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Old 02-14-07, 07:36 AM   #1
SaabFan
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Help me troubleshoot a PC hardware problem

So, sure, I have a basic knowledge of PC hardware, but I'm sorely lacking in troubleshooting skillz. I'm bored, so this will be a narrative post rather than cutting direct to the problem.

Here's the situation: I have a box at home that's home-made. Asus mb, Athlon 64 processor, 1gb ram, etc etc etc. It's currently running Ubuntu installed on a 160gb hd.

Last week, I moved the desk the computer is on to a different room in the house, and switched from using the built-in ethernet nic to using a wireless card. Ubuntu discovered the wireless card and configuration was super-easy (at least compared to using the same hardware under other Linux distros I've tried.) Anyways, two or three days ago I noticed it was dropping the wireless signal every few minutes. Around that time, I got a hardware error message when the machine was booting. More on that later.

Tried troubleshooting, and eventually discovered that the antenna on the wireless card had fallen off (!!!) during the move. Plugged it back in, assuming that was the problem. Rebooted, but no dice. Still had the hardware error and still very crappy signal.

So, I F1'd it into the BIOS on boot, and looked through the screens. On the screen giving hardware info, the value for 3.3v was low - like 2.6v. It was also highlighted red, so I'm assuming that was the problem.

At this point, I unplugged/removed everything from the box that wasn't essential (extra nic's, sound card, extra hd, cd, etc) to make sure none of that was causing problems. Still had the low voltage signal.

Fooled around with it a bit more, and suddenly things got worse. I booted and got something that looked like a stack dump of error messages related to the hd. Booted again, and got an error along the lines of "DISK READ ERROR. PLEASE INSERT SYSTEM DISK AND PRESS ENTER." Great! So is my hd dead now too?

Anyways, next attempt was swapping hd's. I have an "emergency" 18gb drive with Fedora installed on it, so I swapped that in. The machine booted totally fine, and everything seemed OK. So I figured my 160gb drive was toast. Next decision was to put Ubuntu on the 18gb drive. Put the Ubuntu Live CD in, and attempted to boot. "DISK READ ERROR. PLEASE INSERT SYSTEM DISK AND PRESS ENTER." Ok, so now it won't boot from the Ubuntu Live CD either! Tried booting from the first Fedora install disk, to see if it would boot from the CDROM at all. No luck, same error.

So, what gives? I've got an occasional low voltage signal, and now the machine is being picky about what it'll boot from. Any thoughts? MB failure? Power supply failure? If this can't be resolved for cheap ($100 or less), I'll probably throw in the towel and buy a Mac. I've been kinda wanting to do that anyways, haven't had one in a few years.
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Old 02-14-07, 07:42 AM   #2
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Do you have a 'bench' power supply that you can test with? If so, start with the basics connected. Mobo, processor & fan, one stick of RAM and a monitor and power up. Then start adding components one at a time until you have a failure. (shuting down first of course.)

Tho' I suspect the power supply is the culprit.
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Old 02-14-07, 07:50 AM   #3
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I got rid of all my old junk PC's about 6 months ago. Figures.

Still though - would a crappy power supply be able to supply enough power to boot from an 18gb disk, but not CDROM or an 160gb disk? Seems sketchy to me.
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Old 02-14-07, 08:03 AM   #4
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Anything is possible. Discount nothing till you've tested it. That's why you start from the minimum. If it still fails then it's either Mobo, proc, RAM or P/S
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Old 02-14-07, 10:01 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SaabFan
"DISK READ ERROR. PLEASE INSERT SYSTEM DISK AND PRESS ENTER."
Is there a floppy in the floppy drive? Also, check the boot order in your bios, is it trying to boot off of a drive that you're not accounting for before it tries the CD ROM?
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Old 02-14-07, 10:04 AM   #6
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No floppy. The only drives are the CDROM and hd.
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Old 02-14-07, 10:06 AM   #7
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Get a $30 quality PSU you can use to verify.

Or get a PSU dummy load from Office Depot, and a multimeter....if any rail (other than -12v) is more than 3% off, replace it.
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Old 02-14-07, 11:32 AM   #8
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You say you moved an extra hard drive out of the machine, are your jumper settings on the remaining drives correct? Perhaps you have them both set to slave or something.

In the BIOS, are you sure the CD ROM is ahead of the hard drive in the boot sequence?

Have you tried FDISKing the hard drive's Master Boot Record on the hard drive that isn't working? I usually use a Windows 98 boot disk I have laying around, then from a dos prompt execute 'fdisk mbr'
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Old 02-14-07, 11:43 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sizzam
You say you moved an extra hard drive out of the machine, are your jumper settings on the remaining drives correct? Perhaps you have them both set to slave or something.

In the BIOS, are you sure the CD ROM is ahead of the hard drive in the boot sequence?

Have you tried FDISKing the hard drive's Master Boot Record on the hard drive that isn't working? I usually use a Windows 98 boot disk I have laying around, then from a dos prompt execute 'fdisk mbr'

All good thoughts:

1) The original hd that was in the machine was in there alone when it "failed." Nothing changed on it. The other hd (18g) I swapped in was set up correctly, and actually boots.

2) CDROM is first on the BIOS boot sequence.

3) No Windows disks at home to try that with. I've never actually owned a Windows PC or held a license for any version of the Windows OS.
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Old 02-14-07, 12:31 PM   #10
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You should also try switching the IDE/SATA cabling/ports used. Pull the HD, and if you can, connect the cdrom to it's (or a different) plug on the MB and try booting a livecd. If it's a problem with the IDE/SATA controller or MB, you may be able to boot a livecd this way, and if it doesn't change anything, it's probably the PS.
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