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Severe laptop issues

Last response: in Components
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May 3, 2012 2:24:12 PM

Hello everyone.

I'd like someone to help me with my laptop; i'll list/diagnose the issues the best i can (big post), but i'm so fed up i'm either figuring a fix out or replacing the thing. If i replace it, i'm thinking of replacing the chassis+motherboard (so buy a new barebone), and then migrate as many components as i can (which means all but the CPU). Other than the HDD, I picked the best options the system can take (in theory), so to make it a 4-5 year system. Essentially, I bought a beefed up system to do CAD and play heavy VG's, among others; naturally i can't.

I've had this laptop for some 2-3 years (i got it when the barebone came out) so it's out of warranty, and it's always had these problems, but since i lived out in the sticks in England (having bought the computer in Portugal), i had no means to get it fixed. Once, while on holidays at home, I had the guys i bought the thing from look at it (i gave them a written description similar to this), but they couldn't figure it out.


HARDWARE

This is a Compal NBLB2 barebone; i picked barebone, then the components out of the droplists on the website.
System specs are:
Intel i7 Q820(M?) 4-core, 8 threads @ 1.73GHz
2*4GiB RAM @ 1333MHz
AMD/ATI Radeon Mobile 5650 with 1GiBDDR3 dedicated VRAM
Windows 7x64b Ultimate + SP1.
BIOS is InsydeH2O F.09, dated 2010/04/28.
I know there's a more recent BIOS version, but i don't know how to upgrade, and don't want to brick the system.
HDD: Seagate 500GB (100GiB for the OS+apps, 365GiB), at 7200RPM SATA2
Monitors: primary @ 1920*1080; external monitor @ 1280*1024.

The CPU is in the top left corner of the laptop (when looking at the keyboard), next to the GPU. The hard drive is in the bottom right. The fan (and everything else, really) is fairly clean of dust. Normal running temperatures seem to be 95C.

There is nothing blocking the vents (intake and exhaust). I have a Zalman cooler underneath (220mm fan at its highest RPM, under an aluminium perforated plate); and I removed the metal shielding that covered half of the intake slots underneath (it came from the factory in this condition). Combined, and as far as I can tell, it helps somewhat, but the problem persists, as it's a workaround and not a solution.


SHORT VERSION

In a nutshell, the problem with the computer is that it turns off ALL THE TIME with no warning (not even rebooting; it just shuts down). Puff! No BSOD (so far), just shut downs. However, there is no way this is good for the hard drive. No freezes, no artifacting.
I have to wait some time for it to cool down, but this can be sped up using the cooler underneath and hitting the PowerUSB button. I gauge this by putting my hand on the exhaust vent grille; if it's at room temperature i boot it; the CPU and cooler being made of metal cool faster.

Some days i've had it shut down several times in a row with nothing running (just desktop, read below); after a few tries it boots normally for no apparent reason. Fortunately this is rare-ish (1-2 a month). Most of the time it seems to be overheating (more details later), as when it shuts down the vent's plastic is fairly hot (especially underneath), but not always equally (sometimes it's not as hot as most times).


LONGER VERSION

I've had to disable COMODO Internet Security, uTorrent, Spybot2 and Pnotes to keep the system down to a bare minimum of running apps and services. What's left on the taskbar is Volume, Wireless, Battery, USB-unmount, and the Action Centre flaggy thing. No screensaver, or desktop background (just black).

My normal use is just Firefox running, with some 20-25 tabs open; half the time foobar2000 is playing music. On occasion i might have an explorer window open, or Libreoffice running. Other than this, there's nothing else, maybe the occasional FF download. During use, average load CPU is 1-3% with the occasional spike to 10%; RAM is around 25% (~2GiB) average, with FFox taking around 650MiB. The ff-flash-plugin process (sometimes it's duplicated, on occasion even trebled) uses up a seemingly-random amount of memory; i have the StopAutoplay extension (or whatever it's called) on, so only one video plays at a time. Usually (about 2/3 of the time), this won't turn the computer off; i can get quite a long session if i'm not opening too many tabs, and keeping their number trimmed (open-open, close-close; see below).

Whenever i use VLC, i close Firefox (i look at Task Manager and wait for the process to disappear). About half the time, playing large-ish movies (>1.5GiB) on VLC will shut down the computer; normal episodes (~350MiB) not so often. If I'm watching something on youtube in fullscreen (720p or above), sooner or later the computer will turn off. I'm stuck with 360p in a frame, but if i'm watching a long clip (30min and up) at that resolution, there's a 20-25% chance it'll turn the system off. I can watch (for longer) the same video in 720p if I download it; VLC seems to be more forgiving.

Something that will usually shut the computer down is opening in firefox a few tabs in succession (not simultaneously). While FF can sustain quite a few tabs open (i regularly have ~35 tabs opened, which i close as i deal with them), in IE9 (64bits) anything above 4 tabs will shut down the computer in 5-10 minutes (more tabs = less time); Content is not heavy (Wikipedia, Wikia).

