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RAM upgrade attempt, now one slot not working, hard drive not recognized


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#1 anonanon

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Posted 11 June 2017 - 10:08 PM

I have a Dell Dimension 4600 running Win XP Pro.  It  has run okay (though slow) on 1 GB RAM (4 x 256 MB) for many years.

 

Today I tried to upgrade its memory to 4 x 1 GB RAM.  But on boot-up, the hard drive would not start up, and the screen stayed blank.  I switched back to the original memory sticks (4 x 256 MB), but got the same problem.

 

After trial and error, I found that the second memory slot seems to be "bad".  If a memory module is put in it, all I get is a blank screen on boot-up.  If it is left empty, the system boots to the BIOS and recognizes the memory that is in the other three slots.  Right now that's 3 x 1 GB = 3 GB total.  But the system does not recognize the hard drive.  The BIOS listed the Primary Drive as OFF.  When I changed its attribute to AUTO in the BIOS, the BIOS then had it as an UNKNOWN DEVICE.  Even after those changes in the BIOS, the computer doesn't boot past a blank screen, and the light that indicates the hard drive is working is not on or flashing.

 

I have tried reseating the power cable and data cables to the hard drive (including the connection at the motherboard).  I've tried different cables.  This had no effect, except that using certain data cables caused the hard drive light to illuminate (steady) for a short time or a long time.  But this had no effect on the bootup problem.  The computer worked fine last night, so it seems unlikely that a cable went bad just as I was trying to upgrade the RAM.

 

Any ideas are welcome, but I have two questions:

 

1.  If the second memory slot is bad, could that cause the hard drive to be unrecognizable?  In other words, could I have basically one problem (the bad memory slot) or do I have two problems (bad memory slot plus a hard drive not being recognized)?

 

2.  Is there anything I can do about the second memory slot being "bad"?  What is the problem there?  (Remember that when it has a module in it, I get nothing but a blank screen, but when it is empty, I can get to the BIOS screen.)  I think I have seated the module correctly (and deep enough), but maybe there's a contact problem.  Is there anything to try in terms of getting a better fit or a better electrical connection?  What else is likely to go wrong in a memory slot?

 

Thanks for any ideas,

Roger

 

 



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#2 anonanon

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Posted 12 June 2017 - 10:56 PM

Okay, tonight I cleaned the problematic 2nd RAM slot with a contact cleaner.  It made no difference in the problem.  It boots to the BIOS as long as the 2nd slot is empty; it just goes to a blank screen if a stick is in the second slot.

 

So the second slot seems to be bad.  Any ideas about why?  Does this mean the motherboard is shot?

 

Thanks,

Roger



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Posted 12 June 2017 - 11:27 PM

FYI, WinXP is not capable of recognizing more than 3.5 Gbytes of RAM.  I'll read the rest of your thread closer in a bit, but wanted to post that piece of information.  My first thought is to want to compare the version of BIOS you have now, and see if there is an update/upgrade available.

 

Also when you bought your memory I hope you thought about thinks like Timing, Command Rate and Voltage.  If those things are new to you, you've got some learning to do, that you should have done before you spent money on memory.



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Posted 12 June 2017 - 11:38 PM

Okay, tonight I cleaned the problematic 2nd RAM slot with a contact cleaner.  It made no difference in the problem.  It boots to the BIOS as long as the 2nd slot is empty; it just goes to a blank screen if a stick is in the second slot.

 

So the second slot seems to be bad.  Any ideas about why?  Does this mean the motherboard is shot?

 

Thanks,

Roger

 

No.  First thing to know is exactly what memory you are using.  Assuming it's DDR440, not all DDR400 is the same.  It's best if all 4 sticks of RAM are the same.  Mixing different sticks may mean you have different voltage requirements, different timing requirements all trying to persuade your obsolete motherboard to play with them, hence freezes.  Also FYI there's this thing called "SPD" which signals to the motherboard what it should to to accommodate memory automatically (voltage, timing, etc...) and this does not always work and so the User (you) has to go into BIOS and make these settings manually.  But you have to know what you have first, before you can know what settings, voltage they require.

