Spectacular Computer Failures

If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know about my hardware failure. If you don’t… Well. why you should! Seriously, sign up for that thing and click on the bird to become my follower. The number of followers and my Klout score are after all directly proportional to the false inflation of my e-ego. Or something like that.

Twitter posts

This is the quality entertainment you get if you follow me on Twitter.

Anyways, wednesday evening my primary gaming rig died. I just updated my iPhone to the latest version of iOS (maybe I will rant about that some other time) and found out I needed to update my iTunes as well. Naturally, since my desktop is running Windows the iTunes update is always followed by a reboot. I have no clue why Apple insists on this, but I suspect they are doing this just to piss off Windows users.

In either case, the reboot ended in a catastrophic failure. The machine never came back. In fact, it never even made to POST stage. When powered up, it would spin up the fans and then emit the following beep code on the loop:

Note that I started recording mid beep, and then was to lazy to edit it out. So the first beep may seem shorter but the fact is they are all the same length.

Here is the million dollar question: can you count the beeps? Because I sure can’t. I consulted the manual that came with my motherboard for the meaning of beep codes, and apparently there are 7 of them. They don’t have alternating patterns – they simply differ in the number of beeps. So the only way to find out what is wrong is to count them. Which, of course, is why these beeps are played as fast as possible. You know, to make them easier to count.

The only thing I could tell about the code right of the bat was that it was longer than four beeps. So I figured I would just start there and work my way up. Five beeps meant memory failure, so I did some RAM juggling. My machine had four 2GB sticks in there and I swapped all of them out, trying to boot it with various combinations alternating every stick in every DIMM slot. Basically I wanted to rule out both the possibility that I have a bad RAM module, as well as the possibility that one of the slots is on the fritz. Unfortunately, none of my machinations had any result. I’m saying unfortunately, because a bad RAM stick would have been an easy fix.

Six beeps are supposed to indicate video card failure. Seven beeps indicated CPU cache failure, which as far as I can tell would probably require me to replace both the mobo and the CPU. I didn’t really have means of easily testing either, so I spent few hours trying to slow down and analyze the audio stream and came to a conclusion that it is probably six beeps.

Unfortunately the machine doesn’t have an built-in video. All there is in the box is a single GeForce GTX 285 card, which I disconnected and re-connected several times. I also tried plugging it into the second PCIe slot on the mobo without any success. I’m assuming it’s dead, but seeing how it still gets power, and the fan on it is spinning just fine, I don’t really have a way to prove it. I have no other box that I could test it in, and neither do I have another PCIe card I could plug into my mobo to see if it works.

In other words I’m currently in possession of Schrödinger’s video card which exists in a state of quantum superposition: neither dead nor alive, until I figure out how to diagnose it properly.

I ordered a replacement card – a slightly newer, faster, and shinier model. When it comes in, my machine will either boot normally or continue beeping in which case it will mean I miscounted, and that I will need to spend even more money replacing CPU and motherboard.

I’m confident that my lovely little piece of junk will eventually start working again. It is just a matter of how much money I throw at it I presume. I guess at some point it will morph into a whole new, more powerful computer. I guess I was due for some upgrades anyway.

Still, the fact that my primary machine is out of commission bums me out a bit. Especially since I just got back into Skyrim and was having a blast with the Dragonborn DLC:

Dragonborn tweet

Stilt Striders. So much nostalgia!

Fun fact: last time I suffered from a catastrophic hardware failure I just got back into playing Oblivion. Apparently Elder Scrolls games are not very good for my hardware.

With my main rig out of commission I am now bound to my MacBook, my linux laptop, my iPad and my phone for my computing needs. Which is actually not all that bad, considering that just a few years ago this sort of failure would completely sever me from the internet. Gotta love living in the future.

Have you had any hardware failures recently? How bad was it? Did you repair it? Or did you just buy a whole new machine instead? Let’s share our horror stories in the comments.

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15 Responses to Spectacular Computer Failures

  1. MrJones2015 GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Yes, just a few weeks ago i tried to install a asus xonar stx sound card in my pc

    >Brought it home from the store and installed it
    >computer wont boot, no display, no sounds
    >remove card and reboot
    >windows wont start, gets stuck at logo
    >reinstall card in other slot
    >windows starts and tries to “automatically repair” itself (has this ever worked?)
    >repair fails and computer gets stuck at boot
    >remove card, computer wont boot
    >brought card back to store, brought replacement card home
    >same issue, did some research on internet
    >finds out sound card is incompatible with H77 chipset (i didnt know to this point “incompatible” included mb getting stuck at post and completely breaking windows partitions,
    awesome work computer industry!)
    >returns card
    >format c: & never touch a running system

    Result: Mission XBMC failed, CD-Player attached to Stereo receiver it is.

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  2. Seriously, sign up for that thing and click on the bird to become my follower.

    There might have been a time when I would have been interested in doing this, but that died this past June when Twitter shut down their open ecosystem and turned into a walled garden just like Facebook. They closed down their API, replacing it with a useless restrictive API, and shut down all of their RSS feeds so that everyone must have a Twitter account in order to keep up. The surprising thing to me is that no one seems to care.

