Calanda acts out

by Diane Duane

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may have noticed an uncharacteristic outbreak of annoyed language the other morning.

Well, this was the cause.

ETA: Secondary to all the below, and after no steps taken at home proved useful, the machine is going to be heading back to its lovely builders for service… so we’re having a sale at the Ebooks Direct store to “celebrate”. Details are here.

…I have two computers. One is a Samsung NC10 netbook on which a surprising amount of writing gets done (because it has a lovely keyboard; while I do dictate a lot of my work in Dragon Naturally Speaking, sometimes you just want to type, and the Samsung is the best machine in the house for Just Typing on). The other computer is a desktop named Calanda, as all my desktops are these days. (For the curious: Calanda is both a [theoretically] haunted mountain near the Swiss city of Chur*, and a Graubuendner beer brewery that produces a very superior dunkel and a lovely weissbier. All my other devices except for the iPad (Spot: of course it would be Spot) are named after characters from Tenchi Muyo. The netbook is Ayeka, the phone is Tsunami, etc etc.)

…Anyway. The present Calanda (II, or probably III at this point) is the first custom build I’ve ever owned, made by Scan in the UK: a lovely machine. It has never given me a lick of trouble. (Well, the video card has, but that comes under the “Occasional Wobblies / God Knows Why It Did That / Maybe It’s Sunspots / Never Mind, It Got Better” class of problems. It did get better.) Despite many years of home-building our machines, I’ve never had the urge to do anything with it except crack the case occasionally to do a little dusting.


And everything has pretty much been hunkydory until a week ago today, when in the middle of some website work the display froze, then went black. And then the machine rebooted itself.

Fine, I thought. This happens very, very occasionally. No problem.

Except that it then rebooted itself again. And again. And again. No display to the screen: just the fans coming on. And then more attempted rebooting. Much moar.

So I forced the machine off, pulled the power cord, waited, did deep breathing for a bit, then plugged the cord back in again and hit the Go button.

Same deal.

…Now, over twenty years or so of building PCs from the bits up, I’ve seen most kinds of errors they can throw… drive stuff, motherboard stuff, memory stuff, slot stuff. But this was a new one on me. And when I realized this, and that it was really problematic due to several projects I have working right now that really need the big machine rather than the netbook, several things happened in sequence.

(a) A great disturbance in the local Force: as if a single voice had cried out in anguish, and then shut right up because the crying-out-in-anguish stuff upsets the cat.

(b) The above distressed tweet. (Followed by much helpful advice from various people who saw it and the ones that followed, which were a shade more coherent.)

(c) Crack the case, look inside, and start diagnostics.

(d) Breathe some more and decide to wait until today to start doing anything whatsoever about it: because trying to get anything tech-meaningful done in Ireland (or to a lesser extent in the UK) on Good Friday is a challenge not worth taking.

…So I started working my way down the least invasive of the suggestions this morning. On cracking the case I found the original tight beautiful build, undisturbed (I’ve never added anything because the original build had everything I wanted). I had a careful look around to make sure that there was nothing obviously burnt, oozing or otherwise deranged. And nothing was.

Then I hit the button and let the machine run through the cycle a few times. The results you can see in the embedded video.

The thing most of note for me: the processor’s heatsink fan will not run. It tries, but fails. There are a number of things this implies, but I need to talk to the guys at Scan who built the machine before I go doing what my mother used to refer to as “jumping to concussions”.

Meanwhile, for those of you who were trying to work out what was wrong: that’s what we’ve got to work with so far.

…Also, for those of you who wanted system specs to assist you in diagnosis: here they are. It’s essentially a system built for fast graphics work (it spends a lot of its spare time rendering in Terragen, in particular) but also obviously handles WP work at damn-near-blazing speed.

  • Housing: Antec Three Hundred Black Midi Tower Case w/o PSU
  • Mobo: Gigabyte H55M-UD2H, Intel H55, 1156, DDR3 1600/1800/2133, RAID, VGA, ATX
  • Processor: Intel Core i3 530 2.93GHz S1156
  • To keep the processor chilled: Arctic Cooling Freezer 7 Pro v2
  • Memory: 4GB (2x2GB) Corsair XMS3 DDR3, PC3-12800 (1600), CAS 9
  • Video: ATI Graphics 1GB XFX HD 5870 XT, 865Mhz GPU, 1600 SPs, 5200Mhz GDDR5
  • Display: It’s a Samsung 28-inch (I think?) flat screen. I can’t find the model info at the moment: it was bought separately from the main system, an open-box bargain.
  • PSU: 650W Corsair CMPSU-650HXUK PSU (High End Graphics Card)
  • HD 1: 500 GB Samsung Spinpoint F3, 7200 rpm, 16MB Cache
  • HD 2: 1TB Samsung Spinpoint F3, 7200rpm, 32MB Cache
  • CD/DVD drives: Sony AD-7240S-0B – 24x DVDRW (x2)
  • Sound: Creative X-Fi Titanium – PCI-E (x1)
  • Still more cooling: 120mm Akasa Amber Case Fan
  • System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

…So there you have it. To those of you who’ve tried to help so far, many thanks!  🙂

And now I’m off to let Moffat make me scared of WiFi.

ETA: Secondary to all the above, and after no steps taken at home proved useful, the machine is going to be heading back to its lovely builders for service… so we’re having a sale at the Ebooks Direct store to “celebrate”. Details are here.

