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Computer will randomly not show/boot to POST screen

Posted on 2012-08-23
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Hi Experts Exchange! Feels nice actually(/finally?) being a member here :) Used this site alot of times, but only as a freeloader, when google lead me on the right track to a solution :)

Anyway, I will gladly chitchat in my comments, but lets not make this message longer, than I am sure its gonna be :/

I'm going nuts here, this is my first IT problem I as a softwaredeveloper hasn't been able to solve myself... I'm just not that much hardware guy as I wanted to really be I guess.. :(
I have written a short synopsis of my problem, since my post got really long. You can read it first and decide if you are able to help. So, in case you are not, I will not take too much of your time on my post, as it became quite long. :)

Synopsis:
My computer has started about a month ago, to not been able to start on random occurences, which has been happening more frequently recently. When I turn it on, nothing appears on the screen, but it sounds like its booting, since I can hear it after some time reading from the DVD drive, as it does under boot. I suspect that it is in a reboot cycle though, as it after some time once again can be heard reading from the drive. I really doubt its a issue with the DVD drive, as it shows nothing on the screen, not even the POST screen.
I have been unable to reproduce the problem, it just happens on random occurences, and when it happens, it cannot be solved with a simple restart - It is persistent to some degree. I have tried restarting, turning it on/off, removing power cables, removing USB devices and generally just removing any non-neccessary peripherals. Nothing seems to be a certain solution for it, after having tried alot of restarts, and power cables removals and such random things, the picture just shows up on screen and it boots completely normal, and I can use my OS without problems for as long as I want. So in theory, my computer works, but sometimes I have this fights with it, where nothing just happens on the screen, but it does turn-on as in the DVD drive is making sounds, and the fans does power up. The fights with it seems to have been lasting longer and occuring more often, which is a bad sign.

I hope that gave some initial understanding of the problem. If you could understand it, and might know the problem, I don't hope my long post scares you away :-/ It is quite an odd problem, so I tried writing everything which I considered might be relevant for you, although it with the nature of the problem for me, is quite hard knowing whats relevant, sadly..

Deeper explanation:
My problem is quite odd. I built my system in 2007, and have NEVER had any problems with it before now.
What my system does is basically that sometimes when I boot it, the display never shows up. The fans in the cabinet spins up and their LEDs start glowing and I can hear the DVD drive trying to read a disc, just as it normally does under boot. Then after some time, it sounds as if it tries to read the DVD again, which makes me think that after a while, it reboots again(if it can reboot.. I don't know if it can be said that it booted in the first place).
No screen shows up at all, which means I'm not even met with the POST screen, so this happens before the OS is booted.
The major problem with this is, I cannot reproduce the problem, as it seems to happen just at random. It also seems to disappear at random, which makes it hard for me to find a solution.

Attempts at troubleshooting/finding the problem:
The first time it happened, I tried restarting my PC and turning it off and on to no prevail. After removing an USB NIC card from it and booting it, the screen then showed and I thought I had a faulty USB device and kept it out of my computer..
The second time happened some days after.. I tried restarting and turning it on/off which didn't work again. Removing all USB devices (and general unneeded cables such as the audio cable) except HID's didn't work as well... After powering my machine off by removing the power cable and putting it back in after 10-20 seconds, it powered on.
The third time that I tried to do anything about the issue was yesterday.. Yesterday neither removing or inserting USB devices and general non-vital cables, nor removing the power plug as I did last time helped. I just... Honestly rebooted it, restarted it, removed the power cable at random and all that, and suddenly after a restart the POST screen just came on.

More info about the problem and system:

The other odd issue about this thing is also, WHEN it then works and boots, it is running perfectly fine and with no problems. I can run graphically requiring applications/games with no problem on my machines and there are NO artifacts or freezes.

My own thoughts/opinion about the problem
This leads my to believe that the GFX isn't the problem as it isnt failing on me, during prolonged extensive GFX use. The same goes with the CPU, screen, sound, network.. None of them are failing on me a single time during a whole day when it finally has booted successfully.
I did anyway consider the GFX for some time, since I have replaced the stock cooling on it, with a passive cooling. I feared that although I did stresstest it heavily after changing the cooling to test its temperatures under idle and load was okay, it might have been placed wrong, so some of the chips that did not have a temperature sensor might have been damaged. It was a long time ago I replaced the cooling - about 2.5 years, and the problem has only started occuring during the last month, in which it though has begun occuring more frequently at a noteworthy pace it seems, sadly. It has been lagging a bit sometimes, in applications which I had not experienced before, but hard to say thats not software related.

