The dead desktop computer: The good, the bad, and the ugly, but not in that order


When last we left my dead desktop computer, it had fried its second video card, and I was considering whether I should get a third.

I did indeed get a third video card, a cheap one since I knew that if the computer really did eat video cards, I'd have to feed it on a budget. I plugged it in, and...

Computer still dead. Bad.

Remove the video card, and the computer boots up.

Okay, so the computer doesn't actually eat video cards. The problem is that the PCI Express slot is dead, for whatever reason, be it a fried component, a failing power supply, who knows.

While I was back behind the computer, I noticed an unused plug: Yup, it was for VGA video output. I plugged in a VGA video cable, and, leaving the PCI Express video card unplugged, turned on the computer. Lo and behold, the computer started up and sent images out the VGA cable. Good.

I didn't realize that the motherboard has an onboard video card. In the absence of a plug-in video card, the onboard video card takes over and pumps out video just fine. I don't use the computer for anything video-intensive, so a lame, underpowered video card is just fine by me.

The problem is that the onboard video card has only VGA out, so I'm running an analog signal to my LCD monitor. Ugly.

But at least it's a situation I can live with for now.

Comments (48)
  1. me says:

    I can hardly believe you are the type of person that notices the difference between VGA and DVI, when you don’t even know about onboard video.  Must be a newbie.

    [I know about onboard video. But I was so focused on getting the PCI-E slot to work that I forgot about it. My hat’s off to you for never getting distracted. -Raymond]
  2. SuperKoko says:

    Could you satisfy my curiosity?

    What card is it?

    A simple lspci should show that.

    @me: Not knowing everything about his own motherboard doesn’t mean Raymond Chen is a hardware newbie.

    Do you read the manual of your motherboard for every single PC you own?

    [Your computer came with a motherboard manual? -Raymond]
  3. Sam Holloway says:

    Raymond, have you tried cleaning the PCI-E slot? You can get aerosols of compressed air to blow dust and dirt away. Last time I had a dead slot, it was actually just dirt; blowing the dirt away solved the problem.

  4. Thom says:

    @SuperKoko: You don’t read the motherboard manual of every computer you own?  I do.  You should.

    @Raymond: There’s this thing called the Internet.  Rumor has it that you can find and download the manuals for many if not most motherboards.

    [Will the manual tell me how to fix my PCI Express slot? Because that’s all I really want to know. (I should have known that the motherboard probably included an onboard video chip, since most of them do nowadays.) -Raymond]
  5. tsrblke says:

    I had a friend who bought a rig from "Cyberpower" it actually came with a motherboard manual.  Wasn’t a great manual, but it functioned.

  6. Steve Macpherson says:

    I have my "server" machine running on an integrated video card on a LCD monitor and I’ve not seen anything obviously ugly…

    What size monitor / what resolution are you running at? I could understand if you’ve got a pretty high resolution.

    I’ve never had a pre-assembled PC come with manuals for any components before. One of the reasons I like to build my own :)

  7. 365blog says:

    How old is the computer. Is it new computer shopping time?  :o)

    [Follow the links to find out. (Hint: Keep clicking the first link in the article to see the previous chapter in the saga.) -Raymond]
  8. Michael Dwyer says:

    Re: Manual

      Ah, the good old days…  I’ve got an old XT manual on my bookshelf, just because I loved how it not only had pinouts for every single port, but also included engineering drawings for the keyboard keyswitches.

      Today?  Not so much.  My motherboards come with manuals — sometimes even printed ones! — but they wouldn’t tell you anything about how to fix a PCIe port.  

  9. SuperKoko says:

    "Your computer came with a motherboard manual?"

    My K6-2 based desktop computer that I assembled myself, yes…

    My Gericom laptop computer (a gift of my brother), no.

    And actually, it would be very hard to find anything about this motherboard as Gericom’s website contains no useful documentation.

    This is especially annoying for the buggy Gericom-modified phoenix BIOS. I cannot find any BIOS update.

    Anyway, I know quite well my hardware specs thanks to Everest and lspci.

