Notebook Troubleshooting

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TA_Lurker
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Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by TA_Lurker »

Before I run out and purchase a new computer I was hoping some of the resident tech experts could help troubleshoot my machine. A little bit about my machine:

Dell XPS M1530 running Vista Home Premium 32-bit SP2
Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7250 @ 2.00 ghz, 4 GB Ram, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT video card. Bought new in the spring/summer of 2007 (IIRC) for about $1,500. Everything about the machine is original except the battery. I bought a replacement battery from Dell sometime last year. I faithfully run CCleaner, Malwarebytes, and Microsoft Security Essentials sweeps every month and install Microsoft Security patches every week.

Last Sunday the machine would not boot. I hit the power button, heard some but not all of the usual noises, and the screen did not turn on. I found this very puzzling but assumed the problem was a dead battery despite the fact I didn't get that bootup screen that says Low Battery. I plugged it in, came back a few hours later, and everything worked fine.

I was off work all week and used the machine constantly. Had zero issues with it. For the record I turn the machine off/on a few times a day under the assumption that if I'm not using it then it shouldn't be on. Also, my machine has a very high fail rate when going into Sleep mode (I believe this is a known Vista bug), so I decided long ago that powering the machine off just makes sense.

Went to turn the machine on again today and it would not boot. Same issue. Heard some but not all of the usual noises with no response from the screen. The noises I hear are the fan and the hard drive. When the machine boots up successfully there's a crackle I assume is from the processor. I don't hear that when there's a problem. I charged the machine for a while but this didn't help. I left the machine plugged in all day and kept coming back to try it out. Many failed boot attempts ensued.

Almost 12 hours after the problem first occurred I decide to remove the battery and boot just from the power cord. This worked. Huzzah I said! It must be the battery. However, wanting to be scientific I decided I would plug the battery back in and attempt to boot up... and the machine booted just fine. Bizarre! Does my computer just NOT want to work on Sundays???????? :twisted:

Any suggestions?

Needless to say I'm not shutting the machine off tonight.
mcse37
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by mcse37 »

First, I would remove the battery and just run off of the power cord for a few days and see if the problem returns. If the problem doesn't return, it's the battery.

You could also go to Dell's web site & download the diagnostic utilities for your notebook.

Bob
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linuxuser
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by linuxuser »

Yeah, sounds to me that something is going on with the battery.
Dell batteries aren't just batteries.
They have circuitry that are propreitary which identifies that battery as a genuine Dell battery to the motherboard.
Topic Author
TA_Lurker
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by TA_Lurker »

Downloading and installing the Dell Diagnostic software as we speak. Any other thoughts?
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Epsilon Delta
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by Epsilon Delta »

TA_Lurker wrote:Downloading and installing the Dell Diagnostic software as we speak. Any other thoughts?
Check your backups. This might be your final warning.
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TA_Lurker
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by TA_Lurker »

I backed up everything after last week's episode. Thanks though!
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TA_Lurker
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by TA_Lurker »

Ran the Dell diagnostic twice. Passed with flying colors both times.
dwc13
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by dwc13 »

It is possible there are multiple issues, aside from perhaps a defective battery and bugs in MS Vista.

You might also have a graphics card that has started to fail. Several Nvidia-based graphics cards were apparently having higher than usual/expected rates of problems/failure about the time you purchased your computer. If I recall correctly the solution that one vendor came up with was a bios "fix" that underclocked the graphics core and/or increased the use of the fan (RPMs and substantially lowering the thermals at which point it would kick in). The issue was far more pronounced in notebook computers where dissipating heat is a much greater challenge.

http://betanews.com/2008/10/10/apple-wa ... ics-chips/

http://support.apple.com/kb/TS2377

The battery -- attached to your notebook computer -- is going to generate some heat when it is used. More importantly, however, it traps heat inside the case by acting as an additional layer of insulation. Note that by removing the battery, you are actually increasing the surface area of the bottom of the computer and allowing more cool air to come in contact with warmer areas of the computer. At some point the resulting increased temperature is going to be too much for the defective capacitors to function properly. The transformer to your power supply is likely located outside of the computer, so it shouldn't increase the notebook's internal temperature when you plug the power supply into an electrical outlet. Note that I'm *not* saying using AC to power your computer doesn't generate heat; it does.
Eureka
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by Eureka »

No one has mentioned the hard drive. In my experience, that's the thing most likely to fail in a notebook computer. It has also been my experience that notebook hard drives don't give you the telltale odd sounds that larger desktop drives sometimes do when they're about to fail.

The in-and-out battery may be just a coincidence, but definitely try using it exclusively without the battery installed to be sure.
smackboy1
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by smackboy1 »

TA_Lurker wrote:Went to turn the machine on again today and it would not boot. Same issue. Heard some but not all of the usual noises with no response from the screen. The noises I hear are the fan and the hard drive. When the machine boots up successfully there's a crackle I assume is from the processor. I don't hear that when there's a problem. I charged the machine for a while but this didn't help. I left the machine plugged in all day and kept coming back to try it out. Many failed boot attempts ensued.
Does it seem like the PC is stuck during boot, waiting for something to happen? Is there something on the screen, a blinking cursor? If it does, it may be the HDD has one foot in the grave. If it's the original HDD then 5 years is about right for it to fail. Might want to consider buying a replacement HDD (or solid state drive upgrade) along with a USB enclosure case and software clone your HDD just in case. Then if your HDD suddenly dies, just pop in the cloned one and you are good to go in 5 mins.
Disclaimer: nothing written here should be taken as legal advice, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
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Tim_in_GA
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by Tim_in_GA »

We've had tons of issues with Dell batteries in the past (and we'll never buy a Dell laptop again). Try leaving the battery out for 24 hours then put it back in. Sometimes that worked for us. We have also had a lot of issues with the power adapter plug wearing out and losing connection sometimes.
jebmke
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by jebmke »

I have same model, similar issues for a while. I replaced the HD and installed W7 fresh install. No issues now.

