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Author Topic: Startup problem, getting worse.  (Read 1529 times)

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jrniel

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Startup problem, getting worse.
« on: July 28, 2006, 09:15:22 PM »
Maybe you folks can help me with a problem that's abruptly appeared in the last week.  I'll give the system info first, then the way the problem appeared, and then what things I've tried to resolve it. I believe that "hardware" is the right target for this request, but please feel free to correct me.  Also, when reading my attempts to resolve, feel free to laugh as loud as you might find appropriate. My earplugs are already in ;)

System:
Athlon XP 2100
2 gigs RAM PC3200
DVD-ROM & DVD-RW
Leadtek Winfast K7 NCR18D-PRO Mobo w/ Award BIOS
Dual IDE HDs in removable cages - 40 and 80 gigs
Standard Floppy DD
Ati Radeon 7500 AGP Graphics Card w/ 64megs Video RAM
Windows XP Home, SP1

Problem:
Custom built PC, about 3 (maybe 4?) years old.  Has always worked like a charm. About a week ago, it began requiring 2 or 3 starts and restarts before the POST would begin. Power would come on, fans would spin, LEDs would light up, but nothing more.  Once it finally began its POST, all would proceed properly and XP would boot. After a couple days of this, 2-3 restarts turned into 7 or 8 restarts before POST would start. As of a couple days ago, not only would it take multiple restarts before POST would begin, but it then began to sometimes hang at the end of POST or when XP would first announce that it was starting.  In all cases, once the POST and then the XP boot were complete, the system worked properly from then on - until I had to fire it up again the next day (can't leave it running 24/7, as we are prone to violent electrical storms down here in New Orleans).

Attempted solutions:
1) After a ton of research on the web, finally ending up at ComputerHope, it seemed the first likely culprit was a power supply that might spin the fans but not be otherwise up to the job of properly powering the machine. Since I had a 350 watt PS, and was thinking of upgrading the video card anyway, I installed an Antec 500 watt PS.  No change, other than the ten years it took off of me to work very large fingers into very small places to get everything properly plugged in.  Yes, I've double- and triple-checked everything.
2) According to what I'd read, the next likely candidates were hard drives that were not spinning properly. I happen to have a couple of brand new IDE drives hanging around anyway, so I started replacing the current drives with them. Same effect: Several restarts required to get the POST to start. When the system drive had been replaced with an unformatted one, of course, POST ended with a "system not found" message - when I could actually get it to POST.
3) Opened the box again, and methodically checked all connections yet another time.  Did a visual scan of the motherboard, and nothing seemed weird.

In all cases, once I can get the thing to first POST, and then to boot XP, the computer works like a champ after that.  But I can't help but wonder if all of this starting and stopping and restarting is *censored* on the magical electrical stuff in there.

So, what do I do now?  I'm reading some things that suggest that the CMOS might need to be cleared and reset (which I only partially understand, but am game to try if someone can explain it).  I'm praying that this isn't a Mobo failure, since this model is long out of production and I can't find another anywhere. From what I'm reading, changing the mobo for something newer will probably mean a complete reinstall of XP, which wouldn't be a real problem (easy for me to say, having never needed to do it before), except for a several software packages I've got installed that cannot be reinstalled because of their damned activation schemes - the company is out of business, and no company = no activation.  Also, in all honesty, the idea of changing a motherboard gives me the utter willies.  The power supply was bad enough.

I'd really hate to have to invest in a new machine at this point, but I need something that will actually work regularly, and my little notebook isn't really powerful enough for some of the things I need to do.

Sorry if this went on too long, but I wanted to provide as much detail as I could think of.  Thanks in advance for any of your ideas.

GX1_Man

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #1 on: July 28, 2006, 11:36:52 PM »
    Well, I am assuming it is all put together correctly. I can't see it and you can.

    With the power supply being replaced, the motherboard is the next suspect, but first:

    Remove ALL of the add in cards, the oprical drives and all hard drives. Just the motherboard, CPU w/heatsink/fan, 1 stick RAM and video card (if no onboard video) and see if can boot from a floppy. (www.bootdisk.com if you need one)

    If that works add one hard drive and recheck. Then add one thing at a time and see when the system fails. Give each "build" a reasonable length of time to assess functionality (an hour or so at each stage).

    If that doesn't work (gulp) it might be time for other replacements.  :-/

    The RAM can be tested with a free download at www.memtest86.com  Run each stick for an hour at a time or so, and then all together.

    Free hard drive diagnostics can be downloaded (for a bootable floppy) at the appropriate drive maker's web site.
    Please post as much information about your computer, operating system, and problem as possible, what happened prior to problems, etc. Too much info is OK, too little is pointless! Don't just say "My computer doesn't work. What's wrong?"

    jrniel

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #2 on: July 28, 2006, 11:49:45 PM »
    Thanks.  That looks like, at the very least, a good start.  I do believe I'll wait until tomorrow to start mucking around in the inside of the box once again - the combination of frustration, tiredness and little breakable electrical thingies being a dangerous one.

