Troubleshooting: Highest priority part to replace


Jul 5, 2007
I've been dodging some nagging issues for a while and it's time to start replacing parts.

I don't have all my component info at hand, but here's the gist of my system:

MSI P6N SLI Platinum Mobo
Intel C2D 1.8Ghz (allendale, I'm pretty sure)
XFX Fatal1ty 6800GT (I'm guessing at the number)
2 GB DDR2 800, no idea which brand anymore assorted HDs, soundcard and such that i'm sure aren't causing problems.

Here are my issues: 1) my system will freeze unexpectedly 1-2 times per month. I've tried to watch for trends against types of activity, particular processes running, etc, and haven't learned very much. Electric Sheep (gfx intense screensaver) seemed to exacerbate the problem so I stopped using it a year ago, but the crashes persist. The other things that seem marginally more prone to crashing are my audio sequencer, and the moment right after windows finishes booting and the cursor is still in the middle of the screen.

My best guess for this is some frazzledness in my processor after overclocking it for a few months when I first got it fall of '07. The crashes are the same as the ones I was getting while pushing the voltages, just less common.

Issue 2) is that every few months I turn on my system and the monitor doesn't get a signal. After a variable amount of time spent disconnecting, dusting, and reconnecting the vga cable and PCIe card itself, it magically works again. Clearly there is a short or bad connection somewhere, but it's not clear to me if the problem is with the card, the mobo, the cable maybe?

What I would like to do is resolve these issues with a minimum of time and expense. I'm not in my glory days of hardware tweaking anymore, and I have other toys I'd like to focus on. I'm wondering if there's a chance the bad connection with the gfx card could also be causing the crashes, in which case I should try a new gfx card first. Option 2 is I buy a new processor (which for me requires a new mobo since intel has changed architecture since my last upgrade). Potentially, the new mobo would elminate the bad connection with the gfx system and both problems would disappear.

The worst case scenario is that i have to replace the proc, mobo and gfx card, which I'm not thrilled about but whatever.

Any thoughts on which switch I should try first?
I'd start by downloading memtest86 and checking the RAM. It's a free and easy test and if you're lucky the freezing problem is in the RAM and can be fixed for $40.

Your graphics card would be the next step, I guess, because of issue 2. It needs an upgrade anyway if you're planning to play games. The nVidia GTS 250 and ATI HD 4770 are relatively cheap, don't need huge PSUs, and either would be a big upgrade there.

Edit: LOL, shortstuff_mt came up with memtest first :) And yeah, I also think the CPU is OK.

When you fry a CPU during OCing it usually just dies, AFAIK.

The behavior you're seeing is more likely to be caused by RAM. Let's say a certain cell in the RAM is not working properly. (That's the kind of thing memtest86 checks for.) It's quite possible for that cell to not be used at all for days, depending on where it is. Even if it's used it may very well not cause any visible problems. You'd just get the wrong color on a pixel for a very short time, or the wrong number in a file, etc, and not notice it. You would only notice it if the cell is used as an address and the current program ends up going to the wrong place and crashing or freezing the PC.

It's pretty hard to damage a CPU IMO. My trusty E6420 has been overclocked from 2.13GHz to 3.2GHz at 1.45v for over 2 years with no problems at all. In fact, it's been at that overclock from day 1. I couldn't even tell you how fast a stock E6420 is. :)

It's FAR more common for RAM to fail than the CPU.