Semi-Random Windows 7 Freezes - Only With XFX Radeon 7950 Fine With GT440

Please forgive the length of this post, but I'm going to include all the relevant details I can. If you want the TLDR summary, feel free to skip to the bottom.

I've been fighting this issue for more than a year now, but if anyone could help me figure it out, I'd be tremendously appreciative.

Last March, I built a new machine for myself. Components are as follows:
-AMD FX-8150 (No OC, Stock HSF)
-ASRock 990FX Extreme3
-XFX Radeon 7950 Black Edition (Stock OC)
-Corsair Vengeance 32 GB (4x8GB) 1600 Running at 1333
-OCZ ModXStream Pro 700W
-Creative Sound Blaster Audigy SE
-Windows 7 Pro 64 Bit
-Thermaltake Commander case, bunch of 120mm fans

From the very beginning (within a week of freshly installing the OS), I started running into crashes. I'd get BSODs that read, "Attempt to reset the display driver and recover from timeout failed." It would then list atikmpag.sys as the cause of the problem. I would also experience random monitor flickering in whatever monitor was plugged into the mini display port (I run dual monitors, with one plugged into DVI and one into mini display).

I went back and forth with XFX in a customer support ticket for about 2 months. I ran Memtest for days on end with no errors. I got a new PSU, thinking I might be having power-related issues (I got a Cooler Master 800w Silent Pro Gold). I formatted my HDD and reinstalled Windows 7 four separate times. Still got the BSODs and monitor flickering after every attempted fix.

It felt very much like a software problem to me (like ATI's drivers were just buggy). After a fresh install of the OS, things might run fine without any BSODs for a few days. Then I'd suddenly get one. Then a few days might pass, and another. They'd gradually increase in frequency until I'd be experiencing 3 an hour, and I'd format and repeat this cycle again.

Eventually, XFX had me RMA the card. They said that they tested the card extensively and found no problems with it, but they sent me a new one anyway. I dropped the new card in and still got the exact same BSODs and monitor flickering. I tried taking out all of my memory except for one stick. Still got the BSODs. I tried a different one stick. Still got the BSODs.

I then wondered how another video card would perform in my system, so I went out to Best Buy and picked up an nVidia GT440. I uninstalled the ATI drivers, dropped the GT440 in, loaded the nVidia drivers and - problem solved. No blue screens. No crashes. No monitor flickering. Everything was fine, except for the fact that the cheap nVidia card was gimpy and the powerhouse card was now functioning as a paperweight.

So I went back and forth with XFX more in my support ticket. They recommended that I try running the 12.6 beta version of the drivers for this card, and one of their CSRs told me on the phone that this version was fixing a bunch of bugs. So I loaded the 12.6 beta drivers, and it actually solved many of my problems. The monitor flickering never happened again. The blue screens stopped. My system was generally stable.

But the problems didn't go away entirely. Everything would run fine for a few weeks after a fresh OS install, but then my PC would randomly lock up in Windows. If I were playing a song, the audio would loop, my cursor wouldn't move, and I'd have to do a hard restart. I tried everything I could think of to fix this, again. I updated my motherboard drivers. I updated my BIOS. I disabled onboard sound through the BIOS. Nothing seemed to help. I'd reinstall Windows, and everything would be OK for a few weeks, but the freezing would start to gradually increase in frequency until I formatted again.

So, where am I in the process now?

A few weeks ago, the freezing again hit the point of being totally out of control. The freezing happens almost randomly. I'm pretty sure it's not temperature related, since it almost never happens when I'm under load, and my GPU temperatures are never over 55 or 60C. My CPU is usually in the 40s or 50s when the freezes happen. The freezes seem to never happen when I'm just playing 3d games (like CS:GO or Civ V). They happen pretty often when I'm watching flash videos, listening to music, or running the Mono IDE, Eclipse. There were certain things I could do that seemed like they could make it freeze 90% of the time, like trying to run a build in the Unity editor. Seems like software / drivers, right? I just can't figure it out.

I got fed up, formatted the HDD again, and am now running with the GT440 and the newest nVidia drivers. The system hasn't crashed (or even hiccuped) once since I put the 440 back in there.

What could cause a system to freeze randomly when I'm using a Radeon 7950 when the same system works perfectly with a GT440? Can ATI just not write drivers for their cards? I really want to use my 7950 and not the gimpy GT440, but if it freezes all the time, the 7950 is useless to me.
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  1. "If I were playing a song, the audio would loop"
    There's the first clue. looping audio is a sign of a defective motherboard, or memory cards plugged into the wrong slots.
    Solve that problem FIRST. Make sure it's solved, before you move on to the NEXT problems.
    You can PM me, and I will tell you the rest AFTER you are SURE that the audio NEVER loops.

