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.



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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  • nubie - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    +1 on:

    "Isnt it much simpler to go to newegg and order the components with the most reviews and the highest ratings? I've never had any problems doing it that way."

    -1 on " Anyone who has bought anything to do with DDR3 has wasted their money."

    Performance isn't just measured in max memory throughput, (which triple-channel DDR3 certainly wins). But also in power consumption and future speed improvements.

    I don't know what this DDR3 "waste of money" talk is. If you personally don't see a need to upgrade, then don't. Many use AM3 chips with DDR2 and have adequate performance. Many also use Core i7/i5/i3 systems and enjoy increased performance.

    You can't complain about upgrades, after all DDR2 started at 400mhz, not a real upgrade from DDR at 400mhz, but look where it ended: with performance rivaling introductory DDR3. If we don't move forward when will it improve?
  • Ratinator - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I am having the exact same problem, however I am using OCZ-1600 RAM. The difference however is I have yet to upgrade the BIOS to the latest release. I haven't had time to flash the BIOS yet and here is what I am experiencing: At 1600MHz, it doesn't recognize all the RAM properly. At 1333 it does. I also have the same problem with hangs when recovering from sleep mode. If I remember correctly the most recent BIOS updates do provide better RAM compatibility and because you updated your BIOS before putting in the OCZ RAM, you may have gotten lucky. Reply
  • Spacecomber - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Enjoyed the article. I just thought that I would mention that I find it usually worthwhile to run a memory testing program, such as MemTest, for an extended period of time when I'm faced with a crash-prone computer. Often this will pick up the memory errors contributing to this problem. (You often can narrow down your finding to a specific module by running MemTest on each one individually, as well.) Most manufacturers have warranties on their memory such that they will accept the return of the faulty memory for a replacement (and they will accept your report of the MemTest results as evidence that the module is faulty). Reply
  • chusteczka - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Memtest errors are not exclusively related only to memory issues. I have often tracked memtest errors to a faulty PSU connection to the motherboard and unstable CPU settings in the BIOS. It is best to think of memtest errors as being system errors. Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, January 14, 2010 - link

    You will know when memtest will find your ram faulty. That is if you're any sort of competent with troubleshooting computer systems. Your universal statement is very much untrue. There is a reason why every competent PC repair person uses this test application. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    Ok, call me young and feeble, but I cannot stand seeing an "extreme" CPU that isn't overclocked pretty hard. And it was done not once, but twice! I'll forgive the i7 860, as it has Bloomfield over it and doesn't cost a grand.

    You could have saved yourself $500+ on your daughter's machine by getting a Q6600 and modestly overclocking it to 3.00GHz (333x9).

    And an i7 965? Really now? Do I even need to tell you how much money was wasted on that gem?

    I would love to be in a financial situation in which I could buy a product that screams "4.0GHz" over and over again, but instead leave it stock to taunt my less fortunate brethren.
  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    We occasionally buy high-end CPUs and leave them stock in our lab systems, because we need something fast and don't have the time to spend tweaking an OCed system. Also, he might not have bought all those CPUs at retail. Reply
  • cjb110 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I think the post highlights a serious issue within the industry. Wishy-Washy standards! I shouldn't have to 'hope my supplier has a decent returns policy'

    If I put DDR3-1600 into a DDR3-1600 slot it should work whatever the rest of the system. Why didn't the memory work? Was it power? timings? what? what did jedec or whoever forget to nail down in the spec, that allowed these inconsistanties?

    Its not just memory, I can't think of a single tech related standard that actually is a true standard.

    I've had my NAS drive reject a SATA disk, because the manufacture doesn't support a certain I wasn't sold a SATAish disk, or a SATA (apart from feature x) disk, there was nothing on the box or anywhere at the point of sale to tell a consumer this.

    Similarly most bluetooth phones, aren't. Or at least they actually only support an extremely limited part of bluetooth functionality (often just headset support). But the spec sheets says BT ADAP 2.1 or sommit equally vauge...nothing about not supporting remote sim access, file transfer or obex etc

  • strikeback03 - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    I don't know about bluetooth on phones in general, but on Verizon in particular they limit what the bluetooth can do, apparently out of fear of theft of their ringtones or some other crap. Reply
  • glockjs - Wednesday, January 13, 2010 - link

    it's refreshing to read an article like this tbh. shows the reality we go through and forget when we start tinkering with hardware haha.

    i just wanna say it makes me sad inside that your teenage daughter has a rig that crushes mine to play flash games and check myspace :( and you say "older" 4870 when i proudly rock a 3870 haha.

    it seems to me that you use nothing but quality parts and still had a hardware issue with the ram. the fanboi in me jumped out when you were mentioning the brands i thought to myself "why the f didn't he say g.skill". tbh the rigs i've built in the past years i seem to have zero issues with g.skill...just a thought.

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