Ask the Doctor: Everything is Broken


I built a computer for a friend a couple of years back, and it was working fine until a few weeks ago, when the computer started to lock up on boot and the screen would stay black. I tried to reinstall Windows XP, only to have it freeze halfway into the setup. Eventually I was able to reinstall XP. All case fans, the CPU fan, and drive lights work fine. I updated video drivers, replaced the videocard, the memory, and the power supply, and even switched out hard drives; the system still locks. I’m at a loss for what to do next. I suspect maybe the mobo is at fault. Can you help?

—Howard King

Well, there are an awful lot of possible culprits here. First, make sure the machine is not overheating. A heatsink fan that is clogged with dust or thermal paste that has dried up could be to blame. While you’re at it, make sure the heatsink is properly seated. Perhaps your buddy was in there one day and knocked the heatsink slightly off kilter.

Next, make sure the graphics card is firmly seated and see if anything is loose in there. Third, download the free memtest+ utility ( ) and check out the machine’s RAM.

Finally, check the BIOS settings. Maybe the CMOS battery went bad or your friend was playing in the BIOS and set something improperly. Pay close attention to RAM timing and frequencies as well as the front-side-bus settings.

One esoteric possible problem: bad cables. Check the hard drive and optical drive cables for any nicks, cuts, or damage. The Doctor has seen bad cables cause all kinds of wacky behavior.

If all of the above check out, it’s time to consider the possibility of a bad motherboard or CPU. Get into the case with a good flashlight and take a close look at the capacitors on the board. If any of them are bulged out, you’re a victim of capacitor failure and a board replacement is in order.

SUBMIT YOUR QUESTION Are flames shooting out of the back of your rig? First, grab a fire extinguisher and douse the flames. Once the pyrotechnic display has fizzled, email the doctor at for advice on how to solve your technological woes.

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