 

Having said all that, RAM slots DO go bad.  So it could be no more complicated than that.  But obviously you want it to be an issue that can be fixed by BIOS adjustments as a bad RAM slot is always bad.  Possibly due to "bad caps" (<--- research that) on the motherboard, due to it's age and the fact that it was a POS from Dell the day it was made probably more than 10 years ago.  (I had one myself, back in the day.  Goofy green CPU shroud on a hinge, and a case that split in half sideways, hinged at the front.

 

So those are your missions.  First ID your current BIOS, then post your 4 sticks of RAM's specs (manufacturer, model of each stick if they are different.

 

For "extra credit" work you can roam in the BIOS and if you see a setting called "Command Rate" changing it from 1T to 2T makes the memory run more reliable, aka "compatibility mode".  Minor hit in performance, but it might make the difference between not-working and working.  Might also be useful if you could post a picture of the BIOS screen where it shows all the good stuff, the memory settings, etc... and what options you have available.  They are probably limited because Dells were not known for their ability to overclock.

 

:hysterical:



#5 anonanon

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 12:53 PM

Aaron,

 

Thanks for replying.

 

The problem isn't with the new memory sticks.  As I said in my original post, the problem unfortunately persisted when I switched back to the old memory sticks (which worked a few days ago).  My goal right now is to get the computer working with the old sticks (4 x 256 MB).  Those are the ones in the computer now.  I don't think you need their specs, since we know that they work okay.

 

I see the main problem as the hard drive not being recognized.  I get "SATA Primary Drive 0 not found".  Can I assume this is caused by the memory slot problem?

 

I'd be happy if I could get the computer working with only slots 1, 3, and 4 recognized.  But even with slot 2 empty, the hard drive is not being recognized.  With slot 2 occupied, nothing is happening (blank screen, no access to the BIOS).

 

The BIOS version is A07 (or 1.10.A07).  The latest version I found at the Dell website is A12.  I have that file; it's simply one .exe file, 500 KB.  I guess it's worth trying to update the BIOS with this file.  Since I can't get into Windows, I suppose I need a bootable medium.  The BIOS boot menu lists only the hard drive, floppy drive, and CD-ROM drive (not a USB drive).  But online when I search for instructions on making a bootable CD to upgrade the BIOS, I get only results for making a bootable flash drive (e.g. at the Dell website).  Can you direct me to reliable instructions on how to make a bootable CD in order to update the BIOS?

 

For reference, here is how the system behaves now:

 

If slot 2 has a stick in it:  blank screen; no access to BIOS

 

If slot 2 is empty:  can get to the BIOS; upon exiting BIOS, I get "SATA Primary Drive 0 not found".

 

For a little more detail:  In the BIOS, whatever memory is in slots 1, 3, and 4 is recognized (old sticks or new sticks).  Under Drive Configuration, SATA Primary was initially listed as OFF.  If it's left off, exiting the BIOS results in a blank screen.  If I change SATA Primary to AUTO, the BIOS now calls it UNKNOWN DEVICE and when I exit the BIOS, I get the "SATA Primary Drive 0 not found" message.

 

If have photos of all this, but they just reproduce what I've written here.

 

Thanks for your ideas,

Roger



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Posted 13 June 2017 - 02:46 PM

Okay before I get into this, in general, no memory problems do not cause hard drive problems at the BIOS recognition level, but they could both have  a common cause, i.e. a failing motherboard due to bad caps (or other), or bad power.  Post specs of your CPU.  PSU.  Keep in mind this is an antique, that was poor in quality the day it was made.

