Gaming rig with a story behind it...

This is more of a tale than a question... but I wanted to know your opinion of what you think happened to the PC. I think it has a very "colourful" history.

I recently was asked to look at a "broken" gaming rig for a friend of mine.

This rig was built by a friend-of-a-friend who "knew a guy"... and who didn't exactly do a great job. It was supposed to be a built-to-order PC for $800, but it would be a really great value-for-money because some of the parts are used.

The physical condition of this computer is absolutely bizarre and I wanted to know your opinion was. I've attached some pictures.


Here's the story:

The PC was exhibiting problems that suggested an overheating issue. Friend said it ran very slowly and then would freeze or power off. Often it would barely make it to the login screen before shutting itself down. By the time I got it, the computer wouldn't even POST. Just a black screen and spinning fans.

The PC's specs:

    - Intel Core 2 Quad Q9300, stock cooler
    - 16GB Corsair / Patriot mixed DDR2 800 memory
    - 1x Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 250GB SATA drive
    - 1x Samsung/Seagate ST320DM001 320GB SATA Adrive
    - EVGA GTX 460 Video Card

Not exactly what you'd expect in a "built-to-order" computer... but it gets worse.

The problem I discovered - the Intel CPU's stock cooler had one of the clips busted off. I don't mean it wasn't secured properly, it was physically missing. Picture attached. My guess is the CPU cooked itself, and damaged the motherboard in the process.

So with that out of the way, I started looking a bit more closely at this supposedly brand-new built-to-order PC. And there's a lot of other "weird" stuff going on with this computer as well.

Here's a list of strange things I found:

CPU Heat Sink missing it's top-left clip

CPU Clip Missing
There is a "white residue" all over everything - the CPU backplate where the clips go in, the molex connectors, the FSB heat sink, even the cables for the 24-pin power connector has a fine white powder on it.

White residue all over the computer
There is a white "splattering" on many things like the FSB heat sink, power supply, etc., like something splashed onto it and then dried

White splattering on PSU and FSB Heat Sink
The stock Intel cooler's copper contact has scratches all over it (see pics)

Scratches on copper part of CPU Heat Sink
The case was visibly beaten up. The front bezel didn't stay on anymore, the back I/O shield was bent up. And the inside of the case was filthy. There were "crumbs" in the case, not just dust.

At least FIVE of the motherboard screws were missing - they weren't bouncing around in the case, they are completely missing.

Motherboard missing screws

QUESTION:  What do you think was the HISTORY behind this PC that made it become the way it is? What is that white residue? How could the CPU heat sink get all scratched up like that? How can half the motherboard screws go missing?

Are there plausible explanations for this, besides the system builder's complete and almost malicious negligence?
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Nick RhodeConnect With a Mentor IT DirectorCommented:
From the heatsink I am assuming the residue is some form of thermal paste that exploded in the technicians hand when applying it or it is actually a used system entirely that was thrown out because the liquid cooling tube busted.  You can tell by looking at the bottom of the heatsink because that white square ring looks like thermal paste and there is alot there (I mean alot)  

In general it looks like a bunch of scrap parts thrown together by someone who does not know what they are doing but because their grandma says "ohhh sonny he is a computer wiz because he plays nintendo and has instant messaging", people refer to him as a genious because it gets blown up through the grape vine hence this is why he is always the friend of a friend guy that never gets any bad reviews back to him because nobody knows who this individual is.

As for the thermal paste being silver, that could be because he ran out of the white stuff.
Very interesting.
Does the white residue come off?
Could be cocaine, or if it doesn't come off was near a paint shop.
Frosty555Author Commented:
It does come off if I scratch it. It's very "dusty", it reminds me of salt residue.

... but it's not salt residue. I tasted it and it didn't have any noticeable flavour. I think that also answers the question of whether it was cocaine, lol.

Also, before anybody says "it's thermal compound"... turns out the CPU thermal grease used was SILVER. And it was FRESH, very recently applied. And there was about 300% too much of the stuff. How the heck did they not notice the damaged CPU heat sink?

