When to repair and when to replace on a PC

Mods—of course you’re free to move this if you feel the need. I expect various opinions will appear, so I didn’t put it elsewhere.

I could tell you the brand (HP) of my computer, my OS (XP) or when I bought it (July 05) but I suspect these don’t matter.

Sometimes I’m on the puter and suddenly, it restarts without any prompting from me. My Bil, who knows a lot about these things, says that’s probably a bad power supply.

And a few times, the computer doesn’t seem to restart—but without warning the screen goes black. There is no rescuing it from this: whatever programs the computer may be running at the time etc. aren’t visible, but task manager isn’t visible and therefore provides no help. The screen is just black. Bil said it could be a bad video card.

I don’t put big demands on it; but for these two issues, I wouldn’t be asking your input. Do I repair it or figure other failures are around the corner and put that money toward a new one?

Power supplies aren’t that expensive. I’d at least replace the power supply if I thought it was the problem. And if you don’t play current games, you could probably get by with a video card that cost less than $100.

FYI, the restart problem could also be from overheating.

You are, of course, just outside the 3 year warranty.

The first thing to do is to open it up and give it a good clean. Just blow the dust off. To clean the PSU you’ll probably need a can of compressed air. Next check for popped capacitors. If any are domed then it’s time for a new one. Given that your PC is an HP, it’s likely that the video is on the motherboard.

With regard to the random restarting, maybe it’s not actually random. If you check the event logs (under Computer Management), maybe there’s something there. Look for entries with red icons.

I’m inclined to think overheating, too. Probably dust buildup around the fans. I’d start with cleaning it out with a can of compressed air and see if that fixes it.

It’s more than likely a video card issue, and second to that it’s your power supply. Second to that is your RAM/mainboard.

  • What kind of video card do you have?

  • Have you made any hardware changes/additions in the last few months?

If you have an nvidia card, you likely have the dreaded nvlddmkm.sys driver issue that has been beating the hell out of about half of everyone with the Nvidia card over the last couple of years. If you have Vista, your application crashes to desktop and you see the dialog:

“Display driver nvlddmkm stopped working and has recovered.”

If you run XP, you don’t see that, but the system crashes out completely in numerous ways, just as you describe.

Nvidia has been denying that it is an issue with their drivers forever, but lately it’s been getting harder and harder for them to do. If you have an Nvidia card, make sure you have the latest driver.

Just a query- if he replaces and updates the video card, will Lobsang need a bigger fan?

Not replacing, just updating the driver.

Like I said above, if it were me (and it was an Nvidia card) I’d get the latest driver (May 2008 is currently the latest) and re-seat the card firmly. A mainboard bios update wouldn’t hurt either.

I just had a very similar issue with my homebuilt PC. I wasn’t eager to invest much in a new PC or in new parts so I just dealt with it for a time. After a lot of snooping around and trial and error I resigned myself to the fact that it was simply a hardware issue. Hardware issues on older computers can be especially annoying because it’s often impossible to isolate it and you can spend the cost of a new PC replacing those outdated parts one at a time. It might be the power supply, but the only way to find out is to spend $50 to replace it. Then, if it’s not that, you will decide to try replacing the video card for another $50+ and it might solve it. If not then you try swapping new memory for $50, then a new Mobo for $75 etc. Essentially the PC is crashing because of a power spike or a short in the system somewhere and it’s almost impossible to determine where without swapping parts.

My situation was solved for me when my video card started smoking after a crash. A quick visual inspection showed a nice blackened part on the card and an acrid smell filled my apartment. I figured that I could spend $50 to replace that card and still have an old computer or I could spend $380 on a refurbished new unit that was loaded with a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. Getting the new machine was a much more practical investment.

Thanks for the replies, all.

I’m betting dust is at least a partial culprit. For whatever reason, it seems to attract an awful lot of it. I suppose there are electrostatic issues but I didn’t have the problem with my old puter in the same house.

The weird thing about the overheating hypothesis is that I can restart it (immediately) and it might run for hours and hours with nary a problem.

I’ll clean 'er up and see if it persists.

Thanks again!

My local repair shop charges $35 to tell you what is wrong with the hardware. I would find a shop near you and have them look at it. If half your computer is dead, then buy a new one. If it is only one part then for a 2005 computer it shouldn’t be too expensive.

I’m not dissatisfied with the unit at all, really. I don’t demand huge amounts of memory, e.g. for imaging applications and what not. If it didn’t periodically shut down for no apparent reason, or give me the black screen of purgatory, I’d be fine with it.

Unlike most things in life, the product gets better and better while the price gets lower and lower. I just wondered if spending $100 to repair it would be better applied to a new computer, which have doubtless improved since I bought this.

