PC Hardware Woes

February 25, 2013 | Filed under: Uncategorized

Ever since I bought my latest PC, it has been very rarely, but annoyingly susceptible to random power-shutdowns. The PC then reboots fine, although when it is in the mood to do so, it may then power off after a few seconds (or minutes), and basically be unusable until I get grumpy and leave it for a good few hours, or overnight. It’s very rare, but very frustrating when it happens, and I don’t like the worry that one day this could actually nuke the hard drives or graphics card.

(I’ve pretty much ruled out any other cause of the shutdowns also, it’s definitely hardware, and definitely inside the box)

The PC cost £1,000 mostly because I had a big RAID array and an SSD and a meaty video card put in there. It never occurred to me that the PSU might suck. It’s apparently a ‘powercool pc-650auba-m’, which doesn’t mean much to me, except that it’s a brand nobody has heard of, which is a bad sign.

I finally lost patience with it this morning and ordered a new corsair PSU, which I will bravely try and fit myself. I used to actually work as a PC hardware engineer, so you might imagine I wouldn’t give this a second thought, but that was long ago, when PCI was a fascinating new technology, and USB was still a cutting edge feature. PSU’s now look nothing like the ones I remember. That’s reason #1. Reason #2 is that inside the case it’s cable city Arizona, and fairly squashed. I’m probably going to have to work out how the SSD is attached to the case, and remove it in order to get the PSU out, and re-running the mess of cables will be a pain. I think I should use all new cables, so I can rule out that as a potential cause. (kinda scary because the SSD is the boot drive)

Theoretically, the whole PC is under warranty, but I’ve done the PC hardware job myself, and I don’t rate much the chances of them actually caring, or agreeing to swap it out, and certainly not swapping it out on site (even if I pay), because I can’t be without a PC for any period. Plus, they will likely only do a like-for-like swap with another cheap PSU anyway…

So right now I am staring at a depressing progress bar while an agonizingly slow backup copy of all my source code (to an external drive) takes place. I have it all backed up online anyway, but the art assets are only local (and with the artists as original files) and haven’t been fully backed up for a while, so I’m going the extra mile. Realistically, the chances of really screwing up a PSU swap-out are pretty minimal, but this is my work PC…

In future, I shall be buying PC’s with really good PSU’s. It’s a silly thing to skimp on, and given current PC prices, and positechs sales, it’s madness for me to think about economy when buying a PC for my job. You live and learn etc….

13 Responses to “PC Hardware Woes”

  1. Breezey says:

    Hi Cliff,

    Yeah – PSU’s are “core” to a system – It’s a much overlooked fact that when you start upgrading internal components that draw a lot of power (such as RAID array’s / Beast graphics cards etc) that the PSU will fail to deliver.

    Be careful when looking at a new PSU as often the stated power available isn’t often what is delivered under draw / load.

    Also if your PC is cable city then I would look at the internal cooling as the airflow might not be good enough to draw in / out (I had a major issue with one of mone once I upgrade the graphics card as the thing was so big it was effectively blocking the airflow up to the CPU and PSU.)

    Have you tried putting either a thermometer or some of those thermometer stickers in the case to see just how hot it is getting?

    I know it might be a pain but does anyone recommend water cooling still ?

    Cheers and good luck !

  2. Yemala says:

    If your box is, as described, cable city, and given the nature of your issues (random shutdowns, sometimes for a few minutes/etc), this sounds very much like heat.

    If this is during ‘normal’ work (not necessarily gaming, etc), I would actually look at hard drive heat – a case with suboptimal workflow and a tightly packed raid may actually be a bit of an issue.

    If your PSU (old or new) let you remove some cables, or if your case has interesting cable management solutions, or even if you can space the hard drives out a little (or at least find a hardware monitoring program), or something similar.