On occasion (rare-ish) running nothing but Foobar2000 will crash it. If i have the computer with nothing running (just the desktop), sooner or later it will shut down. It has crashed once or twice at the login screen. Once it even turned off when it was in Sleep mode. Also, downloading anything on uTorrent (~1.5MiB/s) with an heavy app running - LibreOffice, FF, etc - will this crap flying.

Forget about trying to scan anything (be it the AV - comodo - spybot scanning and immunisation, etc). Win7 indexing is activated.

Also, today it did 2 things that had never done before (and which prompted me to write this and look for help). First, i was watching a clip with VLC and the video and audio stopped, but the slider bar and timers kept going. While this doesn't mean much as it could have been a corrupted file or programme bug, later i was watching something on youtube and the computer stopped responding (only the mouse would move); however the video kept playing, but the image froze and the audio slowed down for about a minute (like to 25% of playback speed, or something). Then it shut down, while not being particularly hot.

Finally, when i reinstall windows, there's a good chance it will shut down the laptop. A couple of years ago i tried dual-booting; installing Linux also turned the system off. To install fully and properly can take some 3 tries, if i'm lucky. Installing large updates (through WinUpdater) will turn the system off.


SUSPECTED CAUSES
In the beginning, i used to think that the chassis itself couldn't handle the hardware, regarding generated heat and its dissipation. I have the best components the barebone could handle installed. But then again, why allow certain options if the case isn't going to take it.

Then i started thinking it's a HDD bandwidth thing - or something along those lines - due to all the problems with movies. Then i thought the heatsink may have crap thermal paste (or poorly applied), but this doesn't really account for the irregularity in load handling. Same thing for the motherboard.

Anyway, the bastard will some times turn off with little running, while others it will plough along just fine. For instances, crashing after a boot while watching a series episode (350MiB), which is very light duty in any respect, but handling an ~8GiB 720p 3h movie rip just fine, which is decoding-, drive bandwidth- and memory-heavy. Hell, i finished Crysis and Doom3 on it.

Of course, it could be that Compal barebones are just crap.


---------

Well, that's it. Sorry for the massive post, but i tried to diagnose the issue the best i can from memory.
Sorry for the massive post, but almost all information i have gathered is there.
I haven't been able to find anyone with this issue on this model.
Hope there's enough information in here.

Thanks for any tips!
b

More about : severe laptop issues

May 3, 2012 2:40:31 PM

Here's a bit more info. I just installed CPUID's HW Monitor, and i was looking at it as the system went under. All 4 cores were at 99C (maybe the hardware sensor or the programme top up at 99 degrees?).

Idling, the cores were at 60C degrees, and then jump to 67-70C with a bit of use. HD temperature is always at 37-38C. Graphics card seems to be at around 70C.
May 3, 2012 3:00:01 PM

You answered your own question there, the damn thing IS OVERHEATING. Actually I'm surprised it still works after it's been doing that for a long time. Those who built it for you don't know **** about building systems, either that or they knew it would overheat from the beggining and didn't care.

Open up the laptop and take a picture of it's innards. They probably slapped some random passive cooler i there for cheapness sake. You should never see your CPU go over 60c even under heavy load, 70c is still acceptable, 99c is downright melting the thing.
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May 3, 2012 3:06:37 PM

yea id go with what Winni said. Unfortunate problem.. The cpu will heat up, hit the threshold and will freak out and shutdown on you. Yea its not well at all :\

I'm gonna guess and say there is no thermal compound between the heatsink and cpu.
May 3, 2012 3:28:32 PM

He also didn't mention any fan of the laptop itself, which led me to think there could be just a passive cooler in there. Being a low-power design they could get away with it if the computer was idling all the time.
May 3, 2012 3:29:56 PM

yea, good call.
May 3, 2012 7:36:27 PM

Nah, there's a fan on it, with an heatsink and heat-exchange pipe connecting the GPU. Fan is always in high gear.

As for answering my own question, what about the laptop shutting down when it's downloading a ton of data, or playing large files? The case is not that hot, so i wondered if there aren't any bandwidth issues with the hard drive.
May 3, 2012 9:09:51 PM

I just got that Youtube issue again, but now was worse: everything froze but the audio kept playing, but just a single tone thing (at the lack of a better explanation, it went like "baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh"), like the sound card driver had crashed or something.

Also, the temperature monitor was showing ~75C (and the case was not hot to the touch at all) before i had to press the shutoff button for 4+ seconds to get rid of that irritating sound.
May 4, 2012 4:05:34 AM

75c is still too damn hot for watching a youtube video. Open up the case, clean up the thermal paste there is(if any) and apply some new one. That should help
!