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A computer that randomly and frequently freezes up

When it comes to computer repair, you have to be a detective of sorts. And once in a while I come across a really good mystery. I recently got a HP M7360N in the shop that would randomly freeze-up in Windows XP when you moved the mouse. It would run perfectly fine in Safe Mode. Maybe a bad driver?

A check of the event logs yields absolutely nothing, not a single error. I check Device Manager and find the hard drive controller listed under the Unknown category, even though it is correctly identified as an Intel controller. I uninstall it inside Device Manager and then scan for hardware changes. The hard drive controller reinstalls back into the Unknown category.

The system is still freezing up randomly when the mouse is moved. I try a PS2 and USB mouse and got the same results with both. I disable all non-essential drivers and reboot with no change. I download the original and latest drivers for the system, trying all with no luck. Maybe a corrupt installation?

I create an image of the hard drive and then wipe it clean. Using the supplied recovery disks, I proceed to re-install the operating system and recovery partition. The system froze-up three times during reinstallation. But this time the hard drive controller is under the correct category, IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. It's starting to look like a hardware issue.

I run a few DOS based utilities to test the memory, hard drive, etc. with no luck. I even try the HP recovery diagnostics. Every test I run tells me that there is nothing wrong with the hardware. Using the keyboard only in Windows, I am able to install another utility to test all of the motherboard components. I allow it to run for six hours and the system passes every test.

The BOIS is the next place I look and find it's a few versions older than what is currently available for download. I download and install the latest BIOS version and it still keeps freezing up randomly when the mouse is moved. I start searching the internet for clues.

After a few different search queries, I come across an article at Badcaps.net discussing symptoms of capacitor failure on motherboards, one being 'system randomly and frequently freezes'. I check the motherboard thoroughly and find no capacitors that look bad. I start checking the expansion (add-in) cards and all at once, the mystery was solved.

There on the graphics card was a bank of capacitors that the tops were swollen.

Top view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitors
Top view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitors.

Side view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitor
Side view of the graphics card showing the difference between a good and bad capacitor.

The movement of the mouse on screen was causing the graphics card to freeze-up. I re-assembled the system with a new graphics card and the issue was gone. Another computer repair mystery solved.

Security made easier with Microsoft Security Essentials 2

In a previous article, I discussed Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). I like the easy of use, the integration with Windows Update and the small footprint it has, especially on my netbook. Recently, Microsoft has released Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 with some new features, including a new and improved protection engine, Windows Firewall integration and a Network Inspection System.

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
A new look for MSE V2

As you can see, the user interface changed slightly, with a new color palette and mesh graphics. There are a few more options for the user to configure, but it is still one of the easiest anti-virus applications to setup. For more on the major improvements, here is a quote from the MSE web site:

Windows Firewall integration
Windows Firewall can help prevent attackers or malicious software from gaining access to your computer through the Internet or a network. Now when you install Security Essentials, the installation wizard verifies that Windows Firewall is turned on. If you have intentionally turned off Windows Firewall, you can avoid turning it on by clearing a check box. You can change your Windows Firewall settings at any time via the System and Security settings in Control Panel.

Network Inspection System
Attackers are increasingly carrying out network-based attacks against exposed vulnerabilities before software vendors can develop and distribute security updates. Studies of vulnerabilities show that it can take a month or longer from the time of an initial attack report before a suitable security update is developed, tested, and released. This gap in protection leaves many computers vulnerable to attacks and exploitation for a substantial period of time. Network Inspection System works with real-time protection to better protect you against network-based attacks by greatly reducing the timespan between vulnerability disclosures and update deployment from weeks to a few hours.

Award-winning protection engine
Under the hood of Security Essentials is its award-winning protection engine that is updated regularly. The engine is backed by a team of antimalware researchers from the Microsoft Malware Protection Center, providing responses to the latest malware threats 24 hours a day.

Now, in going through the program, I did find two options quite interesting...

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2
Enable behavior monitoring and Enable Network Inspection System options in MSE V2

I did a little digging in the MSE V2 Help file and found this description of these features:

Enable behavior monitoring
This option monitors collections of behavior for suspicious patterns that might not be detected by traditional antivirus detection methods.

Enable Network Inspection System
This option helps protect your computer against “zero day” exploits of known vulnerabilities, decreasing the window of time between the moment a vulnerability is discovered and an update is applied.

Here are a few of the other changes inside of MSE V2:

  • Microsoft Security Essentials also supports Windows XP Mode in Windows 7
  • The ability to limit CPU usage during scanning
  • Automatic removal of quarantined files after a set amount of time
  • You can now select between monitoring all files, incoming or outgoing

Microsoft Security Essentials Version 2 is available for Windows XP (SP 2 or SP 3)(x86), Windows Vista (x86, x64) and Windows 7 (x86, x64) and can be downloaded here.

Note:
The only issue I came across was that the update function inside Version 1 would not update the program to Version 2. I tried it on a couple of systems without success. I had to uninstall Version 1 first, then install Version 2.

Upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP

Windows XP currently the most popular operating system with Windows 7 quickly catching up. As more and more people are moving from Windows XP to Windows 7, I thought I would spotlight a series of articles that I wrote a little while back. My move from Windows XP to Windows 7 was a 'side-by-side' migration, with two separate systems.

