Author Topic: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!  (Read 1077 times)

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Offline Narei Mooncatt

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MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« on: January 14, 2012, 02:11:00 am »
I'm happy to say I'm posting this from my gaming laptop that has given me so much frustration for over a year and I just needed a place to vent about my trials and tribulations, and the heck of a learning process of someone that doesn't really know a ton about computer programing and hardware. I bought this laptop.... well, desktop replacement is more accurate as a 12 lb heat machine isn't exactly something you want sitting on your lap. When I bought it, it was top of the line, custom built from a company called Pro-Star. Think Alienware power, for a better price. Actually, even Alienware couldn't match the power of this rig at the time. Put on a pot of coffee, this is gonna be a long one and involves throwing the graphics card in the oven at 385 F for 9 minutes....

Long while back, my backlight would occationally flicker for a split second. The problem got progressively worse and I was thinking it's a hardware problem. The image was always ok, and the VGA output to another monitor was fine, only the light in my lid was out. I did some minor diagnosing and after talking to several people, we figured it was the backlight's power inverter going bad. Took some digging, but I eventually found one to replace it, but that didn't work. I then took it to a shop that ran a battery of tests on it and they too thought it was the original inverter and tried my new (to me, bought used from some place in Asia so quality could have been sketchy). They put in the new one and it seemed to work and they even left it on over night and kept on working. After a few more tests and a couple hundred $$$ later, I had it back. It worked a grand total of about 3 hours before it died again on me.

I couldn't get it to come on completely, but it very rarely would, so I know the light itself wasn't the culprit and was wondering more about the inverter. One thing my mate did notice (and surprised I didn't) was that there was a time I was running it at a con, doing one of my light shows with the VGA out to a projector with 3D animations running and the backlight kicked on. The program didn't need much manual input, so I had planned to just use a flashlight if I needed to do something. Then when I got a new program for that stuff that I was testing at home on my tv, the light came on again after using it for about 30 min. In both cases, it stayed on. Putting two and two together, she was thinking that had something to do with it. About that time is when I saw Mylo's thread on here about a similar problem. In his case, it was a driver issue, so I started looking down that path. This problem had actually been showing signs of both driver and mechanical failure, so didn't know which way to go.

Back to Google I went, tracking down various issues around drivers and specifically the ACPI programing that controls what the lid switch does (I.e. if it just kills the light, puts the laptop to sleep/hibernate, etc). I tried some of the tricks they mention and thought I was on the right track at one point. I uninstalled the "ACPI LID" in the device manager, letting the computer reboot, reinstall it, then reboot again. After it rebooted the second time, the light came on within a few minutes but then went back out. I was thinking maybe it was the switch itself that was faulty. Mind you, this one doesn't have an exposed button I could toggle to see if it was sticky. I was at a loss for a while because I couldn't find it, and even the shop couldn't find it. Granted, it's not every day that you see a system like mine and it always turns heads just from its sheer size even though it has a basic finish to it. So I didn't fault the shop for that.

While I was digging through the web on the software issues, I came across a file with the service manual for my system and printed it out. Tired of looking at the software stuff for a while with no luck, I went back to the mechanical route and went over the parts lists, assembly diagrams, and PCB schematics. This is where I'm so glad I had taken drafting and design for college. One of my classes was on printed circuit boards, both how to read a basic schematic and then how to fit the parts on the PCB itself. While I hated that class with a passion, I never would have been able to make heads or tails of that manual otherwise. It took a while for me to figure out were the switch was and I never did find any sort of switch at first. Then, one day while I was on Second Life to pay my land rent, the light popped on for me. I had heard that my system may have a magnetic switch, so I started running a magnet around the lid and base, eventually making the light flicker. After centering in on where it is, I come to find out the magnetic "switch" is an ant sized microchip that isn't directly labeled as such. I figured it out with the help of the schematics too, but that seemed to be working pretty much fine. So from there, I started tracing all the circuits back from it and following pretty much anything having anything to do with the backlight to look for loose connections and such. Keep in mind, you can't just pull the top panel off to access the motherboard. You have to pull screws off the bottom, the LCD screen, the keyboard, and another little pannel under that just to find some hidden screws, as well as remove the HDD because one is buried under it as well and then pull it apart like a 3D puzzle. Only in this case all the pieces seem like they have to fit together at the same time and not piece by piece.

Didn't find anything this time either, so put it all back together and put it away for a while again. Time comes around to pay SL rent again, so I hop on with my trusty little flashlight so I can see what I'm doing and the light kicks on again. This time I go back to look at some more info on ACPI to see if I can find a way to lock the light into the ON position regardless of what the lid position is doing. Then the light kicked off again. So I go back to SL to finish up there so I can call it a night. Light comes on. I scratch my head, and go back to the ACPI research. Light goes off. At this point, I now realize SL has something to do with it too. I know I'm getting somewhere now at least. In either case, I wrap up and pack it away again.

I have also been conversing with a couple other computer savvy people I know and I mention to one of them about the fact SL causing the light to stay on. He also remembers me telling him about it coming on sometimes when running dual displays, and suggests it may be a bad solder joint. His theory was that when I'm running dual displays or gaming, the graphics card is heating up, expanding the parts enough to make the connection again, letting the light kick on. He had a similar issue with one of his laptops and told me about how he baked the card to get it working again. It actually did make some sense, so next chance I had, I fired it up and put on SL. Sure enough, within about 30 seconds, the light popped on. I opened up a monitoring program as I tested this, and pretty much any time I got the GPU above 160 F, the light would kick on shortly after. Reducing the load by minimizing the game would let the temps drop and then the light would go back off. I double checked the schematics, and sure enough, there is one pin on the VGA card slot labeled something to the effect of enable backlight.

I also read up on the idea of baking the graphics card. For those that don't know (assuming you're still reading by this point. :D ), it's a DIY way of reflowing the cold solder connection on a PCB. Basically, it's not uncommon for the connections between the chips and the boards to have micro-cracks in the solder from the factory. As it ages, they get worse and open up, causing a failure. By putting it in your oven and baking it (make sure it's RoHS compliant lead free or you risk toxic fumes and/or contaminating your oven), you soften the solder and allows it to essentially melt the crack together. There's more to it than that, so make sure you research just how to do it if you have a problem that you think this may help fix. It's not meant to be the first, but rather the last ditch effort before considering a PCB to be completely gone and results may not be permanent.

Before I did this, I was thinking about trying to replace it with a card one generation newer I had on hand already just to test the idea of it being the graphics card itself. That one was from a computer that we thought was also dead, but now lives on its own, so I just did some inspecting on mine. In the process, I also had to pull one of my memory chips to verify what version my MOBO was (this becomes important later on) if I tried to swap cards. When I put it all back together, I tried to boot the system again just to see if maybe the loose connection was with the card or something itself. It didn't even freaking POST. Crap. I figure maybe I jarred something loose on the graphics card, so I pulled it out and decided to try and bake it. After doing so, the system still wouldn't even POST. I put it away for a few days to let my frustration die down some until tonight. I was wondering if maybe the memory chip had something to do with it, so I pulled it out and powered up the system with just the one other chip left in. It started to boot right up, and the light was on to boot. To see if it was just a bad seat from the first time I pulled it or if the chip itself went bad, I put it back in and booted up again just fine.

So now it seems like my system is back to full operation and now I can really get back in to my gaming. I'm curious as to what might have happened with that memory chip that caused it not to POST, considering it's not like there's really any play in it once it's latched in place. Other than that, the biggest thing I've learned from this whole ordeal is I no longer question why computer techs charge so much. This stuff is complicated!

In closing, I'd just like to say... I'm sure Hoagiebot would be proud of this post. :P
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Offline Hoagiebot

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Re: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« Reply #1 on: January 14, 2012, 10:36:49 am »
I bought this laptop.... well, desktop replacement is more accurate as a 12 lb heat machine isn't exactly something you want sitting on your lap. When I bought it, it was top of the line, custom built from a company called Pro-Star. Think Alienware power, for a better price. Actually, even Alienware couldn't match the power of this rig at the time. Put on a pot of coffee, this is gonna be a long one and involves throwing the graphics card in the oven at 385 F for 9 minutes....

I have to admit, reading your post about your particular situation really left me scratching my head about something.  In my own personal situation, since I have not had a steady full-time programming job for two years now, I don't have a lot of spare cash on hand for my Project Destiny Studios projects.  As a result, to fulfill my computing needs I often have to take advantage of how fast computer equipment depreciates, and take huge risks buying used server and workstation hardware that doesn't have any kind of warranties what-so-ever from electronics recyclers and random people on Craig's List and eBay.  The idea works kind of like this-- a brand new state-of-the-art half-depth 1U duel-processor rackmount server can cost upwards of $7000.  A 5-year old one, which is still more than sufficiently powerful for my development server needs, can be found for as little as little as $50-$100 if you are *extremely* lucky and if you buy it without any kind of warranty or support from some random unknown person on eBay.  In my experience, about 1 out of every three of these extremely cheap questionable used systems that I buy have some kind of serious hardware problem wrong with them.  However, I take that into account-- at $50-$100 a pop I can afford to buy three of them, and if all three of them work that's a plus for me, otherwise I have spare machines to use for parts to make sure that I get at least one of them working.  I don't necessarily do this because I want to-- believe me, it would be really nice to actually have some top-of-the-line, state-of-the-art, high-end performance hardware one of these days.  Instead, I do it because I have to, because I needed a development server for my work and I couldn't afford to just go out and buy one new from a vendor.  Believe me, there are definitely times where I get sick of having nothing that is new and tons of hardware that isn't working, forcing me to have to take time from working on my projects just to troubleshoot them.

I bring this up because I don't see why you had to subject yourself to such frustration.  You mentioned at the very beginning of your post that you had bought your expensive high-end gaming laptop brand new from a vendor called Pro-Star.  Didn't Pro-Star offer any kind of warranty or support period for their products, especially since I am assuming that you paid some serious money to purchase a high-end gaming laptop that was new from them?  You would think that they would have offered a warranty for the period of a year at a minimum.  I for one would never pay full-price for any brand new high-end machine if it came with no basic faulty parts replacement warranty, and I may even be tempted to purchase an extended warranty if it was from a major vendor such as Dell, Lenovo, or HP.  That way, if any of that expensive hardware installed in the shiny brand new machine is faulty out of the box, or dies soon afterward, the vendor has to pony up for the replacement part and make things right.  If I had to troubleshoot a monitor backlight, hinge sensor, or graphics card on a brand new machine I would be p*ssed, and immediately be on the phone with the vendor for a replacement.  Having stuff go bad on mistreated 5 to 20-year old heavily used equipment that was bought from an electronics recycler on the cheap is part of the game, but having hardware go bad on a sparkling new expensive high-end machine is something that you shouldn't have to suffer through dealing with.

So I have to ask-- was your gaming laptop already a couple years old and out of warranty when all of these hardware issues started happening, did you never have any kind of a warranty plan to begin with, or did you decide not to exchange the parts that were warrantied through the vendor for some reason?

I also read up on the idea of baking the graphics card. For those that don't know (assuming you're still reading by this point. :D ), it's a DIY way of reflowing the cold solder connection on a PCB. Basically, it's not uncommon for the connections between the chips and the boards to have micro-cracks in the solder from the factory. As it ages, they get worse and open up, causing a failure. By putting it in your oven and baking it (make sure it's RoHS compliant lead free or you risk toxic fumes and/or contaminating your oven), you soften the solder and allows it to essentially melt the crack together. There's more to it than that, so make sure you research just how to do it if you have a problem that you think this may help fix. It's not meant to be the first, but rather the last ditch effort before considering a PCB to be completely gone and results may not be permanent.

I have never gone and attempted anything this extreme with any of my not properly functioning hardware.  First of all, I have a soldering iron, and I would attempt to re-solder a cold joint with that before I would ever even consider sticking a graphics card into an oven.  God knows what applying such heat to all of those tiny little surface mount components might accidentally do to them-- not all of them are heat tolerant.  And if it ever did come to the point where the problem is looking so grim that placing the graphics card into an oven is starting to look like a viable option, that's when I start looking for a replacement graphics card.  Now, keep in mind that new expensive graphics cards generally have factory warranties-- I had a relatively expensive eVGA-brand graphics card crap out once, but never spent any time trying to troubleshoot it.  It was still under its factory warranty, so I had the manufacturer send me a replacement.

