After discounting all sources for screen freezes, Tony McSherry finds a utility to help heat test a graphics card.
A few days off last week let me look at the bane of all developers: fixing problems in home equipment.
Like a lot of builders, plumbers, and interior decorators, I'm one of those IT people who get a bit lazy at home. My main hobby and relaxation is gaming — mostly World of Warcraft at the moment, with a few team FPS games.
So I decided to look at a problem on one of my home computers that has been driving me crazy. While playing WoW, my screen would freeze for 30 seconds before resuming, and, unusually for Win 7, it could not be interrupted by Ctrl-Alt-Del. In addition, World of Tanks was also crashing and giving me a BSOD. I had had a similar problem some months before, with an Nvidia graphics card, which I thought I'd solved by updating the card.
While I insist on strict diagnostic techniques at work, at home I often become more "intuitive" — which is a synonym for stupid. I started downloading new drivers, switching DirectX versions, and ran SFC.EXE, just to check whether malware had somehow penetrated Microsoft Security Essentials, or files were corrupted — the System File Checker will read and repair your Windows system files. After that completed successfully, I scheduled hard-disk checks and rebooted to find some file corruption that was repaired.
Next, I moved to the Event monitor to see what errors Windows was recording, and found that my Windows Search service was crashing. Luckily, Microsoft provides a Mr Fixit for this problem, and a quick download and run fixed the problem. There were, however, no errors that corresponded to my freezes.
A quick check revealed that my problem was still there. I finally decided to see whether my graphic card had heat problems, which I had discounted, since it was relatively new. I downloaded a GPU stress test called Fur Mark, which heats up your graphic card's GPU by getting it to render a rotating fur doughnut. When I let the benchmark run, I could see my GPU temperature climbing to 83 degrees Celsius and starting to stutter. I opened the system, and checked the GPU fan, but it appeared to be running. I then left the side of the system off and re-ran the benchmark. It then stayed stable, at 72 degrees Celsius.
So I started up World of Tanks, and played for 30 minutes, trying to get a Level 5 tank with no problems, crashes, or reboots. I moved to World of Warcraft for a few hours and some intense raiding, and again there were no freezes.
After a few days without problems, I conclude that my graphics card had a heat problem, or my case fans were not removing heat efficiently. Now, I should either look at replacing my graphics card and perhaps beefing up my fans, but it's working and I'm a great believer in if it works, don't fix it.
So I think I'll be playing with an open case for the foreseeable future.