Sometimes, it really isn’t the software.

For the last month my home computer has randomly frozen up. Everything seems to be working OK but the screens just go blank. Everything else was OK. I just couldn’t see anything. Very odd.

Browsing and basic daily use, no problem. I leave my machine on for days, even weeks at a time. This issue only happened when I asked the machine do something graphically intensive, like motion tracking drone footage or rendering 3D. I figured it may be a graphics card issue, probably software drivers. Many times, I tweaked and tried again, recreating the same video sequences a dozen times and rebooting just as many.

Anyone that has spent time working with a customer service team over the phone to resolve issues is all too familiar with being told there is nothing wrong. Usually, after several frustrating hours of rechecking the basics you already checked before calling. I chose not to follow this path.

Being an old hand at computers, I didn’t worry, just persevered. In my head I blamed Windows, or Adobe software updates, and waited for bug fix and compatibility releases to come along. Many did. None resolved the issue.

I did notice that this only happened on the oldest of my machines – a fact I put down to this 8 year old machine starting to show its age. Like me.

Bite The Bullet

Today I decided enough was enough. Saving every five minutes was not proving practical, and reboots take time. I’ve been fighting this for too long. So I put my tech head on (I used to build and fix computers for money) and started going through error logs and troubleshooting software and rebooting and uninstalling drivers and… well, all the usual stuff. Everything an I.T. guy would normally do. After several head scratching hours I gave up. I could find no clear reason for this. Plan B.

Until I could figure this out I needed a machine I could rely on. I went downstairs to the living room and tried to reconfigure that machine as my main unit. For a couple practical reasons, that didn’t work. So, an hour later, I was back upstairs reconnecting monitors and cables. I was quite… fraught, by now.

The Fix Is In

As I reconnected cables, one of the video connectors didn’t seem to sit properly. I thought a daughter board may have moved, which could cause the issue. I decided to check the graphics card was still properly seated on the motherboard. Sometimes thermal creep (it’s not a band, it’s a thing, look it up) causes things to move and weird things happen. I popped the side off the computer. And saw the two fans on the graphic card weren’t turning.

I had not noticed their silence, as these frictionless fans had not made a noise in more than four years – my computer is almost completely silent. Puzzled, I blew them out with compressed air and started them turning with a flick. All good, they kept running. They weren’t seized.

Then I noticed a drooping cable had somehow come to rest on the dual fans, stopping them turning. A simple cause, with a simple fix: A cable tie. Another blast of compressed air, and I put the side back on.

I am pleased to report everything is working as it should. No further blank screens (yet). I recreated one of those test video sequences and piled on some extra effects just for good measure, a stress test to make it work hard. And the system stayed stable. I was finally able to complete the project and export. Excellent.

Post Analysis

I believe the graphics card was intermittently overheating when tasked with heavy GPU processing, and like a good graphics card should, it turned itself off before it burned out. Hence, blank screens under load. This explains the intermittent nature of the issue. It only happened when working with graphics apps configured to exclusively use the GPU. And why the rest of the computer continued to chug along happily. Only GPU graphics were affected. Well, those and my sanity.

I will spend tonight stress testing the card further, to see if it holds up, and whether any permanent damage has been done. Along the way I’m starting to clear the backlog of personal video projects I’ve put off due to this. So far, I’m three projects in and not a problem. Fingers crossed it stays that way.

Why is a self proclaimed tech guy confessing to not fixing this sooner?

Because I know many others go through similar issues, and those issues are often blamed on faulty software. First, I want those people to know: You are not alone. Computers are hard. I’ve been doing this for centuries, and was still caught out by what, in 20/20 hindsight, should have been obvious.

I also want you to know that sometimes it really isn’t the software. Those customer service teams may be right. Sometimes it really is an ID 10T issue.


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