Archive for November, 2013

We tackle the five most pressing problems in each major component category!

It’s happened to us all. You get home from a long day at work and you want to blow off some steam with an hour of gaming or maybe browsing the web, but when you tap your mouse button or punch the power switch, the unthinkable happens. You’re SOL.

Whether the system is red-lining, the OS is BSODing, or your Internet is slow, this frustration is familiar to any person who drives a PC. You’re faced with a problem that stops you dead in your tracks. If you’re a savvy self-tech, you run through your proverbial checklist of areas to look at. But not everyone is so experienced, and even old hands have holes in their troubleshooting repertoire. So, in the interest of providing the most useful advice to the greatest number of people, we’ve compiled a list of the top five problems that could impact each of your computer’s major hardware or software subsystems and our best advice on how to fix them. This is our indepth computer repair guide.

Storage Problems

What to do when your hard disk is dying and your SSD is sputtering

Problem: Hard Drive Disappears

Solution: If it’s a drive that was previously visible, the first step is to see if the drive shows up in the BIOS (check under Boot). If not, swap out the SATA and/or power cables. If the drive shows up, run CHKDSK on it by right-clicking the drive in My Computer, choosing Properties, then the Tools tab, and then “Check now” and “Automatically fix file systems errors.” If the drive continues to give a ton of errors, and is behaving erratically but is visible in Windows, copy all data off it immediately if you can, or run Data Recovery on it STAT. If the drive is not visible in Windows, your options are limited to the Freezer Trick (an hour or so of extreme cold sometimes sets things straight) or expensive forensic-style data recovery.

If this is a brand-new drive that’s not showing up, you need to initialize it first. Right-click My Computer and select Manage, then Disk Management and follow the prompts.

Problem: Optical Drive Disappears

Solution: This classic conundrum involves either a missing drive or one that stops functioning suddenly. Put on your big-boy pants and type regedit in the Start menu search box, then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Class\{4D36E965-E325-11CE-BFC1-08002BE10318}. If you see an entry named UpperFilters, delete it. If you see an entry named LowerFilters, delete it. Once you’ve done this, exit Regedit and reboot your system. In most scenarios, your optical drive will reappear and/or magically begin working again. Note that you may have to reinstall software that accesses the optical drive (e.g., burning software) to get back to 100 percent functionality.

Problem: Drive Not Reporting Full Capacity

Solution: This is usually an issue with 3TB or 4TB drives, as 2TB drives should have zero issues in Win7 (WinXP users might have to download a utility from the drive’s manufacturer to allow for a drive with 4K sectors). Out of the box these 3/4TB drives are typically MBR disks, which limits a partition to 2TB (actually, 1.8TB or so) relegating the rest to a separate partition. If you want the full capacity in one partition, you need to convert the disk to GPT. To do this, type cmd at the Start search box; at the prompt type diskpart, then list disk, then select disk X (substituting X for your drive number), then convert GPT. Now go to Disk Management and create your massive single partition.

Problem: SSD Performance Is Slow

Solution: If you’re using a hard drive and it feels slow, don’t worry; that’s how they are for the most part. If you’re using an SSD and its slow, there is a problem. If you’re not sure if it’s slower than spec, download CrystalDiskMark and see what kind of sequential-read/write speeds you are getting. Second, make sure the drive is connected to the native SATA 6Gb/s ports on the motherboard. You can’t rely on color, only your mobo manual, to tell. Third, go into the BIOS and make sure the SATA port for that drive is set to AHCI mode instead of IDE mode, as that will usually give you better performance.

Problem: AHCI Causes BSOD (blue screen of death)

Solution: Sometimes, people install Windows 7 without AHCI enabled, only to find out that enabling it after the install causes a BSOD. To fix this, you have to edit the registry. Press Windows + R key, type regedit, then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\services\msahci. Then right-click the word Start on the right-side and click Modify. Change the value in the window to “0” and click OK. Exit Regedit, reboot the system, and change your SATA controller to AHCI; you will boot right into Windows.


What to do when it won’t plug nor play

Problem: Some USB Ports Don’t Work

Solution: Nonfunctional USB ports could be caused by a few things. If the ports are front-mounted, make sure the internal cables are connected properly and that the requisite USB header is enabled in your system BIOS. If the ports are soldered on the motherboard (and enabled), open up Device Manager and see if any USB root controller or hubs are reporting a problem. If so, a driver update/reinstallation may resolve the issue. It’s also possible that the physical connectors have been damaged (or a fuse has blown), in which case you’ll have to re-solder some new ones onto the board. If the USB ports are associated with a third-party controller, be sure its drivers are installed, because Windows may not recognize the controller automatically.

