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Random Computer Lock-Ups / How to Diagnose?

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August 24, 2006 2:31:24 PM

I've been having problems with a computer I've built over the years randomly locking up at a rate of about 1 to 2 times per week. This has never happened while I'm using it, but when it is sitting idle. The Windows XP logs give no indication of why the lock up occurred, and because the monitor is in power save mode, I haven't been able to see if there's a BSOD.

The one indicator I have had is that the hard drive light is always on solid. I have to unplug the power cord to turn the machine off, as the front power switch is non-responsive.

I have replaced the power supply and a multi-format card reader that I suspected could have been the culprits, but the problem still occurs.

What should I do to try and initially diagnose this issue? Turn off the power save on my monitor to see if it is blue screening? I can provide additional hardware details, but I thought I would throw this out first to see if there's a way to get information on what is causing the crash.

I recently error checked and defragged the C: drive, no issues there. The system is running a 3 year old P4 2.8 dual threaded processor on an Abit IC7G motherboard with 1 gig of dual channel memory. The video card is an ATI 9000 or 9200 All-in-Wonder I believe.

Thanks in advance for any help you folks can provide!

-Curt
August 25, 2006 7:38:17 PM

** bump **

Seriously, I could really use some advice here. I've run memory testing, and all is well there.

Is there some sort of logging I can run to see what is happening when it locks up? I've checked the log for my virus scanner, and every scanning job that has started has finished, so its not happening then either.

Help! 8O
August 25, 2006 8:39:04 PM

Is this the same install of XP that has been locking up for years?
Is the power button or reset button normaly responsive?

I would want to see what the screen looks like when it crashes also, and I think changing the power settings for the monitor is a good idea.

You might change the power scheme for the hard drives to never turn off as well. Make sure the power swtich is hooked up to the MB properly.

Is the system protected with surge protection?

System stats are ALWAYS a good idea when asking about a problem.
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August 25, 2006 9:19:50 PM

First when did this all start? Did you install any software before this started happening?

I'd try to run an OS-on-a-CD like ubuntu or something. And let it just run for a while. This would differentiate the issue from being windows related vs hardware related. If it does lock up, then you probably have a hardware problem and you can eliminate the headache-causing software troubleshooting.

Also try what mpilchfamily said. I have mine so that the monitor turns off, but not the system. Also make sure its not hibernating on you by itself.

Of course, you can always reformat and see if that helps too.
August 25, 2006 10:23:35 PM

Yes...disable the monitor power saving mode. You want to see the lockup. Right Click 'My Computer', left click 'properties' click 'Advanced Properties' Tab, click 'Startup & Recovery' and uncheck 'Automatically Restart'. This will help if it is a Blue Screen error.

Try booting to Safe Mode and leave it on there for a long time. Does it lock up in Safe Mode?

Try booting to Bios---can the computer stay on without locking up at the Bios screen for a long time?

Another way to sort out the OS is to grab a 2nd drive---re-install Windows totally and test from there. This way your not harming your current install of Windows trying things. Later you can always keep the 2nd drive for extra storage or a different system. If the machine still locks up you know it's hardware for sure. (similar to what the other post wanted you to do--run a copy of Linux in memory)

If you narrow it down to hardware ...then remove as much as you can--remove add in cards---use only one stick of memory---disable everything you can in the BIOS----network card---Sound card and test. If the lock ups go away---re-enable each item and continue to test until it locks up again. Then you know what device is causing it.

In my travels I have had a network card from Broadcom that was built into a Tyan motherboard that did this to me. It was very hard to find.
I have also had a USB 2.0 add in card do the same thing and I have had a incorrect sound card driver do this to me. I have also seen this with bad ram, but bad ram is so easy to test with Memtestx86 its not the type of problem that makes you pull your hair out.

Heat related is also a culprit. I have seen a Heatsink that was installed incorrectly (wasn't sitting flat on the processor) but you should be seeing high temps in Bios and believe you mention that temps have been fine. You could also try a add in graphics card and disable the onboard video card?

Keep is updated as you go.
August 28, 2006 5:45:07 PM

Thanks to all of you for the detailed responses. Funny, the system has now been running for 5 days with some strenuous use, so I haven't had a crash to detect just yet.

Here's some more details:

This is the 3rd windows installation on the 2nd hard drive. The 3rd installation was in conjunction with the change in motherboard. The crashes are much less frequent now, but they are hard lockups and not BSOD reboots as before.

The power settings are for Home/Desktop, with never settings for the hard drive and system standby.

I now have the system set to not reboot, and for the monitor not to go into power save mode, with no screensaver either.

I don't think it is heat, as I did some very heavy video editing over the weekend, and no problems occurred.

I have a Ubuntu disk ready to try if I can't get anything from the next Windows crash. I would have already converted it to Ubuntu already if I didn't need it for some video editing and DVD production....

I have run memtest86 on the memory, and it tests fine.

So, I'll post again after my next lock up, thanks for the suggestions. Its just frustrating not knowing what the issue is, in particular because I have 4 other machines in the house running Windows XP that never crash, and run for weeks at a time. Also, it is frustrating that the lock ups occur when the system is essentially doing nothing, rather than being under load from a program.

Thanks again!

-Curt
August 28, 2006 6:48:53 PM

That machine I had that had the bad built-in Broadcom Giga Network card would do that too. Hard lock. No Blue Screen, no error in Event viewer (you did check Event Viewer right?) I could see the screen but the mouse wouldn't move and even the three finger salute wouldn't work. It was very hard to troubleshoot. My only clue that it was the network card was this: When it locked up the network card would spaz out and flood the switch with packets that would bump any nearby machines off the network and since it was a lighted NiC I could see the transmit light flashing continously.

I hope you find the trouble!
September 6, 2006 2:02:41 PM

Well, I finally had a lock up occur. I checked the display, and the screen was frozen with no error messages in sight. I checked the error logs, nothing either.

I have some updated drivers for the on-board network with the Abit IC7G. I'll try those to see if they help.
!