As the saying goes, when it rains it pours. In the past 45 days, I’ve had one hard drive fail, had a trashed computer show up at my door, and had three defective Dell monitors come my way. Those three things are irritating, but not show-stoppers, because they didn’t impact the technology I currently have in place. Yesterday, something else happened that really made the other things seem insignificant. Sunday afternoon I put in the DVD for Titan’s Quest to play an online game with my friend Tim who’s out in London, Ontario. The game booted up, I created a game, then started checking the game quests since I hadn’t played in a couple of weeks. My cursor suddenly froze and the game locked up – I raised an eyebrow, wiggled the mouse a bit to confirm that it was locked up, then waited. It didn’t un-freeze, so I was thinking a video driver crash. I pressed ALT+F4 to kill the game. Nothing happened. I pressed CONTROL+ALT+DELETE to bring up the Task Manager. Nothing happened. I waited another 30 seconds to see if the CPU was going to acknowledge the keystrokes, then punched the reset button on the Shuttle SD11G5. Nothing happened. At this point my other eyebrow raised, because now I was seeing a hardware malfunction. I press and held the power button – again, nothing. Getting a bit more concerned, I pulled the power cable from the back of the unit. I waited about 10 seconds, plugged it back in, then booted up the machine. I breathed a sigh of relief when the machine booted up, but when I saw that the BIOS boot text was partially purple, I knew something was very wrong.
The only time I’ve seen things like that is when a video card has gone bad, or is about to completely fail. What was even more peculiar though was what I saw when I examined the voltages reported by the motherboard.
I’ve never seen anything like THAT before: 4 degree Celcius CPU temperature? .9 volts on the 12 volt rail? Windows XP would also not boot past the logo screen. I went out to a local store and picked up a cheap eVGA 7300GS PCI Express video card and swapped it out. The video card problem went away – no more purple characters, no more voltage problems. Thrilled, I thought I had solved my problems – I was wrong. I didn’t un-install any drivers, I just put in the new card and booted up the PC. I was working in Windows (it booted up OK) and the machine would lock up. I did this fairly consistently, so I rebooted the machine, un-installed the nVidia drivers, rebooted, and re-installed the newest drivers. Things seemed to be ok, so I left the machine at the Windows XP desktop and went back up to the New Years Eve part we were having at our house. This morning I woke up and when I checked on the machine, I saw this:
Not good. Even worse, when I rebooted the machine it became even more unstable – I couldn’t boot into Windows XP any longer. I started to poke around at the guts of the Shuttle, checking for loose cables and whatnot. I ran memtest86 and it locked up after 5 minutes – but no RAM errors were reported. I swapped out the 2 GB of RAM anyway, replacing it with a single 256 MB stick, and ran the test again. This time it locked up after 20 seconds. At this point, the Shuttle wouldn’t even boot – now when I press the power button all I get is the fan kicking up to full RPM and staying there…and nothing coming up on the screen. I’m thinking a bad power supply possibly, but that’s hard to debug because the SD11G5 uses a custom external power supply that I don’t have a spare of. It could also be a fried motherboard, or even a bad CPU. At this point I’m out of ideas and tomorrow I’ll likely be calling Shuttle – but I’m not sure if the unit is even still under warranty, or if there’s anything cost-effective they could do even if it was. I may build a new machine based on the transplanted parts of this computer, but without being able to test each component first, that may be another disaster waiting to happen.
I sure hope this isn’t an indication of how the rest of my 2007 is going to go with regards to technology! Maybe I should have been a dirt farmer after all…