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Unknown issue causing PC shutdown (Gfx card overheating?)

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January 1, 2011 4:07:05 AM

My desktop computer has been having problems real recently. We (I or one of my siblings) would be minding our own business and suddenly *boom* the screen goes black, the computer shut down. This is not a gradual "Windows is shutting down, please don't turn off the power" type shutdown, this is a "straight-to-black-screen, sucks for you" shutdown - like what happens when we get a power blackout, except without the power to the house turning off.

The computer *was* a Dell Dimension E521, but I've since installed Windows 7 32bit (a year ago) and replaced the video card with an ATI HD Radeon 4680 (two years ago).

Furthermore, this seems to happen primarily when playing games. It happened once before when I was playing Minecraft (I play minecraft alot - before it was popular!), and recently it's happened 5 times while my brother played Modern Warfare 2 that he recently bought off Steam. However, even though it's *mostly* happened with Modern Warfare 2, and since my brother bought the game, it has happened more frequently, it's also happened with other games (such as Minecraft, and I don't know what else).

It worries me - I like this computer, and it has served me well. It's not too old (2007, IIRC), and runs well enough. Only recently has this problem started.

What do you think the problem is? I have virtually no knowledge of computer hardware - I'm a software programmer only.
Due to it usually happening when playing games, as well as the "straight-to-black" shutdown nature of the problem, my guess would be the videocard. I believe it to be overheating, but it doesn't seem to be getting noticably hot...

1) What program should I download, that can monitor my videocard tempatures and record them, so even once the computer crashes at some unknown time in the future, I can then go check the logs? The ones I found all seem to be old programs for Windows 98 or XP; I use Windows 7, and want to know what people use on this side of the millenia (and if the old ones are the prefered, let me know which one pls).

2) How can I find any video card error log file - if such a thing exists? (The Windows 7 problem center has no error logs related to these issues)

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Another thought, was maybe that too much dust has accumulated in the computer. I opened up the case yesterday and cleaned out as much dust as I could wiping everything down with Dr Pepper*.
I figure, who doesn't like Dr Pepper? Maybe it was just thirsty or dehydrated, and needed a drink. Okay, just kidding, but I did open the case up and get as much dust out as I could. I got out quite a bit. However, in reading some articles online, I hear lots of talk of taking out the video card specifically, and cleaning that off. I don't have thermal-radiated-magic-uranium-encoated-liquifide-mythril-uber-gel, and I seriously doubt I need it, but:

3) What is a very simple guide to getting dust out of the videocard itself? The guide I found involves 19 steps and magic thermal gel with +25% fire resistance. I just want to clean out the dust! How do I do so?

Any other information that I should get to help you help me help my computer help my videocard? If so, please let me what information to get, and how to get it. I'm a hardware newbie. I mean noob. Eh, n00b? n00b13? Whatever - just assume I'm a Level 11 ignoramus, who put all his skill points into baking cheesecake (hey, someone needs that skill!).

Thanks in advance for your help, I really apreciate it guys.
a c 204 U Graphics card
January 1, 2011 4:45:14 AM

You are most likely looking at a failing PSU. Many Dells have underwhelming PSUs from the start. Seems you have gotten a fair amount of use from yours. They do wear out and will cause such failures when pressed hard (like during gaming when the system is maxed out on GPU and CPU performance). If you have access to another PSU, swap them and see how the system performs. Otherwise, might be a good idea to buy a new PSU.

Also, take a look at your motherboard itself and make sure none of your capacitors are leaking, bulging, deformed, etc. Those too can go bad (Dell has issues in some models) as well.

Good luck!
a b U Graphics card
January 1, 2011 1:25:02 PM

If you have an AMD video card you use the AMD software to check video card temps. It's called Catalyst Control Center and it comes with the drivers that you install for the video card.

You can just keep it open while gaming and then alt+tab out to check your video card temps.

You use a can of compressed air to removed dust from the video card.
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January 1, 2011 2:18:30 PM

I definitely used to have Catalyst installed, but I guess I forgot to re-install it a year ago after I installed Win 7. I re-installed Catalyst last night. Is there a spot where I can see a chart of the past, say, 5 minutes of tempetures? All I can see (on the ATI Overdrive page) is the current tempeture right this second.
COLGeek said:
You are most likely looking at a failing PSU. Many Dells have underwhelming PSUs from the start. Seems you have gotten a fair amount of use from yours. They do wear out and will cause such failures when pressed hard (like during gaming when the system is maxed out on GPU and CPU performance). If you have access to another PSU, swap them and see how the system performs. Otherwise, might be a good idea to buy a new PSU.

Also, take a look at your motherboard itself and make sure none of your capacitors are leaking, bulging, deformed, etc. Those too can go bad (Dell has issues in some models) as well.


I just found out it definitely is the video card overheating - I found some error logs that I couldn't previously find: "System shutdown due to graphics card overheating".
(Although it may be other issues as well, that's causing it to overheat, IDK) (atikmdag - POWERPLAY - eventID = 6145)

I will remove the video card itself and try to clean out the dust with compressed air as recommended, and see if I can notice anything that sticks out to me as wrong on the motherboard, but not being familiar with the motherboard, I probably wont be able to notice anything unless it's a blantantly obvious problem.
a c 204 U Graphics card
January 1, 2011 3:35:29 PM

Download and install hwmonitor. Get the free version. With it you can monitor temps over time.

A flaky PSU can contribute to an overheating GPU. Blow out your PSU while blowing out the GPU (and the rest of your system).

Good luck!

Best solution

a b U Graphics card
January 1, 2011 5:24:11 PM
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Yes, cleaning the graphics card is a good start. And as you may have figured out, you don't need to dismantle anything nor need any magic gel. Your compressed air should take care of all or most of the issue. Also take a good look at the fan blades to make sure the air cleaned all the dust off them.

Note that you have to make sure you clean all of the blades "evenly". The fan has to be well balanced to run at its high rpms and uneven cleaning can throw it out of balance.

By the way, are you sure your card is an HD 4680? You should also see if you have any controls limiting the fan speed on the graphics card.

Another major factor that can contribute to the graphics card overheating is the temperature inside the case. So make sure you check the case fans to verify they are all working properly and clean the them and the fan ports as well. You might also check your manual to see if there are any adjustible controls for the case fans.

"Messy" cables inside the PC can also hamper effective ventilation, so make sure all cables are pulled back or stuffed away to improve air flow inside the case.
January 8, 2011 12:02:05 AM

Best answer selected by ComServant.
January 8, 2011 12:06:03 AM

Okay, thanks guys. Finally got some compressed air (wow it was hard to find - took a few days) and cleaned out the videocard and other parts of the computer.
The videocard was making some wierd noises (probably unbalanced as Rockyjohn said) but that stopped after a few minutes. Lots of dust in it.

I can't tell for sure whether it fixed the problem, I can only tell if it hasn't fixed it (if it blacks out again) - however, I'm confident that this helped.
I apreciate your willingness to share knowledge and your taking the time to help me - thank you.
!