Computers can be finicky beasts. If something is going to go wrong, it always seems to be at the worst possible time. Last week I was preparing to leave town to do some training when the order processing computer in our office started to behave erratically. It is fully functional again and I thought I would go through the process used to diagnose the problem and what I did to get it working again.
As the cursor was moved around on screen, the computer would freeze for 2-3 seconds and the screen would go completely blank for 5-10 seconds. One potential culprit was the mouse or tablet used to move the cursor. Yet the problem would happen more and more often as the day went on and the cursor wasn’t always involved. It could be the monitor, but the monitor wouldn’t cause the computer to freeze up temporarily. Therefore, all fingers were pointed at the video card and/or the video drivers.
Quick Solutions to Test
I want to start by saying that there was no concern about any data loss as the data on the computer is backed up. If you are a computer that is starting to fail, I sure hope you read my post yesterday on A Failed Hard Drive and Importance of Backup.
The quickest thing to test was to see if the problem was caused by a faulty video driver. I went to the nVidia Web site and downloaded and installed the latest driver. Unfortunately that didn’t solve the problem. My next test was the get the last video driver certified by Microsoft via Microsoft/Windows Update. These drivers aren’t nearly as optimized, but they are typically more stable. At this point I ruled out the driver as the issue.
Of course there is also the cable between the video card and the monitor. I checked both ends of the cable and they seemed to be seated firmly. Even if it was the cable, I didn’t think it would cause the freezing of the entire computer.
There was one more thing to try and that was to clean the dust out of the computer. If you aren’t doing this at least once a year, you need to add it to your list. This computer didn’t look even remotely close to the one pictured in Blow Out Your Computer Before It Blows Up, but there were a few dust bunnies inside the case.
The Final Solution
My fear all along was that the video card was failing. The card has originally been in use in two different computers over a span of more than seven years. That is a pretty long life for a video card and getting a card of equal (or even greater) power would be fairly inexpensive. As the card was going into an older machine, it was important to find a card that would be compatible with the motherboard. I went with the MSI nVidia GeForce GT 620. It cost around $60 from Amazon. The old card has 256 MB of RAM and the new one has 2 GB. Add in a faster chip and other components and the new card was a nice upgrade over the old card. Plus, it worked!
Since I was going to be digging around inside the case, I also ordered some additional RAM for around $40. For a total of just over $100 I got a faster (and functional) video card plus I doubled the RAM in the machine. To open the case, I simply needed to twist off two thumbscrews and slide off the side panel. There was one Philips head screw holding down the old (dead) video card so I can to screw that out.
Once the old card was out, I pushed the new card into the slot and replaced the screw holding it down. The two sticks of memory needed to be inserted into the two empty slots in the motherboard and snapped into place. Five minutes after first opening the case, it was again closed and ready for business. The only tool required was a screwdriver for the single screw I had to remove and replace. This is the type of project that any user can handle!
When I left for my trip, the computer was knocking on death’s door. The office was able to stumble along for a couple of days while waiting for the new parts to arrive. I got back from my trip and had the computer up and running in no time. Not only is it good to go again, it goes a lot faster!