 

I also think it's a mistake to try to troubleshoot two seemingly different symptoms at the same time.  Mixing "If I do this with memory and that with hard drive, but if I do something else with memory and then THIS with hard drive." is crazy-making.  As a general troubleshooting rule, hardware components do not go bad at the same time.  Almost never.  But if they do, something else killed them, like a huge power spike will kill a CPU and video card both at the same time.  Almost always, two seemingly bad components only appear bad because a 3rd component is causing it, which in your case is either the motherboard or the PSU.  Failing that, Component "A" fails and make Component "B" look bad, but I can think of no way that your HD makes your memory not work, or your memory slot makes your hard drive bad.

 

I think the first thing to do is verify that the Hard drive is either good or bad.  Can you install it in another computer in order to verify this?  I also think we should assume the old memory is good, given that it worked for years, and your new memory also causes problems, so the idea that any of that memory is bad seems unlikely to me.  However your Power supply could have killed both your hard drive and your motherboard's #3 memory slot.  So, more or less, I'm removing "memory" from the list of suspects and adding Power Supply to the list.

 

If you can find a "known good" PSU for testing purposes, that might suddenly make both the memory slot and the hard drive work again, in which case we can theorize that the old PSU simply didn't deliver the right power (voltage), however I think that's unlikely.  More likely is that pooched the motherboard, and now we just hope the HD is still good and the data is still recoverable, which is why I've listed that as thing #1 to determine.

 

 

 

I see the main problem as the hard drive not being recognized.  I get "SATA Primary Drive 0 not found".  Can I assume this is caused by the memory slot problem?

 

No I think it more likely that it's caused by motherboard or PSU problem.  Remove all other hard drives from system, if there are any.  Move SATA cable around to various slots, and change the power connector to the suspect hard drive.  We need to make certain you don't have a bad SATA slot, a bad SATA cable, or a bad PSU power connector, and that in fact the HD is what's not working.  You could also perform these same tests on a known good hard drive, in order to prove everything else is good and it's the hard drive that is bad, but that's an inferential conclusion and not determinative.  I'd still want to say the "bad" hard drive actually BAD on another system before condemning it, given that there's data on it and the time involved in reinstalling a new O/S.

 

The BIOS version is A07 (or 1.10.A07).  The latest version I found at the Dell website is A12.  I have that file; it's simply one .exe file, 500 KB.  I guess it's worth trying to update the BIOS with this file.  Since I can't get into Windows, I suppose I need a bootable medium.  The BIOS boot menu lists only the hard drive, floppy drive, and CD-ROM drive (not a USB drive).  But online when I search for instructions on making a bootable CD to upgrade the BIOS, I get only results for making a bootable flash drive (e.g. at the Dell website).  Can you direct me to reliable instructions on how to make a bootable CD in order to update the BIOS?

 

Hmm yeah good question.  Cob webs are too thick to remember how I did it back in the day.  One idea is to oh, wait, I remember.  You make a bootable CD disk with something like "Dr. DOS" or any other DOS, and you copy the BIOS data and the flash .exe to that CD also.  Boot to Dr. DOS, and then in command line run the flash.

Have you flashed BIOS before.  It's not always 100% safe.  You can brick your machine.

 

Before doing that, replace the CMOS battery and do the full "Clear CMOS" procedure.  I've read of anecdotes where a CMOS batter on the edge of being bad causes flaky symptoms like this.  Also maybe someone else can give better advice on how to flash an old Dell Dimension XP-era computer using a CD drive (due to not being able to boot from USB drive).


Edited by Aaron_Warrior, 13 June 2017 - 03:20 PM.


#7 anonanon

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 03:16 PM

Aaron,

 

Thanks.  I get your point -- there is probably a common cause for both problems that lies outside both of them.  No I didn't flash the BIOS in the past.  I haven't done anything with this PC in 4 yrs., when I added two RAM modules.  (It's my mom's PC.)

 

I will test the HD in a different machine, try the SATA cable in a different slot, test/replace the battery, and clear the CMOS by removing the battery for 5 mins.

 

Roger



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Posted 13 June 2017 - 03:19 PM

On re-read I see this mistake.  I meant post specs of your power supply unit aka "PSU".