  3. cliffski says:

    I guess it could be heat… The PC is kept in a cupboard, with an open back, and I note since I started running my backup, with the cupboard front door open…. it has been fine. I wonder if it makes sense to leave the case sides off. I have a thermometer I can leave in the cupboard, but I’m sure it can’t get that hot.
    also…
    It isn’t particularly triggered by gaming, which you would assume it would do, given the GPU running full-tilt.

  4. Yemala says:

    Not necessarily – different components have different heat tolerances. Most GPUs and CPUs are pretty good at just scaling down performance to compensate, or turn up fans or similar.

    But especially if it was crashing regularly during backups, or other high hdd usage activities, I would examine hard drive heat, at strange as it sounds.

    Running a program like http://www.cpuid.com/softwares/hwmonitor.html during varying high-stress activities may tell you more, or let you discount heat entirely.

  5. cliffski says:

    Thanks for the link. it has just occurred to me that I tend to game with headphones on, and thus the front door of the PC cupboard open for the headphone jack anyway, so maybe that’s why it doesn’t go bang then…

  6. Gnoupi says:

    About PSUs, it can get even uglier and dangerous when you have some “noname” stuff:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zWt3St_MhSY

    You can find the full article (in French) about the testing procedure, and more details, here: http://www.x86-secret.com/dossier-36-3000-Alimentation_Noname.html

  7. Niall says:

    It does sound like a heat issue. My PC is a mass of tangled cables too but I’ve never been brave enough to put in a water cooling system. Somehow deliberately putting in a system that uses water into an expensive piece of electrical equipment just doesn’t feel right. ;)
    I permenantly leave the side of my case off and open a window in the summer. The PC gets dustier inside than it would do, but it doesn’t fry the components either.

  8. Chris says:

    Wanted to toss in a vote for “heat issue” as well, it certainly sounds like it given the symptoms you’re describing. I somewhat recall issuing a warning about heat back when you originally planned to wedge that poor thing into a tight cupboard.

    Air flow is crucial, if you have fans pulling air in from the front and fans blowing it out the back you should be good to go (removing the front of the case from the equation and having your problems go away strongly suggests that having it closed is choking some of that air flow).

    I’d recommend a better power supply regardless, but I’d focus on airflow as well (and if you’re having repeated heat issues I’d try to nail down what is overheating, presumably your CPU or your GPU). If it’s your CPU overheating it might not hurt to pop the heat sink off, reapply thermal compound, and re-seat the heatsink again. Outside of that you might look at replacing those fans in the front and back to make sure they’re pulling plenty of air through, and at the same time check the side of your case that’s obscured by the cabinet, I’m guessing it was designed with a fan on the side to pull air in that way as well?

  9. cliffski says:

    The shutdown actually occurred earlier with the cupboard open and the PC idling on standby, so methinks it can’t be heat. A new PSU arrives tomorrow…just dreading fitting it…

  10. Toby G says:

    is it modular? that should save some spare cable space.

    mini Zip-ties are your friends (but not when Un-doing them!)

    that or mini velcro cable ties

  11. cliffski says:

    yay, new PSU is all installed and working!

  12. Charlie says:

    Mine used to do this, although turned out to be dust caked onto various components. I’m guessing as yours if fairly new it’s probably not this, but it’s definitely worth checking if you live/work somewhere old and dusty.

    Cheers
    Charlie

  13. I had a cheap PSU, it was hilariously a replacement for another not-cheap PSU, but that’s a different story.

    I’d get similar random shutdowns. Most annoying in the same way I suspect as I use this PC for all my heavy development needs.

    One day I was trying to figure out what the strange clicking sound was that came from my PC, I figured it was the PSU fan or something. I did this whilst the PC was on, compiling a fairly large project, I removed the side panel of my case and my vision was illuminated by a blue flash… ah silly neon lighting… um, I don’t have any neon lighting…

    Yup it was actually arcing electricity from the PSU directly into my case, the case I was now holding in my left hand! I dropped the panel, rapidly shutdown everything, unplugged it and then I went for a nice cup of tea.

    It had been “clicking” like that for more than a month. I don’t buy cheap PSUs anymore. Hope yours works out ;)

    Andy