Troubleshooting a custom computer build

ASUS P8Z77-M Pro MotherboardRecently I decided to take some leftover computer parts and add them to a few new ones to create a small computer I can use for an upcoming projection project and also use later as a home theatre PC. I went to the local computer store and picked out the required items: Z77 motherboard, graphics card and case. It took part of a Saturday afternoon, and by the evening I had Windows 7 booted.

That’s where I ran into trouble.

Intel i5-3330 CPU and thermal pasteThere’s a delicate balance between hardware and software in a computer, and sometimes the two sides fight each other. That’s what started happening to me. After installing the motherboard drivers from the included DVD, I started getting freezes a few minutes after startup that would last anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes. They would repeat again and again, and it was almost impossible to predict. After updating some software, and testing different applications, I had two breakthroughs: first was a blue screen of death that returned an anodlfx.sys error and the second was a taskbar notification that the graphics driver had halted but recovered again. Armed with those data points, I combed Google for information, but came up largely empty. So to find a solution, I began troubleshooting individual components and systems, which are documented below.

Remove/reseat RAM

Computer memory can sometimes cause random software behaviour under certain conditions. To try to pinpoint if any of the chips you’re using have problems, install only one DIMM at a time and boot the computer to check for an error. You have to make sure the slot used is the one the motherboard needs when only one chip is present. I swapped out the two chips I was using at the time, but the problem continued. Installing them both again, I ran MemTest86+ but that came back clean, so memory was not the problem.

Remove the dedicated graphics card

Since the popup warning seemed to indicate a graphics problem, I tried removing the dedicated graphics card. The Z77 chipset motherboard I’m using has support for integrated graphics, should the CPU support them, so I was running Intel HD2500 from the motherboard itself. Unfortunately the problem persisted, so yet again I had to go down a different road.

Change the hard drive

A problematic main storage unit can display problems in unique ways, so one of the things to try is to use a new drive. Originally I was using a 64GB OCZ Vertex 4 SSD, so I substituted in a spare 2.5″ HDD I had in another enclosure. After reinstalling Windows, along with the different hardware drivers, I continued to get the errors, so obviously that couldn’t be it.

Change out the motherboard

The original motherboard I used was an open box, so after going through each of the steps above, I decided that the only logical problem was the one part that had stayed the same throughout: the motherboard. Be warned this is not for the faint of heart, as it involves removing and collecting nearly every piece loaded into the case already. Nevertheless, I put everything into the box and replaced it with a brand new one. Reinstalling it into the case and booting up the same installation of Windows (it doesn’t care if the hardware model doesn’t change), I was rather frustrated to see that same graphics warning after a few minutes of use.

Use different drivers

At that point I decided to change things up completely and reinstall Windows, along with all of the drivers. This time, however, I went directly to the different manufacturer’s websites and downloaded the files directly. Incredibly, after multiple reboots from the installations, I didn’t get a freeze or blue screen. Somehow changing up the driver versions had aligned everything properly and the parts were playing nice together. Since the main errors were about the graphics driver failing, it’s not particularly surprising that changing up the software might fix the issues.

IMG_0824After getting gigabytes of software updates, the system continues to operate properly and I’m pretty happy with it. At this point most of the challenges I’ve experienced with computer setup deal with driver software; this computer POSTed every time. Hopefully by documenting my challenges here, it will help me in the future, and also anyone else who might have a similar problem.

Posted in Windows

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