I had a dedicated, faithful, fileserver that just ran and ran and ran in the basement…and then it stopped. I put a new power supply in it and it didn’t come back. Knowing that graphics are now PCI-e instead of agp, drives are sata, keyboards are USB, and computers are cheap, I bought a $325 HP pavilion.

With two computers, I then had enough pieces to more fully troubleshoot the problem. When the power supply went out, it took out the video card, ram, and some of the USB ports.

Plus the new one can run Vista pretty comfortably. It doesn’t, but it could.

Restarting randomly is what XP does by default when older versions of Windows would display the classic Blue Screen of Death. Take a look at this Microsoft article on troubleshooting restarts, which tells you how to disable that behavior and get the BSOD back. Whenever one comes up, copy it down (or take a picture), then do some web searches on the words that look important.

The BSOD might not actually give you any good information, but, then, it might. If it is regularly complaining about your video card driver, for example, you can try updating that, or replacing the card. You’re much better off trying to get some info out of the computer before just replacing parts willy-nilly. It could be your power supply, but it could just as easily be your memory, motherboard, or even some third-party program you installed recently that screwed with some registry setting and is exposing a bug in some driver you didn’t know you needed to care about. According to that MS article, the most common cause of this sort of problem is a software/driver conflict problem, not a hardware problem.

Unless you have a pile of parts around to try switching in and out, replacing parts at random is a good way to make this a very expensive repair.

I’m guessing you don’t do a lot of gaming, and you don’t have a lot of computer hardware experience. If both of these assumptions are correct:
If you don’t have much hardware experience, it can be a pain in the rear to diagnose and test these things. You could buy a new Power Supply, then find out that wasn’t the problem, it was the graphics card. Then you gotta buy a graphics card. Neither of these things are horribly expensive, but if you just need a basic PC for web surfing or working from home or whatever, you might want to look into replacing the whole thing. 3 years is pretty much near the end of the lifespan for a PC, and you can pick up a new one at any big chain (Best Buy, Wallmart, etc) for $300 or so that will be fine for your needs.
Can you have your BIL or another knowledgeable person check it out? If not, is there a small local shop you can take it to? Make sure you’re clear that you want a diagnosis and estimate first before they actually replace anything. They will have the ability to pull parts out of your machine and test them, then tell you exactly what needs replaced. Then you can decide whether you’d be better off just buying a new one (and if you do, maybe the repair shop will give you a little money for the old one).
Definitely open the case and blow it out with compressed air once a month or so, and get some cotton swabs and clean the dirt and dust off the case fans.

Finally, if you haven’t been doing so already, back up your important files NOW! If your comp is dead in the water, you might lose everything on it.

You will be completely shocked at the amount of dust that is inside the case and around the processor. Get a good can of compressed air and a mini-vac. Or just use your normal vacuum cleaners attachments.
You will want to do this outside unless you want dust all over your office. Don’t forget the power supply and power supply fan.
I clean out my desktop pc about every 9 months or so.

As long as the experts have gathered, I have a question. Well, two, actually.

  1. I have inherited an HP PC (a Pavillion m7470n, to be specific), which is better than the old computer we used to have, so I’d like to make use of it, but there’s one problem: it’s noisy. The fans, particularly the CPU fan, are really loud and seem to be working pretty hard. So, my first question is, what are my options here? Replacing the fan would be cheap, obviously, but I’m concerned that the loudness means that the computer is getting too warm, so I’d like to improve the cooling system as long as I’m trying to do something about the noise. I’ve looked at new heat sink/fan add-ons, but will I have to modify the air duct to fit them in, or do the aftermarket cooling kits take air ducts into account?

  2. Assuming I can go ahead and order a new CPU cooler, there’s another issue. The OS (XP) reports that the processor is a “Genuine Intel”, Pentium D. The support information on HP’s website, however, says that the processor should be an AMD (socket 939). I don’t want to peel the heat sink off until I’m certain of the processor type; is there any way to be certain without disassembling the sucker?

I should note that I’m very comfortable working inside PCs, having done computer support for years; but, since I stopped doing that for a living about 8 years ago, I’m just not up on the latest stuff.


SiSoft SANDRA Lite will tell you what you’ve got, for free.

the problem with fans is buying a good enough one that you won’t be fixin it again in a year. A $10 CPU fan isn’t as good as a $20 one, but if your not overclocking, a $30 fan might not necessarily be better than a $20 one.

Purchase thermal paste too, clean the CPU and use a -tiny- amount (google is your friend).

I was unclear upthread, my machine died. When it died, the failure ended up takin out the ram and video, as well as the power supply. When you start to consider those failures are potentially just the beginning, $300 for a new-with-warrantee system starts to look pretty good.