Problem: Slow File Transfer over USB

Solution: Windows Vista and 7 have some known USB performance issues, so the first thing to do is run Windows Update and make sure your OS is fully patched. We’d also advise installing the latest drivers for your motherboard’s chipset and any discrete USB controllers. You could also try setting the USB drive to performance mode. Open Device Manager, right-click the USB drive, and choose Properties from the menu. In the resulting window, click the Policies tab and tick the option labeled “Better performance.” Please note, this feature will enable write caching, so you’ll have to use the Safely Remove Hardware option when disconnecting the drive to prevent any data loss.

Problem: USB Hub Doesn’t Work

Solution: This problem is almost always caused by insufficient power being supplied to the hub. If the hub came with an AC adapter, make sure it’s plugged in and working properly. And if you’ve got the hub plugged into a front-mounted USB port, try connecting it to a rear port that is soldered onto your mobo. Rear-mounted ports can usually provide more power (or more stable power), which can resolve some issues with finicky hubs.

Problem: Charging Phone over PC’s USB Port Takes Forever

Solution: Standard USB 2.0 ports connected on a root hub have to share 500mA of current (USB 3.0 powers up to 900mA). If you’ve got a bunch of USB devices connected and the port your phone is plugged into is competing for limited power, it will take much longer than normal to charge. Try plugging the phone into a different port (preferably USB 3.0, if possible) or disconnecting other USB devices while charging.

It’s worth noting that some motherboard manufacturers—such as Gigabyte—have begun incorporating high-powered USB ports that can deliver up to 2.7A of current onto their boards. If you want to rapidly charge devices while they’re connected to your system, it may be worth checking out one of these boards.

Problem: USB Device Is Not Recognized

Solution: USB devices are usually as plug-and-play as you can get, but if a particular device isn’t recognized properly, it may be incompatible with your USB controller or require drivers to be manually installed. Compatibility is very good with USB controllers native to modern chipsets, but we’ve seen some incompatibilities with some discrete USB 3.0 controllers that are yet to be resolved. Should you need to install drivers for the device, plug it into a USB port, then go to Device Manager, right-click the device, and choose Update Drive Software from the menu. Then, you can search the web for drivers automatically or point the wizard to any drivers downloaded from the device manufacturer’s website.

Video Cards

Gee, pee-yew!

Problem: GPU Is Slow

Solution: If your GPU is lagging, the first stop on the road to redemption is a driver update. Both Nvidia and AMD are engaged in a drivers arms race, with each company updating its drivers with an OCD-like frequency that’s impressive. And always check to see if there’s a new driver before you launch a brand-new game. You can find your driver version easily in both Catalyst Control Center under Information/Software, and in the Nvidia Control Panel. Overheating can also cause the GPU to throttle its clock speeds, so monitor your temps using the software provided by your GPU manufacturer.

Problem: Multicard Setup Not Working

Solution: Dual-card setups can be problematic for a number of reasons, and getting them recognized by Windows is the first challenge. If CrossFireX/SLI isn’t an option you see in the software, ignore your motherboard’s color coding and move the second card to a different PCIe slot. Games are a different story, as the drivers have to include a profile for a certain game, benchmark, or application to allow both cards to function, so there is usually a bit of a wait after a game comes out for a compatible driver (EVGA uniquely offers temporary profiles for new games). Assuming dual-card mode is enabled in the drivers, and the game has been out awhile, your SLI/CrossFireX bridge could be faulty, but that is rare. You can try forcing dual-card mode via the Catalyst Control Center or Nvidia Control Panel, but success is hit-or-miss when doing this.

Problem: Screen Corruption and Artifacts

Solution: Graphical corruption is usually due to one of two things: a video card that is either overheating or dying. First, check your temps using software like MSI Afterburner, EVGA Precision X, Asus GPU Tweak, GPU-Z, etc. Anything below 80 C is fine but a well-cooled card typically doesn’t exceed 70 C. Second, take your GPU out of the case and give it a good cleaning with compressed air, and after you reinstall it, put some cool air on it by removing the case door for a bit, or manually turn up the fans to 100 percent using the above-mentioned software. To see if your card is dying, try running it in a friend’s system to test; conversely, use his or her card in your system. Also, if you are overclocking, immediately go back to stock speeds.

Problem: Display and Resolution Issues

Solution: While not as common, you should never overlook a cable/connection issue as the cause of your problem. If you are running 2560×1600 resolution, you probably need a dual-link DVI cable (and therefore a dual-link DVI port on the video card, as well—some DVI ports are single-link, so check). DisplayPort also runs at 2560×1600, but VGA and single-link DVI do not. Also double-check the input source for your LCD, as that’s a mistake that even non-rookies make. And double-check the cable you’re using—swap it out if possible.

Problem: Second Display Not Recognized

Solution: First, make sure you are running the latest drivers. Many systems that are running the default Windows drivers have issues with this. Second, make sure you have gone into the control panel of the drivers to enable the second display. Third, some DVI ports do not work if you are using a VGA-DVI adapter, so if there are two ports on your card, try them both. If you have everything set normally in the drivers, make sure your Windows settings are configured properly, and that you have multiple displays enabled.