 

Okay before I get into this, in general, no memory problems do not cause hard drive problems at the BIOS recognition level, but they could both have  a common cause, i.e. a failing motherboard due to bad caps (or other), or bad power.  Post specs of your CPU.  PSU.  Keep in mind this is an antique, that was poor in quality the day it was made.

 

We want the PSU to be bad and the motherboard to be good.  It's time for that PSU to die.  Visually inspect motherboard with flashlight and magnifying glass and look for swollen caps, burst, leaking, light white or yellow crust, do not touch or clean them off, take pics and post here.


Edited by Aaron_Warrior, 13 June 2017 - 03:22 PM.


#9 anonanon

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 05:16 PM

Okay, I'll inspect the motherboard shortly.  I doubt it has visible problems.  The whole PC looks clean and nearly new.

 

The PSU specs.:

Dell Model NPS-250 KB

 

Output:

+5V 22.0 A

+12V 16.0 A

+5SB 2.0 A

170 Watts total

 

Is that all you need?

 

I tested the hard drive on a different PC.  I can read the data on it just fine.

 

I tested the CMOS battery.  It's way in the green zone on my battery tester.  When I waited 8 mins. and replugged it in, it didn't reset the BIOS, which is odd, b/c when I took it out earlier for 30 secs., it did reset the BIOS that time.  Maybe I forgot to unplug the AC power cord?

 

I tested the hard drive in the problem computer using a different power connector into the HD, and using a different SATA slot into the motherboard.  Yesterday I tried two different SATA cables.  None of this helped.

 

Roger



#10 anonanon

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 08:42 PM

I visually inspected the motherboard with flashlight and magnifying glass.  It looked like I imagine it looked in 2003 when it was built.  Nothing was cracked, swollen, split, leaking, or covered in anything.  I'm trying to attach two photos, but they keep disappearing after I click "attach this file" in the basic uploader.  And the advanced uploader returns error messages.  Do you want me to make the photos available some other way?

 

I haven't upgraded the BIOS yet.  Do you think that's worth trying, given everything else?  Remember, everything worked fine until I tried to upgrade the RAM.  Since then, RAM slot # 2 and the hard drive don't work.

 

My other thought is that maybe something physically/electrically broke in the motherboard when I installed the new RAM, and that is now causing the RAM slot and HD problems.  I didn't apply undue pressure when inserting the memory chips, or hear or feel anything break.  But to me this seems like the most likely possible explanation.  What do you think?

 

Roger

 

 



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Posted 13 June 2017 - 09:04 PM

Okay, I'll inspect the motherboard shortly.  I doubt it has visible problems.  The whole PC looks clean and nearly new.

 

The PSU specs.:

Dell Model NPS-250 KB

 

Output:

+5V 22.0 A

+12V 16.0 A

+5SB 2.0 A

170 Watts total

Caps fail due to age and poor-quality electrolyte, and not use. Here's a thread on bad caps.net about one of their experts and a bad NPS-250 KB.
 
 
You can read the thread if you want, but what I'm trying to show you is that there's some history here.  Your "170 watts" is pathetic and due to inefficiencies in the hardware probably never develop even 70% of that.  WORSE, that "170 watts" is additive, meaning it will do 80 Watts on the 12 volt rail, 30 watts on the 5 volt rail, etc... it's not 170 WATTS OF POWER ALL DAY EVERY DAY AND EVERWHERE.   Modern power supplies output 80% of 450 Watts at a bare minimum, and most are in the 600 to 800 range.
 
We hope your PSU is bad.  It might mean your motherboard (meaning your RAM slot) is also good, in addition to the Hard Drive, which was good news.
 
