Friday, April 6, 2012

Jen Does PC Repair

A week or so ago Dave's PC suddenly crapped out.  It was running super slow and basically unusable.  Dave has this kind of aura that seems to magically break electronic goods and it's a running joke with us that he's not allowed to touch anything electronic.  This kind of problem is a pain in the butt to diagnose, because there's no error or anything to indicate what's wrong.  It was also intermittent, so when I got home and booted his PC up again it worked fine for about 10 minutes before crapping out again.  In that kind of situation, it could have been any number of things: a virus (least likely), his RAM, a motherboard hardware issue, his hard drive (most likely)...I tried a few different things, running a check disk (which wouldn't complete), pulling out his RAM and booting from one stick at a time, and I was leaning towards it being caused by his hard drive failing...then suddenly it wouldn't even POST and I feared that it was a motherboard issue after all.  I unplugged the PC from the power completely and left it for half an hour and tried to boot again, and this time it completed POST, so I was back to my initial theory.

The next day I tried running check disk again, with Dave under strict instructions to not touch anything and just leave it, no matter how long it took.  After running all morning, check disk finally completed after finding several bad sectors.  I swapped out the suspect hard drive for the one from his old PC (the benefits of keeping a stack of hardware in the cupboard), installed Windows and ran check disk on that one also just to be safe, and it came up clean.  The PC ran fine with the substitute hard drive so I was satisfied the problem was caused by the original hard drive failing (a Western Digital Caviar Green, and serves me right for buying a lower performance drive), and I ordered a new Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB from Computer Alliance who I'd never used before but were significantly cheaper than Tech Buy.  The drive was shipped and delivered within 2 days which was very impressive.

It arrived bare boned so today I hunted through the hardware cupboard and found a spare cable and some rails so I could install it as a secondary drive.  That would save me the hassle of installing and patching Windows yet again and would give Dave a bit more space.  It was also an interesting mini-challenge because it meant I couldn't just swap over the drives - I had to plug in the extra cables and ensure everything fit together properly.  We purposefully built our PCs to be expandable so it wasn't too difficult, but it was a new experience which was fun.

The new drive is now installed, initialised, and formatting as I type this.  I feel quite satisfied with myself for managing to diagnose and resolve the problem without calling in a tech.  And that's how I spent Good Friday!


  1. Congrats on the fix! :-)

    I've seen/experienced a few issues with the Green Drives - I'm happy to use them as backup devices, but they're a bit slow and cruddy for internal performance, remember that they often only run at 5,600 RPM.

    Internal hard drives are always shipped bare bones, the SATA cables needed are supplied with the motherboard or SATA controller when purchased (although sometimes you need to buy them because you need additional/longer/right-angled, etc).

    Note that whilst POST is a good start to diagnosing memory problems, it won't always pick up some of the most complex memory faults - to do that, you need a memory testing application such as memtest86 that you boot into and run for several hours.

  2. Thanks for the tips :) It was the first time I'd bought a hard drive on its own so I wasn't sure what it came with. Luckily I had all the cabling and mounting rails in the parts box from when I bought the PC. When I was doing the PC specs originally I chose the Green because it was significantly cheaper than the Black, but I shouldn't have skimped and it came back to bite me in the end. I just hope the Green in my PC holds on for longer - I ran check disk over it after all Dave's issues and it came back fine, for now at least. I might need to look at replacing mine in the next few months too, just to be safe.

    I hadn't gotten to the point of doing a specific memory test - all I was trying to establish was if I could get it to boot off each RAM stick in turn. I guess it didn't like the repeated boots though which was why it completely gave up even the POST.

    I'm satisfied (for now) that my diagnosis of it being a hard drive issue was correct...But if he experiences more problems down the track then I'll look at a memory test.