It’s the new year, which must mean it’s time for all our PCs to go belly up.

Or so it seemed to me in the past couple of weeks. I thought the tale of these three systems is worth telling, as a lesson in recognizing and solving different types of PC problems. Perhaps you’ll see something of your own PC troubles in this, but even if you don’t, there are still lessons to be learned.

We’ll begin this with the story of my daughter’s ever-slowing Vista system.

The Tale of the Clogged PC

This past weekend, I’d decided it was time to nuke my daughter’s system from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

 

emilysystem_small.jpg

Emily’s been running a fairly decent, though not bleeding edge system. Core components include an Intel QX6850, Asus P5Q3 Deluxe motherboard and an older 512MB Radeon HD 4870. Over the past couple of months, the system had begun running slower than molasses.

Emily is a fairly typical teenage girl when it comes to PC use. She uses the web heavily, and happily downloads anything she thinks she might like. She is, however, more tech savvy than most teenage girls, so she doesn’t do really stupid stuff, like open phishing emails. However, she’s a happy user of WildTangent games, likes to have the Weather Channel bug running (ugh, I say), and related sorts of gimmickry that can act as brakes on a fast system.

Recently, though, her system had been really dragging – so much so, that she’d given up on using it, and was using the communal living room laptop to do her homework and even run some light games. (I confess: I got her hooked on Torchlight.)

It all began several months back, when Emily began complaining that her system was glitchy. At the time, it was running Windows XP. I’d built the system about eighteen months ago, and it had been running reasonably well. I’d never been entirely happy with the QX6850, though. Even with a beefy Scythe Ninja cooler, the CPU typically idled at 58 degrees C. The QX6850 ran at 3GHz, but was built with the same 65nm process technology used in the original Conroe CPUs.

So I did something that, in retrospect, planted the seeds of bigger problems to come: I thought it would be a good idea to perform an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

Lessons Learned, The First Round
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  • andrewbuchanan - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I agree, as have a few others here, that kingston value ram is the only way to go. I've been building computers for 15 years or more I would certainly rank your problems as memory first, motherboard second, power supply third, with most everything else in the unlikely category.

    I know kingston value ram isn't exciting, doesn't have amazing timing, etc etc, but nothing sucks more than an unstable computer. At the end of the day overclocking your video card and cpu are more important anyways. I've had so many problems with other brands of memory I'm honestly afraid to even try them anymore. It's not fun, at all, to spend days of memtests in the bios tweaking voltages and timings to get a stable system.

    As for motherboards, I still normally buy asus and they work out for me ok. I try to avoid latest anything anymore though, somebody else can report all the bugs and issues and fill the forumns, I'm not interested in being that person. That's true for new video card architectures, new versions of windows (except 7 which is basically vista with fixes), now android phones - you name it. Unless you really need it, you'll probably be happier to wait 6 months for the bugs to get worked out and do something fun with your weekends instead.
    Reply
  • ScavengerLX - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Fun article as always. Thank Loyd Reply
  • gaiden2k7 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    daughter's pc was a waste of hardware IMO(haha) something with a low-end ATI 4000 card can probably pull off on Torchlight (great game btw, looks like WoW, sounds like D1, plays like D2, & feels like D3) I'm in agreement with someone earlier who suggested pre-image her system or just simply replace the hdd (they are so dang cheap!)

    if it comes to hardware problem almost more often than not, it's the incompatibility of the DRAM and the MOBO, makes me wonder why, after all these years, this issue still exists, or it maybe a marketing scheme (if so then it sucks!)

    I have had several ASUS boards, they sure are lookers fancy heat sinks and all color schemes, but none of them ever 'whoa' me, the my best ASUS board was the P5Q3 with Q9300/4850 512mb/8gb. but overall Gigabyte gave me the best experience. had 2 mATX and personally using the EP45-UD3P with Q9550/4gb RAM/2x 4870 1gb CF/Windows 7 Pro, works great.

    My #1 investment rule is not to be brave with my money - given that I am no millionaire. Always research extensively and compare proven hardware before throwing bones at it. The effort usually pays back in terms of money save from spending less as well as less time spent on troubleshooting.

    my 2 cents
    Reply
  • Drag0nFire - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Hi Loyd,

    I feel your pain, and have experienced problems similar to the ones you described. The issue of the computer that gradually slows over time can be just as frustrating as the computer that just won't POST.

    However, I hope I may be able to shed some light on one of your problems. I believe the memory modules you used in the second system were older DDR3 modules designed to run at 1.8V. Since Lynnfield runs memory at a maximum of 1.65V, it is no surprise to me that the memory didn't run in a stable fashion. The changes in voltage levels may help explain some of the confusion you referred to in the changing market for DDR3 memory.

    --Jonathan
    Reply
  • lifeblood - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Actually, the PC that slows down over time is more frustrating. Not posting is easier as the OS and Apps are off the list of possible culprits. With a slowing computer it can be anything (although its usually bloat and malware).

    BTW, I hit Report Post rather than Reply by mistake. Moderators please ignore.
    Reply
  • cyclo - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I find that RAM incompatibilities become even more pronounced when all slots are populated. One thing I could seem to trust to work though are the Kingston Value RAM series. Never had problems using these sticks on 975, P45, P55 motherboards. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 14, 2010 - link

    You can not always go by manufacturer of the DRAM its self. You should always research what type of CMOS chip is on a stick of RAM, and then see if it is compatible with the given motherboard. Also, RAM density can play a factor with some boards as well.

    As for specific name brands themselves. I have found ADATA to be fairly reliable. Yes, I know, the "cheap name brand" misnomer threw me off too at first, but have found their sticks to work well in most cases. I would venture to guess it has to do with packaging, and the sticks inability to be easily "zapped" by static electricity. Although, my favored all time brand is Crucial.

    In the end though, you, or we will inevitably run into a bad stick of RAM if you build enough systems. What matters here, is how well the company deals with your request for an RMA. when this happens, this is where, and why I prefer Crucial. I have not had many bad sticks from this brand, but when I did have, it was a pleasure to deal with them. Corsair on the other hand, got very defensive, and all but forced me to deal with the eTailer that I originally bought from. Newegg, and they were nearly as bad to deal with. They had no problem replacing the modules, but did not want to pay return shipping. Unacceptable . . . In the end, I got what was right( which after dealing with them the way they made things go down, I asked for a complete refund ), but they have since changed their policies on returning items. So now, I try to avoid such situations by dealing with people who understand that people who pay your bills should be treated fairly, and with respect. Which is the way I was brought up to believe how you treat people you do business with.
    Reply
  • killerclick - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    1. don't use high end components for casual-gaming-and-web-surfing teenage-girl computers
    2. always do a clean install of an operating system

    I recently upgraded my girlfriend's computer TO Athlon II X2 240, 2G of DDR2 and 4670 and for general use it's as fast as anything - you can't tell the difference between that and an i7 + 5870 when you're web surfing and playing casual games, Left 4 Dead, World of Warcraft, etc. Oonce I installed everything I made a disk image so if it starts to bloat, I just save her Documents folder and roll over with the disk image.
    Reply
  • AdamB5000 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I enjoyed the read. Thanks. Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Spend ungodly amounts of money for marginal performance. Why on earth anyone would spend hundreds of dollars on motherboards and memory just to have problems like these is beyond me. Isnt it much simpler to go to newegg and order the components with the most reviews and the highest ratings? I've never had any problems doing it that way. But then again I dont spend thousands on computer parts just to eek out an additional 10% performance that I'll never even notice. Anyone who has bought anything to do with DDR3 has wasted their money. Reply

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