It’s the new year, which must mean it’s time for all our PCs to go belly up.

Or so it seemed to me in the past couple of weeks. I thought the tale of these three systems is worth telling, as a lesson in recognizing and solving different types of PC problems. Perhaps you’ll see something of your own PC troubles in this, but even if you don’t, there are still lessons to be learned.

We’ll begin this with the story of my daughter’s ever-slowing Vista system.

The Tale of the Clogged PC

This past weekend, I’d decided it was time to nuke my daughter’s system from orbit. It was the only way to be sure.

 

emilysystem_small.jpg

Emily’s been running a fairly decent, though not bleeding edge system. Core components include an Intel QX6850, Asus P5Q3 Deluxe motherboard and an older 512MB Radeon HD 4870. Over the past couple of months, the system had begun running slower than molasses.

Emily is a fairly typical teenage girl when it comes to PC use. She uses the web heavily, and happily downloads anything she thinks she might like. She is, however, more tech savvy than most teenage girls, so she doesn’t do really stupid stuff, like open phishing emails. However, she’s a happy user of WildTangent games, likes to have the Weather Channel bug running (ugh, I say), and related sorts of gimmickry that can act as brakes on a fast system.

Recently, though, her system had been really dragging – so much so, that she’d given up on using it, and was using the communal living room laptop to do her homework and even run some light games. (I confess: I got her hooked on Torchlight.)

It all began several months back, when Emily began complaining that her system was glitchy. At the time, it was running Windows XP. I’d built the system about eighteen months ago, and it had been running reasonably well. I’d never been entirely happy with the QX6850, though. Even with a beefy Scythe Ninja cooler, the CPU typically idled at 58 degrees C. The QX6850 ran at 3GHz, but was built with the same 65nm process technology used in the original Conroe CPUs.

So I did something that, in retrospect, planted the seeds of bigger problems to come: I thought it would be a good idea to perform an in-place upgrade from Windows XP to Windows Vista.

Lessons Learned, The First Round
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  • mindless1 - Thursday, January 14, 2010 - link

    ... and the aforementioned "different partition than the OS partition" can conveniently be on a NAS or fileserver when dealing with several client systems, even in a cloud if you've the throughput to the *sky*. Reply
  • vascos - Thursday, January 14, 2010 - link

    thank´s very much for this article. as a systembuilder i am used to this like every day.hardware does all test(like-prime,linx,furmark+atitool,memtest++)but we had ram(works fine on other mb) running for 2-3weeks and then instantly crashed-swapped other ram in and fine for 3month´s and hoping longer.this is with a lot of p55 mobo´s.

    Reply
  • Etern205 - Thursday, January 14, 2010 - link

    While I agree the HD4870 is a old card to some extent, but I don't see it as a old card where no one wants to buy it. The card has dropped significantly in price which lets users on a budget get a card that's worth the performance within their price range.


    Reply
  • bob4432 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    this is why i always use mature to 1gen old hardware and os w/ at least a decent service pack out if i need to upgrade the os at all. w/ the exceptions of gpus, nothing else is really equal for the return on investment when you consider in the time wasted on troubleshooting bs due to "out of the gate" brand new items - let others waste their time and $$$ and when it is time for me to buy, i will build a machine using older tech that will be faster than people buying the latest because the drivers/os/support has been had a few once overs and i will save a ton of time chasing "beta" hardware output. Reply
  • Andreos - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I found this article very interesting, also the comments. Lets have more like this! Reply
  • cesthree - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I had very similar issues with my EVGA P55 FTW E657 and DRAM.

    My OCZ3P1600LV4GK wouldn't work at the rated 7-7-7-24-2T @ 1.65V AT ALL. Tried a slew of BIOS's and settings.

    Purchased some Dominator-GT's CMG4GX3M2A2000C8, set the XMP, and was flying from the get go. 12+ hours Prime Blend AND 20+ Passes LinX stable easily.

    DRAM compatibility is strange with the P55. I have seen all manufacturers forums filled with inconsistencies. Mostly there has been trouble with 1600Mhz kits.

    I have also noticed where the kit would work on an AMD, and not on the i5 i7 part the kit was "designed" to work with.

    Hope memory manufacturers and mobo manufacturers can get together to get this solved, or prepare for an onslaught of RMA's.
    Reply
  • cesthree - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Looks like you were dealing with a Xenomorph. Reply
  • nubie - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Yep, it can sneak up on you and then bite you when you forget your own rules.

    Kudos on Windows 7.

    Please don't say things like "not bleeding edge system. Core components include an Intel QX6850" and "older 512MB Radeon HD 4870". It makes me want to cry, I have an e5200 and 8600GTS (could be worse, the GTS is quite a bit faster than the 8600GT, it has 32.3 GB/s of RAM bandwidth for one.) I had to search and search to get this system put together, even using an OEM MSI board (missing 2nd PCI-e and parallel ports, etc) and RMA'ing it twice to get it to POST with a 45nm processor. Some people have no jobs you know.
    Reply
  • xeopherith - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I experienced the same memory trouble you had when building a system that was for work purposes. I ended up having to trade the memory in my gaming machine with the work machine just to resolve some memory problems.

    Honestly it felt like a timing issue but I wouldn't get results in memtest only when running prime95 for long periods of time. After reading on OCZ's site it specifically said that the memory wouldn't work with anything but intel chipsets! I was building an AMD Phenom 940 when that was new with a Asus M4A78 Pro motherboard if memory serves. It didn't matter how much I underlocked, overvolt, undervolt, modified timings, ect.

    I traded the memory for some Crucial that was specifically marked compatible on the Crucial configuration utility and holy crap it worked fine.

    I have since had friends with the same problem but they certainly don't want to believe that if they pick the right frequency memory that it could be incompatible. It just goes to show you should be reading the PDFs for the motherboard and tested memory modules and or the memory manufactures tested ok modules. Both Crucial and Corsair have good documentation. I'm sure there are others but I prefer those two or OCZ.
    Reply
  • Taft12 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    First off, good article!

    You are correct when you say "the state of the art in DDR3 modules seems to be evolving rapidly". I find RAM more than anything to be impossible to keep up with and fraught with incompatibilities. I now recommend only Kingston Value RAM for any system. They advertise that it is "by spec" and I see it on EVERY QVL I've ever looked at. The 1.5V is key, every vendor bumps this up. High-end RAM will gain you a couple % points in any benchmark at best, it is absolutely not worth buying anything else IMHO for anyone other than an "enthusiast" (hate that term) and even then it is money better spent on other components.

    Thanks for bearing with my rant!
    Reply

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