Computer Woes

I had to troubleshoot and fix some computer woes in the last few weeks. These turned out to be somewhat out of the ordinary problems, but it’s a good illustration how symptoms and following the trail of changes can lead to a solution. It’s also an illustration how ‘chain of changes’ is not always correct. On to the story…

A few months ago I realized my primary development PC was getting a bit ‘long in the tooth’. It didn’t seem as fast as before, and more importantly the C: drive was always filled up and in constant need of de-cluttering, usually involving removal of some lesser used program. After looking at new computer build options, and being horrified at the cost, I decided the best option would be to upgrade key items on the current machine.

The current devel PC runs Windows 7, which has not been upgraded in many years as I simply don’t trust Microsoft to keep it’s fingers off critical things. Recent posts on changes in Windows 11 is ample evidence of this “we know better than you” attitude, so I have no regrets on this front.

The CPU is still decent by modern standards. It has 16gig memory and two 120gig SSD drives. It also has two TX560 graphics cards that have sufficient resolution and speed for everything I do or plan to do in the near future.

I decided to double the RAM and buy two larger SSD drives to replace the current drives. I found a set of 16GB ram modules that had the same specs as what I’d originally installed, even down to manufacturer. I also found a pair of Samsung 500GB SSD drives that had good specs and reviews. I also bought a new hardware SATA drive cloning device as my older one had broken.

Once they arrived I powered down the PC, cleaned it out then pulled the drives. I cloned both drives as per instructions, then installed the additional memory and new drives. Powering up the PC, everything worked perfectly. I adjusted drive partition sizes to use the extra space and proceeded to use my refreshed PC. That was back in January of this year.

Forward to about a month ago, and the system started to glitch. It would totally freeze without warning and require hard reboots. The first freeze was during a game (Minecraft) but other freezes were random.

I verified memory and drives were OK as my first suspect was a RAM or SSD error, but that was clean.

I then started to worry about software. All the utility software I use routinely updates itself, and I began to wonder if one of these updates started conflicting with Win7 as most new utilities are built for Win11. Perhaps something was ‘bad’ in how they now worked.

I deleted a lot of software I no longer use, and disabled a lot more. Still there were random crashes; sometimes accessing the network, sometimes opening a program, sometimes doing nothing at all. I deleted more programs, in particular the Samsung SSD monitor and CCleaner. The Samsung program had tried and failed to update itself just prior to the problems starting, such that I had to blow it away and reinstall an older version. This seemed suspicious. Likewise, I didn’t like what CCleaner was doing, and reviews suggested it was not really needed. Still the crashes happened.

So what was the problem? At this point I had exhausted everything I could think of, but it was still occurring, and getting more frequent. I did not at this point suspect any of the hardware.

Then a final freeze, but this time the screen went totally ORANGE. Now that had my attention, and my attention was firmly on the two graphics cards. After searching for various symptoms of a failing graphics card, I decided to pull one of the cards. The system is set up with a primary card and secondary card. Both are identical and there is a bridge cable between the two for ‘SLI bridge’ graphics mode that helps certain games. This had always been off, hence my decision that removing the graphics card would be OK.

I pulled the secondary card, restarted the machine, and … ORANGE screen. Immediately I shut it off and removed the primary card and reinstalled the secondary card, now as new primary. Starting the machine, everything came up perfectly and has remained trouble free ever since. I’ve even reinstalled the older version of the Samsung SSD monitor program without any issues.

In the aftermath of this I did some further research, and it turns out that a failing graphics card can indeed cause all these seemingly unrelated symptoms. The video glitch during a game is obvious in hindsight, but the disk / network / program access glitches and freeze-ups were not obvious until pointed out as common with GPU failures in the research.

In the final analysis, I have a working devel PC with double the RAM memory, more than double the drive space and one functional graphics card. I also have one dead graphics card. Given the price of graphics cards these days, I will not be upgrading that any time soon.

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