(this is a continuation of the post about computer issues I made last month)
I am still having problems. The same problems, in fact: random freezes that tend to correlate with periods of intense computational activity (gaming, stress testing, multiple virtual machines, etc). After a CPU replacement, memory tests, and two motherboard RMAs, I am wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch in trying to determine this problem. I’m laying out all the culprits that could be causing freezes like this, and I’ll examine the plausibility of each one given the tests I have performed so far.
I’m posting this here so that anyone with any suggestions can toss out their $0.02.
- Windows XP
- Windows Vista
- Hardware driver
- Other (video games, applications, etc)
- Power Supply
- Graphics Card (x2)
- IDE components (DVD burner; CD burner)
- Hard drive
Now. Let’s dissect these one by one, examining the plausibility of each given what has been done so far.
Windows XP: Negative
This was the first operating system I installed after assembling Ronon, and the freezes were present here. Plus, I have not used XP since mid-fall.
Windows Vista: Very Unlikely
The freezes have continued to plague this operating system as well as XP, implying that the problem is operating system-independent. Still, tests with another operating system like Ubuntu may be prudent.
Hardware Driver: Unlikely
This is always a possibility. There could be some driver that is misbehaving and causing the freezes. Still, the pattern of freezes – the fact that they disappeared for months, then reappeared without any changes in the software configuration, plus the fact that freezes are more prevalent during periods of high activity – implies a cause that is elsewhere.
There is a very, very slight possibility that this is the case, but it’s extremely remote. The fact that the freezes have occurred while various programs have been running eliminates any single program as the cause. Freezes have occurred with and without web browsing, with and without VMs running, and so on.
Power Supply: Possible
It’s possible that a loose cable, or even microsurges from a faulty power supply, are the causes of the problems. This could be examined by tightening all the power supply connections to the motherboard, and accessing the BIOS to ensure that proper voltages are being sent to all the other components (RAM and CPU in particular). Still, a faulty power supply does not usually result in infrequent and unpredictable freezes; it usually causes total system failures.
Memory: Very Unlikely
This is a possibility, as freezes are a classic symptom of faulty RAM. However, in all likelihood, if this was the case it would been highlighted after running memtest86 for hours straight on the memory; those tests revealed nothing. Furthermore, using only one of the two RAM sticks, and swapping both out in between crashes, indicated nothing – either both are faulty or neither of them is. Adjusting voltages manually in the BIOS has also not yielded any change. Still, I’ll be returning these as per Corsair’s generous RMA offer.
Graphics Cards: Very Unlikely
Like memory, a classic symptom of misbehaving graphics cards is random freezes and crashes. Swapping out both cards and using one at a time has been inconclusive; crashes have occurred with both cards individually, both cards together, and both cards in parallel (SLI). Either both cards are faulty, or it is a rare case of graphics card / motherboard incompatibility. The latter seems far-fetched, given that the motherboard uses an nVidia chipset.
This was my first culprit, due to cooling issues I’d had early on. However, Core 2 Quads typically run hotter than most CPUs, and I also upgraded my heatsink in addition to RMAing my CPU with Intel. The replacement had no effect. The only symptom that points to a possible CPU issue now is the fact that dropping the FSB in the BIOS from its stock 1333MHz to 1066MHz stabilizes the system; raising the FSB to stock speeds with one DIMM results in immediate BSODs, and with two DIMMs results in the freezing that has characterized this whole issue.
IDE Components: Negative
This is an unlikely scenario anyway, since IDE drives typically don’t cause freezes like this. Still, even after unplugging their cables from the motherboard, the freezes continued.
Hard Drive: Negative
This is a weak possibility, as no clicking or grinding has been observed from the main hard drive. Testing could be done with the spare hard drive (also testing the OS postulate from before). Still, other than the freezes, everything operates normally, which is not typical hard drive misbehavior. Slowdowns would occur, and hangs would be much more frequent and random. As it is, freezes are random but gravitate toward periods of high processing activity, not necessarily high hard drive activity.
This was my chief culprit until the motherboard came back from Asus and the problem persisted. The motherboard was fixed (according to Asus) and returned. I find it unlikely that they would have returned it to me with the same problem, so either any problem was fixed, or there never was a problem. Still, the symptoms – freezing and BSODs – point to hardware problems, and since these can be incited specifically through removal of DIMMs and tweaking the CPU’s FSB, the common thread in those two actions is the motherboard.
Case: Very Unlikely
I’m actually not even sure what the case itself could be doing to crash the system, but given its role in housing the hardware, I suppose it’s possible that a short somewhere might be behind these issues.