What is the chance that the motherboard is the culprit?

My fiancée's six-year-old eMachines T2875 has become unusable.

The first problem was that the onboard video card would stop outputting video when she turned on the computer and it got to the high-resolution Windows XP Home Edition screens. This problem happened occasionally for months and then became permanent.

She took it to a shop, keeping her hard-disk drive at home to keep her files private. The man at the shop said that some BIOS settings were the problem, and said he got the computer to behave properly (with his own HDD installed) after he changed the BIOS settings. When she picked it up, they tested it with her HDD; the problem was back. She took it home; the problem was still there.

We then changed two BIOS settings simultaneously and were able to maintain visuals while getting into Windows in Safe Mode. We then tried going into Windows in Normal Mode; the problem was back.

We were worried that her six-year-old HDD may be failing and bought a new one along with a SATA/IDE adapter. No help. (We're no longer think the drive is on its last leg.)

We bought a new video card, which worked in only one or two of her three PCI slots, and only when at least one of the other slots was empty.

We came up with a list of over a hundred hardware configurations and procedures to try:
- old HDD or new HDD
- original RAM or newer RAM
- RAM in slot 1 or 2
- video card in slot 1 or 2 or 3
- entering the BIOS
- booting Windows (on the old HDD) in Safe Mode or Normal Mode
- booting Windows (on the old HDD) or installing Windows (on the new HDD) or repairing Windows (on either HDD)
- (for both installing and repairing) XP Home or XP Pro
- the XP Pro CD in the DVD-ROM drive or in the CD-RW drive.
As you can see, lots of combinations. We stopped trying before we'd gone through them all.

We couldn't even get completely consistent results. But what we did get was this:
1. We can't get into Windows XP Home on her old HDD, whether we boot in Safe or Normal: it always freezes.
2. We can't repair a Windows installation (from either XP Home DVD or XP Pro CD) on either HDD: it always freezes.
3. We can't install Windows (either XP Home or XP Pro) on her new HDD: it always freezes.
4. Sometimes we can't get even the beginnings of any kind of booting: just a blinking low-resolution cursor at the upper left, not even getting into the BIOS.
5. Sometimes we can't get any visuals at all, even with the new video card.

We can think of only three pieces of hardware that are common to all the things we've tried: the motherboard, the CPU, and the power supply.

With our limited knowledge, we don't believe the power supply is the problem: the case fan and CPU fan keep going, and various LEDs remain lit.

We see two options:
1. Buy a new computer, readymade, but try to avoid duplicating peripherals (keyboard, &c.).
2. Build a new computer / replace faulty parts in her current one. (These are two sides of the same coin.)

As much as we'd like a brand-new computer, we have the feeling that option 2 is cheaper, which would be better for our budget now.

Are we probably right that the problem is the motherboard or CPU? Which one is likelier? Should we replace both at once? Should we try to replace them with identical models? If we should replace them with something else instead, what should that be? Is the problem actually probably something else? (Is there any chance the little watch battery on the motherboard is the source of all these problems if it's dying/dead?) Where's a good place to find replacements for whatever is likeliest to be at fault? (Online I've found just a motherboard, advertised as suitable for an eMachines T2875, for about $70 (eBay), and one including a CPU and CPU fan for about $150.)

Basically, what is the cheapest, surest way to get her computer working again? She doesn't need anything fancy right now—she just needs it to work properly.

We don't have much money to spend on getting her a working computer or on taking it to multiple people for diagnostics and repairs. She also doesn't have an easy way to transport it, and she would continue insisting on removing her old HDD before relinquishing her computer to a repair-person. We're confident in our ability to learn and correctly handle new information about this; and I'm confident in her ability to replace components if given proper instruction. (We live far apart—so I can't do the physical work, lend her my computer, &c.) This problem has been dragging on for much of the summer; and she needs her computer working before she resumes college classes, which is at the beginning of September.

Thanks very, very much to anyone with helpful advice/ideas.
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More about what chance motherboard culprit
  1. The online support page for the T2875 is here. THe system is many years discontinued. The system is slow and not worth putting more than like $20 in to it, and even a twenty dollar bill would be painful to part with to 'fix' such an old machine. I think Ebay sells similar systems for like $6.50.

    2. Build a new computer / replace faulty parts in her current one

    The guy at the shop found your emachine system beyond his ability to make it run. The company was sold and is out of business BTW. I'm not sure how you arrive at your ability being up to the capability needed to build a new machine. That entire idea is puzzeling. What did the guy at the shop who adjusted the two settings in the BIOS say when you told him?

    1. Buy a new computer, readymade, but try to avoid duplicating peripherals (keyboard, &c.).

    Definately consider this option BIG TIME. This is your path to computer problem freedom. Be sure and get a warranty from the bulder (DELL, Wal Mart, Best Buy, etc.) As far as avoiding paying for a keyboard, mouse, etc. that may or may not be included with the purchase of a new machine, don't sweat it. You can always find a use for spare mouse and keyboard. They make great high tech decorations in almost any room.
  2. Tom's Hardware sent me an email some days ago, asking "Did you get the answer that you were seeking?" and inviting me to choose a "Best Answer"; it also said "If you did not get the answer you were seeking, we suggest that you add details to your question. By doing so, you will get renewed attention to your issue."

    I suppose constructive criticism sometimes is worth offering.

    I don't need renewed attention. Having continued my own search at other sites, I long ago found the answer elsewhere.

    Although the user "badge", the one person to reply to my admittedly long post, apparently spends much time here and has received many 'badges', his or her response to my post was essentially unhelpful. More or less, he or she linked me to the "online support page" for the computer, which I'd already seen and didn't need; told me that the computer in question was old, which I'd already stated; gave his or her opinion that the computer was not worth trying to fix, which was irrelevant in light of the fact that my questions were all about HOW to fix it, not whether someone else thought it was WORTH fixing; was off by a factor of TWENTY when he or she wrote that such computers were selling for $6.50 at eBay (in fact, they were going for $130—and much more at other sites); pointlessly told me that the repairman failed to repair the computer (already OBVIOUSLY implied in my post); told us that eMachines was defunct, which was irrelevant; said he or she didn't know where I got the idea I could build a computer on my own, which was both pointless and a little insulting (not to mention the fact that I've built eight computers over the years); and finished by telling me to buy a new computer. I don't mean to be harsh; but, even if we disregard all that other stuff, it's still an epic fail for his or her simply not answering the question asked in the subject line and repeated in the body.

    It's a classic example of what happens all too often at support fora:
    A: "How do I do x?"
    B: "You should do y, not x."
    A: "Git."

    Tom's Hardware must be a useful site. But, so far, it hasn't been for me. I'll stick with sites that have a better track record in my own experience.
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