*Disambiguation: for the worldgating complex, see the Chur entry at ErrantryWiki.

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John Fleming March 31, 2013 - 12:37 pm

If you don’t currently have it handy, a soft-copy of the manual is available via the Gigabyte site – here is a link to the product page:

There is a troubleshooting procedure in the manual which starts on p89. It sounds as if you’ve exhausted most of the minimally-invasive options. These symptoms point to “Possible Power Supply, CPU or CPU socket failure.”

When I had this happen on an ancient home-built machine a couple of years ago, the cause was catastrophic thermal failure – the CPU was literally fused to the cooler. End result – replacement of Motherboard and CPU. Your i3 chip should be running much, much cooler than what I had at the time. I hope you have a better outcome.

themindstream March 31, 2013 - 7:45 pm

I have that Arctic heatsink/fan on my machine or one a couple generations different and I recently had to replace the fan on it because it failed from age. The CPU cooler being compromised may be enough to be tripping the CPU’s auto overheat prevention (though I was able to run my machine by cranking up the speed on my adjustable case fan which could pull enough air through the heatsink to cool things). I bought a replacement fan directly from the manufacturer’s site (it will ship from Taiwan I think) because it’s easier to replace then the whole heatsink (which is invariably major surgery for a PC).

If the heatsink gets a new fan and everything works fine after, that’s the best case scenario. All the other ones I can think of pretty much boil down to “you’re screwed and need to rebuild/replace the computer”. The next least bad might be a power supply failure (so that the machine is no longer getting enough juice to start). Everything from there up is motherboard/CPU replacement territory.

Dave McAnulty April 1, 2013 - 3:05 am

Borrow a power supply from another computer or a (un)willing friend’s. Don’t bother hooking up all the drives, etc, just the motherboard power connector and see if it comes up.

I highly recommend the Seasonic brand if you end up needing a replacement. Something in the SeaSonic S12II line would do just nicely. Seasonic was the company behind many of the high quality power supplies, and since they started selling directly they’ve become quite the quality bargain buy.

If that doesn’t work, unplug everything you don’t need. Sound card, dvd drives, hdds, case fans (you won’t overheat in 20seconds) the works. See if it will come up, then add things back tell you find your culprit. Good luck!

Isty April 1, 2013 - 1:00 pm

ok to put this simply, because i dont really need specs to see whats wrong with this one. your heat sink fan may have jostled loose. If this didnt happen then the fan itself needs replacing. some burnt circuits you cant smell until you pull them out. the other thing, that is most likely is that you had a very nasty driveby bug. which isnt uncommon these days even with good antivirus to protect yourself. hope it works out!! 🙂

Also along the technology thoughts any ideas about the option for a Movie?

JMW April 5, 2013 - 3:17 pm

The computer error message that I’ve heard of which I most love, was caused by a fauly diode on a mother board:
“Out of paper reading drive D:”

Glaurung-Quena April 7, 2013 - 4:41 am

I see that you’re shipping the machine off for treatment, so consider this advice for next time: With a desktop computer, one easy way to find out if it’s an overheating issue (which since the fan isn’t starting up, I’d strongly suspect that had something to do with it) is to take the cover off the side of the case, clean out any dust (especially make sure the vanes/pipes of the heat sink are not choked with dust). Then, with a nice big room fan blowing into the case, plug it in/turn it on, and see if having the fan blowing into the case while it’s running makes the problem any better..

Phil April 11, 2013 - 3:25 pm

Looking at the video, the most likely causes are the power supply not putting out the correct power anymore (it has multiple power outs, so some things may still work while others don’t), the motherboard being damaged in some way, which is stopping correct power flow (usually faulty / blown capacitors), and far behind in third place, is a faulty fan. The fan being faulty is unlikely as you can see in the video that it can rotate freely.

Pretty much the only diagnostic that is easy to do would be to try hooking the CPU fan to another connector on the motherboard, but depending on its design, that may stop it from booting at all, given that the system will think there is no fan active on the CPU. As Glaurung-Quena mentioned below, if it is only a faulty CPU fan, using a room fan to blow in the case could work, but if it is a power issue, the entire system will be unstable.

Also, with the constant reboots, that sounds like it is having a Blue Screen of Death (BSOD). In its default setup, Windows 7 will have a BSOD, then automatically reboot to try to recover. What you can do to try to see what is happening, is just as Windows would start its boot sequence (usually the screen goes blank, then you get the flashy windows animation), just when the screen blanks out, you can press F8 on the keyboard. This should give you a boot menu. On this menu is the option to disable automatic reboot on system failure (or similar wording). Unfortunately, seeing as you definitely appear to have a hardware issue, all that you would get from that is a blue screen (hence the name) with a diagnostic code on it that would likely be useless in this case.

In short, you have done what it would most likely take to get the problem resolved, as you really need spare parts to truly troubleshoot such an issue, if the cause is not readily apparent.

jmb April 12, 2013 - 1:53 am

Oh jeez. Last year i was desperate enough to try stuffing my overheating laptop into the freezer to keep it going long enough to back up everything. (It worked, for that, but the heat made the ice drop onto the keyboard and caused its own set of problems, so I can’t really recommend it.)

jmb April 12, 2013 - 1:56 am

A little fannish something to cheer you up meanwhile (yes the Tardis is in here too!)


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