Old 17-09-2003   #1
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Hardware problems, how to check?

As many people here have all kinds of computer problems, I thought it would be nice to make a sticky thread, containing some general info on how to check wether your hardware is failing.

As there are zillions of different systems around the entire globe, there's no way to make a thread that applies to every situation, but there a few basic things you might want to check, before posting a thread.

In this sticky thread, I will include some information on checking:
- memory
- harddrive
- cpu (temperature, voltage)
- mainboard (temperature, voltage)
- power supply

Well, let's get started!


Memory

Bad or incompatible memory is one very serious cause of a lot of strange problems. Small errors, to all kinds of strange crashes, can be due to memory problems.

The best tool to check if there's a problem with the memory of your system, is Memtest86+
This program tests your memory in a very smart way and will give you trustful results.

If you find any errors while checking the memory, it doesn't have to mean your memory is bad. You might want to check a few things, before concluding that the memory is bad.

Possible causes for memory problems:
- bad memory
- CPU problems (CPU voltages too low, overheating, damaged core)
- heat problems
- power problems (memory voltages too low)
- wrong settings (set your BIOS' memory settings to "SPD")
- compatibility problems (with mainboard, chipset or other installed memory modules)

If you can, it might be good to check your memory on an other system (prefferably with different hardware) as well, before concluding the memory itsself is bad.


Harddrive

Modern harddrives are pretty sensible, when it comes to heat, shocks, or running 24/7. Although they don't brake down that easily (except for some bad series, made by IBM and Maxtor), they can be the cause of some pretty annoying problems.

A good tool to check a harddrive is .IBM/Hitachi's Drive Fitness Test.

Another good tool for checking a harddrive on mechanical problems is your ear. If you hear any weird noise, coming from your harddrive, it might be dying.


CPU

Modern CPU's don't often get broken, but under certain conditions, they can turn your computer into an electric hell.

For all modern CPUs goes, that heat is a killer. Although the Intel CPUs are protected from overheating (most modern chipsets for AMD have this functionality as well), too much heat is never good.

There are lots of tools that can show your CPU's temperature. The two programs I like best, are SiSoft Sandra and Mainboard Monitor. MBM is really a nice tool for debugging, as it supports logging of all kinds of system readings.

If you own an Intel system (P3/P4), temperatures up to 80C should be no problem, but keeping them at about 50C is the way to go (less is always better!).
If you own an AMD system, temperatures up to 90C should be no problem, but keeping them at about 50~60C is once again the best.

If your CPU is causing troubles, this also can be due to a mainboard that isn't supplying enough power, a not-so-stable PSU (power supply unit) or a VCore (voltage on the CPU core) that is too low. If you think your VCore is the problem, you might want to crank it up a little. This can be done from the BIOS of most systems. Be careful with this though, as a higher VCore will increase the heat the CPU produces.


Mainboard

Mainboards are somewhat harder to check for problems. Some boards are equipped with a diagnostic system (e.g. a display or leds, displaying error messages in case of failures) that can tell you quite a lot, but most boards aren't.

Besides of switching mainboards (or other components), you might want to check out the different voltages on the mainboard. By using either MBM or Sandra (see the CPU paragraph), you can check on what voltages your different lines are running. If the readings are way out of order (11V instead of 12V, or 3.8V instead of 3.3V) there's probably something wrong with either your mainboard or your PSU.

Nowadays, many boards die from leaking capacitors. If there's any brown mess on/beneath the capacitors on your mainboard (usually situated round the CPU socket), you don't have to search anymore for any other possible causes. This is a very common problem. Some manufacturers replace boards with leaking capacitors under warranty, even if the board's too old for receiving warranty!


Power supply

As I already explained in the mainboard section, many problems can be due to a failing, or too weak power supply. I already told you how to check if the readings of the different powerlines are somewhat correct.

If your PSU runs extremely hot, there's a big chance it can't take the load. This is often the cause with cheap supplies, as they aren't intended for heavy use. Depending on the components of your system, you could need quite a heavy PSU.

For most modern CPU's, a PSU of at least 350W is recommended. If you can get one with a higer capacity, don't hestitate, but buy!

It's pretty likely that some newer systems that are about to be released, will have a CPU consuming over 100W (Intel Prescott). Those systems will need quite a heavy PSU to remain stable.

A small note: rather choose a quality PSU over a cheap one. I know you can get 500W PSUs that cost less than a brand 300W PSU. Please don't buy them.... they suck! Most of them can't do the capacity they are sold for, make lots of noise and will generate even some more heat. No good!


Conclusion

So you want to check your system's stability? Well, there's quite a nice tool to do so: Prime 95. Just run the torture test for some time and see what happens! If you manage to run it for a long time (e.g. 48 hours) without a single crash, your system is stable!


One little note!

If you overclocked your system, the rules change. If you don't exactly know what you're doing, just undo the overclock and start checking....


-------

Well that's it folks. I hope I helped you out a little. If there are any questions left, feel free to open a thread, sent a PM (especially for info or comments on this thread) or give me a call .

Good luck and happy hunting!

Last edited by eric93se; 20-08-2010 at 02:13. Reason: fixed link
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