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Strange computer problem
Old 08-05-2009, 01:26 PM   #1
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Strange computer problem

2 year old Gateway decides to go down after 5 minutes or so - was random, then 5 or 10, now predictably within 5. This is without running anything other than normal startup programs, and from a cold start. All fans running including power supply and chip fan. Decided it seemed like a heat related failure of some component. Have 2 different Ram chip pairs in the Gateway, pulled each pair and ran them 2 chips only in each of the two Ram banks. Same failure each time. Bought a new power supply and installed. Same failure.

Bought a new Emachine yesterday and, after running the Emachine for a while without issue, plugged in the Gateway's SATA drive as a secondary drive, thinking maybe it was a Gateway operating system problem. Thought we would use the Gateway Sata drive as loaded program and data storage. The Emachine started failing over and over just like the Gateway had - without even accessing the secondary drive's programs or data!

Now the weird stuff: ran a power cord from the Gateway to the Gateway SATA drive installed in the Emachine and ran the data cable from the Gateway drive to the Emachine motherboard and we were able to download the pictures and data from the Gateway drive to the Emachine drive without issue. Over 15 minutes without problem. Ok good. Thought I would try the reverse and plugged the Gateway data cable into 2 different ports on the Gateway motherboard, powering the Gateway SATA drive with the Emachine powercable and booted up and ...it went down after bootup both times!

We run AVG virus scan on all machines and have a router and hub - not really thinking virus - it acts more like a power failure to my mind. When transferring the data if there was a power failure would data transfer pick back up at the drop point or would it just report a failure? Would really like to use the Gateway box for my machine as it has working USB2.0 ports that my older machine doesn't have - of course that means getting an IDE to SATA converter so my old drives can swap in. Also wouldn't mind using that Gateway 320 GB drive if it's not the problem - not looking forward to program and operating system tweaking - even if she's the one doing it the air gets a bit of a charge in it....

Any ideas? What am I missing in the hardware trouble shooting and what fits the observed results?
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:02 PM   #2
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What if you boot up in safe mode? If it doesn't crash, that suggests it's a software problem.
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:25 PM   #3
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Crashes in safe mode as well. Software is certainly a possibility, but having it installed as a secondary drive, but not using it resulted in failure of the Emachine box. Going to try the Emachine hard drive in the Gateway box - figure if it works properly that will mean the Gateway processsor, RAM, motherboard and powersupply are OK. Weird that powering the harddrive from another computer allowed us to download data for an extended time. Just luck, not a real data point? Grounding issue? But both power cords are grounded to the same location at the electric panel.
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:29 PM   #4
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You're doing some fancy hookups there. I had a similar problem with an XP desktop, it would crash within 5 or 10 minutes of booting up. I also thought it was heat related, but it turned out to be a physically bad hard drive. Once I changed out the drive it worked fine. Of course, I had to reload the XP OS onto the new drive, and reload a lot of programs and data, but most of it was backed up. My bet is that your hard drive is physically going bad.
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Old 08-05-2009, 03:49 PM   #5
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I think your hard drive is kaput. Glad you were able to save your data.
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Old 08-07-2009, 02:59 PM   #6
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Perhaps motherboard related? My brother had a similar problem with his emachine. His computer repeatedly crashed on him. First, we thought it was something to with his OS. After some troubleshooting, found out had something to do with his IDE sockets on the motherboard. Couldn't get that to work even switching IDE sockets (using IDE2 for his HD instead of IDE1). He was about to get another computer when I realized his board also supported SATA drives. So, as a work around, all he needed was a new SATA hard drive to connect to instead of getting a new PC.
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Old 08-07-2009, 09:00 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by calmloki View Post
Now the weird stuff: ran a power cord from the Gateway to the Gateway SATA drive installed in the Emachine and ran the data cable from the Gateway drive to the Emachine motherboard and we were able to download the pictures and data from the Gateway drive to the Emachine drive without issue. Over 15 minutes without problem. Ok good. Thought I would try the reverse and plugged the Gateway data cable into 2 different ports on the Gateway motherboard, powering the Gateway SATA drive with the Emachine powercable and booted up and ...it went down after bootup both times!
That Gateway drive is complaining to at least one motherboard that it's heating up, and then the drive head gets out of alignment or the HD's controller board starts spewing garbage so something in the rest of the computer gets shut down. Maybe being powered from one P/S and motherboard kept complaints from reaching the the other motherboard while you were downloading.