Click the next page for CPU fixes and more!




It’s usually not the culprit

Problem: CPU Is Overheating

Solution: Don’t assume that high temps automatically warrant a new heatsink. The cooler is likely dust-clogged (try cleaning it), or the fan is dying (requiring a replacement). Or the heatsink has been poorly installed—remove it and remount it with new thermal paste. (Incidentally, degraded thermal paste alone can be the culprit. Here are our picks for the best thermal paste). Other possible causes include the case fans—clean and check them. Or a newer, hotter GPU could have swamped your case’s ability to stay cool. A BIOS update could also change the fan profiles from what you had set. Also keep this in mind: If your CPU is seemingly running “hot” but the machine isn’t blue-screening or throttling clock speed, you probably don’t have to sweat it.

Problem: CPU Is Slow

Solution: CPU performance issues typically come from misconfiguration in the BIOS or overheating. First, verify your chip’s clock speed by running CPU-Z ( while running a CPU load in Cinebench 11.5 ( If the clocks are correct (remember, chips don’t Turbo under heavy loads on all cores), compare your Cinebench 11.5 scores with others on the Internet. The scores should be within a few percentage points of others. If the scores are close, the CPU is not “slow;” it’s something else in your system. If the scores don’t match, you may have a thermal issue. Check that your heatsink hasn’t come loose, reapply thermal paste, and clean the heatsink and fans. A BIOS update could also be needed, as well.

Problem: CPU Is Unstable

Solution: CPUs rarely “go bad.” They typically work or don’t work. Usually, it’s everything around them that breaks. If you’re overclocking, stop. Try to isolate CPU problems by running a CPU-intensive app such as Prime95. If it blue-screens, check thermal issues first (see “CPU Is Overheating”). Also check your RAM with Memtest86+ ( Check your power supply connectors to the mobo and GPU. If the PSU is overheating and failing, it could cause crashes. Failing PSUs cause power sags, which can look like a bad CPU, too. If you have a known good PSU you can swap in, do so. Oddly enough, a failing GPU can resemble a CPU failure, so if you have a spare GPU or an integrated option, try switching to it and testing again.

Problem: CPU Is Always Under a Heavy Load

Solution: Heavy CPU usage can be a sign of malware, so make sure your AV is updated and run a full system scan. Also consider running a secondary scan using Malwarebytes Free ( and any of the free web-based scanners such as those from Trend Micro, Bit Defender, or ESET. Also check to see that your own AV app isn’t thrashing the system by doing a scan—check the running processes in Task Manager (Ctrl + Alt + Del, Start Task Manager, select Processes.) Click the CPU column to sort by usage and begin searching the Internet for each suspicious process name.

Problem: CPU Only Works in Single-Channel Mode

Solution: First, make sure the RAM is OK by running Memtest86+ ( If the RAM clears, check the slots for debris and swap out the DIMMs for known good RAM. If crashing persists when put into dual-channel mode, you likely bent a pin installing your CPU. We’ve seen this on LGA1366 and LGA1155 platforms several times. It can be fixed by taking a sharp knife and carefully straightening the pin in the socket (or on the CPU in AMD chips).


Why can’t it just work?

Problem: Internet Connection Drops

Solution: The most likely culprit is your ISP (Internet Service Provider), so prepare to wait on hold. Before you do, though, try some basic troubleshooting.

If your system(s) connects through a router, connect the system directly to your modem to see if the router has a problem, and also cycle the power on your broadband modem. But don’t just quickly hit its power switch or reset button. Unplug it from power for a few seconds. Plug it back in and wait for the modem to resync with your ISP’s network before testing the connection again. If you find yourself resetting your modem monthly or even weekly to resolve Internet connectivity issues, a call to your ISP is in order. There may be an issue that only a modem replacement or a service tech can fix.

Problem: File Downloads Take Forever, Ping Times Suck

Solution: Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t any tweaks that will significantly speed up or improve Internet connection speeds. If your connection is usually fast, but slows during peak hours or only when connecting to certain sites, there may not be much you can do. You should certainly run a broadband test to see where your speeds actually are. ISPs usually have a guaranteed speed band that, if you’re under, they will either fix or charge you less for. Also, power cycle your modem and router. Check your router’s log to see if you have an unauthorized guest sapping speed. Streaming Internet cameras, or streaming Netflix to multiple devices will also sap performance.

Problem: Can’t Access New Server/NAS/PC from other Systems

Solution: There are a number of things that could cause a new system/NAS to be inaccessible from other machines on a network. First, make sure the new system is definitely connected to the LAN properly and that its network controller is active. And also check that the system’s configured with the correct IP address. If the server or NAS is on a different subnet, for example, it may appear to be connected to a network, but it won’t be visible to your other systems. With a standalone NAS device, you’ll have to log into its configuration menu, navigate to the LAN settings, and then enter the proper IP address (or set it to DHCP). To change an IP address on Windows 7 systems, you’ll want to go to Network and Sharing Center, click the Local Area Connection, then click the Properties button, highlight Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4), and then click Properties again. You can change the system’s IP address on the General tab.