  10. John says:

    Wait a minute…people read motherboard manuals for technical reasons?  I thought everybody read them for the Engrish.

  11. J says:

    "I can hardly believe you are the type of person that notices the difference between VGA and DVI, when you don’t even know about onboard video.  Must be a newbie."

    Some cheaply made monitors (like my 22" lcd at work) have tremendously low quality when you’re using the VGA input, and it’s quite obvious.  Perhaps you are the newbie, if you’ve never seen such a thing.

  12. SuperKoko says:

    From Stephen Eilert:

    "

    lspci? I thought that was only available on *nix systems…

    "

    Linux is especially good to explore a computer hardware and to create or look at disk partitions. Even if you don’t intend to install Linux, it’s worth to boot on a LiveCD, just to look at your hardware.

    About manuals: Don’t you think that old computers came with better paper manuals?

    Nowadays, a typical computer comes with a ten pages manual describing how to play a CD audio or DVD video… The old days where a thick, exhaustive, MS-DOS manual came with every computer are passed.

  13. SuperKoko says:

    @Michael Dwyer: Yes, definitively, that was good documentation.

    Nowadays, we must rely on online doc, which is not always easy to find for the specific hardware you get.

    For software, it’s easier to find. However, there’s more & more software without any real documentation… Just a wiki or another reverse-engineer-it-yourself system.

    BTW, automatic documentation generators, such as oxygen, are also a way to write extremely poor documentation for software libraries.

    Microsoft hasn’t fallen into the trap. MSDN is quite good.

  14. Keep in mind that the type of person reading this blog is more likely to be the type of person who WANTS to read manuals.

    Seriously, throw a MS-DOS manual at some neophyte today and they might cringe in horror at the thought of having to read it.  And why blame them, when manuals are often less necessary now that the collective wisdom and intelligence of the web is so pervasive.

    Of course a dead-tree manual still has it’s place and purpose, but it’s less so the case more and more.  In fact  look at any really successful products, and they all are based on a purposeful design that reduces any demand for reading manuals, by being so easy to use "a monkey could operate it."

    That all being said, I can often be seen going into the bathroom for some one on one time with the porcelain throne, carrying a manual for some new hardware.  I tend to study those manuals from cover to cover as if I were cramming for an exam.  They’re like bibles.

  15. Pete says:

    One of the things I like about this blog is that RC is confident enough to talk about mistakes and identify things he doesn’t know. Truly competent people deliberately choose not to try to know everything and do everything perfectly the first time. They choose their battles and they’re not ashamed of it. Excellent.

  16. Cooney says:

    Some cheaply made monitors (like my 22" lcd at work) have tremendously low quality when you’re using the VGA input, and it’s quite obvious.

    I’ve been exclusively samsung for about 3-4 years. I really can’t tell the difference between vga and DVI – I just need to have them match for the sake of my KVM switch.

  17. arich says:

    Have you tried disabling the onboard video through the BIOS?  A lot of times these motherboards have weird issues with external video cards until you disable the onboard video.

    (This is why I let Dell build my computers, these days.  There’s virtually no savings to building yourself anymore, and you’re assured the components will play well together because Dell knows the whole configuration.)

  18. Nawak says:

    It’s strange that you are experiencing a bad quality picture when you use the VGA connection…

    I myself use a rather long VGA cable (2m) with my LCD TV and didn’t notice any quality problem.

    Maybe the resolution I use (1920×1080) is lower than yours… but you really should check that you are using the native resolution of your LCD panel and not a ‘close but not quite’ match. Then  start an ‘auto-adjust’ on the panel. If that does fix the quality problem, then I have no clue as to what could cause it…

  19. Jonathan says:

    And I’m the kind of person to notice bad displays. I had a 19" Sony LCD connected via VGA, and I tried DVI – but couldn’t see any difference. Same with the current 22" Samsung LCD (1680X1050).

    Some people connect these via KVM – that looks like crap.

  20. fersis says:

    Just a question ,how much does it cost a : Intel Core 2 Duo 2.GHz and 2GB in USA?

