Is my CPU dying?

It’s only 5 years old. Apart from being nearly worthless (380 mhz) it doesn’t always boot on the first go. The screen comes up proudly declaring “COMPAQ” in large friendly letters and goes nowhere until I unplug it, wait a second and the start it up (after plugging it back in). I’ve reinstalled the OS a couple times, once after a complete format. No real change in performance. And it likes to lock up on internet applications (if I scroll a screen before it completes loading).

How long is a CPU supposed to live? What’s it look like when they die a natural death?

CPUs are designed to last 10 to 15 years if you keep them adequately cooled (under 45 deg C). They will last a bit less if the temps are higher. 5 is a bit on the low side, unless the temps have been up around 60 deg C or higher.

Usually when a CPU goes, you won’t even get the splash screen on startup. Sometimes you’ll get weird symptoms like what you described, but it’s not at all common. I’ve also gotten similar symptoms when the memory or cpu wasn’t fully seated, and it’s not all that uncommon for them to come unseated after five years. Try removing and re-installing the cpu and memory and see if your problem goes away. If that doesn’t do it, you might try unplugging the main power connector from the motherboard and plugging it back in.

This is a hardware problem. Anything you do with the OS or any other software isn’t going to help it.

Thanks! I’ll get after it tonight with a screwdriver & couple beers (and take antistatic precautions, etc…).

What does a dying hard drive look like? Does that tend to crash without warning as well?

A dying/dead HD will exhibit all kinds of erratic behavior. If you can run “scan disk” or “check disk’” on older OS’s do so first.
If it won’t boot, try reformatting the HS and if that fails either buy a new HD or junk the machine.

I seriously doubt it is the CPU or the hard drive. Usually when the CPU goes, it just goes completely. The reason that I don’t think it is the HD is that you should be seeing error messages all the time even after your computer boots if that is the case. Web page locking doesn’t count. That just sounds like a software problem with your browser. You can download a free browser such as Opera or Mosiac to test that.

I would bet money (not much money) that it is one of the following things:

  1. A screwy motherboard. The above suggestion to check the seating of the RAM and all cables attached to it is a good one. Take the RAM out completely and put it in again. Also, blow out any dust on it while you are in there. However, the motherboard may be just failing.
  2. A screwy BIOS setup. Press the BIOS setup key on startup to get to the menu. I would just load up the setup defaults from somewhere on your menu. Check to see if everything looks OK.
  3. The BIOS got corrupted. Your BIOS may just be screwed. It happens sometimes. THe fix to that is to “Flash” the BIOS with the newest version. You will have to look on your motherboard manufacturers website to see if this is an option. One warning, if you screw up flashing you BIOS, you computer is a doorstop. Be careful if you have to do it.

Try suggestion #2 first because it is easy. Move to suggestion #1 if that doesn’t work. Suggestion #3 should only be used as a last resort but I had it work once. Otherwise, it is probably time for a new computer.

Listen, you guys aren’t helping my case here. I HATE my computer because I can’t put Neverwinter Nights on it…well I could, but I’m not a patient man. I want a new computer, but we’re that broke. My wife would kill me if I brought one home. But…if this one had somehow self-destructed… :dubious:
Serious. Thanks for the help. Think I’ll try “flashing” my machine. Heh, that sounds fun:

Mrs. Montoya: INIGO! What the hell are you doing?!
Inigo: (closing bathrobe) Well, the Straight Dope people said this would help!

Depends on how it dies. Sometimes you’ll get gpf’s (aka the blue screen of death) and other weirdness as the data gets corrupted. Sometimes if the drive has trouble spinning up, because the motor is wearing out, then your computer might not start up, kinda like what you are seeing. If the drive goes into sleep mode, i.e. you haven’t touched the computer in a while, it might be extremely slow waking up again. Your computer will kind of freeze for a few seconds until the drive finally does start spinning. Windows and many other operating systems can detect certain errors, and you may get some warnings from the operating system. If windows keeps forcing you to do a surface scan every time you start, it found some sort of physical defect on the drive and it’s trying to mark the bad spots as un-accessible.

Might be a good idea to do a backup while you can still get the thing to boot.

I recommend against flashing your bios (or anything else for that matter… ahem) unless you are really sure that’s what you are going after. If something goes awry, as occasionally happens while flashing, then your computer won’t boot. Hopefully at that point they designed the motherboard with a recover jumper, otherwise you have to pop out the bios and put in a new chip (or if you’re a geek like myself, you can re-flash it in a prom burner).

The CPU fan could be clogged or something similar. Try openning up the computer and taking a canister of compressed air - or an old bellows - to it, and remove and reseat everything, in case of a dodgy contact somewhere.

Nothing to add on your problem. But depending on your definition of broke you may still be able to afford a new computer. Computers really don’t cost all that much anymore. If you check the and hotdeal forums you can often find a pretty damn decent dell system for something around 200-400 dollars.

disclaimer: I shall not be responsible for any maiming as a result of your wife. :smiley:

I’m with the ones who suggest removing and reseating the RAM. IMO, next probability after that is something going flaky in the motherboard. If it’s the motherboard, tell Mrs. IM that it’s all over but the wallet pain (of course, you can get really qute decent new machines (sans peripherals) for less than $400 now). Replacing the motherboard is not something to do unless you’ve got a nearby geek friend to hold your hand through it. Or, preferably, to do it for you (it’s the equivalent of a heart transplant).

Ummm. I would also go to the Compaq (HP) website and try to find out if they still have a manual available for your machine (or look through whatever documentation you have, and see whether you still have the one which came with it. The manual for my 1999 Compaq was still available last time I checked the website. I don’t see why yours wouldn’t be there too. And it was during late 1999, when they were lowballing Dell, trying to crack the market open, that they began giving the kind of useful information other companies had been providing for years. Alas, you probably didn’t get a motherboard manual - Compaq likes to pretend that they still use all proprietary stuff, (except for the CPU, of course) but they don’t (Deo gratias!) - but there may be some useful stuff there. Ya never know. :dubious:

However, I really think it’s something with the RAM. I am very familiar with the “can’t afford a new one” syndrome. I had to buy a new one last December, and I’ve not recovered from that yet. :frowning:

If it’s the RAM, I’d also think about adding more RAM while you’re about it. It won’t give you the performance you’d like, but it will make more difference than you probably realize. And for le$$ than you probably think. :wink: