PC diagnosis, please

My Dell XPS has surely started to fail, but I’m not sure what the best course of action is. I don’t remember how old it is — my guess is only about three years — and the symptoms make me wonder if I just need to replace a part or reinstall Windows rather than buy a new machine and take on the PITA factor of transferring all my stuff and recycling the old one.

This summer, while I was playing those Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! games, a fan started kicking in suddenly already at high speed — just WHOOOSH out of nowhere, and then subsiding to normal near-silence after a few seconds. Sometimes it seemed to be linked to putting the game window behind another window, but it usually didn’t seem to correlate with anything I’d done. There was no screen noise or software hang or anything like that, just the fan.

I opened the case to blow out dust, thinking it must be overheating. But there was hardly a speck of dust, no matter how or where I blasted. The whooshing continued unaffected.

This week the PC wouldn’t wake up from sleep, so I did a hard restart, but Windows (10) couldn’t start. The Dell startup BIOS or whatever it is gave me troubleshooting options. The restart option just brought me to the same place. The other options were 1) reinstalling Windows and losing my software but keeping my files and 2) starting everything totally over.

I had somewhere to go, so I did a hard shutdown. The next day I started up again…And WIndows loaded. Fan behavior the same. Lasted a few days, and then this morning I was watching Critical Role on Youtube when the screen suddenly turned into static vertical black pinstripes on a white background (looked quite nice, actually) and everything froze 100%. A hard restart sent me back to the paragraph above.

Reinstalling Windows and all my apps isn’t so very terrible, but it too is a PITA, and if my hardware is failing what’s the point?

So is my whole PC failing, in which case I’ll buy a new one and transfer everything as best I can? Is one component failing (fan? graphics card?) that I should just replace? Or is it a Windows problem and I should just reinstall? Or is there both a hardware and a Windows problem?

Doubt its a windows problem. Do you have a spare graphics card to test?

Also are you monitoring graphics card temps? What brand is it? Can you tell if the GPU is the fan you hear spinning up?

I am guessing your system is Intel based, if its in the last few years you will have on board video built into your cpu.

It’s a hardware problem, basically disable/remove everything you can and test it out. Also run a memory test, monitor temperatures, and run SMART tests on your disk(s).

Sounds like it could be a couple different issues, honestly. The hard drive could be failing as well as the video card.

If you are using onboard video it could also be a general issue with the motherboard.

Do yourself a favor if you haven’t in a while and back up your important giles to a usb stick.

For what it’s worth, my 10-year-old XPS 8100 lasted for several years before I started replacing things. Only original parts in it now are the motherboard, CPU and case.

One issue I never really figured out, which led me to speeding up my efforts to retire it completely, was an occasional boot issue similar to what you described. At one point I was dead in the water for about a day or two, but after some troubleshooting it finally booted. I don’t know what fixed it and it seemed almost random. The fan (CPU fan I think) still spins up quite often, though, and seemingly unnecessarily. I’ll be retiring it (hopefully) tomorrow.

You might need a new CMOS battery. I came very close to replacing mine with one of these, but didn’t end up needing to when things seemed to more or less randomly stabilize.

Thanks, guys.

I haven’t succeeded in getting Windows started again, so followed prompts to turn off the PC and opened the case. There’s a tiny, bright orange light shining from the motherboard. As far as I can separate its tiny label from the surrounding ones, it’s labeled “AUX PWR.” Is this just because I’ve turned off the PC, or is it indicative in some way of what the problem may be?

Oh, it’s normal. What a drag.

Sounds like maybe the video card is either overheating or failing. Maybe? Are you running on discrete or does this thing have an Nvidia or AMD card as well?

Looks like overheating issues I’ve seen ages ago. It’s certainly a hardware issue, and those are a pain in the ass to track down as there’s no manual for it and the effects tend to be unpredictable and can be anywhere. You also run the risk of replacing a part, only to find out the replacement keeps frying for some reason - that was some expensive nonsense at the time. The joy of laptops…
Moral of the story for me was to not spend too much on fixing computers, at least not without trying spare parts first. Which I almost never have, but others might.

Well, I pulled the plug on the graphics card (AMD), dug out an HDMI cable and connected it to the integrated graphics thingie, swtiched input on my monitor, and kapweeng, it works. I also unplugged the second HD, but I doubt that’s it. Yay for now!

Maybe I should buy a new PC anyway, but right now I’m backing up my whole users folder to an external HD. Top priority is e-mail, but Thunderbird export doesn’t seem to be responding and I may not have time to figure it out. Music et al. was already backed up.

Thanks for the clues!

[edit] Oh, my bad, it’s AMD. You can tell how much attention I pay to this stuff anymore, hee hee.

Yeah as dumb and useless I feel the onboard Intel video usually is, once in awhile it does come in handy.

I must say the PC is a lot quieter now. If the integrated video can run Armikrog (which I just bought for like $2.50) maybe I’ll stick with it.

Thinking more about this advice, I’m sure you’re right. Best not to take any chances on keeping a jalopy limping along. Thanks!

How dirty is the graphics card?
It sounds like it’s possible that it’s just full of dust and crap, and couldn’t cool itself.

Although overheating may have actually damaged the card at this point… but if it’s real dirty, get some canned air and just blow it out and see if that improves things.

To add to what Timex said, fans do fail. The ones on graphics cards can sometimes be a pain in the rear to replace, if even possible. If you can find out what model card you had, maybe someone here has something within close range that would work.

Google’s inability to find an image of Rupert Giles with a stake is ruining my joke attempt. Syringe, yes. Pointy stick, no.

LOL well, typing from my phone is hard.

Typing! We slide on phones, nowadays!

To me, this sounds a lot like the video card is overheating. I had a really similar issue on my old PC. Putting a new GTX 1060 6gb (new at the time) fixed all of my issues. My Radeon HD 7970 was just done working I guess, and it was time to update anyway.

I would say the best way to handle this issue is to keep using the onboard graphics and if you have no issues with the PC, then you have pinpointed that this is a graphics card issue, and take this opportunity to upgrade.

But don’t buy at 2080

Is that a store? I’ll avoid it.

[edit]What, I can’t split quotes anymore? Back to the old software!