You have a bunch of options for a power supply.  You can buy one online at NewEgg, you can buy one used off Craigslist (risky), you can buy one in a local shop (expensive) or you can probably fix that POS you have with about $15 worth of japanese capacitors and a couple of days of research.  If you feel up to soldering.  I assume option #3 isn't happening.  The PSU fully-repaired isn't worth $15.00
 
Note in the bad caps thread the OP mentions it's a "20-pin" PSU.  This is the oldest connector they make and if you buy one new you have to think about this.  Let me give you and example of a low-cost, high-quality, compatible PSU I would buy for myself or a client if I were in your situation. You have to have a 20 pin, a 20+4 pin, or a 20+8 pin.  A 24 pin will not work on that motherboard.
 
 
This PSU is infinitely better than the one it might replace. Note it is 80+ certified, meaning that it actually delivers 80+ percent (minimum) of it's rated power output, has Active PFC.  At this price range, I would have nothing but Seasonic.  You can save a couple of dollars (literally, like $3.00) and get the next step down in Seasonic, but for 3 bucks a 430 Watt PSU is worth the peace of mind.
 
Of the BIOS reports any kind of voltages at all, and temperatures, that would be good.

I tested the CMOS battery.  It's way in the green zone on my battery tester.  When I waited 8 mins. and replugged it in, it didn't reset the BIOS, which is odd, b/c when I took it out earlier for 30 secs., it did reset the BIOS that time.  Maybe I forgot to unplug the AC power cord?

Failure to clear CMOS is a pretty good indicator of a bad motherboard and/or bad power supply.  Did you use a jumper to short the pins together correctly, with that battery out.  I don't know about a "green zone", but I do know that batteries have a rated voltage output, and I think it's 3.3 volts, and a multimeter will tell you if it's 3.2 (bad) 3.1 (worse) etc... The AC cord doesn't matter.

 

I tested the hard drive in the problem computer using a different power connector into the HD, and using a different SATA slot into the motherboard.  Yesterday I tried two different SATA cables.  None of this helped.

At least the HD is good.  If you want to get ahead of the game, install it as a 2nd drive on another computer and run chkdsk on it 2 or 3 times. as bad motherboard/bad power will cause hard drive errors and possible system file corruption so be ready for it not to want to boot once you get in installed on a good machine.
 
Note: It is possible to get that hard drive to boot another computer and I've done it a few times.  The best, easiest & fastest way is to install it on another machine and run a "Repair Install" otherwise known as an "overlay install", but you need the right kind of WinXP installation disk to do it.  Sometimes, if you can get the thing to boot to desktop in Safe Mode, or even normal mode, you can reinstall the chipset drivers and it never knows it's on a new motherboard/CPU.  Worst case scenario is hand migrate the data off the HD to another while the XP drive is a 2nd drive on another system, thenformat and new install.

Edited by Aaron_Warrior, 13 June 2017 - 09:08 PM.


#12 anonanon

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 11:13 PM

Aaron,

 

I appreciate all the thought you've put into this.  I'm easy to convince about putting more money into a power supply.  A few years ago my custom-built computer started smoking (due to a cheap power supply installed in it by JNCS, a reputable company) and I replaced it with one in the $40-50 range.  I'd never choose to skimp in that area.

 

But my hunch is that the motherboard is bad, and I don't want to delay deciding what to do much longer, and my mom probably wants a new PC anyway.  If it was mine, I would get a PSU and see if that helps.  But she just wants this problem solved soon so she can do email once a day again.  There is little data on the hard drive and I can transfer that.  She can learn to use Windows 10, even though I'm fond of XP.

 

I think the problem is probably due to the motherboard because I can't see why this cheap, underpowered PSU that worked fine for 14 years would suddenly go bad at the exact time that I tried to upgrade the RAM.  But I can imagine how the motherboard might go bad at that time, since I was physically interacting with the motherboard.  Is my reasoning flawed?

 

If I could prevail on your for another piece of advice, do you have any thoughts on these two new PCs?

