either got to be my CPU, MoBo or HD. I can't figure out what the Sam Hill is going on or how to tell what the culprit is.

Any help is greatly, greatly appreciated.
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#10
EMCguy

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jonny

I had an ACER that crashed with great regularity until I put a grounded ESD mat underneath it. The ESD was so low ( under 3kV), that I never felt the discharges. While this isnt prime ESD season anywhere, I'd never run an ACER without such a mat.

:tazz:
Are you using a UPS? (I realize its a laptop, but some laptops have bad batteries and only run when connected to AC power) What about a surge suppresor/filter strip?

Have you tried running it standalone say in some AV scan, with all cables disconnected? If that works fine always, then start adding back in the cables.

;)
At what point do you declare it obsolete and start with a new one?

Best regards,

EMCGuy
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#11
gtippery

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Ultimate Boot CD ... make it a Windows bootable disk ... BartPE boot disk...
Have you worked with either? 

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Not under Windows, sorry. Making them Windows bootable seems to be tricky - my son made a half-dozen "coasters" in the attempt then gave up.
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#12
gtippery

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jonny

I had an ACER that crashed with great regularity until I put a grounded ESD mat underneath it.  The ESD was so low ( under 3kV), that I never felt the discharges.  While this isnt prime ESD season anywhere, I'd never run an ACER without such a mat.

:tazz:
Are you using a UPS?  (I realize its a laptop, but some laptops have bad batteries and only run when connected to AC power)  What about a surge suppresor/filter strip? 

View Post


These are excellent suggestions. I worked one place where adding ESD keyboard mats / palm rests cut the number of crashes roughly in half. (A big hint is if it's more likely to crash when you touch it after being away from the keyboard for a while.) And depending on the quality (or lack thereof ;) ) of your AC power, a UPS, especially a "continuous" UPS, can make a big difference. I've never seen a filter strip help much, but a surge supressor is good insurance and the better ones usually include filters at little or no additional cost.
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#13
jabulani_jonny

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Those are good suggestions! Now, the Aspire 1710 has rubber feet that raise the laptop about 1 cm in the back and 1/2 cm in the front. So even though it's not an ESD I would hope/expect that those rubber feet would count for something.

Are you using a UPS? (I realize its a laptop, but some laptops have bad batteries and only run when connected to AC power) What about a surge suppresor/filter strip?

Well, I took the battery out and I'm running it solely on AC through a surge protector. Not a UPS, just a standard surge protector. I was wondering about the power though, whether or not I was getting some dirty power. Especially the other day when I was working with my recording software, actually recording something, the air conditioner kicked on and there were changes made to my external sound card software! ;)

When it locks up it's not always when I'm touching it so I don't think it would be a static thing. It's hard for me to believe it would be power when I've been running it in this room through this surge protector for the last eight months with no problems.

Obsolete? Well, I'm just trying to get it running again so I can sell it to upgrade to a Sager with a 3 yr warranty. :tazz:

It sounds like the only way to really diagnose it is to start switching out the CPU, HD and Mobo, none of which I have extras of. Dang. ;)

Thanks for all of your suggestions so far.
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#14
jabulani_jonny

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Fun Fun it's only getting better, now i'm getting BSOD errors:

MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION
Stop 0x0000009c (0x00000000 0x805DA70 0xA2000000 0x84010400)

Don't understand where this is coming from? Probably after I ran System Mechanic's Registry cleaner. It probably deleted a bunch of registry entries for my hardware. Lovely!. This is just getting frickin' ridiculous. :tazz:
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#15
gtippery

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Those are good suggestions!  Now, the Aspire 1710 has rubber feet that raise the laptop about 1 cm in the back and 1/2 cm in the front.  So even though it's not an ESD I would hope/expect that those rubber feet would count for something. 

Nope, if anything that'd make it worse. You want grounded, not isolated on insulating feet. But the main concern for ESD is whether YOU are grounded.

'Course, the feet do aid the cooling, which is probably even more important.


Well, I took the battery out and I'm running it solely on AC through a surge protector.  Not a UPS, just a standard surge protector.  I was wondering about the power though, whether or not I was getting some dirty power.  Especially the other day when I was working with my recording software, actually recording something, the air conditioner kicked on and there were changes made to my external sound card software!  ;)

:help: Ack! Tell me the computer's NOT on the same circuit as the A/C!! Having electronics share a line with any kind of motor (mixers, vacuum cleaners) is bad, but compressors (A/C, 'fridge, etc.) are about the worst! (Well, I've heard arc welders are pretty bad, too... :help: ) Not only do they cause the voltage to dip and surge when they're starting, they make really nasty spikes when they shut off.


When it locks up it's not always when I'm touching it so I don't think it would be a static thing.  It's hard for me to believe it would be power when I've been running it in this room through this surge protector for the last eight months with no problems. 

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Surge protectors wear out, you know. Maybe that one's just used up.

The "when I'm not touching it" mostly eliminates ESD unless you are "touching" something connected to it, like a printer.


Obsolete? Well, I'm just trying to get it running again so I can sell it to upgrade to a Sager with a 3 yr warranty.  :tazz:

It sounds like the only way to really diagnose it is to start switching out the CPU, HD and Mobo, none of which I have extras of.  Dang.  ;)

View Post


Well, if you have to replace the MB, there's no way you'll come out ahead selling it afterwards, sad to say. HD might be OK, if you either get it really cheap or put in a big new one. CPU probably depends on how good a deal you can find. If you do have to scrap it, try eBaying it as a "parts machine" -- somebody may need the display, for instance.


"Machine Check Error" doesn't sound to me at all like a registry error. I'm not bold enough to claim it couldn't be, but it seems unlikely. Have you tried reseating anything that plugs into the MB, like processor, ram, maybe power or display sub-boards, maybe "chipset" ICs, etc.?

How about RAM? Have you run any memory diagnostics yet? If this takes standard-sized memory sticks, you might want to try different one(s). If they're nonstandard, you're probably back at "costs more than the whole computer will sell for". :help:

Could you buy or borrow a UPS? You probably ought to have one anyway, and for a laptop it wouldn't have to be a very large one. Or if you travel much, a new battery, but they're quite expensive and of course it couldn't be used on your next computer.

If you have any way of monitoring -- preferably recording -- the power voltages, that might be informative.
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