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hardware problems? - Jim Huggins
July 13th, 2006
04:59 pm
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hardware problems?
Sigh ...

Jane's pestering me about the fact that the old desktop computer keeps locking up at random moments. Of course, even with a freakin' Ph.D. in CS, there's no way to figure out anything on a PC anymore. Maybe, though, I've got a handle on it.

Did a little Googling and found a GNU program called memtest which does an exhaustive memory test. Twice I've run it (you can boot into it, so no nasty Windows stuff to get in the way) and it's hung at the same point each time. Since Windows isn't involved, that suggests to me it's a hardware thing.

So, in the old tradition of "try the cheapest thing first", I'm gonna try buying some new memory for it. The old paperwork I have for this thing claims that the memory are 128 MB DIMMS, SDRAM, 168 pin, 133 Mhz. I can get two of the same thing at Best Buy for $70, so that's a relatively cheap way to try and fix it.

So, to anyone who's bothering to read this:

a) Am I missing anything terribly obvious in my analysis here?

b) If indeed dumping the old memory chips solves it, any chance I can get bigger memory chips in the same slots? (I'm quite hopeless when it comes to hardware stuff ... that's why I teach theory. :))

I'd take it back to the manufacturer, but we bought it from Ekos, which is out of business. :(

Current Mood: intimidatedintimidated

(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:July 13th, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC)
a) whenever someone here complains about their computer locking up, it's usually just too many things coming up at startup. Either that or it's spyware (which I doubt would be the case here).

b) yes, yes you can. I've done it many times without any problems. However, depending on how old this computer is, you're probably better off avoiding 1 GB chips.

when did Ekos go out of business?
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Date:July 13th, 2006 09:33 pm (UTC)
a) I've looked at that, but the fact that it locks up even in this DOS-based bootup program suggests that it ain't a startup issue.

b) We bought the machine in 9/2000. So, yeah, I'm sure that the really recent chips aren't going to work. I'm gonna try and crack the case tonight and see if I can find any identifying marks on the system board to help me figure out how far I can go.

c) Ekos went out-of-business a year or two ago. There was a cryptic note in the Flint Journal about it ... sounds like they got bought out by a national firm, which then looted the company and then forced it to close. Sad.
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Date:July 14th, 2006 03:51 am (UTC)
Sometimes, being a packrat pays off.

After a lot of poking around, I remembered that we were given a plethora of CDs when we bought the silly thing. One of them was the manual for the motherboard ... which, lo and behold, tells me the exact specs for the memory chips. Nice. (They're PC133, capable of up to 256MB a piece.)

And, after opening the case up, it looks like I'm only using 2 of the 3 slots, and I'm allowed to mix and match. So, if only one of the old banks is going bad, and I buy two new ones, I could end up with a net increase in system memory. Woot!
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Date:July 17th, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
Since you have two chips, and both are (I assume) DIMMS, you can do some testing without buying anything. Just pull both chips out, and turn on the computer. You should get a beep indicating that the bios noticed a problem. Then put one of the chips back in. See if it works. If it does, set that one aside and put the other one in. If it works with one of the two chips in place, you've found your bad DIMM. If it doesn't work at all, it's probably not the memory.
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Date:July 17th, 2006 06:05 pm (UTC)
Kinda-sorta did that ... bought two new 256MB DIMMs and replaced the old ones ... and still managed to cause a freeze-up problem. I can seem to make it less frequent by using one 256MB DIMM instead of 2 128MBs, but it still hangs. (I tried moving the DIMMs around into all possible configurations, but I can still create the problem.)

Of course, as an intermittent problem, it takes like 90 minutes for my benchmark program to hang the system. So it's not exactly a slow process.

At this point, we've pretty much given up on it; we've got it into an almost-usable state right now, and will try to nurse it along until we buy the new machine. Poking around at the Dell site right now. (Sigh.)
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Date:July 17th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
Certainly that's worth considering ... but this machine tends to be used for photo and video editing. Thus, I probably want to go ahead and jump as far ahead on the technology curve as is cost-effective ...
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