 

HP Pavilion 510-p026 Desktop PC (Intel i5 Processor, 12GB RAM Memory, 1TB Hard Drive)

at:  https://www.staples.com/HP-Pavilion-510-p026-Desktop-PC-Intel-i5-Processor-12GB-RAM-Memory-1TB-Hard-Drive-/product_2257014

 

HP Slimline 260-a010 Desktop PC (Intel Pentium Processor, 4GB RAM Memory, 1TB Hard Drive)

at:  https://www.staples.com/HP-Slimline-260-a010-Desktop-PC-Intel-Pentium-Processor-4GB-RAM-Memory-1TB-Hard-Drive-/product_2273865

 

I'd probably go buy it at Staples rather than via mail order, because of time constraints.  I really want to get this problem solved by this weekend.

 

Thanks again for all your help,

Roger

 

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Posted 13 June 2017 - 11:35 PM

Since you are online I'll give my my fast opinion and then a more deliberate one later.  Buy a cheap computer at walmart and accept that it will probably be problematic in 2 years.  Avoid Win10 if possible.  Research if the computer you buy will let you install Win7 or Win8 i.e. does it have drivers.  Invest in a good wireless mouse, as long as you are spending money.  You have that think in your hand all day long I have NO IDEA why people go cheap on the thing you have in your hand all day.  It's like sleeping on a bad mattress.  Makes no sense to me at all.  I'll look at these options.  I think Walmart is better for returns. Pick the store that has the best return policy and make plans for what you are going to do if you have to return it.  Don't throw away the box and packaging and save the receipt.



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Posted 13 June 2017 - 11:48 PM

HP Pavilion 510-p026 Desktop PC (Intel i5 Processor, 12GB RAM Memory, 1TB Hard Drive)

at:  https://www.staples.com/HP-Pavilion-510-p026-Desktop-PC-Intel-i5-Processor-12GB-RAM-Memory-1TB-Hard-Drive-/product_2257014

 

$429.99

 

HP Slimline 260-a010 Desktop PC (Intel Pentium Processor, 4GB RAM Memory, 1TB Hard Drive)

at:  https://www.staples.com/HP-Slimline-260-a010-Desktop-PC-Intel-Pentium-Processor-4GB-RAM-Memory-1TB-Hard-Drive-/product_2273865

$269.00

 

Okay so if we limit the choices between just vanilla and chocolate, I say it's a matter of money. Both are adequate for a mom that does nothing more than surf the internet, look at facebook and pinterest and email.  Anything more than the HP 260 is more or less a luxury.  The 260 is dramatically better than what she WAS using.

 

On the other hand the 510 is a much better computer in all ways.  4 times the RAM, i5 processor, etc... Well worth the extra $200.  Meaning yes, you are getting an extra $200 worth of performance with the more expensive machine.

 

Both have Win10, which is bad.  She's gonna HATE it.  Plus wait until they start beaming adverts into her cerebral cortex, using the keywords she uses to search google, in order to know what to market to her.  Oh and the keylogger too.  Ok, gotta stop.

So it's either/or AFAIC.  I could probably find a better deal somewhere, it seems Stables is THE place.  Maybe you don't have a Walmart?  Not sure about the 510 but the 260 seems very small and there may be no way to add a 2nd HD in the future if that's a concern.  Swapping that 1Tbyte HD for an SSD would save power and make the thing run a lot faster.  Both come with keyboards and mice, and both have built-in wireless.



#15 anonanon

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Posted 14 June 2017 - 03:35 PM

Thanks for your views.  I'd also prefer Win 7, since I'm familiar with that.  Walmarts are too far away from me, so I'm looking at Staples.  How about this one?  It seems to be the only new desktop they sell with Win 7.

 

For the OS, It says "Windows 7 Professional 64 (available through downgrade rights from Windows 10 Pro".  Is that okay, or a bad workaround?

 

https://www.staples.com/HP-ProDesk-400-G3-Intel-Core-i5-6500-Quad-Core-1TB-HDD-8GB-RAM-Windows-7-Pro-Desktop-Computer/product_2180186#/ccs-ft9

 

All this computer will be used for is email, Skype, and printing.

 

Roger






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