Im considering the mobo, RAM or PSU are being the issue. I'm doubting the PSU, it should be capable of supporting the hardware (the hardware is listed at the end of my post) with enough wattage(650w), even though I know the capacitors in PSUs deteriorate over time.
The RAM is a hard one as well, I have experienced others having faulty RAM, and their computer did not want to start at all, until the stick had been removed. Mine does start (although it as mentioned might be rebooting), just without displaying anything on the screen, and sometimes it does start and when in the OS, the RAM works perfectly fine.
I fear its the motherboard, since I know its the most in focus during boot, and I am thinking that what that is failing in those prolonged sessions, might be a component of the motherboard, which is only used during boot, which explains why I can use my computer inside the OS a whole day easily, without any hardware issues.

Summary
All in all, I believe its either the GFX or the motherboard, and I'm inclining towards the motherboard as being the part that should be changed since its responsible for a big deal of the booting process. I'm just not sure at all, and it's a heavy price to pay for my stupidity, if it shows I was wrong and it was not the motherboard... Besides, IF i were to buy a new motherboard, it would be stupid to use money on an old motherboard with a socket that supports my now legacy CPU, it would be better to buy one for a new system, but that would require changing more than just the motherboard then... And that can hurt, when you are just a student, so I hope that I'm able to prolong the life of my system a few more years, till I can afford a new.

I would be more than really grateful, if anything could give their input, I am quite blank as neither me, nor any of my friends has experienced anything similar before :-/ Thanks a lot for your help :-)
Your help is more than just appreciated! I hope a hardware-man can help me out here :-) Or just a man wiser than me.

Hardware specs:
CPU: Intel Core2duo E8400 (never been overclocked)
PSU: Corsair TX650W
GFX: XFX 8800GT 512MB RAM (never been overclocked)
Mobo: Asus P5K-PRO
RAM: 4x 1GB Crucial DDR2 8500Mhz sticks (I know only 6400MHZ sticks was needed to support the FSB of the CPU in a 1:1 ratio. I bought 8500Mhz sticks in case I ever wanted to learn about overclocking a CPU and the technicalities of it and what happened, without having to then also overclock my RAM)
HDD: (1) Samsung Spinpoint 500GB 720RPM. (2) Western Digital 160GB 7200RPM
Cabinet: Antec ninehundred

Extra elements that consumes power in case its relevant:
1x PCI-E wireless NIC
4x~ USB Devices (1 USB wireless NIC(I need two wireless NICs, as my Unix OS doesn't recognize my PCI-E NIC), 2 HIDs, 1 Bluetooth d+ngle).
2x Audio Cables
2x Screens, one computer monitor, and one DVI connection to my TV.
1x DVD-RW/DVD+RW drive. Its from Samsung. i doubt its the problem, as it never gets to the boot process (I assume), since it does not display the POST screen. Besides its not first in boot priority, my HDDs are, so I cannot imagine its because of the drive. I cannot see more than its from Samsung without taking it out. If you want me to do that, just tell me and I'll gladly do it, I'm just grateful for your help.

Final notes/rambling, I hope might be able to help somehow:
I just ran some tests on my HDDs while writing this message, and they seem to be healthy, as all the SMART values on the disks seems to be ok.
I have for some odd reason NEVER been able to boot with my external USB harddisks connected to my computer, so I always boot my computer without the USB harddisks connected, and connects them when I am inside an OS, where they work just fine. One of the harddisks has an error, where it can read from it with full speed, but only write with about 4MB/s to it, but that is another story.. I assume the drive is dying as it gone above the warning threshold for reallocated sectors in its SMART diagnostics, so I rarely ever connect or use it anyway.
I'm also using the disks for dualbooting. On one disk I have windows 7, while I on the other have a unix-like OS. The Windows 7 OS is my primary OS which it boots into. I don't know if this matters at all. As said, it never gets to the OS selection screen (I assume), as it never shows the POST screen when it first boots when it has one of its buggy sessions, but I am not the hardware man :-/
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Question by:devaoPolo
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LVL 13

Assisted Solution

by:xDUCKx
xDUCKx earned 336 total points
ID: 38324843
long post.  But I did read it  :-)

RAM:  Very odd stuff.  It causes weird bizarre issues if it's bad.  If it's bad it doesn't have to be the entire module, it can be one chip that's blown and cause weird freaky issues (Application hangs, memory errors when running, odd bootup behaviour, etc).

