Troubleshooting unreliable PCs

I recently built a cheap Duron 850 system and it’s been having intermittent crashes. I tried installing both Win98 and 2000 (not at the same time) and both seemed to crash a couple of times an hour, but I can’t find any patterns. Normally I’d start swapping components with other computers, but it’s my first desktop PC in over 2 years and nothing is compatible with my older computer - not even the case. Is there anything I could try before I go out and start buying “spares” for all the components (motherboard, CPU, case, HDD) to swap? The system uses a K7SEM micro-ATX motherboard made by (I think) ECS, and purchased as a barebone system (case + motherboard + floppy only).

This is tough without looking at it, but first of all, Microsoft isn’t known for their reliable OSs. First thing you need to do is go to and download ALL of their critical updates. Service Pack 2 is a must for Win2K. After you’re all done with that, if you’re still having problems, it’s probabally BIOS settings. After you’re convinced that nothing in BIOS can be tweaked further, and Windows still crashes, check that you don’t have a bunch of goofy programs running in the system tray or in memory. After that, download Linux.

Thanks DeSade, but the system won’t stay up long enough to download Service Pack 2 - at least it didn’t the couple of times I tried. (I only have a 56k ISDN connection) I’ll take another look at BIOS settings and software. If it were my work computer I’d install Linux but I plan to install an MPEG2 capture card on this one and use it primarily as a VCR. But still, maybe I should try Linux just to see if that works reliably…

Most weird crash problems are hardware related. You can try booting it up in safe mode, and if it runs forever in safe mode then you’ve got a problem with one of your hardware drivers.

As a general rule, if it never crashes immediately, but always has to run for at least a few minutes before it crashes, then it’s a heat related problem.

The first thing I would do is take the computer apart and put it all back together again. Yes, this sounds kind of stupid, but it’s got a nice technical term - “re-seating.” Basically, this fixes any weird problems that arise from the cpu or memory or an I/O card not making good electrical contact.

Also, double check in the BIOS that you haven’t accidentally set the memory and CPU speed faster than what they are rated for.

I don’t have all that high of an opinion of microsoft myself, but I doubt that they are the culprit in this case.

what does ‘crashes’ refer to? explain what happens. you might get a bios update & a huge cpu fan.

Intermittent random crashes of the sort you are describing are typically RAM or MB cased.
Some possible things to check:

1: If more than one DIMM is installed remove one and then the other and see if stability is affected.

2: Make sure the cooling fan on the CPU and the power supply are operating.

3: Make sure there is thermal tape or thermal grease between the heatsink/fan and the CPU contact surface.

4: Boot the machine with a DOS floppy and scandisk and then format the hard disk. If it flakes during this procedure it is not likely to be a Windows OS component problem. If it does fail during this procedure try scandisking the drive as a slave on your older machine and see if it passes muster.

Some motherboards must be set with jumpers for the CPU voltage also. I set one 0.1V low once… it was an unstable mess til I sorted that out. I was just sure I had a heat related problem.