That black screen of death (computer hangs)

By acca
Jul 25, 2005
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  1. Hello.

    I'm one of the seemingly many people that is having issues of a new PC hanging whilst playing 'stressful' 3D games. I've had the problem come and go over the past few months, either disappearing or changing pattern. I'll firstly give my system specs (those I think are relevant), if anyone wants more info I have AIDA32 and Everest so I should be able to find out that which I do not know. Next, I'll outline the history of the issue, how it has changed patterns (or lack thereof) and how/when the issue arises. Lastly I'll list the things I have done to rectify the problem, and what I have done to explore into the issue to find out why it is happening.


    PC Specs

    - AMD Athlon 64 3000+ (1800MHz)
    - Gigabyte K8 Triton Motherboard
    - 1024Mb of PC3200 DDR RAM (two 512s)
    - Sapphire Radeon 9250 Graphics Card (256Mb, 128bit, GPU 240MHz)
    - 160Gb Seagate Barracuda HDD, 8Mb cache, 7200 RPM. Partitioned into one 5Gb partition and one 122Gb partition (no idea how I lost so much after formatting..I expected it but not to be so drastic. The HDD does have written on it 160 however).
    - Direct X 9.0c
    - Running Windows 2000 Pro, service pack 4


    Problem History

    - PC puchased approximately 2 months or more ago.
    - First 3D game ran on the PC shortly after purchase (C&C Generals)
    - Game ran fine on highest possible settings (as you would expect given the specifications of the machine)
    - After a few hours of gaming one night, the screen goes black and into standby mode. PC stops responding to mouse movement or keystrokes. Manual reset is required.
    - Problem persisted at apparently random times. Sometimes the PC would be cold booted and run C&C Generals for 5 minutes before hanging, then after a reboot it could do the same thing again after 5 minutes, or it could happen in 5 hours.
    - Some time later (about 2 weeks ago), I purchase more games (Tribes 2, Tribes Vengeance, Half Life 2, Counterstrike: Source).
    - Tribes Vengeance presented me with the exact same issues as that of when running C&C Generals. Tribes 2, HL2 and CS:S display no problems whatsoever, even when running on the highest settings. I even ran CS:S for around 12 hours straight (yeah, I got addicted to that game..) with no issues arising.
    - After about a week and 40 hours gameplay total between HL2 and CS:S, the same black screen problem occurred in CS:S after about 15 minutes of gameplay. Rebooting and playing the game again resulted in a repeated PC hang.
    - HL2 now freezes. A small clip of sound (usually the walking sound effect) will loop for a short time when this happens. PC is unresponsive and requires a manual reset.


    Things tried

    - I have viewed these threads:
    http://www.techspot.com/vb/all/wind...lank-during-3d-game-play-on-new-computer.html
    http://www.techspot.com/vb/printthread.php?t=25948
    http://www.techspot.com/vb/printthread.php?t=29147

    - Ran Prime95 via bootable CD, no problems whatsoever. Test ran for just over 30 minutes.
    - Computer has been tested on cold boots after being off overnight. Straight into a game of HL2, 5-10 minutes of game play, then a hang. CS:S usually will hang anywhere from 10 minutes in up to half an hour or so. I haven't gotten more than 30 minutes or so on one session of CS:S since the problem reappeared. Tribes Vengeance can go for at least two hours, because I played it for that long with no problems. but I have not tested this game or C&C Generals much at all yet.
    - Ran PC with side case off. No change.
    - Ran PC with large fan blowing into the case. No change.
    - Attepted to find utilities for finding temperatures of CPU and GPU. Thus far unsuccessful.
    - Drivers reinstalled, and also tried different (older) drivers. No change.
    - Did clean install of Win2k after the problem first arised in C&C Generals. No change for that game but HL2 and CS:S worked for the two weeks or so on the same install.
    - Got the "ATI Utility" which is used to overclock ATI cards. I used this to benchmark the GPU, as the application tests the GPU to see how far it can safely go. Since the GPU can be overclocked somewhat far (it got to 30% before I aborted; I decided that was enough for this purpose). Doing this did not recreate the problem, and one would expect this particular test to heat the GPU up a bit, as that is exactly what the test does in order to find its limits.





    I do realize that one of the threads I claim to have read talks about the power supply being at fault, but I don't discuss what I have done to explore that possibility. That's because I have no spare power supplies (this is a new one however - my old PC just simply is too old and uses a different kind of power supply.) and can't get a hold of one of the testers that it was suggested to Tlaloc to Google for. Also, the internal and external wiring is all at room temperature or lower.

    The cooling system in this PC is extremely basic. However, regardless of that I don't see how it could be an overheating problem personally. The random way the problem goes away then comes back, and the GPU benchmarking are evidence enough for me unless someone would like to say otherwise. I would like to find a way to get the temps of my CPU and GPU just for calrification anyway.

    The CPU has a fan which pulls air from a vent in the side of the case. There's a plastic funnel attached to the case on the inside, which makes sure the air the CPU fan pulls in comes from outside the case and directly to the CPU. The GPU has no fan at all, which I suppose is understandable for such a low-end card. Like all power supplies, this one has its own cooling fan inbuilt. For a case that has no special modifications, airflow is quite good I think. The CPU fan pulls in air, which I can feel being blown back out through a vent at the rear of the case and another vent at the bottom of the side panel. This would cool the area of the case where the Graphics card is somewhat, and would be unrestricted given that the IDEs and other cables are all at the front of the case and kept out of the way by the plastic funnel.