Since RAM is cheap you can/should start with this.  If you have more then 1 RAM module, yank one of them out and boot.  If the problem persists, put the one you took out back in and take the other one out.  If you've got 4 banks filled....well, have fun  :-)

You can try memtest which runs from a boot CD and does a very thorough test on your memory.  Should isolate which bank is bad (if you have one).  It's quite boring to watch though.  

http://www.memtest.org/

Mobo:  yes, I would suspect the mobo after the RAM.  If you could isolate to when this started happening (like after a power failure or something) the mobo/power supply usually are the things that get fried.  There's some tools you can run like sisoft sandra:

http://www.sisoftware.co.uk

Sounds like you've done some great bench testing though and stressing your machine.  You might also want to try updating your BIOS for your Mobo.  

It doesn't sound like your GFX card.  It doesn't sound like your PSU.

When it's "Booting" but nothing on the screen, is the HDD light flashing?  Or can you hear the HDD working?  If that's the case, then I'd suspect the GFX Card.  But it sounds like it's gone "beep" and just sits there.
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by:rindi
rindi earned 336 total points
ID: 38324917
The most common cause of this type of behavior are bad electrolytic capacitors, and those can be on the mainboard, PSU and the GPU. You can check them visually for signs of them cracking, bulging, or leakages. To check that for the PSU will be a bit harder, as you need to open it's cover. Also PSU's, particularly if it has been in constant use for 5 years, will probably be very dusty and because of the dust it can be hard to see the caps, so a vacuum cleaner can help. Just make sure you don't suck up any jumpers etc!

You can test the RAM reliably using memtest86+, you'll find that tool on the UBCD. Windows 7 also includes a memory testing tool, but memtest86+ is better:

http://ultimatebootcd.com
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by:Callandor
Callandor earned 396 total points
ID: 38326010
The random nature of the failure, the rebooting, and the past solution of unplugging the power cable leads me to believe that you have a power problem, typically caused by bad capacitors, as rindi said.  When booting, the current demand is the highest, so it fails to get past this point sometimes, but if it does, current demand is lower and the system stays up.  Try a different power supply, and if that doesn't solve it, a new motherboard is in order.  A system built in 2007 is an old system.
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by:nobus
nobus earned 332 total points
ID: 38328197
it could be bad capacitors, on the mobo, or in the Power supply
i would start by looking at at the caps on mobo, and if healthy, test with another Power supply
you can also use the minimum set-up as described in my article  - to troubleshoot :
http://www.experts-exchange.com/Hardware/Components/Motherboards/A_1945.html                  (Short-overview-of-how-to-troubleshoot-bad-hardware-when-a-pc-does-not-post)
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by:rindi
ID: 38328213
Something I forgot to mention earlier that can sometimes also cause similar issues as you have, is a spent CMOS battery. Since this is a 5 year old PC chances are that your battery is aging, so I'd try changing that as it is a low-price part, particularly if you can't make out any visible capacitor damage...
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by:devaoPolo
ID: 38333064
Thanks everyone! So far, I have tried out using memtest86+ :)

The test passed without errors, so I went on afterwards, and have just finished looking all over the motherboard. No caps blown, bulgy or anything.

This leaves the PSU and GFX as being the potential troublemakers... I know that the custom cooling on the GFX is mounted correctly to the GPU... However, I also know that some of the chipsets on the GFX were supposed to have some individual small passive cooled cooling ribs glued on to them.. The glue, however, was shit(sorry for the strong words, but really), so some of them has fallen off. That also happened at least two years ago, but I am anyway suspecting that they might be the source of the problem..

Its just odd with the random behavior then.. I mean, it works during load where the chips probably get hot, and its only during the boot where they are cold that problems sometimes occur for an extended period of time. Do you know of any programs to test the video memory?