    So the only way to find out what is wrong is to count them. Which, of course, is why these beeps are played as fast as possible. You know, to make them easier to count.

    Yeah, that is pretty awful. Fortunately since you recorded it I can take a look at it with Audacity. Visually I can identify 6 beeps:

    http://i.imgur.com/j4Shg7N.png

    I had an integrated graphics card die on me a few years ago. I spent $35 on a replacement and the only tricky part was getting the computer to use the new card instead of the old one. It was dual-booting Ubuntu and Windows and it was easy to select Ubuntu from Grub blindly. I could then ssh in and switch it to the right card. Unfortunately it was actually the entire mobo that was dying, probably because of the malfunctioning integrated card being, well, integrated with it. I ended up replacing that computer a year later.

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  3. Matt` UNITED KINGDOM Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Swap out the GPU to figure out whether or not you need to swap out the motherboard/CPU… gaming rig of Theseus much?

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  4. Victoria Netscape Navigator Mac OS says:

    My 2-year old iPhonie (spelling intentional) decided its Home button was not in vogue anymore, probably because it doesn’t have fancy-shmancy completely redundant fingerprint recognition option. So the aforementioned button started working each two presses, then five, you get it. I got really sad because I was hoping it would survive until iPhone 6 or something since iPhone 5 doesn’t do anything for me.

    So I did what my 5 years of CS in the uni taught me along with all my dev experience: I googled it. Here’s the method I chose: take the USB cable and stick it into iPhone harder and deeper than usual (cable porn anyone?), then hold it there and press Home a couple of times. If the button got misaligned due to charging that is supposed to put it into place. Funny thing is, it looks like it worked: button responsiveness is much better.

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  5. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ MrJones2015:

    Uuugh, this is not helping. ಠ╭╮ಠ Now I’m scared of touching it. Thanks a lot. lol

    @ Chris Wellons:

    Yeah, I know. Twitter used to be a fantastic little company until they decided to monetize. Which I guess you can’t blame them for but I wish they found a better way to do this than nuke the feeds, and lock down the API’s with ridiculously low rate limits. :(

    Thanks for counting by the way. 6 is definitely better than 7 so keep your fingers crossed for me. :)

    Oh, and thanks for reminding me of Audacity. I had it on the dead PC but not on the mac, but couldn’t remember the name and so I just used VLC to slow down the playback when I was counting. :P

    @ Matt`:

    Well, I suspect I will probably also need a new PSU if it comes to the mobo swap. So it will be a whole new computer by then.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Victoria:

    My cousin had that same issue with her 4S, but she went via the “official” route by going to the Apple store where they replaced the entire phone for her. The new one eventually developed a problem with the display – it lost sensitivity in one of the corners somehow. She got that one replaced too. Her current phone has an issue with sleep button on the top not working sometimes. I have no clue what she does with these phones. :P

    I think she is going to pick up a 5S models this week. Knowing her luck I’m expecting to hear about the fingerprint reader being broken within a few weeks.

    Good to know the home button trick. Does this also work with the lighting connector phones like 5?

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  7. Victoria Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    @ Luke Maciak:

    Well, I would have gone the official way if Ukraine had official Apple presence :)

    I don’t know about iPhone 5 connector though, hope that iPhone 4 trick will last.

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  8. Luchs Internet Explorer Windows says:

    My previous desktop PC which was a relatively cheap prebuilt computer suffered hardware failure after the first TF2 Halloween event. After playing all week it started showing colorful lines. A few days later, the graphics card was completely broken. I didn’t have any key to the motherboard beep codes, but it was pretty clear – the card didn’t even have its own fan. Even the heat sink was so small that I was seriously surprised it didn’t break earlier.

    I thought “no problem – some average new card will do the job”, so I bought a rather cheap one for about 100€. When it arrived a few days later, it turned out that the card wasn’t cheap enough for my PC – its motherboard was one of the few BTX-type boards which are attached to the left side of the case. This means that the card’s fan is on the side of the CPU instead of the side of the other expansion ports. Unfortunately, the PCIe port was still the first port after the CPU, so my new two ports wide card had no chance to fit in.

    In the end, the only component I could keep was the hard drive, even the DVD drives weren’t usable because the new motherboard didn’t have an IDE connector.

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  9. Eric Google Chrome Windows says:

    I also find beep counting (and distinguishing short vs long) difficult. I find the best way is to gather about 5 highly trained computer exports around to listen together. It inevitability leads to arguments in how many beeps there are, which involves everyone beeping at each other.

    Also I don’t like that you can’t POST a computer without a video card? Seems like a bad reason to halt the whole boot process.