    Here on Argentina , i bought that for less than 700 dollars.

    My pc with monitor and geForce 8600 and that CPU  cost me 734 US dollars.

  21. James says:

    I am surprised that you have not figured out how to make your LCD monitor properly format the VGA signal. Most modern LCD monitors have an auto-adjust button/setting that if pressed will adjust to properly format the VGA signal, and display it at fidelity indistinguishable from native DVI output.

  22. Dan McCarty says:

    Maybe I need to get my eyes checked, but I can’t tell from looking at an LCD whether it’s plugged in on VGA or DVI.  Can everyone else?

  23. Stefan Kanthak says:

    Raymond: if the motherboard has it’s VGA controller not onboard, but within the chipset, you have (or had.-) the chance of plugging a so-called ADD2 card (basically a TMDS transmitter) with DVI output into the PCIe slot.

    If you can get one (for a fistfull of dollars): try it! Since these cards have a low power consumption (especially in comparision to a full-featured video card) it might even work in your somehow damaged PCIe slot, just in case it’s the power supply to the card that fails.

    BTW: It is possible to use VGA and DVI output in parallel, some motherboards even support a dual monitor/dual screen configuration.

  24. GregM says:

    I read Raymond’s "Ugly." comment as "The thought of having to run my digital monitor on an analog signal is ugly, I really want to give it a digital signal.", not "I’m getting an ugly picture on my monitor."

  25. David Walker says:

    Dan McCarty: Yes, I can tell the difference, on my Samsung SyncMaster 204B 20" LCD monitor.  I bought a new mid-range ($70) video card just to get DVI output.  (I don’t believe in paying $400 for a video card for business use.  I am not a PC gamer.)

    It’s especially obvious if the VGA cable is long and/or thin (which means the wires inside are skinny).  

    A long DVI cable doesn’t lose so much (or any) information.

  26. poef says:

    It’s quite easy to tell VGA from DVI. Just look at a somewhat dark still image, and if there’s any movement (noise), it’s VGA. Especially with thin cables and a KVM switch the analog interference is quite noticeable. I unplugged my KVM switch because the image had noise like a badly tuned TV (kind of squiggly), just from the extra cables. It’s not that I really need several physical PCs anymore when virtualisation (it ends with char 0x65) works just fine.

    There’s another method and that’s using a 2×2 "checkboard" pattern (e.g. on/off/on/off). I don’t remember the technical details behind this but on some TFTs with such a pattern you get really ugly flickering. (When scrolling this probably flickers with DVI too since an LCD can’t update all the pixels fast enough.)

    I wonder though if some noises in dark shades come from a bad backlight or from trying to approximate colours by alternating between adjacent colours.

  27. Jim says:

    Ray, you are so lucky to have this site to help you with troubleshooting everything, you shall put on all the troubles in your life in the blog, just to see what advise you get from people. People even make judgement about your characters.

  28. Caliban Darklock says:

    Sometimes, an onboard video card actually pretends to be a card in the first available slot (where one would normally place a video card). You may be able to fix the problem by disabling onboard video.

  29. rdamiani says:

    @Dan McCarty

    "Maybe I need to get my eyes checked, but I can’t tell from looking at an LCD whether it’s plugged in on VGA or DVI.  Can everyone else?"

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I often can. Especially when the monitor isn’t a really good one. You’ll see faint ghosting around letters, and small text (single-pixel stroke width) will look a bit fuzzy. A coder like Raymond would be more likely to notice it than a gamer or graphics user, because coders often have dozens of windows full of 10 and 12 point text all over the screen. That’s where the VGA-vs-DVI difference is really striking.

  30. steveg says:

    Raymond, try these (as others have suggested)

    1. disabled on board video in the bios
    2. Check the "First Video Card" (paraphrased) setting if your bios has one. It’ll be either PCI or or PCIE

    3. Reset the BIOS to default values. Save. Shut down. Reinstall card. Boot. Card may have magically started working again — I’ve used this trick on a recalcitrant PCIE mobo recently where it wouldn’t recognise the PCIE card.