With my battered used systems where I have no warranty support, I would still probably just replace the card before I would stick it in an oven.  For example, I had a Sun Blade 2500 workstation that had an XVR-600 graphics accelerator card that had a fan on it with bad bearings.  The card still worked O.K., but the fan on that graphics card just made the most awful noises imaginable while those bad bearings ground away.  The noise was so bad that it actually caused me to stop using the computer so that I wouldn't lose my sanity.  If I was "tougher" or some kind of masochist I suppose I could have tried to somehow find a compatible replacement fan for the card, find a way to remove the old fan which I think was epoxied on, and then attach the new fan to the card... but instead of going through all of that work trying to fix the card I just ended up buying a much better used XVR-1200 graphics accelerator card on eBay for $25 and replaced it.  Do I get any "hack value" for resolving my problem that way?  No, but I saved myself a lot of aggravation for what was probably a better outcome.  Besides, I still have that old loud XVR-600 graphics accelerator card sitting in my parts box, so if I ever feel the need to try to replace the bad fan on it I always still can.  I guess what I am trying to say is that whenever something goes wrong I go through a cost-benefit analysis of whether or not it would be better to try to fix it, replace it, or ditch it.  There are definitely times where the time and effort involved to try to attempt to repair something is just not worth the savings in money that you get from not buying a replacement.  Besides, I have more than 90 computers of various kinds living in my basement with me now and probably a dozen of them or more could use some serious troubleshooting work and multiple replacement parts.  When you have that many systems in need of repair and parts-sourcing sitting on your plate, you just can't afford to spend a massive amount of time and effort on just one of them.

When I put it all back together, I tried to boot the system again just to see if maybe the loose connection was with the card or something itself. It didn't even freaking POST. Crap. I figure maybe I jarred something loose on the graphics card, so I pulled it out and decided to try and bake it. After doing so, the system still wouldn't even POST. I put it away for a few days to let my frustration die down some until tonight. I was wondering if maybe the memory chip had something to do with it, so I pulled it out and powered up the system with just the one other chip left in. It started to boot right up, and the light was on to boot. To see if it was just a bad seat from the first time I pulled it or if the chip itself went bad, I put it back in and booted up again just fine.

I've had this happen with both RAM chips and microprocessors.  There was one time a Sun Blade 1500 workstation that I bought wouldn't stay powered on.  It would turn on for a split-second, and then immediately power down.  No POST, no BIOS beep codes, nothing.  After trying a dozens things to get it to work, I was starting to think that it was a lost cause and that I was going to have to ship it back to the recycler for a refund or use it as a parts machine.  At one point I decided while looking at the motherboard of the computer that I had never really seen what an UltraSPARC IIIi microprocessor looked like out of its socket up close and in-person before, and since the machine was toast anyway I figured that I might as well remove the CPU cooler, unlatch the UltraSPARC IIIi from its socket, and take a good look at it.  After I was done inspecting the chip, I placed it back in its socket, re-latched it in, and re-attached the CPU cooler.  After putting the whole system back together I decided to try to power it on once more "just in case."  And what do you know, the system turned on, worked great, and I have never had a problem with it since!  So even though the UltraSPARC IIIi CPU was initially latched into place in its socket like it should have been, apparently it somehow still wasn't seated correctly, and after I ended up re-seating it the system worked.  Go figure!  So these kinds of things do happen!

In closing, I'd just like to say... I'm sure Hoagiebot would be proud of this post. :P

LOL!  If anything, I just proved that I don't just write giant walls-of-text for the misery of others, but that I also happily consume walls-of-text written by others as well!  Actually, I do have to compliment you on your excellent detective work and perseverance with troubleshooting your laptop.  That was some truly excellent deductions that you made and an amazing amount of work that you went through, and I am glad to hear that your efforts panned out and that you were successful with solving your laptop's problem.  I definitely tip my hat to you sir-- I would have given up and thrown money at the problem way before I got to the point of throwing a graphics card into an oven like you did!