It’s also possible that your client PC has network discovery disabled or an overzealous firewall that won’t let the system see other devices, so check that, too.

Problem: SSID Appears but Can’t Connect Using Wi-Fi

Solution: Wi-Fi connectivity problems are almost always caused by interference or firmware and/or driver incompatibilities. The first thing to try is to simply reset your wireless router in case something’s gone wonky that a reboot might fix. Pull your router’s power cord, wait a few seconds, and then plug it back in. Once the router has fully booted, try to connect again.

If the issue persists, the wireless channel being used by your router may be congested. Download a utility like Insider ( to your laptop, or Wi-Fi Analyzer to your smartphone, and scan the wireless networks in the area. If your router is using the same channel as many others within range, log into your router’s configuration menu, navigate to the wireless network section, and change the channel to the one that’s least used in the area.

If that doesn’t help, try updating the router’s firmware. Hit your router manufacturer’s website and check for a firmware update. If one is available, download it, and then log into the router’s configuration menu and apply the update (this process will vary from router to router—consult your manual). Once the firmware update is installed, configure the wireless network settings and try connecting again. Updating the drivers for your wireless network controller is worth a shot, too.

Problem: Internet Connection Is Unreliable

Solution: Unreliable or intermittent Internet connections are usually the result of a hardware or signal problem at some point between your PC and the web. Some of these problems you can fix, others may require a service call from your ISP.

The first thing to try is resetting your modem and router and swapping out the network cables between them. Kill the power to your modem and router, wait a few moments, and then power them back up. Also, be sure to use known good cables to connect the devices together. We can’t count how many times a faulty cable has caused funky issues on a network. If the problem persists, give your ISP a call and have it run a diagnostic to check the signal strength and quality on your line. Should your ISP find a problem, odds are it can be fixed by a service technician.


What’s made of 50 million lines of code and rarely breaks? Nothing

Problem: Windows Is Freezing

Solution: The biggest culprits here are usually malware (malicious software, whose favorite installation method is through browser exploits) or high temperatures in your case. With malware, there are no real standards for quality, so badly written ones can cause all kinds of performance issues. The stuff is also designed to be hard to find and hard to remove, so your antimalware software (Norton, McAfee, or Malwarebytes) might not remove it. In which case, you may need to reinstall Windows.

But before you nuke it from orbit, how dusty is your case? The stuff insulates whatever it’s collected on and will clog fans over time. But a can of compressed air held upright and triggered in short bursts should take care of most of it.

Case vibration over time can also loosen cables and cause random loss of signal, so make sure those are all squared away (and not chewed up by gremlins).

Lastly, if you’re overclocking your CPU or GPU, you may just need to tone that down a bit.

Problem: Blue Screen Error

Solution: The usual villains are beta GPU drivers and overclocked CPUs (but feel free to Google specific error messages). GPU drivers see the most frequent changes in enthusiast PCs, and beta versions are sometimes shaky. You can uninstall these drivers in the Add or Remove Programs section of your Control Panel (Programs and Features in Windows 8), where the files are labeled according to your brand (usually Nvidia or AMD, sometimes Intel). Then reboot and install an older version of the driver obtained from the manufacturer’s website, preferably the drivers labeled “WHQL” (for Windows Hardware Quality Labs), Microsoft’s seal of approval. Didn’t write down the BSOD info? Check out BlueScreenView (

Problem: Windows Slows Down

Solution: The most common source of this problem is a program eating up your CPU power or RAM. Sometimes it’s a memory leak, which means that a program isn’t releasing RAM that it’s no longer using, which can snowball over time to occupy all available memory. Restarting the program should fix the leak temporarily, but the long-term solution usually requires the program’s creator to produce a new version. Other times, it can be a scheduled virus scan running in the background, or even a virus or other malware.

To check background programs, press Ctrl + Shift + Esc, which opens the Task Manager. You can click the labels at the top of each column to sort alphabetically, or by CPU or RAM usage. Save your documents or whatever else you were working on at the time. Then, if a program is eating up your resources and you don’t recognize it, Google its name to determine its danger level. If it’s not supposed to be there, you may need to manually run a virus scan to remove it. Or you may just be able to right-click the program in the Task Manager list and select End Process. In some cases, simply rebooting can make sluggishness issues disappear.