    Changing hardware:
    If you make hardware changes, like installing more memory cards, changing to a better video card, the configuration of the system is better reset by re-installing the operating system in "upgrade" mode. UP-grade does NOT erase your personal files or your programs.
    UP-grade will however, make all the parts of a system configure correctly for higher efficiency operation, and fix files that are corrupted. It also erases microsoft updates, and wipes the slate to speak. (you can re-install the updates, or choose only critical updates you like).
    This does not mean "any" video card will run correctly with "any" board. The motherboard manufacturer website has a list of approved video cards. I recommend that you use the listed approved cards to avoid problems.
    To upgrade install, configure new hardware, repair corrupted files, without erasing your personal stuff:
    Start the system in normal windows.
    Turn off all of the security and firewalls.
    put the win install disk in the drive and let it load.
    Select Upgrade. NOT new install...
    After the upgrade has run, see to it that all the hardware is running correctly. Test for several hours.
    If the hardware does not continue to run correctly, then you have to consider that some of the hardware is bad...

    Freezing system: Here is some anti-freeze 101. But it does not solve a bad motherboard, or memory plugged into the wrong slots (audio looping).
    If you have done all the anti-freeze (below), and the system is still quacked, then you have to consider a bad motherboard.

    Click Start, Click Control Panel,
    Look at the top of the window, in the path bar you see “control panel >”
    Click on “>” (in the path bar) now click on “all control panel options.”
    (This will open up all the hidden controls available)
    Click Power Options
    click on the arrow to “show other plans”
    Check the Box that says "high performance"
    Click (in high performance) "change plan settings"
    Turn off display: set to NEVER
    Put the computer to sleep: set to NEVER
    Click: Change advanced plan settings
    Scroll down the list: Click on the + signs to expand the choices for each item on the list.
    Require a password on wake up: set to NO
    Hard disk: turn off the hard disk: set to NEVER
    Wireless adapter settings:
    Sleep: set to NEVER
    Allow Hybrid sleep: set to NEVER
    Hibernate after: set to NEVER
    Allow wake timers: set to disable
    USB settings:
    USB selective suspend setting: set to NEVER
    Power Buttons and lid:
    Power button action: Setting: set to shut down
    Sleep Button Action: set to: do nothing
    PCI Express:
    Link State Power Management, Setting: OFF
    Processor Power Management: Minimum state (set to) 7%

    System Cooling Policy: setting: Active
    Maximum State (set to) 100%
    Turn off display after: setting: NEVER (turning off display automatically can cause freezing also)
    Turn off the monitor power manually, when you want it off. Don’t use the auto monitor turn off.
    Multimedia Settings:
    When Sharing Media: Setting: Prevent idling to sleep
    When Playing Video: Setting: Optimize Video
    Click APPLY
    Click OK

    Open the bios set up and make sure "cool and quiet" is OFF. (AMD)
    If there is a power saver or a "quiet mode" in the bios, shut it off...
    There may be a performance setting in the bios setup you have...make sure it's cranked up to max.
    in the bios, see that the allocation for video, if available, is maxed.

    Now open the hardware manager profiles...
    click start
    click computer
    click system properties
    click device manager
    double click on mice and other pointing devices
    right click on HID compliant mouse
    left click on properties
    click on the power management tab
    UN-check the box that says: "allow the computer to turn off this device to save power." (there is now NO check mark in this box)
    click OK

    Now repeat this procedure for all mice, monitors, keyboards, and ALL USB ports on the device manager list.

    You must open ALL the devices one at a time, as above, and turn off the power saver, for each device.

    NOW turn all the security back ON. NOW open your security antivirus. Make sure the antivirus is set to "gaming mode." Or "multimedia mode."
    This prevents the security updating from interrupting your game / multimedia priority.
    IF the security does not have "gaming mode" or "multimedia mode" get different security.
    IF you are using "free" security downloaded from the internet, get rid of it NOW.
    Use ONLY professional all in one security. DO NOT load multiple mismatched security programs, which conflict with each other.
    DO NOT load free tools into your system such as: "driver sweeper" or any of that "free" goofy stuff.
  2. If anyone else is having an issue like this, I managed to find a fix.

    After all my debugging, I replaced the motherboard with an Asus M5A97 R2.0. Everything works perfectly now.
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