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Noob question: debugging my once-working new rig

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July 22, 2008 11:51:16 AM

I successfully built my first computer last month (specs below). It booted on the 1st try and has worked well for the last 3 weeks until...last night I was playing a game, and it rebooted right in the middle. I saw the usual boot sequence (BIOS, IRQ, 'Verifying Pool Data'), then a black screen. Now it seems to be stuck in this cycle boot-to-black-screen cycle. It never gets to any Windows boot message.

Here's what I've done so far (with no luck):

1. BIOS: Reset.
2. Memory: I've run memory tests. I've tried booting with a single mem board. (The boards are Ballistix Tracers that have LEDs on them and the LEDs seem to be active, even after the boot sequence is done.)
3. Windows: I tried booting from the Windows XP CD.

Regardless, I still get the black screen after the BIOS/IRQ/Pool boot sequence. I am still kind new to this, so I am at a loss as to what to try next. Any help would be appreciated.

Please help me save face with the wife. She thought I was a genius for building it. Now she's wondering if I really was all that smart!

(For what it's worth, the game was Age of Conan.)

More about : noob question debugging working rig

a b K Overclocking
July 22, 2008 12:21:20 PM

Why it would happen now and not immediately I'm not sure, but the P35 chipset has trouble with DDR2-1066 RAM. I could not get it to work reliably on my Abit IP35Pro, nor on a Gigabyte, and I've read plenty of other accounts of it. Your symptoms are different than the data corruption I and others reported though. It sounds more like something overheated. Does this happen if you have allowed your system plenty of time to cool down?
It should be a good one, and 650W is certainly enough for your system, but you may have just gotten that rare bad PSU.
How did you run memory tests?
Are your hard drives in a RAID array?
a b K Overclocking
July 22, 2008 12:26:50 PM

I had an issue once with my old P35 Mb where the BIOS corrupted it self. Not quite the same as it would let me get to the windows boot screen before rebooting endlessly. It might be worth it to try flashing your BIOS to latest.
Related resources
July 22, 2008 12:39:54 PM

When it gets to the black screen, is there any other activity? I noticed you said the Tracers seem to have activity, how about the HD? I've seen video card drivers mess up where they only display standard VGA, can you get into safe mode? Try hitting F8 before you get that totally black screen and see if safe mode is an option. Or try hitting whatever key you need to hit to get to the boot menu. It would be odd for it to be anything other than the video card if you can get into memtest. What happens when you boot from the Windows CD? Anything different than if the disc isn't in?
July 22, 2008 12:46:59 PM

My thoughts are overheating. That is a classic sign that something either burnt out or over heated.

If you allowed sufficient time to cool down, and you still have the same problem, double check your hard drive connections (both board and drive itself).

Have you been into BIOS to check that all your parts are being detected? If your CPU, or HDD is not being detected properly, you wont get past the BIOS.

Another thought is that it could be a bad video card connection / BIOS setting, preventing you from seeing anything beyond the BIOS. Check that the card is seated properly and that the power is connected to it, as well as checking the BIOS settings for your graphics.

Cheers,

-PM
July 22, 2008 12:55:53 PM

Ah, question... I'm not clear if the computer is automatically rebooting itself after the black screen or not. You say it's a cycle, but does that mean it'll keep looping on its own? Or do you mean that's the only activity you can make it do, boot - black screen, boot - black screen, etc.?
a b K Overclocking
July 22, 2008 1:20:13 PM

Can you boot to Safe Mode? Can you press (f8, usually) and disable "Automatic Restart" so you can see the error code? Knowing that would give us all a place to start.

Have you checked and double checked that you have all of your power and accessory connections secure? Black screen can mean a Video issue, so check that first, middle, and last.

Have you tried to boot off of your XP CD? If not, try that. If successful, then you should be able to select 'Repair installation'.

Do you have a Recovery Disc made? If so, try that. If not? Well... I suppose you're stuck with making a note to yourself to create one once you've fixed your comp.

If that does NOT do the trick, you may end up having to reinstall.
July 22, 2008 1:44:32 PM

It's great to get so much feedback! Lemme see if I can address all the questions:

jtt283...

1. 'Does this happen if you have allowed your system plenty of time to cool down?' Dunno, I'll letcha know in about 8 hours. FWIW, this is an Antec 900 and its got more fans than the Florida Devil Rays. It rarely reports CPU/case temperatures over 105F, even when running SuperPI or Prime95.
2. 'It should be a good one, and 650W is certainly enough for your system, but you may have just gotten that rare bad PSU.' Fair enough. But how would I test for this?
3. 'How did you run memory tests?' I ran the memory test right the the Abit board. Want me to try MemTest?
4. 'Are your hard drives in a RAID array?' No. I'm a noob. The good news is this gives me 3 identical HDDs; I can try one of the unused ones as my primary boot device, if you this it might help debug this.

outlw6669...

