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Computer freezes

by Bill Osler / December 13, 2008 3:45 AM PST

I'm running a desktop PC (Dell Dimension 4700) with XP Pro SP3, 1.5 GB RAM. Both keyboard and mouse are USB. Over the last several weeks the computer occasionally freezes and I am puzzled about how to go through the troubleshooting. It is rather infrequent (maybe 4-5 times over 6-8 weeks?)

When it freezes there is no apparent disk activity. The display appears perfectly normal. It appears to be random and infrequent. When it freezes there is no apparent response to either keyboard or mouse. Pushing the power button briefly does nothing, but pushing and holding the power button does result in the expected shutdown.

System event logs show nothing unusual. As far as I can tell, all drivers are up-to-date.

The only significant changes I have made to the system that may have preceded the problem are: (1) upgrade to SP3; and (2) installation of a PC with Windows Home Server on the network. That means I do have the Home Server console installed on this PC, but I think (not 100% sure) the problem started before that installation.

Any suggestions regarding how to trouble shoot this? It is infrequent enough that going through a safe boot/selective startup process might take many weeks at each step and I would probably make other changes to the PC during that process. I don't think that is practical.

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For my machine I would
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / December 13, 2008 5:16 AM PST
In reply to: Computer freezes
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Thanks ...
by Bill Osler / December 13, 2008 5:57 AM PST
In reply to: For my machine I would

I do need to clean out the case because it has been a while. I've already done pretty much everything else suggested in the links you provided (running Dell's diagnostics, updating drivers, ...) short of reinstalling Windows. I'm not quite ready to do a full reinstall for something that happens infrequently.

I do wonder, though, if there is some sort of system logging tool that will tell me what the PC is doing just prior to the freezes? That might help me focus my efforts a bit.

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I'm going to write no.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / December 13, 2008 6:19 AM PST
In reply to: Thanks ...

Here's why. If some part is getting too warm then the cpu just has no time or indication it's about to lock up. You already wrote you looked in the event viewer which is why I offered the usual yearly cleanup idea.

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Other kinds of monitors ...
by Bill Osler / December 14, 2008 2:23 AM PST
In reply to: I'm going to write no.

I know that people make programs that monitor motherboard temp, fan speed and such. I have never seen one that generated a log file. I wonder if that might be useful in a situation like this where a large number of hardware and software causes are possible.

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Monitoring is a good idea but...
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / December 14, 2008 3:18 AM PST

Since you can't monitor all the chips that can cause a crash why not perform your yearly maintenance when you have this issue?

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Maybe 2-3 times a year ...
by Bill Osler / December 14, 2008 3:22 AM PST

I was a bit behind and that may have caused the problems. My PC is in an exceptionally dusty environment. Something about teenagers, guinea pigs, birds, ...
I don't usually wait a full year between cleanings but I had gotten behind and I had forgotten about that as a potential source of problems. I'll know in a week or two if it worked.
Anyway, since I'm in a comparatively dusty setting I got to thinking about whether there was a way to figure out when a need for cleaning is sneaking up on me.

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Unintended consequences ...
by Bill Osler / December 14, 2008 2:22 AM PST
In reply to: For my machine I would

I noticed a while back that the disk activity light on the PC no longer worked. I assumed that there was a burned out light bulb or something of that sort. It turns out that there was a dust bunny between the LED and the plastic piece that the light is supposed to eliminate. After the cleaning my disk activity light works again.

It's too early to tell whether the cleaning solved the problem with the freeze-ups.

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Maybe a stab in the dark
by Steven Haninger / December 13, 2008 7:18 AM PST
In reply to: Computer freezes

I had something very similar a while back that turned out to be a bad (intermittent) power cable connection to a hard drive. Windows would freeze in place and accept no further commands. A hard power down/restart would get it going again. It took removing of the side panel and monitoring it for a while to catch this. I'd remove the panel in an attempt to rule out overheating but eventually was able to hear the drive suddenly spin down. Wiggling the power cable caused it to restart. Mine was an IDE drive at the time using the 4 pin Molex connector. The female ends tend to spread apart and lose their grip. A little pinch with needle nose pliers works but I have a pin extractor that will reshape them as well. It might be worth a try.

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