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HARDWARE GUIDES

Troubleshooting Laptop Instabilities
By: Barzan "Tony" Antal
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    2008-05-06

    Table of Contents:
  • Troubleshooting Laptop Instabilities
  • System Instabilities
  • System Instabilities, Continued
  • Final Words

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    Troubleshooting Laptop Instabilities - System Instabilities


    (Page 2 of 4 )

    Let’s assume for a moment that you have access to another computer in working condition; you are reading this article, right? This means that you have access to the Internet. Therefore, we are going to “gather” the software utilities (freeware) that we’ll need during our troubleshooting routine.

    Each time you are troubleshooting a computer—let it be desktop or notebook—you need to test the following components: LCD (dead or stuck pixels?), RAM (how does it perform?), CPU (does it overheat?), PSU (can it keep up with the on-load power requirements?), HDD (does its motor spin? what is its condition? does it contain bad blocks?), GPU (does it overheat?), and a few others… we’ll see later on.

    The first tool you need is Memtest86+. This utility is an advanced memory diagnostic tool and is probably one of the world’s best applications for troubleshooting faulty memory. You can download one of its versions, burn it onto a rewritable CD or DVD disc, or you may use a bootable USB or floppy; it is pretty much irrelevant.

    You boot up with Memtest86+ and let it run for hours, preferably 24 hours. More often than not, however, the problem will be diagnosed and pointed out in the first few minutes (or hours) -- as soon as it begins its testing routine. If it finds problems, then try the following tips: re-seat the memory sticks, swap them with each other (if more than one), and try cleaning the contacts with isopropyl alcohol. Retest again.

    Should you still experience problems, then chances are at least one (if not more) of your memory sticks is faulty. If you have more than one, then try running one stick and testing with Memtest86+. This way you can diagnose which one is defective. If your laptop has only one memory stick and you are absolutely sure it’s faulty, then purchasing a replacement should solve this hardware problem.

    Another utility that we should rely on during troubleshooting is Orthos Stress Prime. It is based on the Prime95 application, but Orthos maxes out all of your cores (if more than one). This utility is able to stress test your system. You should select either the “Blend – Stress CPU and RAM” option or the “Small FFTs – Stress CPU” option.

    Let it stress test your laptop for a longer period of time, but keep an eye on your temperatures. Relying on internal sensors isn’t the best option; I have written an article on this topic already and you can read it here. Due to this, you should also check with your hands every now and then how hot the laptop becomes after 100% continued on-load usage.

    If it can’t keep up with the stress, overheats, or perhaps automatically shuts down, then do the following: disassemble your laptop (with lots of care) and try to clean out the dust and whatnot. You may want to re-seat the heat sink on your CPU. And replace the thermal compound with some aftermarket quality high-density polysynthetic silver thermal paste, such as Arctic Silver 5.

    However, as I mentioned earlier, do not forget that disassembling a laptop computer requires much more attention and skill than disassembling a desktop does. Why? Because there are lots of tiny components that you can harm, along with different screws and half-dozen (or more) cables and connectors going different ways. This is where I personally use a permanent CD/DVD marker and write down where some of the not-so-obvious connectors go (such as: “white – here,” “red – there,” etc.); you’ll be glad you did.

    Before you actually attack your laptop with a screwdriver, calm down and think. A quick Google search on “Disassembling Toshiba Satellite Pro” or something along these lines should not take more than 30 seconds. You may even want to search for the servicing manual of your particular laptop model. This is important because disassembling might seem easier than assembling when you’re done.

    Another note of warning on the actual disassembly and assembly process is always be “extra careful.” You may fiddle with lots of clips; you don’t want to break one of them because who knows how you will reassemble the laptop then? The next “tough” task is connecting the keyboard and touch-pad/accu-point mouse connectors.

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