Loud Noises and Thermal Events

Nathan Edwards

Missing Registry Options

In your magazine’s March issue, there is a Windows tip on page 23 titled “Automatically Kill Processes and Shut Down Quicker.” I wanted to check out the tip on my own machine, only I don’t see the “AutoEndTasks” and “WaitToKillApp” options in my registry. Where’d they go?

—Chuck Wilson

First off, you’re using Windows XP, right? You won’t find these options in the Vista registry. Also, make sure you’re searching the correct registry folder. Just to reiterate, you’ll want to open the Windows registry by hitting the Start button, selecting Run, typing regedit , and then hitting OK. Scroll all the way up and collapse the folders on the left-hand side until you see only a list of folders that start with HKEY. Now expand folders (by clicking on the plus-box) in this order: HKEY_CURRENT_USER, then Control Panel. Click the Desktop folder, which should pull up the three registry keys noted in the tip: AutoEndTasks, WaitToKillApp, and HungAppTimeout.

If you still don’t see them, and you’re positive you’re running Windows XP, you can add the registry strings manually. Start by right-clicking on the section of the Registry Editor window that contains all the keys and clicking New, then String Value. Right-click the new value and rename it AutoEndTasks , then double-click the value and make it 1. Repeat the same step to create a WaitToKillApp string with a value of 1,000 and a HungAppTimeout string with a value of 3,000.

Where'd the Game Go?

I recently built a new computer and it runs great, except when I play games. I’ll start a game and the screen will just go blank. My computer looks like it’s changing the screen resolution, but then it just dumps me back to the desktop with the game window minimized in the taskbar. I have been able to get around this for a majority of games by running them in Windowed mode, setting the resolution to be the same as the desktop (for the few games that have a setup screen before they launch), or manually editing the configuration files to set the screen resolution to match my desktop resolution. I’m not trying to run some off-the-wall resolution, just standard 1280x1024 at a 72Hz refresh rate.

—Andy Rabin

After scratching his head for a minute, the Doctor thinks he has conjured up a potential solution for your woes. It sounds as though a background program is either pulling you out of your game or preventing you from even getting any games running in the first place. As for what that program is, well, the Doc just isn’t sure. The culprit could be anything—a Folding@Home client, Vista’s Sidebar application, anything.

To get to the bottom of the issue, you’ll need to run a number of experiments. First, was there ever a time when your computer worked correctly? Do you recall installing a program or running an update and then being unable to play games? Start your investigation there. Next, disable running processes. Don’t allow applications to load when your OS starts. Uninstall software you’ve played around with that comes with a background component.

The Doctor can’t stress this enough: Any program could be at fault. Check out your firewall application, your virus scanner, and your custom screensaver. No program is above suspicion, and the Doc is willing to bet that once you’ve axed a few applications, your games will work perfectly once again. If not, you might be facing a visit to Mr. Wipe ’n’ Reinstall.

Loud Noises!

Help me, Doc! I had my rig running smoothly until I picked up another 8800GT to run SLI. Now, for no apparent reason, and at random intervals, my sound will cut out and I’ll get a very high-pitched beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep until I restart my PC. This happens only when I play games. So far, I have experienced it in BioShock, Thrillville, and Team Fortress 2. It hasn’t happened in Civilization 4 or some casual games like Diner Dash or B-Intruders.

It’s totally random. It can happen after five minutes of play, or two hours (or more!), or not at all. Due to this, I feel I can rule out overheating. To troubleshoot, I’ve already removed and reinstalled my sound drivers, shifted my soundcard in my PCI slots, and reinstalled video drivers.

Remember, this problem was caused after I dropped another 8800GT into my PC to run SLI. I’m convinced that’s the culprit; I just don’t know what I should do to begin fixing it!

—Richard Gardner

Richard, the Doctor smiles upon you, for you are entirely correct. The problem you describe is a direct result of adding a second videocard to your machine. You didn’t mention what soundcard you have, but the Doc is willing to venture that it bears the Creative brand. If that’s the case, you’ve likely found the source of your troubles—Creative cards don’t play nicely with nForce motherboards, typically when the board is running SLI.