Problem: Windows Update Hangs

Solution: First, is the time and date right on your PC? Microsoft has a “Fix It” file available on its support page that talks about this issue, Article ID 2700567. Just run that, and it may fix your issue. If not, you may have to use System Restore to reset Windows to before it hung on Windows Update. In Windows 8, you get there by restarting your PC, clicking the power icon on the login screen, holding down the Shift key, and selecting Restart. That will load a screen with some troubleshooting options. Select Troubleshoot, then Advanced Options. When you click System Restore, your PC will reboot in the Restore mode. Select your account, select Next on the next screen, choose your Windows drive, hit Next again, then wait for the restore process. You can hit Restart when that’s done, then redo Windows Update.

If your system isn’t booting in Windows 7 and you need to restore, you need the installation disc and access to an admin account (home desktop users have this account type by default). Pop in the disc, reboot, and press any key when your PC prompts you to (shortly after the POST, but before your current Windows installation would start loading). Click through the CD’s language, time, and input settings, select “repair your computer,” and follow the onscreen instructions. The most recent Restore Point should work. After this process reboots your computer, try Windows Update again.

Problem: Low memory

Solution: If it’s not a memory leak (see “Windows Slows Down) or other program hogging your RAM, you can try increasing your virtual memory, which is a cache that Windows stores on your hard drive. Right-click the Computer icon on your desktop and select Properties. (In Windows 8, switch to Desktop Mode to see the icon.) Click Advanced System Settings on the left. In the section labeled Performance, click the Settings button. Click the Advanced tab and click Change. Uncheck the box at the top and select Custom Size. A good rule of thumb is to set Initial Size and Maximum Size to 1.5 times your amount of RAM (listed on the Properties window you opened earlier). More than that can actually slow down your PC. Click Set and then click OK.

Editing high-def videos, high-res photos, or large audio files can eat up gigs of RAM, too. If that’s something you do, adding more RAM is not a bad idea, assuming you have available slots on the motherboard and you can find sticks of the same type and speed.

What to Do When Windows Won’t Start

Let’s say you can get your computer to perform its POST (power-on self-test, which ends with a single, short beep from your motherboard if you have a speaker installed on it), but Windows itself won’t load. Before you start sweating through Google searches, sometimes the problem is temporary and random; simply restarting your PC can make the problem go away.

If your PC tells you that a file called NTLDR.exe is missing, the problem may be more serious. Sometimes you can just create a new version of this file. For Windows 7, reboot and hit F8 just before Windows would start loading. This loads a troubleshooting menu, from which you select Repair Your Computer. This is mostly an automated process; you follow a few onscreen instructions and let Microsoft take the wheel. For Windows 8, you boot from its installation disc to access repair options, or you may have a Recovery Drive on a USB stick. To make your computer boot to those devices instead of Windows, consult your motherboard manual for the keyboard shortcut that can open your boot menu during the POST.

Sometimes, you can still boot into Safe Mode to diagnose the problem. This is a stripped-down environment—only the minimum necessary services and drivers will load. For Windows 7, this is accessed via the F8 menu mentioned above. For Windows 8, you must also hold down the Shift key when pressing F8. It may take several tries to get your timing right, because your window is small. This will load Windows 8’s recovery mode. Once there, click Troubleshoot to get a number of options, including loading a restore point, recovering from a backup drive image, accessing the command prompt to enter text commands, and altering Windows startup settings. It’s not a bad idea to try the restore point or drive image options, if you created those recently. If not, then click the Startup Settings button, then click Safe Mode. Once this mode has loaded, you can try running a virus check or uninstalling recently installed programs or drivers.

It could also be a loose data cable on the storage device that contains your Windows installation, making it invisible to your PC. You’ll want to shut down your rig, open the side panel, and do a spot check.

It’s also possible that the drive Windows is installed on is dead. Storage devices usually do not give much warning of imminent failure. At most, you’ll hear some crunchy sounds or clicking before they give up the ghost. If you install the drive in another computer and you still can’t “see” it, it’s probably a goner.


Even PCs can get insomnia

Problem: When PC Goes to Sleep, I Can’t Wake It Back Up

Solution: Systems that don’t wake up after going to sleep usually have a device connected or an internal component that misbehaves when the machine enters the sleep state. If you’re lucky, the device is throwing an error before the system hangs and you can ascertain the culprit by checking out Event Viewer (click your Start button, type event viewer in the search field, and hit Enter. Then check the system log for critical errors). If your system isn’t providing any clues, though, run Windows Update to ensure the OS is fully patched and also try updating your device drivers, especially for components like graphics cards, chipsets, and storage controllers.

It’s also possible that a device connected via USB is the root cause of the problem, so try disconnecting any nonessential devices until you figure out which one’s at fault.

Problem: Waking PC Causes Crash

Solution: A vital component or driver that doesn’t reinitialize properly when the system is coming out of the sleep state is most likely the cause of the crash. More often than not, driver and/or firmware updates can resolve issues like this one. A flaky piece of hardware, like a bad stick of RAM, can also be the root cause, but software issues are much more likely, especially if the system is stable and behaves normally otherwise. Add-in storage controllers and older graphics cards are commonly the cause of sleep-related instability, so make sure you’re using the latest drivers and firmware for both. Installing the latest BIOS on your motherboard and using the latest drivers for your chipset are also recommended.