    I'd been wondering if it was "safe" to power on the machine with nothing there except the motherboard, so your suggestion gives me a little more sense of security in trying it.

    Any particular boot disc I should try? For that matter, if I leave in one optical drive and try a Linux Live CD, would that be as good a test, or should I stick to a floppy-based one?

    Again, thanks for your suggestions, and thanks in advance for anyone else's ideas.

    patio

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #3 on: July 29, 2006, 09:44:41 AM »
    Well you have been given excellent advice so far...follow GX1 man's steps and report back...

    The bootdisk won't matter if it's a floppy or bootable CD.

    patio.   8-)
       
     
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    jrniel

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #4 on: August 05, 2006, 09:50:16 PM »
    Well, it took me long enough to get back to you folks.  Sorry about that, since you'd taken the time to offer me some good advice. Attribute the delay to a combination of real life drama and the horror of having to poke around inside this infernal box ;)

    Okay, here's the current report:  As previously stated, I'd already swapped out the power supply with a nice new one, to no avail.  GX1_Man suggested stripping pretty much everything out of the system and trying it then.  I did so, leaving only the video card, CPU/heatsink/fan, and a stick of RAM.  Powered it up, and the same thing happened - no POST, nuthin'. Only difference was that in this configuration, I got absolutely nothing, no matter how many times I powered off and back on again.  Previously, if I powered off and on often enough, eventually the thing would start to POST.  It would hang before booting the OS at times, but with enough tries, eventually I'd get into XP.

    After a number of depressing tries, I decided to just start experimenting for the *censored* of it.  First tried reconnecting the optical drives, thinking that if I could get it to POST, I would try booting Ubuntu.  Nothing.  Then tried reconnecting the hard drives.  This time, it would sometimes POST (after several tries), but then complain that it couldn't find a boot device.

    Finally, I rewired the whole thing, except for stuff I wasn't using at this time anyway - an old internal modem and a video capture card. Kept RAM, display card, dual optical drives, dual hard drives, and the floppy.  Started powering up and down and up again, as usual.  Eventually, the thing managed to complete its POST and booted Ubuntu from the DVD-ROM drive.  Weirdly, although the POST reported finding all of the drives, Ubuntu couldn't "see" the internal hard drives, only a 1394 external drive I happened to have plugged in.

    Got out of Ubuntu, rebooted the machine, and started the "power up, power down, power up" drama until once again it managed to complete POST, and it found XP again.

    So, I'm basically in the same place I was when this started, except that it's taking more and more restarts to ever get anywhere.  I hate to think what this might be doing to drives and the OS and such (maybe nothing - I'm not claiming any expertise here), but I'm starting to wonder if this machine is heading for the not-that-old computer graveyard, so I figured it couldn't do much real harm.

    If y'all are up for it, I'd be grateful for any other thoughts/ideas/suggestions or interpretations.  And maybe a little insight? Like, how come once XP is actually up and running, the machine works without a hitch, but once it's shut down, this mess starts all over again? If it's sick enough to refuse to POST and/or boot most of the time, shouldn't it stay sick and never do so? If it's the motherboard, is there any way I can replace it and the CPU (can't replace the items I have, since they're out of production - I've even scoured eBay for some) and still use my installation of XP, or am I doomed to a complete reinstallation?

    Anway, there's a bunch of questions and a problem that remains to be understood.  Thanks in advance for any further thoughts you all might have.  It was nice to know that someone cared enough to respond in the first place.

    I'll try to be more prompt in reporting back - assuming I'm able to get the computer to let me go online.

    patio

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #5 on: August 06, 2006, 02:51:34 PM »
    If that MBoard is still under warranty i would request an RMA and a replacement ...intermittent problems are the most difficult to diagnose.
    It doesn't make sense that it would finally find the HDD after not posting under different hardware setups and boot to XP...

    patio.   8-)
       
     
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    jrniel

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    Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
    « Reply #6 on: August 06, 2006, 06:46:56 PM »
    Well, it's nice to know that I'm not alone in thinking this intermittent work/refuse-to-work routine is hard or impossible to figure. Tonight, it took twelve tries to get it to POST, but it finally managed to do so and booted XP.

    Nope, the machine is 3+ years old, and the motherboard is no longer available.  Though Leadtek lists it on their website still, it's listed as a "phase out" model.  And yeah, it's way out of warranty.  Frankly, compared to the cost of starting over again with a new machine, I'd gladly pay for an exact replacement motherboard and try to get everything swapped out. The least that could happen is that it wouldn't work, and it's not like that would be much of a tragedy at this point.