    I think that covers everything. PC hangs in one game, keeps doing it after a fresh OS install but new games are fine, some time later problem reappears in new games. The games are C&C Generals, Half Life 2, Counterstrike Source, Tribes Vengeance, just to reiterate. I try some things out, no solutions or reasons found thus far. Any other ideas someone has I will gladly try out, because at the moment I am at a loss and, to be completely honest, extremely frustrated.

    If someone wants more info on the PC, or even photos, don't hesitate to ask. If you have an application that I can run to get more info on something for you, link away.

    Thanks in advance to anyone who reads about this and/or posts about it.
  2. howard_hopkinso

    howard_hopkinso Newcomer, in training Posts: 25,948   +19

    Hello and welcome to Techspot.

    May I say what a well written post you have.

    First, what psu do you have? The reason I ask is because depending on the power output, and quality or your psu, it may be the culprit in all this.

    Go HERE and use this handy psu wattage calculator. Bear in mind, that a generic no name psu will struggle to put out anywhere near it`s advertised rated wattage. Even a good quality psu only achieves around 70% efficiency.

    What are your cpu temps? This is another area that may need looking at.

    You can download the Speedfan programme from HERE. Also do you have the cool `n` quiet feature of your cpu enabled? If so turn it off, and see if this helps. You can do this by going into your bios. I know this may sound strange, but I recently did this to a friends computer, who was having a similar problem, and it did seem to help. If it doesn`t help, then you can always turn it on again.

    And last but not least. It may be an idea to test you ram for errors. Download and run the Memtest86+ programme from www.memtest.org.

    Let it run for at least seven passes. If you don`t have a floppy drive, there is an iso version, that you can burn to cd, and then boot from that.

    I don`t know if any of the above will help.

    Regards and good luck Howard :wave: :wave:
  3. acca

    acca Newcomer, in training Topic Starter

    Thanks for the welcome and quick response.

    I have an ATX-320T. Since that's the only number on the power supply that isn't single digit I guess it would be reasonable to assume that is the wattage. Going by the page you linked I require 235 watts. If as you say PSUs will run at best 70% efficiency then I fall behind by 9 watts as 224 would be the most this PSU would run at. Here I was, thinking of buying another HDD soon, too...I guess a new PSU had better go along with that.

    Speedfan reports five different temperatures. They are 25 28 -5 1 and 35 degrees celsius respectively. The first three are listed as ISA, the fourth nForce2 SMBus, and the last is HD0. Wasn't entirely sure which of those was relevant so there they all are. -5 and 1 sound way too low, and according to the Speedfan website this could mean those sensors aren't connected so hopefully the third ISA and nForce2 are not what we need the temp of. This is while the PC was basically idling and CPU usage was around 0-5% and the fan was at about 3800 RPM. I ran the ATI Utility benchmark to stress it a bit without having to go ingame and wait for the crash (though I might do that later anyway, even though I had the CPU on 100% for this test) and the temps went to 25 33 -2 1 35 with CPU usage on 100% for about 5-10 minutes and the fan peaking around 4300 RPM. All blue down arrows and occasionally a green tick. I hope it's telling me they're nice and low and not telling me I need to lower them because they're high?

    Ahh, my apologies...when I said I had run Prime95 I meant this application, Memtest86. Prime95 was a similar application I was looking at before I wrote my post. I ran Memtest86 through seven or eight passes, and no errors were reported.

    The PSU tip just might have got it, and I'll be sure to look into it. I fall short 9 watts minimum going by the 70% rule so even when doing mediocre tasks and idling the computer is underpowered. I won't be able to try a more powerful PSU in it until next week at the earliest, if I were to go out and buy one. By the looks of things I should do that, especially if I am planning on adding more devices in the near future. It's still strange that the problem is random, though. I would think low power output would make the PC hang straight away if it wasn't getting enough power, and I had a good two weeks inbetween where the problem didn't affect those new games at all.
  4. howard_hopkinso

    howard_hopkinso Newcomer, in training Posts: 25,948   +19

    Of course there`s always the possibility that your videocard is bad. I would hope that this is not the case, but you never know.

    I am still of the opinion that your psu is the culprit, but I may be wrong.

    Please keep us posted of any developments.

    Regards Howard :grinthumb
  5. acca

    acca Newcomer, in training Topic Starter

    Haven't done anything to rectify the problem yet. Yesterday I got a 4 hour gameplay session of HL2, and 6 or 7 hours in CS:S in three sessions. Not even once did the computer hang.
  6. Abraxas

    Abraxas Newcomer, in training Posts: 205

    Don't be greedy on a PSU. Keep in mind you are running a P4 with that one with all that which comes in the package. Slightly above 200 sounds VERY low to me.
    I'm running an Athlon 1800+ and even I have an Enermax 400W (I hope I don't lie, because I can't find any documents about it and I am not going to check the case just now ;) ).
    That's a refreshingly easy-to-read first post and you put a lot of information into it, but your problem might be as easily solved as just to buy another PSU and I would back up Howard in that respect without too great of a doubt! ;)
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