I tried Testmem IV, but was blank getting it to work.. If you advise it as the program to use, I'll try again though, and look more into it.

Finally, I haven't changed my CMOS battery yet, but yea, I might as well. As you said, it is a very cheap solution if it helps, so might as well try it. Heading down to stores on monday to buy a new battery :)

Thanks for the input so far everyone!! Its wonderful receiving so much help and see people being so active in helping :) I must admit, I posted this question in another place as well, but the one response I got there paled compared to this (although I would still say my thanks to that one guy as well).

Now, I am off trying to decide whether to take the cooling off the GFX first, or dissamble the PSU first and look for bulged or blown caps on the capacitators. The PSU is probably alot easier to dissamble, but I would have to ruin my cabling inside my computer and cut all the strips holding them in position to take it out..
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by:nobus
ID: 38333631
can you get hold of a PSU to test?
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by:
NetRolller3D earned 600 total points
ID: 38361866
Do you have the TX650W V1 or V2? V1 should be fine (it's a rebranded Seasonic PSU containing all-Japanese capacitors), however V2 is known for capacitor failures (Channel Well, the maker of V2, was kind enough to put one single Chinese capacitor into their otherwise all-Japanese design).

Your GFX card is also suspect, as you have a GeForce 8000-series (G8x) card, which is affected by a design flaw known as "Bumpgate". Basically, the internal solder "bumps" connecting the silicon die to the chip package chemically degrade over time, which eventually causes the card to fail. Also, depending on your exact GFX card model, it may have Chinese capacitors that could be suffering from capacitor plague.

Bumpgate can be temporarily fixed by baking the graphics card in an oven (really - Google the details), or if you have one, reflowing the GPU with a hot-air soldering station. The permanent fix is to replace the video card with one not based on a G8x GPU, such as a Fermi or Kepler card.

As for capacitor plague, if you have access to soldering equipment, an easy fix is to just replace the failed capacitors. Visit badcaps.net for help on this.
Note that when checking for capacitor plague, not all blown caps may show visible signs - look for any caps made by unknown or disreputable manufacturers, and replace the ones you don't trust. In addition, check for Chemicon KZG and KZJ capacitors - these come from a high-end Japanese maker, but tend to fail without any visible signs when used in computers. Replace them on sight, even if they look perfectly fine. Other Chemicon capacitor series should be fine. Note that while TX650W V1 is known to be free of Chinese capacitors, it can still be affected by the Chemicon KZG issue (Chemicon is one of Corsair/Seasonic's suppliers).

Also, any capacitor that looks like solid/polymer, but has a vent on its top should be suspect - these are fake polymer caps made by a Taiwanese company calling itself "Sacon", but better known by its earlier names "GSC" and "Evercon" ("Capsun" and "Comet" are also the same maker - they keep changing brands whenever their previous brand is identified). They are most often found on video cards, GSC/"Sacon" has fooled quite a few big-brand video card makers (including XFX) into thinking these caps are polymers, and thus, reliable. Replace them with real polymers whenever possible.
You can find a picture of these fake polymer caps @ http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/137/saconfzcapsah7.jpg/ - they are easily identified by the letters "FZ" on them.
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Author Comment

by:devaoPolo
ID: 38389863
Thanks for your help everyone :D Really, thanks!!
How do you even have knowledge of such specific components on that level Netrolller3d??? :O

I succeeded in getting a hold of a new GFX which did not solve the problems. And I couldn't see any burst or bulgy caps on the motherboard.
Therefore, I tried to changing the PSU and haven't had the problems since. Its fun, i know a guy that work with the computers in a school, and he told me that after about 5 years, all the computers started failing at the school. The fun thing is: All the computers had different hardware and different amounts of computing power, the only thing in common is that they had been bought at the same time, and had the same PSU.
Today, my PSU is just about 5 years and 6 months old, so I guess, about 5 years is what you can expect of a PSU :)
Atleast I think so, as Corsair usually is a quality brand, so I'm thinking my PSU atleast had a certain quality to it, and a cheaper PSU would most likely have lasted even less. It is interesting what you are writing Netrolller3D about the TX 650W V2 PSU being a rebranded PSU of a lower quality - quite eye opening. I believe I have the V2, so that might explain a bit.. Perhaps there is no use or reason to buying a more expensive PSU at all then, as it doesn't matter then? What do you guys ang girls think - how much does the quality/brand say when it comes to buying PSUs? (I'm a bit curious, as I need to buy a new one of my own now :)) Should I/one just buy a PSU with the sufficient wattage when buying a new PSU and not care about the quality or brand? I have always felt that by buying a more expensive PSU, my other hardware was more protected for surges and general irregularities in the electricity that might have damaged my hardware, but perhaps that has just been me :)