Offline Narei Mooncatt

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Re: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« Reply #2 on: January 14, 2012, 01:13:16 pm »
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So I have to ask-- was your gaming laptop already a couple years old and out of warranty when all of these hardware issues started happening, did you never have any kind of a warranty plan to begin with, or did you decide not to exchange the parts that were warrantied through the vendor for some reason?
Yeah, it was already a couple years old or so and out of warranty, so the only thing Pro-Star would tell me is they'd give me an RMA number to ship it back to them (they don't have retail stores to hand over in person) and they would repair it. They wouldn't give me any suggestions on probable causes and such, but I didn't expect that anyway considering how many things it could be that went wrong. I could have bought a 3 year extended warranty, but it was insanely expensive and I would almost say worth it. As you see, it never needed to go back in. Even if I did have it, I'm very leery about shipping a laptop anywhere myself because I have to worry about proper packing for safe travel and hope one of the package carriers doesn't have sticky fingers. Not to mention there's no telling how much they'd charge to repair it. Considering it was indeed the graphics card, I'd have been out upwards of $700-800 if they used a new (leftover, since it's no longer made) card plus labor. The card alone is $600 brand new. I even looked at used ones when I realized what my problem was, and those STARTED at about $250 with no warranty and untested by the reseller. So yeah, I wanted to exhaust all my other options before sending it in.

Quote
I have never gone and attempted anything this extreme with any of my not properly functioning hardware.  First of all, I have a soldering iron, and I would attempt to re-solder a cold joint with that before I would ever even consider sticking a graphics card into an oven.  God knows what applying such heat to all of those tiny little surface mount components might accidentally do to them-- not all of them are heat tolerant.  And if it ever did come to the point where the problem is looking so grim that placing the graphics card into an oven is starting to look like a viable option, that's when I start looking for a replacement graphics card.
Like I said, when thinking about the oven trick, it's a last ditch efford type fix. Kind of a "Well, looks like I have to buy a new one anyway, so may as well try it. Nothing left to loose" type mentality. And good luck trying to find the right joint to solder by hand and do so without shorting it out with an adjoining connector. Those joints are so small, it'd be near impossible to do, assuming you found the faulty joint to begin with. With hundereds of joints on the board and no schematic to even begin to guess which chip controlled the light, it would be pointless to even try. They do make reflow workstations that do this as well. The oven trick is just the quick and dirty way of doing so. As a side note, if you have an Xbox 360 with the red ring of death, wrapping it completely in towels and running it about an hour does essentially the same thing as they're known for these same type of connection problems as well. Only it's self baking. Or would that be slow cooking? :P

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I definitely tip my hat to you sir-- I would have given up and thrown money at the problem way before I got to the point of throwing a graphics card into an oven like you did!
Much appreciated. I wasn't working on this problem constantly for the entire time it was faulty. There was a long period after the initial shop visit that I didn't even touch it because of this issue (I was using a backup at the time). It wasn't until I got that new graphical program that I was testing on my tv, resulting in the backlight popping on again, that I started putting two and two, and three and three together. At this point, it became something of a challenge to myself to see just how deep this rabbit hole goes and if I could at least find the source of the problem. Even if I couldn't fix it, I would havee just been satisfied I knew the problem since I wouldn't be able to afford a proper repair for some time, and by then would likely just look at getting a new gamer system.
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Offline redyoshi49q

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Re: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« Reply #3 on: January 14, 2012, 02:27:25 pm »
It's nice to know that putting computer hardware into the oven is even remotely kosher.  I have two working flash drive chips (they were once flash drives, but then their casings broke off, and one of them even has their four USB signal pins bent at about a 135 degree angle) that I've been thinking about turning into USB "pet rock" flash drives by encasing them in a hard substance.  My biggest problem with that is that the only material that I could think of that seemed appropriate (polymer clay) needed to be baked in an oven.  If hardware can cope being put under 385 degrees of heat, it could almost certainly withstand 175-200 or so degrees of heat.

Thanks for your inadvertent education, Narei!
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Offline Narei Mooncatt

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Re: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« Reply #4 on: January 14, 2012, 02:46:50 pm »
I don't know if a circuit board could withstand extended periods of baking without damaging the chips themselves, but I do know my cpu reaches about 165+ F under load and my gpu has hit about 180. Good luck and I would suggest researching as much as you can before doing your idea.
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Offline Ziel

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Re: MWAHAHAHA..... The Beast lives!!!!!!!!
« Reply #5 on: January 18, 2012, 05:46:24 pm »
This is actually not the first time I've heard about somebody doing this with a graphics card. Though the other person I knew of cooked it at a lower temperature (200-250F sticks out in my mind) for a tad longer (maybe just 10-12 minutes).

You can also put hard drives in the freezer to attempt to get them to run long enough to retrieve data. Just put them in an airtight bag so they don't get condensation.

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