Problem: PC Crashes When It Goes to Sleep

Solution: A few things can cause a system to constantly wake from sleep. One of the more common problems is a pesky  malware infestation that triggers some sort of scheduled task, so run a scan on your system to be sure it’s not infected.

A component in the system can also be the culprit. To find out exactly what caused your system to wake up, open a command prompt with elevated privileges (type cmd in the Start search, right-click and Run as Administrator); at the prompt type: powercfg /lastwake and the utility will list the device or service that last woke the PC. If it turns out it was a nonessential service, you can simply disable it. If a system component was the cause, open Device Manager, find the component, right-click it, and choose Properties from the menu. In the window that pops up, click the Power Management tab and uncheck the field labeled “Allow this device to wake the computer.” 

Problem: PC Won’t Go to Sleep

Solution: If your PC won’t go to sleep, check that you’ve got it configured to go to sleep in the first place. Click your Start button, type power options in the search field, and hit Enter. Then click the “Change plan settings” link for the plan you have selected and make sure there is a value in the “Put the computer to sleep” field.

If you’re certain the system is configured properly for sleep, but it still won’t power down, open a command prompt with elevated privileges and at the prompt type powercfg /requests and hit Enter to see a list of items that are preventing the system from going to sleep. Once you’ve found the culprit, disable it (if it’s nonessential) or change its Power Management settings (see above) and your PC should go to sleep.

Click the next page for the 10 Commandments of Troubleshooting.



The 10 Commandments of Troubleshooting

Important life lessons for dealing with a broken PC

1. Pause Your Overclock

Overclocking is indeed a wonderful way to get free performance, but when you are troubleshooting a mysterious issue, put a pause on your extracurricular clock-pushing.

2. Do Not Use Microsoft as a Boogey Man

It’s easy to point fingers at Microsoft for everything from the JFK assassination to, well, the Modern UI, but usually OS problems can be traced to buggy applications and drivers rather than the OS itself. Don’t get us wrong, there are still many, many bugs in Windows’ probably more than 50 million lines of code, but blaming Microsoft while throwing your hands in the air with defeat, rather than really investigating the problem, is a cop-out.

3. Unplug It

It’s common to begin working on your system with the PSU still plugged in or switched on. People forget that when the PSU is hot, power is still running through the RAM and PCIe slots. It’s very little power but there’s still a small risk of damaging components when removing parts from the motherboard, so switch off your PSU before you tinker.

4. Blame the Builder

Wires don’t unplug themselves and RAM doesn’t back out of a slot. In such cases, it’s usually a sign that the original system builder made a boo-boo. If you’re a DIYer, like us, you know who gets to eat the turd sandwich.

5. Always be Grounded

Granted, donning a grounding strap or ESD smock just to pull out a stick of RAM is a tad overkill, but you should at least touch a large metal object such as file cabinet to discharge any built-up static before touching any sensitive electronics.

6. At the First Hint of Trouble, Back Up

When your drive makes one mysterious click or when even a single NAS fan fails, do a complete backup rather than waiting and potentially feeling remorse that you didn’t act sooner.

7. When in Doubt, Reboot

Rebooting will fix more things than you can imagine, especially for those folks who put their PC to sleep rather than shutting down.

8. Retrace Your Steps

If something just broke, it’s usually the last thing that you did. So, if you installed a new AV program, a new stick of RAM, or mucked with the registry to improve performance, put the truck in reverse and beep your way back.

9. Choose the Right Time for Maintenance

Your term paper is due tomorrow morning, so it probably isn’t a good time to flash your BIOS and firmware and resize your disk partitions. Rather than turn a standard repair job into a critical emergency, choose the right time for maintenance.

10. Most Hardware Problems Can’t be Fixed

The sad thing about integrated circuits is that 80 percent of hardware issues can’t be fixed by you. Sure, you can replace a burst capacitor or bend back a socket pin, but a fried CPU, bad stick of RAM, or disabled SSD can’t be fixed no matter how many hours you burn on it. Sometimes, it’s better to just know when to fold ’em.

Go to Source

How to build a badass, silent Haswell gaming PC into an ATX chassis with a GeForce GTX 780 GPU

This month, Intel‘s “Haswell” generation of desktop CPUs landed in the Lab, so like most builders, we were itching to see how she runs. For the uninitiated, Haswell is an upgrade from Ivy Bridge in terms of power efficiency and performance, but it also comes with a whole new motherboard socket—Socket 1150. We were curious to see if our building regimen would require any adjustments. As luck would have it, Nvidia also launched its 700-series cards this month to much fanfare, and since both of these components are going to be popular parts for upgraders and system builders, we decided to jump into the deep end of the pool with both of them and see how the combo performs in gaming benchmarks.