Thermal grease - silver, fresh, and way too much of it
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Kyle AbrahamsConnect With a Mentor Senior .Net DeveloperCommented:
<sarcasm> More paste is better, didn't you know?   </sacrasm>

They probably used the extra paste to try to fill in the scratches.  Possibly a bad overclocking job?

The white powder could also be from some kind of short / arc.  Definitely not a good sign though.
Frosty555Author Commented:
Some more close-up high resolution pictures if that helps:

Close up of socket, prior to cleaning off thermal compound
Heat sink closeup, after cleaning
Dried spots on the inside of the chassis near the edge of the motherboard
Front bezel contextual picture
White residue on heat sink mounting hole close-up
White residue on molex cables. This was on pretty much ALL of the cables
Kyle AbrahamsSenior .Net DeveloperCommented:
a great white paper about white residue on PCBs:
Nick RhodeIT DirectorCommented:
Maybe its one of those new dishwasher safe systems!  Maybe they took the parts out and washed them in the sink?  Either way I am going with thermal paste by the bucket and/or liquid cooling system breakdown in the PC (hence the bottom corners of where it was running out)
Scott CConnect With a Mentor Senior Systems EnginerCommented:
If I had to guess about the scratches on the CPU, I'd say they were due to "cleaning" off the thermal past with a screwdriver rather than a cotton swap and alcohol.

I'd say whoever built this computer knew what they were doing and was just trying to throw something together to make as much money as possible with the least amount of good parts.
>> ...they were due to "cleaning" off the thermal past with a screwdriver...

I was going to say razor blade, but I like yours better.   : D
As long as there aren't any gouges, it will not hurt anything.

I assume you know the proper way to "pretty it up" if you decide to.   ; )

I've seen some strange things inside a case, but this is a new one to me.
not worth further discussing the "how come" part
remove and clean everything
if needed  -  test every part

that's my line of action (but as said - it is a really bad case)
Scott CSenior Systems EnginerCommented:
There is a process to fix the scratches on the heatsink.  It's called "lapping".  It can be a tedious but rewarding thing to do.

Here is a good guide.
nobusConnect With a Mentor Commented:
i would not try it -just buy another cooler (since a stud was broken off)
Frosty555Author Commented:
I think I'm with nobus on that one... no point trying to repair the heat sink, when replacing it is fairly cheap and easy. Although this system will likely never live again - at a minimum I'd have to replace the motherboard, CPU, and the chassis to get it back up and running.

The "water cooled system that broke" theory sounds pretty plausible. Although I'm still mystified by the white residue. It's interesting to note how there was copious amounts of white residue on the back of the motherboard where three of the CPU heat-sink mounting holes where, but NONE on the one hole where the heat sink clip was broken off.

This question is also serving as a public record of the incident, and as expert testimonial with regards to the likely history system... so just before I close it up, could somebody be so kind as to offer their opinion on the following closing question:

* Given the evidence that the heat sink was visibly scratched and damaged, that one of the clips was missing AND that the thermal compound was fresh (indicating that the heat sink had recently been removed and then replaced), would you say the original system builder OUGHT to have known about the damaged clip, ought to have known that it would damage the system, and was negligent in selling the system in the state it was in?
_Connect With a Mentor Commented:
Hard to say. He might have known. But most broke mount clips I have seen and heard about, just failed without any indication of a problem.

Once in a while I will notice one looks kind of "dodgy", but use it anyway.
On my rigs, it is not a problem. On somebody elses, I will let them know about it, and see if they want to try it or replace it.
Scott CConnect With a Mentor Senior Systems EnginerCommented:
Unless the broken part of the clip was rattling around inside of the case I'd say the builder knew about it and removed the broken clip so that it would not make noise bouncing around in the case.

I also agree, it would be prudent to replace the CPU fan/heatsink if you were going to try to save the system.

As it is I'd salvage any working parts and scrap the rest.
Frosty555Author Commented:
Thanks for your comments, everyone
Thanks for the Points and the interesting question.   : )
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