Shortly after I bought the machine in 2008 the original HD died and I had a warranty replacement. I think the OEM HD was Hitachi. I only by WD or Seagate now.
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.
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linuxuser
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by linuxuser »

jebmke wrote:I think the OEM HD was Hitachi. I only by WD or Seagate now.
They appear to be the only two left. It's not as if you have a lot of choices in hard drives.
Hitachi is now a part of WD.
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mmmodem
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by mmmodem »

Eureka wrote:No one has mentioned the hard drive. In my experience, that's the thing most likely to fail in a notebook computer. It has also been my experience that notebook hard drives don't give you the telltale odd sounds that larger desktop drives sometimes do when they're about to fail.

The in-and-out battery may be just a coincidence, but definitely try using it exclusively without the battery installed to be sure.
+1
Yup, not sure why you have so many battery responses but it sounds like textbook hard drive failure to me.

1. The crackling sound you hear is not the processor. The processor makes no noise. If you had a desktop, there would be a fan on the processor that makes a whir sound but on a laptop, no sound at all. The crackling sound is the hard drive trying to power on. Symptoms of failure are when they start making clicking noises.
2. Your description of the laptop not returning from sleep or hibernation successfully is another tell-tale sign of hard drive troubles.
3. Your battery has nothing to do with your boot issues as you can easily plug it into the wall and bypass it all together. Batteries also don't make noises (well unless they explode, I guess). If batteries are on there way out you typically getting a blinking orange light on the computer and a warning on the task bar telling you that it needs replacement. So I would discount the battery being the problem.

That's the best diagnosis I can give with the information provided. It's not 100% for certain though. But if it is a hard drive failure,... you guessed it, backup your data and install a new one.
jebmke
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by jebmke »

When I put my disk in I started to worry about heat. The HD was running pretty hot so I bought a Cooler Master to set the laptop on (I use it as a desktop replacement at home most of the time). It has brought the temp down quite a bit on the HD and the processors (CPU and GPU).
When you discover that you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.
haystd
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by haystd »

Usually a bad HD would give a bios error along the lines of no bootable devices or a Windows blue screen. The lack of any output to the screen is worrying. I would go with the unplugging the battery for a few days idea first. Failing that, it might be the system board.

Given the 5 year age of the laptop, it may not be worth a new battery or even the time and effort to reload the OS, track down the device drivers, and install Windows updates.
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magellan
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by magellan »

The M1530's Nvidia GPU has reportedly been the cause of many heat related system failures. It's hard to know if the GPU problem could be related to what you're seeing, but no-boot-no-display scenarios were one of the failure modes. There was a class action settlement a couple of years ago, but I don't think the warranty extensions apply any more.

If it were me, I'd be reluctant to spend anything to diagnose or repair this machine. It's likely on borrowed time anyway. I think at one point, Dell may have updated the BIOS to run the fan at higher speeds to try to keep the thing cool enough, but AFAIK, that's the only 'fix' that's been offered for what appears to be a serious design flaw.

Here's a link to a notebookreview.com discussion with some info. You can google 'Nvidia GPU problem' for lots more info.

Jim
Eureka
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by Eureka »

Here is a very good free disk-imaging program. The only caveat is that the new hard drive must be at least as big as the old one. Just image the old drive to an external drive, replace the internal drive, and restore the image to the new drive. Be sure to make a recovery CD and test it. Try the Linux version first. If that boots, fine. If not, burn the Windows PE disk. The latter is compatible with more computers but requires a big download from Microsoft.

http://www.macrium.com/reflectfree.aspx

I'm not sure how hard it will be to replace the hard drive. Most Toshibas have an access panel and one screw. I just got my mom a new Dell, though, and discovered after the fact that major disassembly is required to access the drive. I think I could do it, but it wouldn't be fun.

You laptop is five years old and runs Windows Vista. You might want to consider just backing up your data and buying a new machine with Windows 7 Home Premium, which is vastly better than Vista. Windows 8 will be coming out late this month. This is a major new OS, and the jury is out about how good or buggy it will be. There should be some good deals on Windows 7 machines now, though, and most will have an upgrade coupon for Windows 8.
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magellan
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by magellan »

Eureka wrote:I'm not sure how hard it will be to replace the hard drive. Most Toshibas have an access panel and one screw. I just got my mom a new Dell, though, and discovered after the fact that major disassembly is required to access the drive. I think I could do it, but it wouldn't be fun.
DW had a M1530 and the HDD does come out very easily. Her laptop suffered sudden-motherboard-death syndrome that was probably a result of the Nvidia problem. She did get 4+ years out of it, so it wasn't all bad.

She's very happy with the replacement, which is a <$500 Asus. Much faster, much cooler on her lap, and so far an all around great machine for her. It's amazing to me how the price/performance curve of these things just keeps shifting down.

Jim
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magellan
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Re: Notebook Troubleshooting

Post by magellan »

Eureka wrote:I'm not sure how hard it will be to replace the hard drive. Most Toshibas have an access panel and one screw. I just got my mom a new Dell, though, and discovered after the fact that major disassembly is required to access the drive. I think I could do it, but it wouldn't be fun.
DW had a M1530 and the HDD does come out very easily. Her laptop suffered sudden-motherboard-death syndrome which I suspect was a result of the Nvidia problem. She did get 4+ years out of it, so it wasn't all bad.

She's very happy with the replacement, which is a <$500 Asus. Much faster, much cooler on her lap, and so far an all around great machine. It's amazing to me how the price/performance curve of these things just keeps getting better.

Jim
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