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Servicemans Log

What do you make of a laptop that crashes frequently when used at home but is rock solid everywhere else? This one was a real mystery but eventually the penny dropped.

Items Covered This Month

• The laptop that crashed but only at home
• A faulty STB
• Parts interchangeability
• Electronic module reliability
• How to fix a transmission

Back in March, I related how I’d set up a wireless ADSL modem for Barbara, so that she could operate her Toshiba Tecra M2 laptop free of a trailing network cable.

Despite my usual blunders in setting it all up, it all worked beautifully in the end and I left a very happy customer to play with her new toy.

That was the last I heard from her until a couple of months ago, when she brought the laptop in complaining that it crashed regularly.

Apparently, it would “fall over” at random intervals, even when she wasn’t actually using it, although it most commonly occurred while she was browsing the net. All would be well and then, for no apparent reason, the machine would suddenly reboot itself. It would then be OK for a short while and then crash again.

In fact, it wasn’t uncommon for it to crash five or six times an hour or more.

This shouldn’t be too difficult, I thought (why do I always stupidly think that about computers?). Viruses and spyware nasties commonly cause these problems, so that would be my first line of attack.

Click for larger image
SeaTools for Windows is a handy hard disk diagnostics tools from Seagate. You can download it from their website.

With that in mind, I initially scanned the hard drive for viruses but it came up as clean as a whistle. I then did a full scan for malware using several popular anti-malware programs but again drew a complete blank.

Having cleared the hard drive of any viral-type nasties, I then went to the Microsoft Update website and installed a few critical security updates. I also checked for driver updates but the site said that everything was OK.

What was interesting was that during all this time, the machine was absolutely rock steady, with not so much as a hiccup. So I hadn’t really found any fault and all I could do was continue with a bit more housekeeping and make a few more routine checks.

Next, I checked to see if the screen saver was causing the crash when it activated but that wasn’t the problem either. I then connected the machine to my local network via an ethernet cable and used it to browse the web at regular intervals.

While doing this, I also took the opportunity to download the latest version of CCleaner and ran that to clear the hard disk of the usual detritus that comes with web browsing. I also downloaded and ran a freeware registry checker over the machine to clean up any registry errors.

Well, nothing I could do would make it fall over during any of this work. The machine had now been on for several hours, so it was all becoming a bit of a mystery.

An intermittent hardware fault was another possibility, so my next step was to check the RAM and the hard disk drive. First, I booted the machine from my Memtest86 CD and let it run for several hours. This turned up yet another blank, so I turned my attention to the hard disk.

This was checked using Seagate’s “SeaTools For Windows” (you can download it for free from the Seagate website). This can run a number of basic tests on the HDD and I ran both the short and the long self-diagnostics routines. They both gave the HDD a clean bill of health.

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