A Saturday post? Surely not? Well, I’m in a very good mood and have a bit of time, so might as well. The reason I’m in such a good mood is because I managed to fix my computer after I thought I completely FUBAR-ed it. My tribulations started on Monday, which means that I haven’t been able to play anything until I fixed it. Now that it’s fixed, it’s a huge relief. A weekend of gaming, woot!
Anyway, this is a post about fixing computers. Read at your own risk.
Remember when I was whining about how much LoL’s game engine sucks and how my graphics card didn’t recognise the game as a 3D application? It turns out that wasn’t the problem at all.
I originally thought my GPU wasn’t performing as it should when playing LoL because it was constantly downclocking it’s frequency (and therefore performance) when playing the game. Which is what the modern graphic cards do to increase the longevity of the chipset and the cooling fan and to conserve electricity. As already stated, I blamed the freaky Adobe AIR engine not getting recognised as a game by the card’s drivers. I tried a workaround to solve it, but the results were poor.
After that, I tried everything I could think of, most of it revolving around getting the GPU to work properly. But later I discovered the real issue to be the CPU bottlenecking (slowing down the GPU by not handling everything it needs to properly). This was because, while my computer was regularly cleaned, it was mostly done hastily and was never an in-depth cleaning session. Which meant that the one spot where the dust will just accumulate unless taken care of, the CPU cooler, gathered quite an amount of dirt and seriously hampered the heat dissipation.
I found out that my CPU was overheating (which incidentally, also might have been the reason my computer kept dying when playing Rift) after I installed a CPU temperature logger. Imagine the dread I experienced when I realised that the heart and brains of my system were getting heated up to the critical level (5-3°C under TJ max) which triggered an emergency downclocking, which in turn meant the CPU was severely underperforming.
In the next few hours I performed a highly dangerous mission into the bowels of my system. At this point, I probably have people pointing at me and laughing, saying “what a noob!”. Let me explain my ineptitude at the computer hardware maintenance and repair department.
I have no official education in the hardware or software fields. I’ve learnt everything I know by myself either through trial and error or online sources. Preferably (and more often) the former rather than the latter. You see, I never had access to a heap of old/used computers to experiment on. I had my one, usually quite costly, extremely precious entertainment source. If I had opened the case of my computer in an attempt to understand it better and broken something in there, as usually is the case when messing around, I was truly screwed. None of my friends, parents or relatives were proficient in computer maintenance, so the only way to fix a broken computer was to take it back to the shop and pay for the repair or spare parts.
All this meant that I was always extremely cautious when messing about with hardware or software, most of the time opting to just leave it alone. For perspective, the first computer my family owned (and was used primarily for gaming) was a Pentium 486. The first time I attempted to flash a BIOS was some five years later on a Pentium 2. It took another two to three years for me to even attempt to reinstall Windows (XP) on a Pentium 4 (yes, the Pentium 2 didn’t last long). It was around that time I finally started opening the case to clean the insides once in a while, which was probably because that computer had a fan in the side of the case that glowed with a neon blue colour (not my idea) and bugs were frequently suiciding into it.
And that is basically the extent of my dabbling into computer maintenance. I installed an odd CD/DVD unit in my computer, got extremely confused by all the wiring when I replaced my PSU and only recently managed to install my extremely precious Radeon HD4890 all by myself. Boy, was that last one a nail biter. Take my advice and don’t go installing a 200€ graphics card by yourself if you’ve never even held a graphics card in your hands before (it turned out all right for me though). With the expansion of the PC capacities in the household (the addition of a non-gaming desktop and a laptop) I find myself opening PCs a lot more frequently, but I still feel like tearing out my hair whenever my gaming rig comes down with something I can’t cure. Spending my funds on having the system repaired by professionals eats into my limited funds for upgrading the PC.
Understanding how precious those computers are to a geek, coupled with knowing how delicate they are, you can see why I’m extremely vary of messing around with working computer parts. It took me a few days of weighing the pros and the cons before I finally decided to take off the CPU cooler and clean it (one of the cons being that I had no thermal paste around and no easily accessible store that would sell it). When I did, I found the problem wasn’t as much in the dust in the cooler, but more in the sad state of the fan and the sad remains of the thermal paste. You can imagine that putting the cleaned cooler back was not a very good idea. The undertaking exacerbated the problem and my computer ended up shutting down if I tried watching two streams at once (went 3-5°C over TJ max). Clearly, it was time for a new CPU cooler.
Buying a new cooler took a while because I needed to find a shop in my vicinity that would sell one. Normally I order my stuff online, but it didn’t make sense to pay postage on a 20€ cooler. I didn’t need anything fancy, as I don’t overclock because I want my hardware to last. I ended up splurging a bit more and getting a 30€ one (gasp!), since that was the only cooler that fit on my old E6750 (no plans on upgrading) and because I didn’t feel like searching for another shop that would sell coolers and have thermal paste in stock (believe me, finding one is harder than you think).
Installing the thing was quite trivial. Unplug and unscrew stuff, clean the old baked-in paste, splatter some new paste over the processor, mount the cooler, screw back on and… This is where disaster struck. I tried plugging everything back the way it was (as I remembered it), but the computer wouldn’t start. I resorted to the motherboard manual, suspecting I miss-connected the power button, since if I accidentally fried or scratched anything on the motherboard I was pretty much toast, so that wasn’t an option. After labouring a few minutes to understand the instructions which were talking about positive and negative poles of the small connector with no positive/negative voltage actually indicated on it, I tried unplugging the front end USB connectors in a moment of inspiration. It turns out that if you miss-connect the connectors for peripheral USB sockets the computer won’t even attempt to start. Unplug them and it will. A fine piece of engineering.
After a few more minutes of arsing around, relieved in knowing that the computer is FINE, I fixed the issue and now everything works. My processor idles at 37°C and goes up to 55°C at 100% load. Success!
Now, a lot of people will read this and snort at how much of a noob I am. But for me, a complete amateur at electricity, computer science and all that jazz, and a guy that has very little actual experience with hardware, any time I can mess around in the bowels of my precious gaming machine and emerge at the other end without breaking anything, is a complete and utter win. Now back to what I’m actually good at; playing games and whining about them!