I bought a computer motherboard online, and found myself with a crashing computer. Unfortunately, because I took months to install the board, I missed the deadline to return the device. This series is about how I have been trying to resolve the problems, and stabilize my computer.
So far, I’ve cleaned out the dust, and changed the thermal grease compound on the CPU. Despite these changes, the system is still crashing.
If you haven’t been reading this series, here are the other posts in this Crashing Computer drama:
- Crashing Computer from Ebay. Cleaning Out the Dust from the CPU Cooler.
- Crashing Computer. Underclocking to Improve Stability. Adding New Thermal Grease.
- Crashing Computer. Swapping RAM Slots.
- Crashing Computer. RAM Testing Coverage Matrix.
A History of Flaky RAM Slots
I learned a little about testing RAM during the “fraudulent capacitor scandals” of the early 2000s. Back in the early 2000s, an electronics parts manufacturer stole the recipe for the “oil” that goes into a capacitor. They didn’t steal the complete recipe, so millions of faulty capacitors filled the market, and got installed onto computer motherboards.
The capacitors were a specific type, called an electrolytic capacitor. They contain electrolytes, just like the Gatorade slogan says. The capacitor’s a little can with plastic and metal and an “oil” in there, and it holds a little electric charge, kind of like a battery.
So, these faulty parts were in the computers, and they would dry out and and the can would get fat, and sometimes leak gunk, and fail. They failed slowly. You’d experience weird, intermittent crashes, and the crashing would get worse over time.
One way to avoid the crashes was to move the RAM around, to avoid the bad capacitor. Sometimes, changing the RAM would fix the problem, for a while.
Capacitors Don’t Often Cause Crashing Today
Today, capacitors aren’t a problem, because motherboard makers have changed over to using solid state capacitors, made from metals and polymers. They still come in “can” shaped components, but have no liquid inside. The motherboard makers switched after the capacitor scandals, because the makers could advertise that they used solid state caps.
Despite this change, today, I still move the RAM sticks around to try and reduce crashing.
I do this because caps aren’t the only “problem” with RAM slots. There are also things like weak pins, or a power cord pushing against the stick and causing problems. There’s also the heat coming off the CPU and being blown onto the RAM sticks. The memory controller may also have flaws. The RAM sticks may also have problems.
There are also potential interactions between the RAM sticks.
This mobo has four RAM slots, holding two RAM sticks, so I tried moving the RAM from slot to slot, testing how often it crashed.
It still crashed.
It did change, though, as I moved the sticks from slot 1 toward slot 4. I also discovered that some combinations of slots and RAM sticks didn’t boot at all! So, there are definitely some problems with the memory and the slots.
It’s Time to Test the RAM
I need to use a testing matrix to try out every possible combination, and verify performance. Some things will be too hard to control, like starting up cold or warm, but I think I can get some good info.
I’m already getting a bad feeling about this motherboard, but, there may be a configuration that works, and is stable. This was a backup motherboard, and I could have reverted to using the old mobo.
When this one really gives up the ghost, I’ll upgrade to a new mobo+CPU+RAM. Current CPU is: AMD Athlon(tm) II X4 620 Processor. It’s slow in the benchmarks, but I find it more than fast enough. I’ll seek out a CPU with similar power requirements.
I’m a cheapskate, and want to get the most out of each thing I’ve purchased before I toss it. So, on with the testing. The next couple installments will take a while, because the testing is being performed, right now, as I write this.