I, be leave it or not, never used Windows Vista on any of my production systems. I ran Windows XP up until Windows 7 was released. I did run Windows 7 Release Candidates on a test system for several months prior to it's release and was very happy with it. I even wrote a series of articles about it too. Here they all are.

Upgrading to Windows 7 from Windows XP

Beta testing Windows 7

Resetting your network adapter in Windows XP

Network shell (Netsh) is a tool an administrator can use to configure and monitor network devices on Windows based computers at a command prompt. A common use of Netsh, is to reset the TCP/IP stack back to default settings.

But not only will Netsh reset the TCP/IP stack, but it can also completely reset your network adapter(s). It will also display the network diagnostics page in Windows XP too.

Using Netsh in Windows XP

To use Netsh, you will need to open a Command Prompt. There are two ways to do this:

  • Click the Start button, then Programs, then Accessories, then click on Command Prompt
  • or

  • Press Windows logo key + R. This will bring up the Run dialog box. Type CMD and click OK

Netsh commands in Windows XP

The following is a list of the Netsh commands you can use to reset your Windows XP network adapter:

Resets network interface informationnetsh int reset all

Resets TCP/IP and related components to a clean state.netsh int ip reset c:\resetlog.txt

Resets IPv6 configuration state.netsh int ipv6 reset

Displays the web page user interface.netsh diag gui

Resets Winsock Catalog to a clean state. All Winsock Layered Service Providers which were previously installed must be reinstalled. This command does not affect Winsock Name Space Provider entries.netsh winsock reset

Managing Virtual Memory / Pagefile in Windows XP

When your computer is running low on Random Access Memory (RAM) and more is needed to complete your current task, Windows uses hard drive space to simulate system RAM. In Windows, this is known as Virtual Memory, and often called the Pagefile. The default size of the virtual memory pagefile (appropriately named Pagefile.sys) created during installation is 1.5 times the amount of RAM on your computer.

You can optimize virtual memory use by dividing the space between multiple drives and by removing it from slower or heavily accessed drives. To best optimize your virtual memory space, divide it across as many physical hard drives as possible. When selecting drives, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Try to avoid having a pagefile on the same drive as the system files.
  • Avoid putting a pagefile on a fault-tolerant drive, such as a mirrored volume or a RAID-5 volume. Pagefiles do not need fault-tolerance, and some fault-tolerant systems are slow because they write data to multiple locations.
  • Do not place multiple pagefiles on different partitions on the same physical disk drive.

#1 - Find out how much RAM your computer has

Windows XP System Properties page

To open the System Properties, press Windows logo key + Pause. In the System section, under Memory (RAM), you can view the amount of RAM your computer has.

#2 - change the size of the virtual memory paging file

You must be logged on as an administrator or a member of the Administrators group in order to complete this procedure. If your computer is connected to a network, network policy settings might also prevent you from completing this procedure.

    Windows XP Pagefile Settings 1
  1. To open the System Properties, press Windows logo key + Pause

  2. Windows XP Pagefile Settings 2
  3. On the Advanced tab, under Performance, click Settings.

  4. Windows XP Pagefile Settings 3
  5. On the Advanced tab, under Virtual memory, click Change.

  6. Windows XP Pagefile Settings 4
  7. Under Drive [Volume Label], click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change.
  8. Under Paging file size for selected drive, click Custom size, and type a new paging file size in megabytes in the Initial size (MB) and Maximum size (MB) box, and then click Set. If you decrease the size of either the initial or maximum page file settings, you must restart your computer to see the effects of those changes. Increases typically do not require a restart.

Notes:

  • To have Windows choose the best paging file size, click System managed size.
  • For best performance, do not set the initial size to less than the minimum recommended size under Total paging file size for all drives. Use the following formula for calculating the correct pagefile size. Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x minimum pagefile size. Say you have 4 Gb (4,096 Mb) of memory. 1.5 x 4,096 = 6,144 Mb would be the min. pagefile size and 3 x 6,144 = 18,432 Mb would be the max. pagefile size.. Usually, you should leave the paging file at its recommended size, although you might increase its size if you routinely use programs that require a lot of memory.
  • To delete a paging file, set both initial size and maximum size to zero, or click No paging file. Microsoft strongly recommends that you do not disable or delete the paging file.

Customer service is #1

Here at Geeks in Phoenix, we take pride in providing excellent customer service. From computer repair, virus removal and data recovery, we aim to give the highest quality of service.

Bring your computer to us and save

Our in-shop computer repair service  is based on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes your computer to work!

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Geeks in Phoenix
4722 East Monte Vista Road
Phoenix, Arizona 85008
(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company specializing in all aspects of Computer Repair / PC Repair / Laptop Repair. Since 2008, our expert computer repair technicians have been providing outstanding Computer Repair, Virus Removal, Data Recovery, Photo Manipulation and Website Support.

Geeks in Phoenix have the best computer repair technicians providing computer repair and service in Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe Arizona. We offer In-Shop, On-Site and Remote (with stable Internet connection) computer repair service.

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