On a final note. I'm allowed to use the borrowed PSU for a while, and thinking I aren't going to use the old PSU anymore I disassembled it,  and while there was no blown caps on the capacitors in the PSU, there was one that had a cap that was bulgy.The fact that it was slightly bulgy only might explain, why it would only sometimes not start for periods of time, and during other periods start all the time. It had not failed completely yet, but was only starting to fail and had become unstable.
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by:rindi
ID: 38389910
PSU's don't have to last only 5 years, I've seen even cheap ones last 10 or more years! But there was a time when there were exceptionally many capacitors around that had a wrong electrolyte inside them. At that time this wasn't a known fact yet, and many manufacturers of both, low and high quality products used them. So those powersupplies in the school you mentioned could have fitted into that time frame.

Apart from that PSU's are more likely to break sooner than many other parts of a PC, as it gets hot and attracts more dust. The more dust you have the harder it is to get the hot air away from the components, and that reduces the life of those components. A regular, thorough dust cleaning maintenance appointment with your PC can help your PC last longer.
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Expert Comment

by:nobus
ID: 38390360
you also asked about testing ram
i recommend memtest86+ from www.memtest.org,
or by booting from the UBCD - many diag tools on it
http://www.ultimatebootcd.com/                              ultimate boot cd
http://ubcd.mirror.fusa.be/ubcd511.iso                        direct link UBCD
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LVL 69

Assisted Solution

by:Callandor
Callandor earned 396 total points
ID: 38393182
The important thing in a power supply is how much current it provides on the +12v rail - you will find that the cheap ones are very low in this, and it has consequences.  High current on the +12v means the cpu and peripherals will have enough power to get through high demand times, and well-built power supplies cycle through these demands efficiently.  I like PC Power & Cooling, Seasonic, and a few other brands.
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by:NetRolller3D
ID: 38393262
I wish to concur with Callandor. The distribution of 12v rails is much more important than the total current they can provide. For a high-end system, insist on single-rail. Also, 80 Plus is a good indicator of build quality (hard to do the needed efficiency with poor components). And look for all-Japanese capacitor PSUs - contrary to Rindi's comment, bad capacitors are still being manufactured in China & Taiwan.
I also recommend only buying PSUs for which online reviews exist - any mention of Chinese or Taiwanese capacitors (except brands Taicon, Samxon and Taiwan Chemicon) should be a red flag.
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by:nobus
ID: 38393792
i believe the bad caps issue is now well behind us...
more and lmore are using solid state caps
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Author Closing Comment

by:devaoPolo
ID: 38394323
Woa the help was hardcore :O In a nice way :O
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LVL 93

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by:nobus
ID: 38394877
ca you post what the problem, and solution was?
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by:NetRolller3D
ID: 38396177
@nobus: On motherboards, yes - as long as the board maker really uses solid caps (see my earlier comment about Sacon FZ caps, which masquerade as polymers, but are really rebranded GSC/Evercon electrolytics). In PSUs, however, I still often see bad capacitors. I could name quite a few PSU makers who use Chinese electrolytics even in their high-end PSUs. Video cards are also commonly still affected, due to the Sacon FZ series.

The solution was replacing the PSU - he didn't open it, but I'm pretty sure it was a capacitor fault, the TX650 V2's usual failure mode.

(And in case you are wondering, Corsair definitely did this intentionally with the V2: review samples sent by Corsair to reviewers contained Japanese capacitors, while reviewers who bought their samples in retail all found Chinese caps in theirs.)
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by:nobus
ID: 38397856
i would likedevaoPolo to answer - not you (what you post is widely known), but tx anyway for the effort
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