I should have known better. I’d read enough online posts to know that the in-place upgrade from XP to Vista can be problematic, particularly if your XP system registry has grown to huge proportions. My own personal experience with a Vista upgrade had been moderately successful, but even that system was eventually nuked and a clean Vista install performed.

So here was a PC, with lots of fairly useless (from my perspective), but fun (from her perspective) background tasks running under XP. In goes the Vista upgrade.

Did I mention that this system had 2GB of system RAM?

Within two weeks, her system had pretty much become unusable. I scanned it with several malware detectors, and other than complaints about a couple of adware items, there were no Trojans or viruses found. So the problem really came down to an already overloaded Windows XP system that had developed massive registry and hard drive bloat after the Vista in-place upgrade. So I decided to nuke and start over.

One of the cardinal rules of troubleshooting is: change only one variable at a time.

Unfortunately in my hubris, I ignored that rule. I put her system on the bench, swapped out 2GB of Kingston DDR3 RAM for a pair of Corsair 2GB DDR3 modules. I then swapped out the QX6850 for an E8500 3.16GHz dual core CPU.

When I powered the system up, I got no POST, but the fans spun up. Also, the PC beeper didn’t beep. This is, as anyone who has built systems will tell you, one of the most ambiguous and frustrating types of errors.

So I popped her old CPU back in and rebooted.

Same thing.

So I put the old memory back in, and the system POSTed properly. I checked her BIOS on the P5Q3 motherboard, and found out it was still running the 0704 BIOS. That BIOS predated Intel’s 45nm CPUs. On top of that, if you read the summaries of the various BIOS updates, you also see a number of them with text that reads “enchances compatibility with certain memory.”

Flashing the BIOS fixed both the CPU and memory issues. At that point, a clean install of Windows 7 proceeded without any problems.
 
 

Lessons (re)learned:

  • Before upgrading CPUs or memory, check the BIOS version
  • Never change more than one item of hardware at a time without testing it.
Index The Constantly Crashing P7P55D
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  • semo - Sunday, January 17, 2010 - link

    i think i have a similar issue with a studio 1557. i can't get the i7 to work at its rated 1.6GHz freq. it stays at 900MHz even with 1 to 8 instances of cpu burn in running (and speed step enabled or disabled).

    that's what we get for feeling confident about today's technology and living on the edge. And this DDR 3 compatibility issue sounds scary (hope it doesn't affect laptops too)
    Reply
  • AstroGuardian - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    That serves you right for buying that Dell crap.

    Just a little joke mate, no hard feelings. I support your effort in making the issue public and forcing Dell to take action and deliver what you payed for.

    Thumbs up!
    Reply
  • SlyNine - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    The computer could be perfect too, thats the really crappy thing about all this.

    It just needed a bigger PSU, under battery power it runs at full speed.
    Reply
  • ezero - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    On the 2nd system you said "How anyone can keep track of which modules run well on which motherboards at this point in time is a mystery."

    You can easily track which modules runs well by checking the motherboard's Qualified Vendor List for memory modules.

    For example, the P7P55D's list can be found at http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=RBA8CzWoopUl...">http://www.asus.com/product.aspx?P_ID=RBA8CzWoopUl... and clicking on the Memory Support List tab.
    Reply
  • Bertus - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    My experience with the QVL is different. I have an Asus Formula Rampage board with the latest bios, and I have bought that board to try and run a (amongst others) memory overclock on. All the memory that was on the QVL that was certified for better-than-normal memory timings and frequencies was either only obtainable in Asia or end-of-life. The QVL was never updated since.

    After trying several sets of matched pair memory modules from OCZ (Reaper) and Kingston, the results were:
    - post only with 1 module inserted
    - would not post with 2 modules, not even with DDR2-800 standard settings

    I gave up and bought a pair of standard DDR2-800 value edition. Works just fine.

    Bottom line is: QVL is not always helpful.
    Reply
  • mackintire - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Installed the latest BIOS update, tweaked the memory as recommended, ran memtest. Booted up and everything is great.

    Granted with BIOS 903 I had a couple memory related issues.
    Reply
  • camylarde - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    seconding that Reply
  • Peroxyde - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Emily's computer issues could be fixed without even opening the case. Install Linux, start with Ubuntu, it is easier to begin with. Emily is computer savvy. She will figure out how to use Linux in no time. At least my daughter did.

    Once Linux installed, the computer will be blazing fast, no antivirus, no anti spyware needed. You will ever again do any cleaning of crap and bloatware. After a while, you will realize that your own machines need more care than Emily's computer, then may be you will consider yourself also switching to Linux.
    Reply
  • synaesthetic - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    If he wanted to make sure his daughter never used the computer again for anything, installing Linux on it would be a good way to accomplish that goal.

    "Slightly more computer savvy than the average teenage girl" does not translate into "enthusiast PC user with an interest in *nix OSes."
    Reply
  • cfaalm - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I'll agree we can forego opening the case. Why do we want to saddle up Emily with Linux? I have an Ubuntu install on one of our old laptops and I like it, but XP is OK. I'll agree that w7 > XP. It also depends on you budget and situation. Some stuff that I use won't work on w7-64 and I'd hate to upgrade to w7-32.

    When my PC messes up (it seldom does without my own stupidity involved) I restore an activated XPSP3 up to a certain date with no software, just OS, mobo and graphics driver. That's still the best way do deal with a real mess.

    Next step is installing my software again: a good way to select what you really need. The only downside is that I don't know how to save settings and preferences for every app before the reinstall, some have UIs for that, others don't. Templates are not to be stored on C:

    All it takes is some preparation. Store your apps in a convenient manner and place e.g. bunch of .iso-files on an external USB drive.
    Reply

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