Adventures in Motherboard Failure

The last piece of hardware that I expect a failure from is the motherboard.  There are no moving pieces, not much wear and tear.  Plus, I spent $250 on the last board.  It was an AW9D-MAX; top of the line when it was purchased.  I would expect it to last more than 2 1/2 years of off and on use.   Now that you already know what went wrong, I’ll lay out the troubleshooting that finally lead me to this conclusion.  Motherboard issues are extremely hard to diagnose.

My computer began power cycling itself for seemingly no reason about a month ago.   The times it would occur were inconsistent.  I could narrow it down to times when the system was under a lot of stress.   Kernel compilation combined with watching a flash video would take the system down within 2 minutes.  I also noticed that the crashes weren’t always the same; sometimes I would catch a glimpse of a kernel panic when on the console.

Instability is an awful thing.  It prompted me into action quickly.  The first things that were changed out were the processor and the video card.  They were recent purchases, changes I was going to do anyway.  The issue still persisted.

At this point, I went off the path.  Every kernel or BIOS feature that could cause instability was checked.  I went though 10 different kernel setups, flashing the BIOS, and resetting the BIOS to factory defaults.  In a final attempt to convice myself that this was not an OS issue, I reproduced the problem on a live CD.

Memory can go bad at times.  I proved this was not the case by two methods, switching out DIMMs and running memtest86+.  The problem wasn’t the memory modules.

There were only two options left.  The power supply and the motherboard.  At this point, all hope of a painless fix were lost.  It was time to spend some hard earned money.

I started by replacing the power supply.  I have had power supply issues before that had caused flakiness.  When a system is under load, a poor power supply (or one with insufficient wattage) will no longer be able to power the components of the system.  I decided that getting a modular, 80+ efficiency power supply would be worth it even if it wasn’t the issue.   I am now the proud owner of an Enermax EMD625AWT power supply.

The Enermax power supply is great.  The fan doesn’t spin up unless the power usage is high, so it stays nice and quiet.  After reading a bunch of reviews on it, I am totally convinced that I made the right call on purchasing it.  However, it was not the problem.

The problem was the motherboard.  It had to be, there was nothing else.  That story is for another blog post.

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