    While I'm waiting for anyone else to have a flash of insight (hope springs eternal), let me ask what might be a stupid question: Is it at all possible that this could something as simple as a CMOS battery needing replacement?  I don't really know the symptoms of that little thing starting to go, but would it be worth trying a change?

    As I said, hope springs eternal.  Thanks again for all of your help.

    GX1_Man

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      Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
      « Reply #7 on: August 06, 2006, 07:12:54 PM »
      I don't believe a battery would account for this, but for $5 you could certainly do that as a test. It sounds like a motherboard failure.
      Please post as much information about your computer, operating system, and problem as possible, what happened prior to problems, etc. Too much info is OK, too little is pointless! Don't just say "My computer doesn't work. What's wrong?"

      patio

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      Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
      « Reply #8 on: August 07, 2006, 08:13:07 AM »
      I just bought a new ABIT MBoard for an Athlon machine for $40.00 and spent an extra $5.00 for an extended warranty...do some shopping around.
      Not a knock on that system but i wouldn't go for the same board this time.

      patio.   8-)
         
       
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      jrniel

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      Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
      « Reply #9 on: September 01, 2006, 05:23:40 PM »
      I'm finally able to get back to you folks, having been "computer-less" for a couple of weeks...

      First off, I want to thank you for your suggestions and help.  Maybe I'm a bit cynical, but I half expected to either see no one bothering to respond, or to get the kind of "you're an idiot and I'm smarter than you" kind of responses I've seen other posters get on other, not to be named, forums.  You folks were friendly, helpful, and to the point, so here's a pat on the back to you all.  I've read some other exchanges in other sections of these forums, and that seems to be the rule, rather than the exception.  How refreshing.

      Okay, the end of the story:  The problem continued to worsen as time went along, until eventually my XP installation began to be messed up to the point where I realized I was running out of practical options.  I saw absolutely no point in just trying to reinstall everything, since the most likely candidate as the culprit was a failure of the mobo.  I did, by the way, try changing the CMOS battery just for the *censored* of it, and as expected, it did nothing.  Using the "bootstrapping" approach you all suggested for diagnosing the problem left me with no suspects other than the mobo.

      So it really came down to deciding between buying another box entirely or getting brave enough to try changing the mobo/cpu myself.  Being that I just love this machine - and that money doesn't grow on trees - I went for courage.  No sense in trying to find another Socket A mobo to support my current CPU, so I found a nicely cheap Gigabyte Socket 939 mobo and a deal on an Athlon 64 CPU. Since it was my first time doing anything serious inside of a computer, I don't feel too bad that it took most of an afternoon and a good part of an evening before I was confident enough (that I'd stuck everything where it belonged) to try firing it up. Low and behold, the darned thing POSTed with no arguments.

      I didn't even bother trying to recover my XP installation, since everything I'd read suggested that doing so would be the quick road to a LOT of headaches.  Fresh drive, fresh installation. Well, three fresh installations, actually, and in the process I learned a lot of tricks about getting XP installed the way I wanted it.  That's what took up the rest of the long evening.

      The final upshot is that I have a newer and faster machine, and it seems happy.  I'm sorry to have lost the software that required activation - the company no longer exists, so no activation is possible - but having everything fresh and working cleanly is more than adequate compensation.  I'm waiting until I only have a week or so left to activate XP again before I try it, just in case I screw something else up, and since I'm given to understand that Microsoft will kvetch about it being reinstalled on what appears to be a new machine, but I suppose if I explain the problem correctly it'll all work out.  If anyone has any advice or suggestions about that part of the process, I'll be happy to read it.

      So that's it, I think.  I've learned a *censored* of a lot about working on computers (easy to say, when you don't know squat about doing so), and I'm very happy to have found these forums.  I'm going to read the various sections regularly, and I hope I'll be able to occasionally respond constructively to someone else's questions, rather than just being a "help me" kind of poster.  You guys are great, and thanks for everything.  

      Fed

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        Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
        « Reply #10 on: September 01, 2006, 05:51:06 PM »
        Very good of you to let us know, I will remove your name from the hidden SinBin 'Hit & Run' section. ;)
        Welcome :)

        GX1_Man

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          Re: Startup problem, getting worse.
          « Reply #11 on: September 01, 2006, 06:50:34 PM »
          jrneil,

          We appreciate new members like you who are intelligent, resourceful, and not afraid of a little research on their own as well. Your postings are commendable.

          Thumbs up on a job well done and thanks for the feedback.  ;)
          Please post as much information about your computer, operating system, and problem as possible, what happened prior to problems, etc. Too much info is OK, too little is pointless! Don't just say "My computer doesn't work. What's wrong?"