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Intermittent performance issues on Dell workstation

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by Hannibalian, Sep 10, 2018.

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  1. Hannibalian

    Hannibalian Thread Starter

    Joined:
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    Workstation Model: Dell Precision M4600; running Windows 7 Professional (64 Bit)

    Processor: Intel Core i7-2760QM CPU @ 2.40 GHz

    RAM: 8 GB

    GPU: AMD Radeon HD 6700M

    It's a premade workstation laptop, not custom, and AFAIK all components are original, though I did purchase the computer used/refurbished for 600-700 dollars, so I suppose it's not impossible that something in here has been replaced.

    I've been using this computer for nearly three years without serious incident. I mostly use it for coursework at my university (at my apartment, that is - this thing is only portable in the technical sense of the word), though I do some light gaming as well. She's not exactly cutting-edge, and I don't expect a ton, but if I lower the graphics settings a fair bit I can even get some more recent games like XCOM 2 to run at acceptable performance levels. Until about six months ago, that is.

    I first noticed a strangely slow and sluggish performance when I booted up XCOM 2, as I had previously done many times. Loading times were unusually long, and there was a very pronounced delay between inputting a command and watching it take onscreen. I was perplexed, Alt-F4'd out of the game, and for lack of a better idea, tried restarting the computer. This seemed to resolve the problem.

    But then it happened again, maybe a week later. Once more, a restart solved the performance chug. I gradually noticed, over the next few months, that performance issues were becoming more frequent, and that in order to play games at the performance levels I was accustomed I was basically being forced to restart the computer before every session. Even less-demanding games that I used to play without issue were suffering from the same issues, such as XCOM: Enemy Within, Skyrim, even Minecraft. This probably should have worried me immediately, but as a college student with a tight budget, my general approach has been "save the money until it forces your hand".

    Sometime later, I noticed that adjusting my screen's brightness, up or down, would immediately plunge any game I played into the dreaded chug, where previously I had only noticed it if I booted up a game without having turned off or restarted my computer beforehand. I wasn't sure if this was a new development, or if it had been the case before and I'd simply never triggered the chug in that way, but in either case I began to take seriously the question of whether I ought to be worried about some form of hardware failure in the near future. And within the last month and a half, approximately, I found that games were, for the first time, transitioning from smooth operation directly into the chug without adjustment of brightness or any abnormal input from me whatsoever, usually within 20-30 minutes of my usual restart. It was out of my hands, and finally I decided to stop gaming on the thing, buckle down, and find out if I could get it fixed.

    I put in a lot of research, but couldn't find anything that seemed to match my issue. I used this subreddit's malware removal guide to systematically check and purge my system of threats (Malwarebytes actually discovered two, but removing them had no effect on my particular issues). I cleared a lot of hard drive space and reinstalled a lot of the programs I'd been experiencing trouble with. I used the Resource Monitor to check for memory leaks or some other form of memory/CPU issue (even being sure to deliberately trigger the chug in-game before opening it up), but found nothing out of the regular.

    I brought the laptop to a local repairshop, which offers a free 21-point diagnostic to customers before suggesting repair procedures and quoting prices. From their website, the diagnostic procedure is as follows:

    -Physical Inspection (Chassis, Hinges, Ports, etc.)

    -Passes POST (Power on Self Test)

    -Boots to OS (Operating System)

    -OS is Activated

    -OS & Installed Apps Up to Date

    -Malware Check

    -Check for Missing Drivers

    -Check for current Virus Protection

    -Check WiFi & Ethernet

    -Check Sound System

    -Check Webcam

    -Check Touchscreen

    -Check Battery & AC Adapter Health

    -Check Hard Drive Health

    -Check Hard Drive Capacity

    -Verify Data Integrity

    -Test Optical Drive (ie. DVD)

    -CPU Stress Test

    -Check Operating Temperatures

    -Test Memory

    -Verify that Memory is Sufficient

    They contacted me a day or two after I dropped the computer off to report on their findings. Contrary to what I suspected/hoped, they found no heating issues to speak of; their tests suggested only two potential problems: 1) the AC adapter, which the system appeared not to recognize due to inconsistent wattage (it is a legitimate Dell adapter, yes), or 2) my graphics drivers, since that phase of their testing was causing intermittent crashes. Theproblems persisted even with the alternate AC adapter they tested it with, however, so we ruled out the first option and I agreed to let them dig deeper into my driver issue.

    Another day passed and the tech guy basically threw up his arms and said they'd hit a wall with my laptop's problem, which he described as "weird". He gave me two last possibilities: 1) my Windows installation is corrupted in some way or 2) my GPU is dying.

    So here I am! I'm mostly trying to collect second opinions. What do you consider the most likely source of my problem: the GPU or my Windows installation? The tech indicated that it was impossible to say for certain without replacing things and seeing if they worked, but I'm hesitant to commit to repairs of that nature. My instinct is that the GPU problem is more likely, but that's also strange because the tech said after the first diagnostic that they hadn't found any outstanding issues with my hardware whatsoever.

    The other question, of course, is: why is the chug (temporarily) cured by a restart?

    Any advice or information you can provide is much appreciated! In the meantime, all gaming activities on indefinite hiatus with this laptop. I don't want to make the problem any worse than it is - with the start of the new semester it'd be a royal pain to have it fail on me right now.
     
  2. Oddba11

    Oddba11

    Joined:
    May 12, 2011
    Messages:
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    First Name:
    Jim
    I'd suspect drivers or hardware fault.

    You could start by simply reinstalling all of the hardware and video drivers. All of the drivers should be available from the Dell website.

    If that doesn't work, I'd suggest a fresh install of Windows and all of the drivers.

    If the issue continues after that, then I'd suspect a hardware fault.
     
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