Computer breakdown

I had a serious problem on Thursday last: I had just finished burning 65 DVD discs and used a system cleaner tool to get rid of any temp caches, and needed to reboot, which I proceeded to do. I have been using an SSD drive for “boot” for 6 weeks and it’s so fast there’s almost no delay. This time it wouldn’t get past “post.” And I noticed there was a red glow inside the case. Naturally I had a look after removing a side panel. It was a LED next to the DRAM slots, and meant there was some error with my memory. This same thing happened to me some years earlier when I had a Dell Inspiron PC that I used way too much. Then the error proved to be fatal and I had to re-buy a PC. I could hardly salvage any parts though. So this time I feared the worse. But my Motherboard was a Z97 by Asus and had advanced features, such as these red warnings lights which appeared next to whatever was wrong on the board. So my first step was to removed 3 of the 4 memory sticks, and see if the system would start, which it did. I then inserted another memory stick, rebooted and again the system started and seemed to be acting quite normally. I then inserted a 3rd stick but this time the board showed the red light again and would not go past it. Hence no boot up. Then I went to the bios Setup after a re-start and using the advanced Asus features simply disabled, turned OFF, the 2nd memory channel. That meant rather than having 20 G of memory, I only had 12. But the system rebooted as fast as usual and I was able to do everything I normally did with the computer. But I checked my warranty and Asus had given me a 3 year deal, and I was on 2 years and 2 months, had 10 months to go till it expired; so I contacted the shop I bought it from, via email, explained what had happened and they replied within 12 hours telling me to bring the board into their service centre along with receipts and it could get sorted out.

Removing the MB was a lengthy task. I had to unplug hard drives, PCI cards, Graphics cards, memory sticks, coolers and then unscrew it. And after that I needed to remove the CPU, which was an expensive i7 4770K I’d been using ‘Over clocked’ at about 20% faster than stock 3.5 GHz. That’s why I used a large cooler. It generated a lot of heat but did things lightening fast. Things like rendering video files etc.

I had what I called a Spare PC I used as a sort of file server. Network Attached Storage devices are costly anywhere from $200 to $2000 so when my very basic PC became redundant I filled it up with 6 Used hard drives 2T to 3T, and just ran Windows 7, and used a network cable via a switch to connect my computer to it. That way I could browse for files etc, change them, move them, copy etc etc. And do it quite fast, much faster than any normal NAS. This basic computer had around $150 worth of parts in it, aside from the hard drives and OS. It was a really basic 1150 CPU and a motherboard so basic it didn’t even have any PCI slots beyond one for graphics, and only 1 memory channel. Yet, I could transfer files from my computer to it at speeds up to 185 MB/s. And the other way, from it to me, up to around 155 MB/s, which in my estimation is FAST!

I took the motherboard I had removed over to the shop, and they did a quick visual check and tried to say some of the pins where the CPU is placed were bent, but I went over everything again saying the CPU etc all worked 100% except for that memory slot channel. I told them I could use the board and just turn the channel off but they said OK, we’ll get our technicians to look at it. How long will it take? From 4 to 6 weeks was their reply. Oh God I had many things to do.

When I got home early afternoon the outside temps were around 34 C, and it had been hot for weeks. The hottest February on record, 2 degrees on average hotter than ever before. Which meant cooling my CPU was made a lot more difficult. But I decided to switch over the motherboard from the Spare PC and use it with the High End i7 chip I had been using for around 2 years now. It took another hour to get it all in place and then the thing booted up nice and fast, but I soon realised that the board had no capacity to Over-clock the chip. It could do a “turbo boost” though, which amounted to a 5 or 6% increase in speed, from stock 3.5 GHz to 3.9 Ghz when fully utilised, which wasn’t often. I ran some tests only to find that the CPU was never utilised at more than 60%. Whereas on the Asus board at 4.4 GHz it would run at 100% doing encoding, for 20 or 30 minutes rock stable, but hot… 66 – 70 C!

There’s a point to this blog though, which is I’ve been using this stand-in motherboard for 3 days, 15 hours a day, and it’s amazing really because even without overclocking, the speed at which everything has gotten done is at least 92% comparable to what it was when overclocked to 4.4 GHz. I didn’t try any video editing though! So this is a warning not to be deceived. You don’t need the fanciest most expensive mother board, but a really High End CPU chip is essential. It will work fantastically even in the most basic of boards. Prices? My Asus board 2 years ago was cheap at $155, the Spare PC board was $75 in 2015; the rub however is that to get a replacement board for the Asus now, same specifications, will cost over $200. Seems they are now quite rare. And it’s far cheaper to just get Skylake 1151 CPU and boards. Plus, since Skylake has chips with stock speeds of 4 GHz, no overclocking required, overall it maybe cheaper just to get a basic 1151 board + a High End CPU for $350 or $400.

The other far more complicated issue was that Win 10, I had got the Upgrade, began to say it wasn’t activated and would often in the middle of something I was doing, pop up a screen telling me to active. When I tried it didn’t work automatically, saying I needed to phone, which I did, and that didn’t work either, so I needed to have a Live chat via computer links, to a Technician who was able to get into the OS and change things enough to enable activation. That took another hour, and after all was said and done, I found I’d copied down the activation numbers incorrectly and that’s why it failed. I had misplaced 2 digits! Oh God what a mess….