'It might be worth it to try flashing your BIOS to latest.' I am trying to avoid that but it starting to look like either the BIOS or the vid card. I'll letcha know once I get the gumption to re-flash (probably tonight).

szwaba67...

1. 'When it gets to the black screen, is there any other activity? I noticed you said the Tracers seem to have activity, how about the HD?' No HD that I see.
2. 'I've seen video card drivers mess up where they only display standard VGA, can you get into safe mode? Try hitting F8 before you get that totally black screen and see if safe mode is an option.' Tried F8. Still get the black screen.
3. 'It would be odd for it to be anything other than the video card if you can get into memtest.' I was thinking the same thing. The card is new (and very beefy). How would I isolate this, however?
4. 'What happens when you boot from the Windows CD? Anything different than if the disc isn't in?' Same black screen right after 'Press Any Key to Boot from CD' and a very brief 'Scanning Your Computer...' messages.

ParticleMan...

1. 'double check your hard drive connections (both board and drive itself).' Done. Nothing seemed loose, FWIW.
2. 'Have you been into BIOS to check that all your parts are being detected? If your CPU, or HDD is not being detected properly, you wont get past the BIOS.' Yep. In the BIOS and during BIOS boot I see CPU, memory, HDDs and DVD/CD all appear just like they did before this trouble started.
3. 'Another thought is that it could be a bad video card connection / BIOS setting, preventing you from seeing anything beyond the BIOS. Check that the card is seated properly and that the power is connected to it, as well as checking the BIOS settings for your graphics.' Done. No change.

szwaba67 (again!)...

'I'm not clear if the computer is automatically rebooting itself after the black screen or not. You say it's a cycle, but does that mean it'll keep looping on its own? Or do you mean that's the only activity you can make it do, boot - black screen, boot - black screen, etc.?' Very good question, IMHO. It stops at the black screen. In fact, I (usually) have to press AND HOLD the power button to shutdown, which to me indicates that the computer is locked (instead of just not giving me DVI video output to my monitor). But, since the Tracer LEDs are twinkling away, SOMETHING is happening on the board/CPU, right?

scotteq...

1. 'Can you boot to Safe Mode? Can you press (f8, usually) and disable "Automatic Restart" so you can see the error code? Knowing that would give us all a place to start.' Nope, can't get into Safe Mode.
2. 'Have you checked and double checked that you have all of your power and accessory connections secure? Black screen can mean a Video issue, so check that first, middle, and last.' Yes, but I will do it again. I may disassemble the whole thing, in fact.
3. 'Have you tried to boot off of your XP CD? If not, try that. If successful, then you should be able to select 'Repair installation'.' I did. Same black screen.
4. 'Do you have a Recovery Disc made? If so, try that.' Sadly, I have not. But in this case my gut tells me I'd see the same results as trying to boot from the Windows XP CD...black screen.
5. ' If not? Well... I suppose you're stuck with making a note to yourself to create one once you've fixed your comp.' Agreed.
6. 'If that does NOT do the trick, you may end up having to reinstall.' I probably would have already, but booting from the Windows XP CD gives the black screen too. At this point, I can't get ANYTHING to appear after the BIOS/IRQ/Pool boot sequence.

And a final note: the motherboard has a nice 'Boot Code' debugging utility. You get a 2-digit hexadecimal output in a little LED window, which can tell you where your boot sequence crapped out. In my case, I consistently shows an 'FF', which I believe is the signal for 'Successful Boot Attempt'. So it seems the BIOS is happy.

Sigh...color me confused. Again, thank you for the ideas. Keep 'em coming!
July 22, 2008 2:06:42 PM

Ok here is another thought.

Do you have a D-Sub (blue plug) monitor available? Something similar happened with my one build, that it would not output DVI. I had to get into windows to change that.

Try hooking up a D-sub monitor and seeing if it displays anything after the bios.

This is assuming that once BIOS post is complete, the DVI monitor of yours goes into low power and says "no signal" or something like that.

Give that a shot. Even try switching the DVI plug to the other one on the card.


Cheers,

-PM
July 22, 2008 2:09:48 PM

OK, on my way out the door to work I decided to try one last thing: rearrange the boot order of my 3 HDDs. They are all identical WD Caviar 180GB, plugged into SATA ports 1, 2 and 3 (no RAID).

The original boot sequence order was SATA 1, SATA 3, SATA 2 (1-3-2). While this sequence doesn't work (as ya'll know by now), boot sequences 3-2-1, 2-3-1, and 3-1-2 let me boot to the Windows XP CD. So as long I do not put SATA 1 first on the list of HDD boot sequence, I can get into the Windows XP CD on my DVD/CD player.

