Computer Stability Issues

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If you want to verify the reliability and stability of your computer, there are some things you can do.

One View

This is what Omni recommends:

First, download and run memtest86+. Run at least the standard tests (takes about 15 minutes or so depending on your memory speed), but ideally, run all the tests overnight.

After you have verified without question that your memory is stable, then download and run Prime95 overnight. Ideally, you should let it run for a full 24 hours! At the very least, let it run overnight for 12 hours. (I can easily get it to fail in 8 hours, so I wouldn't use the suggested "6 hour minimum" as a measure of success.)

Now, this is really only scratching the surface. Once your CPU, memory, and chip set are verified to be rock-solid stable (using the above two tests), there are yet more torture tests available to test out the other components of your system.

Another View

Glynor has some more advice to check out your system.

I'm actually pretty well experienced with building AMD systems (I should be, I've built about 10 of them). If it were the Video card you probably wouldn't be able to get the system to POST (you'd just get a weird series of beeps and no BIOS). I've fried a video card or two in my time and they generally are just dead (or they won't work in games, but load windows fine). Power supply is possible, but if they checked it it's probably cool (plus, flaky PSUs tend to cause really RANDOM crashes, which would mean you'd probably eventually get through the XP install after a couple of tries, only to have it BSOD on you randomly when running). Could be a bad CPU I suppose, but I haven't seen or heard of too many of those floating around (AMD's QC is pretty good). A couple of questions...

  1. Where did you buy the stuff? Particularly the CPU and Memory. Are they reputable? (There have been cases of bad merchants selling overclocked and/or fake Athlon 64's as the real thing).
  2. What brand/model of RAM is it? It's really almost definitely RAM if you're satisfied that it's not the board. It could also just be a RAM <--> motherboard incompatibility. Bad RAM is all too common, especially the cheap stuff.
  3. Are you REALLY sure the MSI board was broken too? I just ask because I am right now having all my trouble with a Gigabyte nForce3 board. I usually buy ASUS (the talking ones mentioned above) but they didn't make a s939 nForce3 board (only a VIA which I will not buy) and I have an AGP video card. I've heard since that both MSI and Gigabyte are notoriously finicky about RAM -- though not as bad as DFI.
  4. What kind of video card exactly? There were some weird nForce4 install problems with some video cards, though those should have stopped you the first time you tried, not just this time.

I have had EXACTLY the problems you describe myself with bad RAM, random errors at all parts of the XP install (though sometimes they seem to always be around the same place).

The best thing to do would be (in my opinion) test the RAM, and if that passes, run Prime95 on the thing for a day or two.

Go here:

And download the current version (3.3 -- basic is fine) and make one. Then...

  1. Disconnect everything you don't need from the Athlon system, including hard drives, external devices, sound cards, etc. You want just the computer, RAM, Optical Drive, PS2 keyboard, video card, and monitor. Period (no, not even a mouse).
  2. Boot to your BIOS and load optimized defaults and Save and Exit. Go to the BIOS again (doing this separately is probably just paraniod) and go through the "Integrated Peripherals" section too and disable the LAN devices and Audio options. Lastly, make the CD-Drive your boot device.
  3. Then boot the Athlon system up with the disc in the drive.
  4. Once the Boot CD loads, hit F1 to enter the "Mainboard Tools" section. The way UBCD works is that you use the F# keys to choose an option, and then there's a way to page through different screens (I can't remember that command but it's like PageUp/Down or Enter or Space or something easy). Anyway, run memtest86 (the non + version is fine) from the first page under Mainboard Tools.
  5. Let it run for a LONG time (at least 6-7 passes, each of which is comprised of many tests -- I'd go to bed). If you have any RED errors show up in the bottom half of the window, you've got RAM problems (probably, though it could be the memory controller in the CPU or the motherboard is broken/incompatible). It still strongly indicates that the problem is RAM.
  6. If it passes that, then I'd run Prime95 on it for a full 10-16 hours (that's the Mersenne Prime Test also on the first Mainboard Tools page). This doesn't have much of a UI in the Linux version included on the UBCD, but it works. Basically, you should see a list of different tests which say they passed and then start the next one. You hit Ctrl+C to stop them, and then it will report if there were any errors. If there are, then this is a good indication that your computer isn't doing Math right (which really is it's primary function), which is often either the Motherboard (specifically the Northbridge) or the CPU. Sometimes it's the RAM too, but that's why I test the RAM first with Memtest. (BTW, this app is why I specified PS2 Keyboard and no mouse. It seems to dislike USB stuff intensely in the UBCD version. It works fine with PS2, but will crash if you have a USB keyboard or mouse).

Those two steps are always the first things I do when I build a new rig (but only after pulling my hair out with problems like yours on a bunch of builds). Get the hardware confirmed stable before you even put Windows on it and it can save a LOT of grief.

If you do those things and then post back what happened, I can probably give you some pointers on what to do next. If you do get Memtest errors, then you probably want to try having the stick tested on another, known-good machine (preferably using Memtest there too, maybe the nice PC shop will help). If not, but Prime95 fails, then I'd look at the CPU and Motherboard harder. If neither fails, then it could be just a bad drive.

Either way, Diskkeeper probably didn't cause it. That might have caused the filesystem to corrupt itself a bit, but it couldn't really have cause physical damage to the disk (not likely anyway).

One other thing I thought of that's worth doing pretty much no matter what. If you are using regular Parallel ATA drives (optical and hard), as opposed to the new SATA drives, replace all the PATA ribbon cables. That shop should be able to hook you up with a couple of 80-wire IDE cables for really cheap (make sure you get the 80 wire ones with the black, blue, and grey connectors, not the older 40-wire ones).

I mention this because when I was driving in to work this morning I remembered a time when I was putting together an old P3 system and having all kinds of trouble re-installing windows (after having all kinds of seemingly drive-related problems). This was back in the day when you could actually call Western Digital's tech support and talk to someone who knew their stuff. They set up the RMA for me, but suggested that I try replacing the cables for the drive and CD-ROM before I sent it in.