Question Troubleshooting - Frequent and Reproducible Crashes


Aug 12, 2017
Sorry if this is long, but I think the details here are relevant:

About a week ago I noticed my PC was locked up (entirely black screen on the monitors) when coming in to my office. Some of the motherboard lights were on, and the power button was lit up, but the fan lights were off, as were all of the secondary peripherals. Pressing the power button did not bring it back online, nor did pressing and holding the power button for a hard shut down bring it back. The only thing that seems to shut it down from this state is a total removal of power. Unplugging the PC and then plugging it back in and turning it back on results in a totally normal system boot.

When using the machine, various things have triggered it from going from fully operational to this odd nearly powered down / nearly locked up state in an instant. Open steam to launch a game > straight to black screen, lock up, power button unresponsive, must pull plug from the wall to reboot. Other times it crashed after swapping audio devices, same symptom, straight to black screen and nearly powered down, but not quite.

For context, I have 3 hard drives:
- C, 128GB sata SSD, this is the OS drive (win 10)
- D, 1TB sata SSD, this drive has previously had an OS installed, but is just bulk storage at this point
- E, 512GB M.2 nvme drive

After checking the event viewer logs and doing some searching, I was finding somewhat similar issues happening around a Kingston Hyper X 2 cloud usb headset that I have, so I unplugged that device and uninstalled the HID headset drivers. This lowered the frequency of the crashes a noticeable amount, but did not remove them entirely.

In my troubleshooting attempts, I formatted the primary OS drive (C:\) and reinstalled windows, but the problem still persists. The headset mentioned above has never been plugged in since the OS reinstall, so I find it unlikely to be my root cause, but it could be related somehow.

I've verified the RAM as being error free with MemTest running to completion in about 5 hours of testing. The PC stayed powered on just fine through the entire test. MemTest is ran via bootable USB which leads me to think the problem could be avoided by not booting into the OS, or at the very least, actions taken within the OS trigger the issue.

Getting a bit desperate and being willing to format my bulk storage drives, I went to format the M.2 drive (E:\) and the second I clicked "OK" on the windows dialog box to initiate a full format, the system crashed again. Unplug, reboot, try the same format options, crash repeats. So far I have tried this with both quick format and full format on the E drive and the crash is 100% reproducible with this method. No other method I've found is 100% reproducible yet. After failing to format the E drive with windows, I downloaded the Samsung Magician software and made a bootable USB and seemingly formatted the E drive successfully, however, upon going back into windows to assign the drive a file system and drive letter, windows wanted to "format" the drive again as a final step to assigning the volume. As soon as I clicked "ok" to agree to the quick format, it crashed again.

One more point of note on the M.2 drive: the Samsung software said it had a firmware update that it needed, and I tried several times to update the M.2 firmware but it would not stick. I suspect this is because I had already attempted to format the drive via windows, so I'm not sure that is a red flag that the firmware wouldn't update, but it might be relevant.

For reference, I built this PC about 6 months ago and all components are brand new except for the 3 hard drive which came from my previous build. Mobo, RAM, processor, fans, case, on and on, everything here is brand new aside from the harddrives.

So, at the moment I'm a bit torn between a few diagnostic conclusions and I was hoping to get some feedback. I could see my M.2 drive (E:\) being faulty and that would explain why the OS reinstall didn't change anything, and the seemingly "random" nature of the crashes (Steam is installed on this E drive), however, if the Samsung Magician software wiped the drive as I thought it did, wouldn't that rule out bad data on the drive? On the other hand, I'm wondering if the chipset or something else on the motherboard could be at fault here. I'm struggling to come up with a reasonable explanation for the symptoms I'm seeing contrasted to the troubleshooting steps I've already taken.

Thoughts, dear reader?