The good news is that it seems my problem is my HDD(s). (Someone tell me if this is an erroneous conclusion, please!) What can I do to distinguish a buggy HDD device from a corrupted Windows XP installation? Would the 'Repair' option of Windows XP do it? Are there bootable (from DVD/CD) HDD test utilities? What other options do I have?
a b K Overclocking
July 22, 2008 2:11:22 PM

Chris - Thanks for the answers and feedback :) 


At this point, I strongly suspect a hardware issue, and would start playing musical components to troubleshoot. Again, Black Screen often indicates Video, so if you have a different card you can use (beg, borrow, or "liberate from elsewhere"), then that's the first thing I would pursue. If you make the swap and get video, then you know it's your card. If you move the existing video card to a different slot, then you know it's a bad slot on your Mobo, etc etc etc..


And if your Mobo uses the same/similar 'Award' bios as my DFI, then yes - the 'FF' code on the LED displays indicates a successful POST. More reason to suspect Video, IMHO.

BTW - EVGA's support team is reputed to be most excellent. Again, in my opinion, it would be worthwhile to shoot them an eMail describing the situation. If you like, feel free to copy/paste from here to speed the process and answer potential questions to them. I don't know if they'd accept links to this thread, but that couldn't hurt either.
July 22, 2008 2:11:25 PM

Not trying to be funny or anything, but does your PSU have a 110/220 switch on it? You'd be surprised how hard that one is to troubleshoot. Aside from that.. You said you were getting the black screen immediately after "Press any key to boot from CD...", right? Maybe you can disconnect your HD or other devices and try to get into the XP cd. Does your mobo have an HD test in the bios? Any other cards or usb devices plugged in?
July 22, 2008 2:14:25 PM

Particleman,

'This is assuming that once BIOS post is complete, the DVI monitor of yours goes into low power and says "no signal" or something like that.' It in fact does NOT go into low power but keeps the green light on.

'Do you have a D-Sub (blue plug) monitor available? Something similar happened with my one build, that it would not output DVI. I had to get into windows to change that. Try hooking up a D-sub monitor and seeing if it displays anything after the bios.' I tried something along these lines. The videocard came with a DVI-to-VGA adapter; I plugged that into a nearby blue-plug monitor and still got the same BIOS/IRQ/Pool/black screen sequence. Is that what you were recommending? I don't see a direct VGA output anywhere on my motherboard/videocard (just 2 DVI outputs), so this was pretty much the only option I could think of.
July 22, 2008 2:21:48 PM

Now we are getting somewhere

I agree with scott, that this is a hardware issue, and not a software one.

Which of your 3 HDDs is XP installed on? Your boot sequence needs the drive that has the MBR on it, or it will sit there like a bump on a log.

If XP is on "Disc 1", then that seems just your drive is corrupted or the MBR is funky. If you can boot to XP with a different sequence, I would check the drive in windows to see if it can be repaired or the possible corrupted sectors can be worked around.

Cheers,

-PM
a b K Overclocking
July 22, 2008 2:22:18 PM

chriswarner said:
OK, on my way out the door to work I decided to try one last thing: rearrange the boot order of my 3 HDDs. They are all identical WD Caviar 180GB, plugged into SATA ports 1, 2 and 3 (no RAID).

The original boot sequence order was SATA 1, SATA 3, SATA 2 (1-3-2). While this sequence doesn't work (as ya'll know by now), boot sequences 3-2-1, 2-3-1, and 3-1-2 let me boot to the Windows XP CD. So as long I do not put SATA 1 first on the list of HDD boot sequence, I can get into the Windows XP CD on my DVD/CD player.

The good news is that it seems my problem is my HDD(s). (Someone tell me if this is an erroneous conclusion, please!) What can I do to distinguish a buggy HDD device from a corrupted Windows XP installation? Would the 'Repair' option of Windows XP do it? Are there bootable (from DVD/CD) HDD test utilities? What other options do I have?




Nice!!! :D  Disregard the post I made a moment ago...


I'd run the repair installation anyhow.

For the drives - You can disconnect the rest, use only your bootable HDD and move it around to see if it's a problem with a specific drive, or with SATA port 1 on your mobo.
July 22, 2008 2:25:21 PM

Chris - I totally missed your post about the drives, nice catch! Here's the bad news though... I haven't ever seen a drive with a corrupt install cause issues with booting from the XP CD. Even drives with corrupt MBRs or invalid partition information will let you boot the CD and get to the point where it'll tell you there's no existing windows installation and allow you to format. WD might have a drive setup utility that you can burn to a CD and boot from, they sometimes have the simple HD tests and you can check all of your drives. You might be able to try Seagate too, I don't know if they check the drive type before letting you do and diagnostics. Or just look for HD diagnostic tools that you can boot from a CD and give it a go.
July 22, 2008 4:17:04 PM

szwaba67...