Still, the issue isn’t easily isolated. The Doctor has seen reports of this loud screeching problem occurring across various motherboards, operating systems, and even soundcards. You didn’t mention whether you updated your BIOS, but do that first. If the problem persists, default to your motherboard’s onboard audio and see if that helps. Other than that, you’ll be playing a guessing game. You can try buying new hardware—the Doctor would start with a different-brand soundcard—but know that anything you do has the potential to leave your problem entirely intact.

Frankly, the Doctor would rather lose EAX support (somewhat nullified by Vista’s OpenAL support) than lose his hearing from screeching speakers.

More Memory?

I’m a computer guy and have gotten a lot of questions, and have some of my own, about how much memory Windows 32-bit operating systems can see. I’ve heard that the videocard can eat into memory over the 2GB mark. Is it worth buying more than two or three gigs of memory if your videocard prevents Windows from seeing the RAM? The more I read and find out, the more confused I get.

—Joe Lentine

The Doctor waffles on this all the time, and you probably will too. First, here’s the poop: Windows XP and Windows Vista can address a maximum of 4GB of RAM. Of that, 2GB can be used by applications and 2GB can be used by the OS. It’s more complicated than that, but to cut to the chase, the Doctor thinks that, generally, 2GB of RAM is optimal, but a little more, especially at today’s prices, can’t hurt. Your system will probably show only 2.5GB or 3GB of RAM (depending on your configuration), but don’t be alarmed, the rest is there. And although the applications may not be able to access it, the OS and drivers supposedly can.

Molten Core

A few years back, our family purchased a Dell Dimension 3000 desktop. It has been working fairly well, despite the fact that there are only 7GB left on the 80GB hard drive and the Vista upgrades are bogging it down.

Recently, our computer has been shutting down randomly. When we turn it back on, a notice pops up that says the computer has shut down due to a “thermal event.” I’m no genius with computers, but I know enough to understand that something’s up. There have been times when we’ve kept the computer on for days at a time, but that never used to be an issue. Has a fan broken? I tried contacting Dell to figure out this problem, but because our warranty on the computer has expired, Dell refuses to help us free of charge!

—Patrick Feeney

Well, Patrick, the Doctor has a few suggestions to ease the “thermal event” situation you’re seeing. For starters, see if the fans in your computer are working properly. Pop off the side of your case and power up your machine. The fan cooling your CPU should spin up to a quick speed. If it seems sluggish, or isn’t moving, there’s your problem. Replace the fan.

If you can’t discern any noticeable problems with the fans, you’ll have to dig a little deeper. Pop off your CPU cooler and give the heatsink and fan a hearty blast of compressed air. Clean off the thermal paste from both your CPU and cooler with some rubbing alcohol. You’ll now want to apply a new layer of paste—of course, you should purchase this prior to removing the CPU cooler. Squeeze a rice-size grain of paste onto your CPU and spread it around with a utility knife.

If that doesn’t fix your problem, take a look at your power supply. Other Dell users have reported problems similar to yours, and a quick replacement of the power supply fixed everything. You can get replacement PSUs from Dell or at www.pcpower.com .

And if that doesn’t solve your problem, the Doc knows of only one other cause for the dreaded “thermal event” message. Some Dell motherboards tend to run into problems with their capacitors—they’ll swell up and possibly even burst. While the Doctor doesn’t believe you’re at the stage where your motherboard is going to start emitting popping noises and leaking toxic materials, there’s certainly the possibility that the capacitors on your motherboard are dying.

And how do you fix that? The short answer is: You don’t. You’d have to replace your motherboard. Since your warranty has run out, it will cost you more than the machine is worth to have Dell do the work. It might be time to consider buying, or better yet, building a new system. In the latter case, you can use any of your current machine’s salvageable parts. Check out the April 2008 issue of Maximum PC for a step-by-step guide to building a new PC!

The Doctor is as excited as ever for next month’s issue of Maximum PC. He’s moving to swankier digs and abandoning this grungy space forever! But please continue to email your computer questions to doctor@maximumpc.com . He’s just upgrading, not going away.

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