Maybe that’s how you do it, but around here, we have a different convention for indicating which things are broken

One of the reactions to my story of investigating a dead computer struck me as rather strange. Commenter Steve wrote, "Usually video cards left on a table don't works well (the one inside a computer have a better probability)."

While it's true that the ones inside a computer are more likely to work, it's not the case, at least around here, that the cards on a table are unlikely to work well. Many people have a small stash of cables and other spare parts specifically for repair purposes. If you see a video card on a table, odds are that it's part of somebody's spart parts stash and works just fine.

At least around here, we follow a different convention for indicating when things are broken beyond repair: We put them in the garbage can.

Joke-ruining clarification: Or the recycle bin, as appropriate.

Computer repair follow-up: Last Thursday morning, I turned on my home computer and it didn't boot. The symptoms were exactly the same as the previous death, so started with what worked last time: I unplugged the video card. The computer booted up.

It looks like my home computer eats video cards.

Now what? Do I feed it cheap video cards? Was this just a fluke and my replacement video card happened to be a dud? Are the video cards actually just fine, and it's the motherboard that can't cope with them? Do I abandon the computer and start over?

I'm going with option two: Assume I just got a bum video card and try again. But if the second replacement video card also dies within a short period of time, then I'm going to have to decide what I'm going to do with the computer that eats video cards.

Comments (29)
  1. Thom says:

    I’m assuming you’ve got a nice LCD monitor at home Raymond, but if I’m wrong an you’re using a crt then maybe you should consider it a more likely common denominator.  High voltages, potential loop currents and static charges abound in those things so even a tiny electrical or grounding problem could be fudging with your card.

  2. Is it a high-performance video card?  If so, maybe the power supply can’t handle feeding everything.  Is it a low-wattage one?  Try replacing it with a new 550W power supply; shouldn’t cost more than $40 or so.

  3. CGomez says:

    I had a computer at home that was doing this. Without being a qualified electrical engineer, I decided the motherboard was ruining them (a short or something, who knows).  I replaced the motherboard and the video card (since I had to for the latter), and didn’t have the problem again as long as I had that computer (a Pentium 4 with AGP support).

  4. Aaargh! says:

    Probably not an option for you: but when started working full time I decided that I spend enough time tinkering with computers all day and that I really don’t want to do that in my free time too.

    So I got a Mac, it Just Works(tm), I love it.

    It has been running 24/7 for the last few years, completely silent (it lives on a desk in my bedroom so silence is a must) and it has proven itself to be absolutely reliable.

  5. jim says:

    Surely no video card works whem placed on a table–you need a computer to supply it with power and something to display. ;) That’s how I interpreted his comment, as a bit of tongue-in-cheek pedantry. He’s not implying that a card outside a PC is necessarily broken, just that it’s unlikely to be working at that moment.

    As an incorrigible pedant myself, I have no problem ruining other people’s jokes by explaining them. ;)

  6. ethermal says:

    Definitely related to power, either the power supply is supplying dirty power or the motherboard is supplying dirty power.  Chances are if you are using cheap video cards you are using cheap power supplies.  I would swap the power supply myself. I’ve never seen problems like this be anything bu power supplies.

    To Aaargh, i’ve got a basement full of dead Macs to prove they are same as any other piece of hardware.

  7. Jonathan says:

    Delays in completing troubleshooting and lead to hardware of indeterminate functionality lying on tables.

    As Raymond points out, at this point he doesn’t know if he grabbed a dud video card, his computer just killed that video card, or his computer has other issues.

    But if he pulls the card planning to throw it in another system to see if it works, but doesn’t get around to it for a while, then there is a card that might be ok, might be bad, lying around.  You hate to throw it out, since you don’t know its bad, but you shouldn’t use it as a ‘known good’ card for testing either.

    (Can’t tell you how many times I’ve ended up, finally, determination that my ‘known good’ hardware has managed to off itself waiting to be used.)

  8. I had a computer that ate video cards, and it turned out to be the power supply that was bad.

  9. Gregg Reece says:

    Yeah, I’d have to agree with the previous posters about checking the monitor.  I’ve had CRT monitors slightly charge metal computer desks so much so that you could touch two computer desks and feel the current running through you.

  10. Jeff Parker says:

    I would go with Air Flow and Overheating this is typically what I run into. Every single time for me a Vid Card has gone bad it is from vents or something being pluged and not getting enough air flow to the card.

    Other things I found that make it run hot and burn them out faster:

    Stuffing them in with other cards around them. They seem to work well with space around them.

    Oddly enough using the digital cord I do not know why but this seems to heat them up. For old reliable use a standard old fashioned monitor cable. You might not get super high refresh rates but unless your playing some super high end twitch first person shoots, should be no problem.

    Disable screen savers and just let the monitor power off after a set time.

    That and I just finally set myself a reminder once a month I specifically get in there and clean the dust out of all the vents. Seems to be dustier if a computer sits on the floor than up higher which mine usually do.