You said 'I haven't ever seen a drive with a corrupt install cause issues with booting from the XP CD'. Do you mean this is bad news because: a.) you think it's the device itself (and hence, bad because I have lost all the junk I've installed on it), or b.) you think it's device we haven't isolated yet (and hence, bad because it's not the HDD at all)?

Also, as for 'WD might have a drive setup utility that you can burn to a CD and boot from, they sometimes have the simple HD tests and you can check all of your drives', it appears good ole WD does have some tools: http://support.wdc.com/product/download.asp?groupid=606&lang=en. I'm gonna give 'Data Lifeguard Diagnostic for DOS (CD)' a try when I get home, specifically these tests:

* QUICK TEST - This option tests your drive quickly for any major physical problems. (Please note: Although this option is safe and does not alter the data on your hard drive, Western Digital recommends that you have a current backup of your data).
* EXTENDED TEST - This option checks your drive thoroughly and it can repair any correctable errors. (Please note: Although this option is safe and does not alter the data on your hard drive, some data loss may occur, depending on the errors found and the errors corrected. Western Digital recommends that you have a current backup of your data).

Stay tuned.
July 23, 2008 2:50:28 AM

OK, I did two things and one of them went very well...the other went...mmm...not so good.

The good news: I ran WD HDD tests using the utility WD has on it's website. All 'QUICK TESTS' resulted in no errors. ('EXTENDED TEST' is like a 2 hour activity, so I passed on that for now.)

The bad news: I flashed the BIOS from a bootable CD. The flash process seemed to go fine but upon reboot I get a 'BIOS ROM Checksum Error' followed by an attempt to read from the 'A drive' and a 'System Halt'. All attempts to reset the BIOS CMOS result in the same 'System Halt'.

I've made a simple problem worse, I think. I am cursed. I am going to bed. If ya got advice, I am all ears.
a b K Overclocking
July 23, 2008 10:49:28 AM

It sounds like the BIOS did not flash properly and is trying to recover. Do you have an old FDD lying around? Time to dust it off and make a bootable disk. Once you have a bootable disk, copy the latest BIOS image onto it and plug it into the offending system. From the sounds of it, your BIOS has the proper recovery app on board so it should boot from the floppy, locate the BIOS image and reflash it for you. If this dose not work, you will need to put the program needed to flash your BIOS on the floppy along with the image and manually flash the BIOS. A bit of a PITA but it should be fixable.
July 24, 2008 1:40:20 AM

I am happy to report that I have resolved my problem. My hat is off to all of you that helped me out. If you care about the details, I've outlined them below.

---

My problem, apparently, was not hardware related, but a simple Windows XP boot issue. If you Google 'windows xp black screen', you'll find this Microsoft Support article: http://support.microsoft.com/kb/314503. It states simply: 'This issue occurs if one or more of the following elements are corrupted and will not load during the boot sequence of the computer: • Master boot record • Partition tables • Boot sector • NTLDR file'. The fix was kinda straight-forward: boot to Recovery Mode and use fixmbr/fixboot to reset the master boot record (MBR) and boot partition bit. There's a couple of useful articles about this at TechRepublic (http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-22_11-5835305.html?tag=rbxccnbtr1).

As an aside, a re-flash of my BIOS also cost me 24 hours of debugging time. (I guess I didn't need to do this, but hindsight is 20-20). Why 24 hours? The re-flash of my BIOS overwrote something called a 'BootBlock', which is...in the BIOS. In the case of newer Abit motherboards, the BIOS is rather big and expands beyond the normally-reserved BIOS area into the Bootblock bit. So, unless you include a specific parameter during the re-flash ('/wb', for 'write bootblock', lol), this problem is the result. And once that happens, you get to make a floppy and...re-flash again. Makes ya wonder why '/wb' isn't standard, yes? There was a thread about the Bootblock issue (which seems to be a common occurence) in Tom's Forums last year (http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/241354-30-bios-checksum-error) that led me to a nice article about some of this at http://pages.sbcglobal.net/jefn/bootblock.html.

There's more too. Let's not forget the 3 hours I lost trying to track down a Floppy Drive (my goodness, who has those things anymore???). Or the time I wasted trying to create a bootable DOS CD. Or even the effort I went to to perform HDD tests.

All in all, a very instructive exercise. Now, if I could just figure out WHY this happened in the first place. Apparently this is a common result from some computer viruses. But I prefer my other theory:Age of Conan ate my PC (http://www.giantbomb.com/profile/Mukii/age-of-conan-ate-my-pc/30-2385/). It's as good an excuse as any.

Thanks again to all of ya. I owe ya'll a beer.
!