If you have the data out of the old Gateway drive then you're right, it's worth moving the eMachine drive to the Gateway. And it's worth buying a 16GB flash drive or an external backup hard drive, too.

Troubleshooting was easier in the good ol' days when the hard drives would just start shooting flames out the vents...
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Old 08-08-2009, 10:06 PM   #8
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calmoki, I am stumped by your problem. You did all the right swapping and experimentation, but I (an EE but not a PC hardware designer) could not explain the phenomena that you saw.

First, I cannot explain why it helped to run the drive with another power. The power connection to the SATA is not a "smart" one, meaning there is no information exchanged on that power cable. Unless the capacity of the PC power supply is insufficient (which I assume is not true), how did it help to borrow the power from another source?

In the past, I have been plagued by an intermittent PC lock up in conjunction with loss of data, meaning files half-written and trashed. Yes, it involved a SATA drive. To make the long story short, I eventually traced it to a bad SATA data cable. Yes, the machine could hang up even if the culprit drive was not accessed. I believe the software goes out to query all the drives periodically even if the user does not access them. When the communication gets disrupted due to a poor connection, the software does not handle it well and causes all kinds of weird behavior. Upon replacing the SATA data cable, I have been running OK for the last 2-3 years.

Is it possible that in your experimentation, you used different SATA cables and the good/bad results simply correlate with the use of a particular cable that you might not pay attention to?
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Old 08-09-2009, 02:52 AM   #9
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Not a resolution report, but where we are now: Looked on Ebay and found HongKong companies that would sell me a (dunno if this is the right term) dongle which hooks to the data port on an IDE drive and outputs on a SATA cable - for like $3.80 including shipping! Didn't feel like rolling the dice or waiting, though I've had sucess on such items in the past. Went to Radio Shack and spent $35 on a card that plugs into the motherboad,accepts IDE and SATA cable, and outputs either. Pluged the card into the newer Gateway, hooked up my IDE drives, and couldn't get it to boot up. Unplugged the CD drive cable from the Gateway motherboard and plugged in the IDE drive cable. Got no boot up. Punched F2 repeatedly and got the BIOS menu to come up, found a setting in the hard drive area that would allow me to change it to "legacy". Did so and the Gateway botted up with my IDE drives! Cool, until about a dozen screens popped up one after another noting that various Gateway devices no longer had their Vista drivers - the older Emachine's OS was XP. At that point I re-evaluated my goals and what I was liable to end up with if I continued on the course I was on.

Put the Emachine back together - hey - it still works, bet I get at least another 6 months out of it, and in 6 months I'll get a Windows 7 box with 3 or 4 times the memory, a terabyte fast harddrive, 3 Ghz processor - and probably spend $400. Frustrated myself enough trying to resurrect a 2+ YO CPU with maybe 4-5 YO hard drives.

Thanks for the help and suggestions - too many unknowns for me to continue parts swap troubleshooting.
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Old 08-09-2009, 02:59 PM   #10
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Reminded me of a little gadget most PC users should have. It's an adapter, a "dongle", that allows you to turn any PC hard drive into a USB external drive. It goes in between a drive (SATA or IDE PATA) and the host USB port. It also has a wall-wart to provide power to the drive. Very handy if you need to transfer data out of a diskdrive and do not want to open up the host. And it is the only way to do it if the host is a laptop.

I got mine from E-bay, paid less than $20, if I remember correctly.


PS. Just looked again on E-Bay. Now, only $9.50 including shipping.
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