  11. YOU could probably sell it for pretty good money

  12. poochner says:

    Gregg, if you can feel the current flowing through you, that’s not "slightly."  It’s enough to be a hazard if someone has a weak heart (and you mean across your body, rather than between fingers, etc.).

  13. Adam C says:

    What to do with a computer that eats video cards?

    Two words: road show. ;-)

  14. codekaizen says:

    I’ll have to fork the recommendations here and fall on the side of the power supply. As power needs and speeds go up, getting a good quality PS is more important. I’ve seen the garden variety units toast higher-end graphics cards more frequently than it being a mobo issue (although that has happened to me, as well).

    Don’t cut corners if you have decent componentry in the remainder of your system – spend over $100 and get a PS which will give you no worries (Seasonic and Corsair are my favorites – the 620 HX is excellent:

  15. Bad says:

    Joke-ruining clarification: Or the recycle bin, as appropriate.

    I don’t see how that ruins any joke. You could make a case of certain software to be broken beyond repair, and continue with the appropriate dragging (and dropping) to the recycle bin.

  16. Miral says:

    The most likely thing is just that the card has become unseated.  Especially if the area where the PC is located experiences large temperature changes (or is just fairly cold ambient), since then the connector will expand and contract a bit each time the computer is powered on, and may eventually loosen itself.  (This has happened to me on several occasions.)

    The best bet is to remove the card, blow gently on both the card and the socket to dislodge any dust, then carefully reinsert it, making sure it’s seated all the way in (which can be tricky with some motherboards) and screwed in properly.  Make sure you screw it in before attaching the monitor cables, since otherwise this can unseat the card if you’re not really careful.

    If it still doesn’t work, then it’s probably something about the power supply or overheating, as others have suggested.

  17. Ari says:
    1. Power supply
    2. Motherboard

    3. Electrical fault in the monitor.

    I’d place my money on the PSU, with the Mobo coming a close second. Check if you can see any swelling, residue or even material coming out of the capacitors on the motherboard. Often you won’t see that they’re ruined, but sometimes you do. That coupled with a flaky PSU gives fun problems. The capacitors regulate voltage on the mobo.

    I have one older mobo with the the two largest caps visible having leaked, with a decent PSU I ran that board in a working computer for almost two years. Witht an older, cheaper PSU I had random BSOD once in a while and as I had a better PSU lying in a closet I tried that.

  18. Yuvi says:


    I too had "exactly" the same problem, but when I removed one of my RAM sticks, and reinserted the Video Card, it worked. And, still works.

  19. Blair says:

    Years ago, I had problems with Voodoo2 PCI cards flaking out on my machine.

    I bought three cards from three different vendors, and the results were the same – after a period of time, games would just die (with a rather odd looking checkerboard effect on-screen) and require a reboot.

    Eventually we figured out that it was the motherboard – specifically, the one PCI slot we were plugging the Voodoo2 card into (it was the only slot where the oversized card would fit). We plugged another random card into that PCI slot, and the computer died.

    It was a nice excuse to buy a new machine. :)

  20. Cooney says:

    It looks like my home computer eats video cards.

    Agree with the others on the PSU – get a good one from newegg and see if that fixes things.

  21. Drak says:


    Interesting theory. It actually might explain why sometimes my PC bluescreens on first startup on cold(er) days. After a reset it never does.

  22. Jivlain says:

    Maybe you could put it the computer somewhere where it’s likely to be stolen, Gord-style?

  23. Sam says:

    Consider yourself lucky it’s just eating video cards – my notebook is eating harddiscs, and it is annoying to reinstall all my stuff every few months.

    On the positive side I now know my backups are good, and I can install vista, office, VS without looking at the screen ;)

  24. Miral says:

    @Drak: I first experienced the problem about ten years ago; when I booted up my PC in the morning, the mouse didn’t work.  Then I rebooted after a minute or two and it did.

    Turned out that the I/O interface card (serial port, parallel port, and game port) was a little loose.  (This was back in the days when these things tended to be on a separate ISA card rather than directly on the motherboard.)

    Since then I’ve had it happen occasionally to other types of cards.  Most commonly network cards, for some reason, but it’s also happened to TV tuners and graphics cards.  (Really any card is vulnerable, it just depends on how well they were installed in the first place.)

  25. Steve says:


    Thanks Raymond for the post, hope you’re not offended, Thanks Jim for the cute explanation.

    I am glad to know that Vista’s factory, have better quality standards than the places I have been so far.

    Just my curiosity, did you put your colleague’s card back on the table or directly in the recycle-bin ?

  26. Yuhong Bao says:
    [Please stop posting comments on old articles to a new article or I will take more drastic measures. -Raymond]
  27. asymtote says:

    If another video card goes south I’d suspect the PSU first and mobo second. A cheap PC will have a cheap PSU that is probably being run close to its rated capacity. The closer a PSU runs to capacity the more stress it is under. If you want to keep that machine alive I’d buy a new PSU (newegg, Frys, whatever) that is rated for 50% more power than what is in there right now.

  28. At least I can see stuff again.

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