    For the last I happened to have a PCI (sans X or E) video card lying around I could use. Check your spare parts box if you have one (older PCI cards often don’t have driver support for XP let alone Vista).

    If you feel like the problem could happen again (and let’s face it, you know it will) you could look into getting a USB video device.

  31. Stephen Eilert says:

    @SuperKoko: lspci? I thought that was only available on *nix systems…

    @"me": It does not mean anything. Only means that Raymond is not a gamer or "power user", since those classes of people *do* care what the motherboard features are (and often choose a particular model because of those features). For gamers, specially, integrated graphics are a no-no.

    Running an analog signal to the monitor is somewhat ugly, but the extent of the signal loss depends a lot on the cables and the filtering done by the monitor itself.

    Off-topic: there should be a way to quote comments :)

  32. KenW says:

    @Thom: "@Raymond: There’s this thing called the Internet."

    Are you always such a rude person, or only when posting on someone else’s blog?

    @SuperKoko: "Nowadays, a typical computer comes with a ten pages manual describing how to play a CD audio or DVD video…"

    I just bought a new Acer desktop (needed a Vista-capable desktop for development). It came with the tower, keyboard, optical mouse, a poster sized quick start guide (all pictures, minimal text), and a 5" x 7" sheet of paper explaining why you only saw 3.5GB of RAM in Vista 32 when the machine had 4GB of RAM installed. With the exception of the foam blocks for padding and the plastic bag wrapped around the tower, that was all that was in the box.

    And yes, I mean *all*. I had to order the installation media from the Acer website (at an additional cost, of course, and I had to pay for shipping too).

  33. Cheong says:

    Actually, when Raymond said "Removed the display card, the computer boots up", it’s a good hint that onboard display is available.

    When the BIOS doing the POST and it cannot find display card, it beeps and hangs…

  34. Worf says:

    Hrm. All my monitors are hooked up via VGA – the only thing I have using DVI is my HDTV, hooked to my nice videocard.

    Though, one thing I’ve noticed is that if you reset the refresh rate to 60hz, it often cleans things up that auto-adjust does wonders. A few more minutes with the manual controls and you can get a really sharp image, and no one can tell – there’s no ghosting or anything.

    And my LCDs are routed through a KVM, but they have thick normal`cables. Thin ones just are bad anywhere.

  35. James says:

    Pete: Seconded.

    I’ve had similar problems a few times in the past with AGP slots, which turned out to be power supply issues. In my case, switching to a PCI graphics card solved it, probably moving the load from the 3.3V supply to the 5V one – much the same solution Raymond’s implemented, in fact.

    In this case, though, I’m wondering if the PCIe slot is not so much "dead" as misconfigured in some way? You can usually tell the BIOS whether to prefer on-board or plugin video as the primary, as well as setting some other parameters which might upset the card.

  36. SuperKoko says:

    "When the BIOS doing the POST and it cannot find display card, it beeps and hangs…"

    I hope not all BIOS do that, otherwise a server would’ve to get a useless video card just to boot…

    On the other hand, I own a desktop computer wants a PS/2 keyboard, otherwise it doesn’t boot. That’s really stupid for people who use USB keyboards or servers.

  37. memsom says:

    RE: BOS and POST tests

    The BIOS really shouldn’t hang if you set the "STOP ON NO ERRORS" option. If that is unavailable, your hardware needs to be shot! ;-)

  38. Anonymous says:

    @SuperKoko:

    Servers these days often have onboard video, precisely because of that. The onboard video on servers also usually has dedicated video memory (often very low amounts, like 8M) so as to avoid contention on the main memory for the screen refresh.

  39. Thom says:

    @KenW: "Are you always such a rude person, or only when posting on someone else’s blog?"

    Sorry Ken, I intended to put a ;) on the end of my comment but forgot and hit submit.  I started to add another but decided Raymond, and others, could figure it out.  

    Raymond obviously knows that there is this thing called the Internet as Raymond is the one very frequently commenting about people who don’t bother to search the documentation… or for it.

