Can't identify booting problem

DrBiggles

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Apr 15, 2007
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Alright, so here's my lengthy story:

I left my desktop off for a bit while I was visiting my parents at Christmas. Normally it stays on all the time, with only the occasional reboot. When i returned and tried to start it up, however, it wouldn't do anything. The fans came on, the lights came on, but no video, and no BIOS beeps.

First suspecting the RAM, I tried removing some to see if one of the sticks was faulty. This didn't seem to help at all, although removing all of the RAM did cause the motherboard to beep, so I took that as a sign that at least that part was working.

Swapping out other pieces didn't seem to do anything, either. Eventually I got really stumped and frustrated and thought that it might be the motherboard afterall, or perhaps the power supply. I didn't really want to mess with my roommates' machines to test this, so I took it over to a local computer repair place to let them use their spare parts for testing.

The guy said he tried multiple PSU's and video cards, but none them worked. He concluded that it was the mobo (which was a Gigabyte board), and claimed that Gigabyte seemed pretty bad these days, and that he had diagnosed lots of faulty ones lately.

I took his word for it and ordered a new mobo, this time an ASUS (my old favorite brand) P5Q SE Plus--a lighter, cheaper model that still supported all my parts. After installing it, however, the system still didn't boot, in the same exact fashion.

Furiously perplexed, I tried once more to remove two of the sticks of RAM. Suddenly it booted. "F*%#", I noted. I then tried inserting those sticks back in the system. It booted. "WHAT the f*%#", I continued. Mentally exhausted from the whole deal, I just accepted this as "well, maybe that other board was faulty, or maybe not, but this one is working, so whatever."

All was fine and dandy until this morning, when our power came back on after being out for around 6 hours due to a snow storm. The machine now refuses to boot--no video, no beeps. Having had other strange issues (in games, mostly) for a while now, I immediately suspected one of the sticks of RAM of being the real culprit, one that only acted faulty every once in a while.

With this in mind, I commenced a bunch of RAM-swapping. At one point in this procedure, it booted. Attempting to confirm this find, I re-inserted the sticks that I'd removed. Well, now it doesn't boot anymore, no matter what RAM I put in there.

"Maybe it's the graphics card?" It sure would be cool if I could test that theory out, except I discovered that, given the location of the plastic tab that must be pushed in order to release the card from the PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, the surrounding objects on the motherboard, and the immense bulk of my EVGA card, it's utterly impossible to fit my finger in there to release it. Awesome, my video card is permanently coupled with the motherboard.

Alright, so I'm stumped. Maybe someone here could offer some advice? My system specs are as follows:

ASUS P5Q SE Plus motherboard (formerly a Gigabyte board)
EVGA GeForce 8800 GTX
4 sticks of 1gb Ballistix Tracer RAM from Crucial.com (yes, I know 32bit Windows can only see around 3.2gb of it, but it was cheap at the time and I figured "Why not")
Sound Blaster Fatality
PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750-Watt PSU (it was rated as one of the better PSU's and met the wattage requirements on its various voltage rails for my GeForce card)
 
This sure sounds like a RAM problem. Running 4 sticks of RAM is harder on the motherboard and sometimes requires the RAM and Northbridge voltages to be bumped up a little more than normal. Did you manually set the RAM speed, timings, and voltage to the manufacturers specs in the BIOS? If you can get the system to post again with your RAM swapping, the first thing I'd do is run memtest86+ for a few hours to test for RAM errors.

A 2x2GB setup would be easier on your motherboard.

G.SKILL PI Black 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 800 (PC2 6400) Dual Channel Kit Desktop Memory - Retail
http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231209 $54.99

Edit: I'm constantly amazed at how many computer "technicians" can't properly diagnose a computer problem. Now you've wasted money on a new motherboard and are back to square one. :(
 

DrBiggles

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Apr 15, 2007
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Thanks for the response. Since I first posted I've managed to remove the graphics card (with some help from a long, flat instrument to fit under the card's huge heatsink to push the lock lever), and without the card and even with just one stick of RAM, I still get the same response: full power to everything, but no beeps or hdd activity.

No, I've never adjusted any BIOS settings with this new board. I don't overclock so I figured the defaults would suffice, and while I've built plenty of systems for myself, I've never delved too far into BIOS manipulation.

I will note that sometimes when I power it up, everything will come on for a moment, then shut down again, and finally turn on once more. I can only assume that this would suggest a power issue.
 
If you've never made any changes in the BIOS, that may very well explain your problem. All the Ballistix RAM I know of requires at least 2v to operate correctly. The default for DDR2 RAM is 1.8v. The motherboard may not be supplying enough voltage to the RAM on AUTO settings.

You should manually set the RAM speed, timings, and voltage to the manufacturers specs in the BIOS even if you're not overclocking.

The RAM I linked above would also probably solve your problem since they only require 1.8v - 1.9v to work correctly.

Crucial has been having some quality problems lately so I wouldn't be surprised at all if you have a dead stick or two.
 

DrBiggles

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Apr 15, 2007
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Hm, but it doesn't seem as though I can even get to the BIOS to alter the settings, not even with 1 stick in. I have the board sitting out of the case at the moment as I was about to try running it that way to make sure there wasn't any shorting going on (per someone else's recommendation), but I'll try each stick by itself to see if any of them let me get to the POST screen.

UPDATE: Aha! One of the RAM sticks worked and I've managed to get into the BIOS. I guess you were right, it was the memory after all.

Alright so I want to set the voltage of the memory to 2.20 (for the Ballistix Tracer), correct? Is there anything else I need to adjust along with this?
 

ir_efrem

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Dec 13, 2005
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This is the reason I always have a stick of DDR2 800mhz 1.8v Kingston laying around. This one stick of memory works in every motherboard on the planet (well DDR2 motherboards anyway) and it's a cheap piece of hardware to have in the toolbox.

I would say try 2.1v max, I haven't seen to many sticks of memory that need more than 2.1v. Read your memory specifications.