Confusing PC issue

I am flummoxed by an issue with my Dell XPS 410, which is about 4 years old now.

To summarize:
-When powering up from a cold boot, the power light comes on amber and the fans kick in loud and fast, like a plane preparing from take off.  
-When this happens, I can get no video from the DVI port on my video card.  If I switch to the VGA port, I get distorted video.  I can restart, however, and go into Safe Mode, which seems to work OK.

I thought it was the power supply, but I have swapped it out with a new one and get the same behavior.  I also tried a different graphics card, same thing...

According to Dell, the amber light means an issue with memory, expansion cards or the graphics card.  I've reseated each of them (although now I think about it, I haven't tried booting without some of the memory modules) to no avail.

I've actually determined that the fan noise is coming from the CPU fan, but am not sure that that would cause all of the symptoms I'm seeing.  I'm starting to think it is a motherboard issue, but I'm not sure.  Any thoughts?

Thanks.

-Brian
bchristoAsked:
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nobusConnect With a Mentor Commented:
test if it works normally when booted from a live cd, here a couple  :
http://www.ubcd4win.com/                              ubcd  Win
ftp://ftp.gwdg.de/pub/linux/knoppix/KNOPPIX_V6.7.0CD-2011-08-01-EN.iso          Knoppix

it can also be you have bad capacitors on the mobo - so look for any swollen or leaking ones around the cpu  - here an example :
caps.jpg
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sugunakarCommented:
I have seen the same kind of issue( fans making noise like aeroplane) with my office PC and the support guy got the mother board replaced to fix the issue.
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nobusCommented:
bad capacitors on the mobo = bad mobo, of course..unless you replace them
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attvaCommented:
Replacing the mobo can be expensive. If it's running fine in Safe Mode then I'm inclined to think it's not likely to be a mobo problem. At the same time, power issues can cause damage to RAM. Try the RAM Tester from http://www.softpedia.com/get/Tweak/Memory-Tweak/MemTest.shtml to make sure your memory is functioning correctly. If it's not, buy new RAM.

Another thing to note is that the RAM modules are paired. This means if you have a 1GB stick of RAM in one slot, you must have a 1GB stick of RAM in the sister slot. Utilizing sticks of different sizes can cause problems as well depending on the system.
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bchristoAuthor Commented:
Thanks everyone.  I will have to try some of these steps later this evening.

The RAM should be paired correctly, but I did buy add non-OEM memory, so I will test out all the combinations.

I should note other detail that might mean something:  The amber light/loud fan issue takes a couple of cold shutdowns to go away - i.e. if I get the amber light I have to press and hold the power button to shut off, then restart and do this again once or twice, until the power light turns green and the fan slows, then I can get into Safe Mode.
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nobusCommented:
do test tthe ram with memtest86+ from www.memtest.org, or the Dell diags
also -verify that both ram's use the same voltage and latency setting
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IanThCommented:
is you video card embeded on the motherboard if so its sharing memory with your main memory and that points to a memory problem as dell said
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bchristoAuthor Commented:
So here's the update:  I ran the memory test suggested by attva, which passed.  I then ran the Dell Diagnostics and got an error on the VESA SVGA Memory Test with an error code of 4E53:0119.  I could not find much online on the error.  I then booted back into Windows (not Safe Mode) and eventually got a Stop 0x00000116 error, which seems to be a video driver issue.  I uninstalled the video driver from Windows and for the most part the system is working OK at the moment, though at less than ideal resolution.

However, I did take a much closer look at the motherboard and there are at least 3 or 4 swollen capacitors, one of which also appears to be leaking.  So it does appear to be a mobo issue.  Thanks everyone...
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nobusCommented:
tx for feedback - and yes, they cause all kinds of weird issues
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