3D graphics failing: bad motherboard, power supply, ...?

I've been having graphic corruptions, black screens and reboots for over 2 weeks now. These problems occur after ~40 seconds of gameplay in any 3D game. When not playing a game, the machine is 100% stable. Only a day before the problems started, everything used to work ok, and afaik I didn't change anything.

When I underclocked my graphics card, the problems would occur only after 20+ minutes. This led me to think that it was a problem with my graphics card. I replaced my card with another one, and the problems persisted.

Because this only occurs after displaying intensive 3D graphics for some (short) time, this led me to think that this is a hardware problem, with two likely causes:

- The A8N-E motherboard (where the built-in sound card already had a damaged output channel for a couple of months)
- The power supply unit (unlikely, should be of good quality with 2 temp. controlled fans)

Can anyone else shed some light on this? Is there anything else I can test, or perhaps another possible cause? I'd like to have a good diagnosis before I return any component back to the manufacturer. Thanks in advance!
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ChipZeroAsked:
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CallandorConnect With a Mentor Commented:
Since you swapped video cards and the problem didn't happen for a long time, I don't think the video card is the cause.  You may want to change out the power supply, in case it is failing.  The video driver may need to be reinstalled if it was corrupted.
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CallandorCommented:
You should list what video card you have, and the power supply as well.  Your card could be overheating, which is easily possible with today's gpus and 3D games, and that can cause rebooting.  If there was a power issue, the games would fail right away, instead of after a little time.
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ChipZeroAuthor Commented:
Hi Callandor, thanks for responding.

I should probably add that the machine has been working fine for months, including 3D graphics; 100% stable. The power supply is a 450 W one included with my Antac Sonata Lifestyle II. The graphics cards are a PCI-e 7800GT (with extra power connector) and after replacing it, a ATI X700 SE (which uses  WAY less power!).

I have a casefan and a Zalman 7700 Cu CPU fan which also blows at the graphics card, so heat shouldn't be an issue.
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rindiCommented:
I'd also think the system is overheating. Make sure the fan on the card and also that of the CPU is running smoothly, and in particular clean out all the dust to ease airflow. I'd also remove the heatsink from the CPU, clean it's and the surface of the cpu very thoroughly, then add just a little bit of thermal transfer paste, then reattach the heatsink firmly.
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ChipZeroAuthor Commented:
A small update on the situation: I haven't gotten around to testing the PSU yet. The case requires me to remove the motherboard to do that, and simply haven't had the time for it.

In the meanwhile, I wanted to explore some other options first, and tried a Windows 'update installation'. Windows setup couldn't get past "34 minutes left", at installing the device drivers. I tried the other videocard and removing my network and sound cards to no avail. I had to do a completely fresh Windows installation, which ended up costing me more time than replacing the PSU would have.

After my new Windows installation, the problems still persist. Well, at least I'm sure that it is NOT a software problem. I'll try a different power supply once I have the time. In the mean while, other suggestions are welcome...

PS: Here's an image with some of the graphical corruptions that occur, before the system eventually hangs: http://tinypic.com/14o61ao.jpg

PPS: Yes, it does look like overheating causes it, but remember that everything worked for months, and that I tried two different videocards...
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rindiCommented:
Overheating often causes things to get worse slowly, so things that used to work can show problems now. One reason is that during time dust accumulates causing the heat to be dissipated less well, fans running slower. Also the thermal paste between the CPU and heatsink ages, making it less effective. Then also a hot system has a lower lifetime everything ages faster.
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ChipZeroAuthor Commented:
Hi rindi, Callandor,

When I have my vacation, next week, I'll to look into this hardware problem again. In the meantime, I was really, really hoping for an original answer to my question. The answers above unfortunately did nothing but re-iterate everything I already knew.

Since I haven't replaced the PSU yet, which seems the most likely cause, I will reward Callandor with the points.

Thank you both for your time,

C/0
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