  40. David Walker says:

    I HATE looking at CRTs that are running at 60 or even 70 Hz, so I always changed those to 75 or 85 if available.

    I have helped other people who have switched from CRTs to LCD, and noticed that their refresh rate was sometimes above 60.  LCDs seem to be clearer at 60; I think that’s the "preferred" refresh rate for most or all LCDs.  And of course there’s no headache-inducing flicker to contend with.

    When I’m helping someone who has an LCD, the refresh rate will often be 75 Hz, and when I’m looking at someone’s CRT, the refresh rate will be a horrible 60 Hz.  Oh well.

  41. SuperKoko says:

    @memson: Rather than shooting your hardware, flashing the BIOS is a better idea… When the updated BIOS still doesn’t offer this option, THEN, you’ve the moral right to shoot it.

    However, if you did, you would shoot 90% of computers in the world.

    The mandatory smiley, for people who don’t understand second and third degree jokes:

    :D

  42. mbe says:

    It’s so good to know I’m not the only person in the world who can see 60hz clear as day (and be driven insane by it). Everyone around me told me I was imagining it!

  43. Worf says:

    Heh, yeah, 60hz on a CRT is distracting, annoying, and headache-inducing for me. 75Hz helps, but once it enters peripheral vision… ouch.

    The flicker-free nature of LCDs helps a lot for me.

  44. Ultrano says:

    Onboard graphics are horrible for software development, in my experience. On a GF6100, the desktop menus would hang for a few seconds, [fade-in stuff is turned-off], switching between windows took extra 0.5s, and sometimes the desktop would lock-up for 10-20s when I push the RAM and cpu usage. I had only 512MB RAM at that time, so my win2k machine might have been locking-up while using the swapfile for graphics.

    After a week or two I bought another mobo but with AGP (had reasons not to buy PCIe gpu), and the torment stopped.

    Worf: I think it depends on the CRT tube’s brightness and phosphor’s dimensions. There are TVs that I can’t watch due to the flicker, while at the rest it just causes a headache. On CRT monitors, anything below 85Hz will cause headaches too. I was often staying at 800×600 as that was the only resolution my CRT and gpu could handle at 100Hz (no nausea ever).

    With LCDs, though… the view-angle is the cause for discomfort. Unless you’re someone that can stay perfectly still directly in front of the LCD, 8-12 hrs/day. Maybe it’s just me, but when I move a few mm to the side/up in front of a 160-degree LCD, the color/brightness/contrast differences put strain on my eyes. It was very evident on my first LCD, where the viewangle was ~150… after two days my eyes were red and got I rid of the monitor to get rid of the headache. That same monitor doesn’t cause eye-strain to anyone else at home.

  45. Hagen Patzke says:

    Ultrano:"after two days my eyes were red and got I rid of the monitor to get rid of the headache"

    For me, a sharp contrast/brightness difference between monitor and environment causes red eyes and strain (after a few hours).

    E.g. at my desk I can see a building with a bright roof (especially in winter) next to the LCD monitor. Changing my or the monitor position is not really an option.

    As I didn’t want to have the blinds down all day, I tried donning sunglasses. This works fine, but it needed a bit of explanation when I wore them the first winter… :-)

  46. Yuhong Bao says:

    "a 5" x 7" sheet of paper explaining why you only saw 3.5GB of RAM in Vista 32 when the machine had 4GB of RAM installed."

    Vista SP1 corrects it to 4GB, but I wish I could use PAE to recover the 0.5GB lost due to having the physical address space limited to 32-bit. I don’t think it can be default due to driver issues, but at least have it as an option, like in Windows Server and Linux. BTW, yes I know that XP SP2+ uses it for NX, but it still can’t use greater than 4GB of RAM. BTW, not all Linux distros provide a PAE kernel, and some provides it only on server kernels, such as Ubuntu. In Linux, with a non-PAE kernel, you could not even use NX!

  47. Stephen Jones says:

    There was no display on my Sri Lankan desktop when I powered it up this Saturday.

    Sent it off to the technician. He found a dead gecko in the fan for the video card.

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