Computer freezes up randomly, bizarre troubleshooting results

Over the past six months, I've been wrangling with a random freeze hardware issue that I haven't been able to pin down. The random freezes are a bit like this: screen stays the same, audio cuts out. Occasionally I'll get an orangeish-brown screen or a grey screen. Fans and everything else still running fine, I think the disks even still spin, though with no activity. Temps are always well within safe range when it freezes.

I started out getting these crashes only occasionally (hence the six-month troubleshooting period), and generally only when playing high-bitrate video files. Now they're much more common and generally hit me whenever I try to load up any video game or video file, and occasionally when browsing the internet.

I've eliminated the following components:
Video card. Popped in an old Radeon card, issue persists.
Ram. Building a PC for a friend, so I swapped ram sticks to see what happens. No change.
HDD/Software. Booted up an install of Windows onna USB stick, still crashes.
Power Supply: Same story with Ram.
Motherboard: Again, same story. Both MBs are the same model.
At this point, I think the only thing I haven't replaced is the processor.

But see, here is when things get a little strange. Over the course of the past six months, I have noticed there was a slight correlation between the frequency of crashes and how often I air-dusted my PC. If I dust it off, immediately the condition improves (but never gets fixed completely). So, I left it alone for a few months until the crashes were so frequent opening a tab in my internet browser would cause my PC to freeze up. I then dusted each individual component until I discovered it was dusting my PSU that improved things. You would understand that I was scratching my head a bit when replacing the PSU did nothing.

So right now I'm considering replacing the processor just to see if that would fix things. At the same time, I'm a bit apprehensive, worried that the crashes would still persist and the root problem is something not even in my PC, like the wiring to my house or something like that. I can't really find any way to connect dust buildup in my PSU to my CPU failing.
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  1. Best answer
    You're right, that is bizarre. My first instinct, given that the symptoms included graphical anomalies, was a failed video card. My second instinct was the PSU. Given that you've swapped both of those, we'll have to get a bit more out there.

    First thing I would do is run a CPU stress test like Prime95 or AIDA64. Run for at least a couple of hours. See if it crashes faster or more often than you'd expect otherwise. I suspect you'll find things run fine, because CPU trouble would be unlikely to cause those random orange/gray screens, but it's worth checking out.

    Also, this is kind of a random thought, but I sense that's what you're looking for: try swapping out the case, or just running the components on a test bench. Other than the CPU, it's the only thing you haven't tried changing. There's a (probably tiny) chance that you've got some kind of short circuit happening with the front panel connectors, power switch leads, or a warped bit of metal in the case itself.

    Oh, and triple-check all your connections, especially PSU cables.
  2. Thanks for suggesting Prime95. All this time and I never considered asking someone about CPU-specific benchmark programs to test the CPU.

    Immediately upon firing up the benchmark, my computer freezes up. Messing around with the settings, I turned down the number of cores and the app doesn't crash. I get maybe a 50/50 chance of it crashing on 3 cores, no crashes on 2. I get a lot of rounding errors however.

    Anyway, following this train of thought, I went into my BIOS and disabled some cores and found my computer to be a lot more stable. This will probably hold me over until I have time to get a new processor. Still have no idea how this all relates to dusting my PSU though. I'll give you guys an update when I slot in a new proc.
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