On the CPU front, we went with Intel’s Core i7-4770K, a quad-core chip with Hyper-Threading. The video card we used is the Nvidia reference GTX 780, basically a slightly watered-down GTX Titan. We also threw in a new SSD from SanDisk, a low-noise case in the form of the Thermaltake Soprano, an alternate drive installation method, and an oversized air cooler. Our goal was to build a quiet, Haswell-based gaming rig that would give our zero-point a run for its money.

Assembling the Super Friends

You may have noticed we’ve been using a lot of cases with sound-absorbing panels lately, and you may think we’re crazy, especially since we plan to overclock, but once you’ve experienced a powerful PC emitting nothing more than a gentle hum, it’s hard to go back. This month we tapped the Thermaltake New Soprano (which received a 9/Kick Ass verdict in our February 2013 issue). Its massive 20cm front fan should drag in a lot of cool air, and the 12cm rear fan is no slouch either. We ended up making some modifications to the case’s interior layout in order to improve airflow, which we’ll talk about later.

To cool our new Haswell chip we went with a Phanteks TC14PE, which is arguably one of the best air coolers around. That should give us some extra headroom to perform overclocking duties, though the cooler’s massive size makes low-profile RAM necessary. SanDisk also has a new SSD, the Extreme II, which should give quite a boost to general desktop performance. Though the previous model, simply named Extreme SSD, was a bit of a me-too drive with its SandForce controller, this new drive has an all-new Marvell “Monet” controller and 19nm toggle NAND, so it’s primed for high performance. It even uses a tiny bit of super-expensive SLC NAND in addition to traditional MLC in a setup called two-tiered caching, which is supposed to speed up small writes from the OS.

The Intel Core i7-4770K uses Intel’s new LGA1150 socket, so we grabbed a brand-new Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H; it’s basically the Haswell version of the company’s Z77X-UD3H, which has a reputation for allowing high CPU overclocks and being extremely stable.

PART Price
Case Thermaltake New Soprano


PSU Corsair HX750 $130
Mobo Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD3H $180
CPU Intel Core i7-4770K $340
CPU Cooler Phanteks TC14PE $85 (street)
GPU Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 $650
RAM Corsair Vengeance 2x 4GB $60
SSD SanDisk Extreme II 240GB $230
HDD Seagate Barracuda 3TB $135
OS Windows 8 64-bit OEM $100
Total   $2030

1. It’s About Time

Intel has had a “tick-tock” development cycle for its last few generations of desktop CPUs, where each “tock” is a new microarchitecture. Haswell is the latest tock. Each iteration has bumped up performance 5–15 percent, depending on the task. Physically, Haswell is pretty much identical to previous comparable Intel chips, despite changing from an LGA1155 socket to LGA1150. So, we were able to just drop it in like an 1155 chip, dab some thermal paste on top, and use the CPU cooler’s installation instructions for LGA1155. We could have gone with the Core i5-4570K, which costs about $100 less than the Core i7-4770K, but none were available as of press time. And the i7 has Hyper-Threading, which is nice for multithread tasks like encoding video.

2. Taking a Byte

We chose the Gigabyte Z87X-UD3H because the Z77 version has a good rep for performance and build quality, and this board improves on it. For example, the SATA 6Gb/s port count has gone from two to eight, which is much appreciated. It also has beefier heatsinks around the CPU socket, but we were able to fit the husky Phanteks TC14PE without any obstructions (albeit with low-profile RAM).

Gigabyte has also finally upgraded its unattractive EasyTune performance-tweaking software. Before, you could only plot two points on a graph to tell the board how to manage your fan speeds. Now you have five, for much finer-grained control. You also finally have several speed presets to choose from. You won’t get as much overall tweaking as with Asus’s AI Suite II, but the BIOS should have nearly everything you need, though it’s still not as easy to navigate as we would like.

3. Going to Extremes

Storage duties are handled by Seagate’s 3TB Barracuda, which offers a lot of room for the money and is a snappy performer. It’s joined by the SanDisk Extreme 2 SSD, the sequel to a respectable SSD, with the intriguing addition of some internal SLC cache.

We removed the lower drive trays to maximize airflow for the CPU and GPU, and installed the drives in the upper section, which has a 3.5-inch drive bay with storage space for both 3.5-inch and 2.5-inch drives. We had to remove the front fan to extract the slide-out tray through the front of the case. Removing the fan requires removing the front bezel, but it snaps on and off fairly easily.

Click the next page for the final steps along with our conclusion on how well it performs.


4. Music to Our Ears

The Thermaltake New Soprano is a sleek-looking, low-noise case. The thick front door blocks noise coming from the front fan, which has intakes on the sides. The top and sides of the case do not have fan mounts, but that serves to keep the noise down. Both side panels have sound-dampening foam, with the right side’s material being thinner to accommodate cables behind the motherboard. The bottom of the case has a 12cm fan mount if you need more airflow, or if you want to put a water cooler on the CPU or GPU.

