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Desktop crashing has me fed up - no idea what the cause is

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May 19, 2012 12:26:24 PM

I built this system about 4.5 years ago, and for maybe half that time it's given me issues with certain games where they crash unexpectedly, blanking the monitor to black and stuttering audio, forcing a hard reboot. It used to just be Civ V and sometimes some FPS. Now with Diablo III it happens almost instantly, and I can't even get the Windows Experience Score to run. Specs:

Intel Pentium E5200 Wolfdale 2.5GHz LGA 775 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor BX80571E5200
CORSAIR XMS2 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model TWIN2X4096-6400C5
ASUS EAH4850 TOP/HTDI/512M Radeon HD 4850 512MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
GIGABYTE GA-EP45-UD3P LGA 775 Intel P45 ATX Intel Motherboard
Antec Sonata III 500 Black 0.8mm cold rolled steel ATX Mid Tower Computer Case 500W Power Supply (Earthwatts)
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive

Monitor is 22" 1680x1050 from Gateway

I built it with Vista 64 - I did a custom upgrade to Win 7 64 and if anything things got worse. For a while I thought it was overheating the GPU, but I sent it back to Asus when it was still in warranty and they said it was fine. GPU-Z confirms temps only get to the 70's C. When the crash happens, I notice the light on the back for a fault on the 12v rail lights up, but I'm thinking it's a symptom rather than a cause. I'm currently running an extended memory test using the Windows utility.

I thought it might be software, as I once had an Nvidia GPU, but while Driver Sweeper sees Nvidia as an option to clean, it doesn't find any files when I analyze. I've also tried rolling back the Radeon's drivers to those from the Asus website as well as the latest from AMD, but that didn't make any difference. Currently sitting at the Asus ones (old Catalyst, etc.)

Now, I know I should just upgrade to modern components, but I'd rather wait a bit for the next GPUs and Ivy Bridge to come down in price, while still playing Diablo III today. Problem is that I don't know what to replace or do to fix this. Thanks for your help!
May 19, 2012 12:43:51 PM

Have you tried running Memtest? There could be something wrong with one of your memory modules.
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May 19, 2012 12:50:16 PM

If it's not to do with the psu, have you made sure the CPU is still getting enough air?

My old P4 rig eventually started dying all of the time and it turned out that the CPU fan wasn't giving it enough air anymore, (although it didn't seem obvious). I changed the fan to a larger aftermarket one and it was fine. My girlfriend is still using it.

To check, try blowing cold air directly onto the CPU with a hairdryer (set to cold) and see if it helps.
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May 19, 2012 1:04:01 PM

Make sure that the bios is updated for the motherboard, and that all drivers are up to date, to make sure that there isnt an issue there. I'd think about doing a clean OS install on the off chance that your upgrade carried over some vista 64 flakiness.
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Best solution

May 19, 2012 1:07:04 PM

Sounds like a power supply issue to me. Do you have a spare you can swap and test?

Next I would clean dust from everywhere, inside power supply, gpu, cpu fan, everything.

Next i would reseat cpu and heatsink, redo thermal compound etc....

Then start swapping parts with spares. I would also use some of the stress testing programs as well to try and isolate it. Prime95 on cpu, if its 24 hours stable you know cpu is good. OCCT on gpu, etc. Those will also draw power so may also help you see if you got a flaking power supply.

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May 19, 2012 3:54:24 PM

Windows Memory Diagnostic- is that equivalent to Memtest? It's almost done with the Extended 5 passes now and nothing come up so far.

Still it sounds like there are more tests I can run in software, then it's time to swap out my PSU and maybe the CPU fan (I'm using the stock Intel one but haven't overclocked), however I don't remember seeing high CPU temps when I ran CPU-Z.
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May 20, 2012 2:05:56 PM

Best answer selected by praxis888.
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May 20, 2012 2:12:56 PM

Thanks everyone. I'm embarrassed to admit what it was, but it turns out it was simply a dusty power supply. Once I opened up the case, got out the dust bunnies and rerouted cables a bit I was able to run the Windows Experience Index test then play D3 for over an hour no problem. This explains the slow descent over time into instability, even though I THOUGHT I was cleaning well at least a couple times a year (now I'll try bimonthly).

I think the key was not fully appreciating the importance of dusting the inside of the PSU and making sure to blow dust from the inside OUT. In short, I think I wasn't quite clear on the concept of intake/exhaust.

Yup, yo soy idiota. Antec Earthwatts, you're still all right with me.
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May 23, 2012 8:32:57 PM

Quick addendum for the record: I actually didn't test the above with the case cover on. That crashed it right away. Then I installed the RAM correctly (didn't know DDR2 needed to be installed in alternating slots!). I next planned to replace the Antec Tri-Cool 120mm fan for exhaust with 2 Cooler Master R4's, one for intake and one for exhaust. Before I did that I tried it case-on again, and I could run Diablo III and FurMark without crashing! For 10 minutes!

Could that RAM installation really have created enough heat under load to crash the system?

In any case, I now have cooler interior temps (by a couple of degrees C but still something) and stable gaming. Next I'm going to install an aftermarket CPU heatsink+fan (Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo) and see what kind of overclock I can do.
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June 1, 2012 2:27:16 PM

Final addendum: suddenstop hit the nail on the head. Thinking my system was stable I upgraded to a better-cooling case (Corsair 500r) only to find the crashing under load returned.

I decided to bite the bullet and installed a new PSU (Antec HCG 620M) and now it's back to stability.

Moral of the story: PSU issues can be intermittent.
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