Time for a new motherboard?

My production Vista machine is still acting screwy. When I leave it running all night, as I usually do, to let it run automatic updates for Windows itself, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and to conduct all kinds of automated housekeeping tasks (disk defrag, file system cleanup, and so forth), this PC hangs every night. Alas, I get no entries in the Windows event logs to tell me what’s causing the problem and I still haven’t been able to pinpoint a definite cause. But when I leave the machine alone for two hours or more, then sit back down to get back to work, the GUI essentially quits responding to user input, and I have to resort to extreme measures to get things working properly again.

At this point, I’ve replaced all of the following system components, because the two bluescreens I’ve been around to see mention that potential causes include the CPU, the RAM, the system disk, the graphics card and the motherboard (the infamous STOP : 0X0000008E (0x80000004, 0X861B65B3, OXF78C2F10, 0X00000000) error message):

  1. CPU (Intel QX6800 to QX9650, mid-July)
  2. RAM (went from 2 1 GB DDR3-1600 SuperTalent modules to 2 2GB DDR3-1066 SuperTalent modules, mid-July)
  3. System disk (replaced mirrored Seagate 320 GB 7200.10 with mirrored Samsung SpinPoint F5 500 GB early August)
  4. Graphics card (replaced Gigabyte 256MB 8600 GT with Gigabyte 256MB 8600 GTS same time as disk drives)

I’ve also performed a “wipe the system drive, and reinstall the OS from scratch” maneuver (also early August) to eliminate potential problems that an upgrade install as a form of “Polack system repair” can cause.

All of these changes, alas, have been to no avail, though I have gotten an occasional day when things keep running around the clock. Ordinarily, I  have to perform what Vista calls a “disruptive shutdown” at least once a day on this machine. This means I can’t get the GUI to respond to my instructions to restart or shut down the machine, so I have to cycle the power or hit the reset button to regain control.

The only thing that’s left to replace at this point is the motherboard. According to my friend, colleague, and hardware mentor Tom Soderstrom (like me, a frequent contributor and masthead person for Tom’s Hardware and Tom’s Guide), “it probably IS the motherboard.” I had independently come to the same conclusion, thanks to having replaced everything else that could be a potential source of this system’s continuing problems.

I’m chasing Gigabyte right now to see if I can wangle a replacement from them. The board is still under warranty, but was sent as a review unit at no cost to me for the purposes of a series of reviews that have now come and gone. I have offered to purchase a replacement from them, as I believe I should, but would gladly also accept a no-cost swapout. I’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

In the meantime, my current computing drill might be best summed up at “Save early, save often” and “Restart whenever the machine is idle for more than a couple of hours.” I’ve also started to turn the machine off at night, and am slowly reworking my auto-update and maintenance schedules to kick in when I quit for the day, but before I go to bed at night. That lets me keep up with updates and housekeeping activities, but also keep an eye on the PC in the meantime.


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