The motherboard standoffs are pre-installed, so installation went much quicker. The case has a few rubber grommets to the left of the board, and we had no trouble threading cables behind the board’s tray. Our choice of drive installation had the drive connectors facing the rear of the case, so we didn’t end up with as clean a look as we would have liked.

5. An Olympic GPU

Right now, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 780 is the second-fastest single-GPU card on the market (*Note: This article was written before the recently revealed GeForce GTX 780 Ti), behind Nvidia’s GTX Titan. It’s identical in size, and very close in gaming performance, with the main difference between the two being that the 780 has two disabled SMX units, for a total of 12, and lacks double-precision compute capability. Though we already knew the card was fast from our benchmarks, we were also eager to test the card’s heat output and noise levels in a PC that we built from scratch. Subjective tests showed it to be noticeably quieter than the Titan (and like that card, you can select a target temperature or power target according to preference). The back of the case has a bracket that helps hold down the PCI slot covers, so we had to remove that before installing the card.

The GTX 780 is 10.5 inches long, so space was a little tight with the storage drives right next to it, but it was manageable. A card that’s 11 inches or longer, such as the GTX 690 or HD 7990, would not have fit unless we installed the drives below the card.

6. Go Big or Go Home

An LGA1155 or 1150 system with a single GPU should run fine on 500 watts of power, so our Corsair HX750 was arguably overkill, but we like having some power in reserve for hot days. It’s also a modular PSU, which is better for cable management. It should also produce highly regulated power for overclocking stability, and it’s backed by a 7-year warranty. It felt like a unit worthy of a $325 CPU and $650 video card.

The Phanteks TC14PE CPU cooler is a good value for a dual-fan, dual-radiator unit, allowing us a 4.4GHz overclock without  excessive noise levels. A water-cooler might have been better, but the case’s limited fan mounts would have left us with too few options to add fans for improved airflow through the system. Also, with an untested CPU, GPU, SSD, and motherboard, we wanted to avoid the unpredictability of a new cooler. The RAM also didn’t have to be anything exotic, since games don’t tend to benefit from high memory speeds, so two sticks of low-profile 1,600MHz Corsair Vengeance DDR3 RAM did the trick.

Haswell That Ends Well

Turning on a new PC for the first time is always a tense moment. With a case as quiet as the New Soprano, we had to double-check that we were actually up and running. Once you get a few feet away, this build is basically silent.

Performance was excellent, too. By default, the Core i7-4770K runs at 3.5GHz and can Turbo Boost one or two of its cores to 3.8GHz when it doesn’t need all four to be running at full speed. We were able to overclock the CPU Turbo Boost on all four cores to 4.4GHz, which is a pretty good result for a CPU not using liquid cooling. The air cooler’s dual 12cm fans helped keep the Haswell CPU stable while also delivering a noise level that wasn’t distracting. We tried bumping it to 4.5GHz, but with Prime95 running its gnarliest test, the overclock crossed the 80 degrees C threshold, which is a bit too hot for our tastes, so we settled at 4.4GHz.

Combine that with a GPU core overclock of 150MHz and a GPU memory overclock of 100MHz (effective), and our reference card was benchmarking about 10 percent faster than stock speeds. The GTX 780 put out a lot of heat, but most of it was being blown directly out of the case thanks to the card’s blower cooling design. It accomplished this feat despite its fan operating so quietly that it was effectively silent once the case was closed.

The positioning of our storage devices didn’t end up being as helpful as we would have liked, since the video card hogged most of the air coming through the intake fan. But the airflow is at least getting to the GTX 780 more quickly, if not the CPU. We had enough airflow to our storage devices, though, as they were both lukewarm, and the SanDisk Extreme II SSD booted quickly and seemed very peppy.

In retrospect, it probably would have been better to go with a more conventional case, or at least one with more fan mounts. For example, if we had two mounts in the top, as with the Fractal Design Define R4 (which is also low-noise), we could have easily put in a 240mm radiator and even set up a custom liquid-cooling loop. Removable drive cages also would have been preferable.

Other than that, the system has a good feel to it. It’s rock-solid (after we figured out the right settings for the CPU overclock), runs cool and quiet, and produces blistering performance.




3DMark Fire Strike 9,448 9,694
3DMark Fire Strike Extreme 4,774 5,013
3DMark11 Performance 15,195 12,647 (-16.8%)
3DMark11 Extreme 5,924 5,096 (-14%)
Batman: Arkham City (fps) 109 75 (-31.2%)

The zero-point machine compared here consists of a 3.2GHz Core i7-3930K, 16GB of Corsair DDR3/1600 on an Asus P9X79 Deluxe motherboard. It has a GeForce GTX 690, a Corsair Neutron GTX SSD, and 64-bit Windows 7 Professional.

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