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  10. MrPete GERMANY Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Oh, hardware failures!
    Luckily my actual system is not suffering from those (until now).
    The last one I had was my previous gaming rig starting to slow down. At the time I was playing GTA San Andreas and NFS Underground (meanwhile very unusual genres for me). With GTA I could play for 1.5-3h before anything unusual happend, but with NFS it was a mere 30min. About 30min later everything was fine so I started thinking.
    Looking at both games I then came to the conclusion that the difference was graphics.
    So I took the usual precautions (disconnect power, always touch the metal casing and so on) and had a look inside.
    I was very impressed, both by the failure and the sturdiness my graphics card demonstrated: The fan axis was broken, the little motor vainly trying to turn the blades which lay sideways in the heat sink.
    I was fortunate in that a new cooler solved all problems (except for a single line near the bottom of the screen with a slight bit offset) so it’s not really qualifying for a disastrous failure.
    Although, it was the first fan I ever saw with a broken axis and not an engine failure…

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  11. Robert UNITED STATES Safari Mac OS says:

    I once had a server lose three of its four drives, the raid controller, backplane, and backplane cable, all at once. Fun night. (I think a flaw in the cable took down everything else. Took a week and four trips for Dell to get all the bad parts replaced.)

    _Weirdest_ hardware failure I’ve encountered was a bug. Back in 2002 a friend and I had both built PCs around the same AMD multi-processor board (a rarity in those days). I had no trouble with mine, but he had a weird problem with his. If he copied a lot of files off it over the network, it would blue screen, every time. Only with a big copy, and only if the copy were initiated from the other computer. (Sitting at computer A, he could copy anything he wanted to computer B. Sitting at computer B, though, copying the same files from A would cause A to crash.) He tried replacing the network card, updating drivers, reinstalling Windows, all the usual stuff. Finally just had to live with it.

    A few months later, I got a new laptop and in the process of setting it up I tried to pull a bunch of MP3s off my desktop. BLAM: blue screen. Once is a fluke, twice is a problem, right? I tried it again, with the same result. Fiddled with a few things, then remembered that my friend had had the same problem. Called him up. Had he ever gotten it fixed? Nope.

    No help there. I turned to a web forum where a lot of people used that particular board and explained the problem. Anyone run into that before? Got some ‘yeah, same here’ replies, then a “What kind of mouse are you using? PS/2 or USB?”

    WTF? USB, of course. But that shouldn’t matter….

    Try plugging in a PS/2 mouse, the mysterious stranger suggested. I said something like, “You’re shitting me,” tried it, and said, “I will be god damned.” It worked. I called up my friend, asked him what kind of mouse he was using. USB, of course. What does that have to do with– “Try plugging in a PS/2 mouse.” You’re shitting me, he said, but he tried it and then said, I’ll be god damned. (The PS/2 mouse ended up as a dongle hanging off the back of the computer.)

    Large network copies would cause the host PC to crash, but only if initiated from the remote computer and only if a PS/2 mouse was NOT plugged into the host. I don’t know how AMD managed that one.

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  12. Tj AUSTRALIA Google Chrome Mac OS says:

    Do you have a friend you can swap parts with to isolate the malfunctioning one? Maybe it’s the motherboard?

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  13. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux Terminalist says:

    @ Victoria:

    Ah, I forget that Apple stores are not as ubiquitous around the world as they are here in the tristate area. :P

    @ Luchs:

    Uh, this is actually my concern too, especially since my machine was born as a Dell and they do have a nasty habit of building their machines in such a way that it is very hard to upgrade anything. That said, the XPS case seems somewhat spacious and there seems to be lots of space above and below the PCIe slots so hopefully all will be well.

    @ Eric:

    Yeah, it’s kinda silly to stop POST if the video card is not working. I guess I can see some logic here – if the card is dead you won’t get any output to the screen ever, which might be hard to diagnose. Especially if something else goes wrong. For example, if a headless machine loses networking and you don’t know it also has a bad video card, then it becomes a mysterious black box that seems to boot all the way up but doesn’t.

    So a “fail early and fail hard” approach helps to identify the issue more readily.

    @ MrPete:

    Oh wow, I have never seen a fan with a broken axis either. You’d figure it had to be a factory defect or something. Doesn’t seem like this would be a common wear-and-tear type issue.

    @ Robert:

    Wow… That’s… Priceless. How could presence of a PS/2 mouse affect specific network transfers on a hardware level is completely beyond me. That’s some next level engineering right there. lol

    @ Tj:

    Well, most people that probably wouldn’t mind dragging over their computer to my house, or letting me barge and canibalize their devices are non-gamers who switched to laptops long time ago or they live kinda far these days. I hate to impose and ask people I don’t regularly hang out with (other than occasional interweb exchange or game of DOTA/TF2) for random favors like this. :P

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  14. alphast GREECE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    I had a problem with my ATI Radeon card recently. It was badly overheating and the fan controller was not working. After ruling out other ways of repairing, I decided to change it for a newer Radeon. It was a very nic failure. The new card did not recognize my fairly standard Samsung screen properly. So I went back to the shop and changed it. I took an Nvidia GForce. I had never used Nvidia before and I am sorry I did not switch earlier. It is quite a breeze to use in comparison. Now, all I need to play Skyrim nicely is a new CPU… But finding a Core2 Quad 9200 these days is nigh impossible…

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  15. Pingback: Spectacular Computer Failures: Part 2 | Terminally Incoherent UNITED STATES WordPress

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