Technical difficulties

(Warning: mildly boring post ahead.)

It occurred to me tonight that it’s high time for another England post. However, we’re experiencing some technical difficulties with our desktop, which holds our photographs. I suppose I could just use a memory stick to move them over to the laptop. Maybe I will.  Maybe.

So a couple of weeks ago our flatscreen monitor, which we bought a couple of years ago, started acting funny. Normally, when the computer shuts down, the monitor goes into power-save mode and a blue light flashes around the power button. When the desktop is turned on, the monitor also turns on. However, a couple of weeks ago things changed. When I turned on the desktop, the monitor wouldn’t turn on, but would actually do the reverse: the blue light flashing around the power button would turn off completely and the screen would remain dark even after the computer had booted up. Only by a repeated sequence of unplugging the power to the monitor, plugging it back in, waiting to see if the blue light turns on and if so letting it sit for a while, then unplugging it and plugging it in again would the monitor eventually stay on. It’s almost as if the monitor has to warm up.

This began after a week of storms during which our power repeatedly turned off while the computer was on.  Everything is plugged into a heavy-duty surge strip, but I thought perhaps the monitor’s hardware had been adversely effected by the frequent power surges.

Today I plugged the monitor into the laptop and bing-bang-boom, it worked fine.

Not long after this (or possibly at the same time), our internet connection starting acting up.  Suddenly, the computer was giving “weak or no signal” alerts on its network connection. The wireless network adaptor (an alternate option on the desktop) was picking up the campus wireless, but only a very weak signal, which it constantly dropped.

I had one of the school’s computer people over to check it out, thinking it was a problem with the line coming into the house.  But the land line works well and is very fast when connected to the laptop. So the problem is the desktop.

It’s either hardware or software.  I’m not aware of any major software updates or changes in the last couple of months. Thinking my ethernet card was worn out or broken, I borrowed an ethernet card from the school to see if that would make a difference.  I haven’t installed it yet, but I’m not holding my breath.  After doing some online reading today and speaking with one of the school’s computer technicians, I’m worried that perhaps it’s the motherboard going.  There seems to be some kind of power loss going on.

I know nothing about motherboards.

However, I would consider buying a new motherboard if a) it would be cheaper than replacing the whole desktop, and b) it’s not too complicated to install.

I’m looking at you, Toni–what do you make of this?

At any rate, I’ve started transferring about 80GB of data from the hard drive to the external hard drive, just in case things go bad.

13 thoughts on “Technical difficulties

  1. Terry

    Motherboard replacement could be an option, but depends on what kind of case you have. Is your desktop a brand name? Or aftermarket? If its aftermarket, the chances of a motherboard update are better.

    If you want to reuse the memory, processor, and associated ethernet/other cards, one needs to find pretty much the same motherboard as the one that failed. Or at least one that is compatible with all of the above.

    Without replacing the above, and assuming you find a compatible motherboard, cost could be around $100-200. Maybe cheaper. There are numerous decent hardware stores in Winnipeg, email me and I can give you a few if you don’t know of them already.

    My desktop is a 12 year old Dell P3 866. It still works, so I haven’t replaced it yet. Its probably time… But ever since I got my Blackberry, I haven’t really needed my desktop as much.

  2. Toni

    Hi Marc – do you have me pigeon-holed?


    My first area of suspicion would be that repeatedly cutting power may have messed up the OS a little, & I’d first try uninstalling and reinstalling the NIC software/driver and possibly also the graphics card driver.

    Now it also reads like you have 2 wireless devices struggling to pick up the campus wireless signal. It’s therefore likely that someone has altered something related to the wireless transmitter: maybe pointed the aerial in a different direction?

    MoBo issues usually manifest themselves with intermittent starts or refusal to recognise bits of hardware that are plugged in (USB devices seem very susceptible, as do SATA drives). It might be worth just turning the machine off, then going through and carefully ensuring each card is seated firmly in it’s slot before putting the side back on and restarting.

  3. Marc

    I certainly didn’t mean to pigeon-hole you, Toni! I directed this specifically at you simply because you quite often write about OS stuff and building computers.

  4. Scott

    The other option I have not seen mention is power supply… I know it is a long shot, but power supply issues can cause similar effects to what you are describing, and power surges could have hurt it.. My $0.02

  5. Marc Post author

    Scott: How would a power supply issue be resolved? Is it something inside the box?

    Terry: Would the video controller cause the little to no connectivity on my ethernet card, or do you mean the monitor?

    I noticed today that when I unplugged the monitor at the tower and then plugged it in again, it seemed to work fine. I can’t be sure, though, because the computer has been on quite a bit in the last 24 hours do to the large data transfer.

    Also: it’s a HP Pavilion. It has been running fine for about 7 years (other than a HD failure that fell within the 1-year warranty and a viral infection). Only recently has it been acting up. I added RAM a couple of years ago and that hasn’t been a problem as far as I can tell.

  6. Terry

    Since its HP, i doubt you will get a replacement motherboard at a reasonable cost. Unless you happen to luck into the exact same model on kijiji or something. It doesn’t have onboard ethernet? or is it just the wireless that is separate?

    Your pretty much hooped if anything inside the CPU is shot including the power supply, and its tough to diagnose. Unless its bad memory, as that can replaced fairly economically.

    Toni may be onto something with the software thing. If you want help doing a ‘from scratch’ install to see if the issues clear up, let me know… Its been a couple years since I’ve worn my IT techie hat, but could be fun! 🙂


  7. Marc

    Thanks, Terry. I’ll think about it. We’re talking about maybe just replacing it. It’s had a good life and still has life in it for someone who wants to take the time to fix it up.

    It has on-board ethernet and a wireless card I added a couple of years ago. I’ve disabled the on-board ethernet because it’s useless at this point. The wireless is *nearly* useless, but still somewhat functional.

  8. Scott

    The power supply is the box inside the box that supplies the power to everything. The cord from the wall goes in and a bunch of colourful cables leave the power supply and plug in all over the computer. Its a moderately inexpensive fix, but it sounds more like MoBo or videocard…

  9. Toni

    How brave are you feeling? Fancy buying a pile of bits and a case, putting them together yourself? It’s very satisfying, and you get a machine with all the right attributes + none of the things you didn’t want.

  10. Toni

    Time to build, approx 20 to 60 mins (depends on familiarity & skill/courage.

    Time to install XP – on a fast system about 25 min.

    Time to install all the other junk/updates/drivers – a few hours spread across a couple of days.

    I should have a couple of hard drives arriving by Friday next week. If Randall’s interested then I’ll try to re-build the Macbook or ro-doo Linux on this PC (I still want to use Sabayon, after 8-9 weeks of open SUSE).

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