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I've got an old Pentium 4 computer with an Asus P4T-E motherboard. A few days ago it began to have problems booting, reporting that the CMOS values are corrupt; I assumed the onboard battery has become weak. But now when I turn it on, the monitor doesn't even get a signal. Odd; I've only otherwise experienced this when expansion cards or RAM or other chips weren't properly inserted.

I opened up the case to replace the battery and discovered that the passive cooler on the Intel chip next to the processor (near the RAM sockets) had come off!!

I suspect this is the northbridge but I'm not so much into motherboard architecture. The cooler was held in place by a spring, and one of the two spring fastenings is plain missing. There's a bit of dried-up cooling paste or adhesive on the chip and cooler but this clearly couldn't hold the cooler in place.

The machine has absolutely not been physically moved (or bumped) for ages.

Can I just put the cooler back in place (of course cleaned and with new cooling paste, and with a new spring fastener), or has the chip taken critical damage by turning on the computer without the cooler in place?

I can't replace just that chip; I would have to replace the entire motherboard. Then it would probably be smarter to replace the entire computer, but it would be such a waste of the remaining hardware!

I've now purchased an identical replacement motherboard on eBay for a whopping $8 (plus shipping). This will "solve" my problem. Thanks for your helpful answers!

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

I suspect if your machine is not POSTing from a cold boot, then your Northbridge has been fried. Northbridge processors can run hot and if your cooling paste is dried-up, then it is most surely the case.

Time for a new mobo mate.

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"not POSTing from a cold boot" > Yup, that's the case exactly. Thanks for bringing the bad news. I'll have to retire the machine and start over. <sad>Is anyone interested in a fine Pentium4 chip, by any chance?</sad> – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '10 at 11:06
Read my answer, their may be hope yet... – ubiquibacon Jul 26 '10 at 11:11
With the possibility of getting a used identical motherboard cheaply, this diagnosis isn't quite so bad. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '10 at 15:05

I would first just put the cooler back on and see if all is well. If you still have problems then I would search on youtube for HP DV9000 blank screen fix. A massive amount of computers with Nvidia GPUs had recalls because the chips got so hot they melted their own solder and the pins no longer made contact. If your chip got that hot you may have the same situation. It is a somewhat delicate procedure but it works, I have done it myself, plus if the machine is as old as you say it is you really don't have much to lose :) The youtube videos on the subject show you all you need to know, you should be able to adapt their procedure to your motherboard fairly easy.

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Yes, but with anything like this, if you have damaged components on your motherboard, you run the risk of damaged other components, such as disk controllers, memory, etc. In situations like this, it is always wiser to just replace the motherboard and move on... – Dan McGrath Jul 26 '10 at 11:51
You are right, but I personally like trying to fix as much stuff as I can... stretching a dollar as it were. I wouldn't try what I was suggesting if the motherboard is connected to any really good hardware that if damaged would leave you heartbroken, but if the computer is as old as he said it was, then chances are the other hardware inside isn't worth all that much $$$ anyways. I have done this fix twice on HP/Compaq computers, and it has worked great both times. – ubiquibacon Jul 26 '10 at 12:16
As long as you disconnect any data storage. I would assume that no matter how unimportant the hardware is, your actual data is still important :) – Dan McGrath Jul 27 '10 at 4:53

To avoid buying a new computer salvage as much from the old computer as possible, perhaps it is possible to buy a used but identical motherboard through eBay or similar?

This idea just came to me and a quick eBay search actually did show promising results! I'm posting this option for the sake of completeness. Who'd have thought that there are people and stores selling 9 year old mainboards... wow!

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If there were any deformations or scorch marks on the chip, it is possible that it is damaged.

In the end, now that you have replaced the thermal paste and the cooler there is no danger in turning the computer on and checking if the motherboard is working.

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I have not replaced the paste and cooler. I mentioned that I could do that if it had any chance of working afterwards. But Dan's answer above sounds pretty definite.... – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '10 at 11:04
@torbengb Well then you should calculate how much it would cost to replace thermal paste and attach the cooler plus your time and effort and see if it's sufficiently cheaper than new computer. Also consider typoknig's answer. In the end, you have nothing but your time and effort to lose if you try replacing the paste or going with typoknig's idea. If your time and effort are more expensive than new computer, go ahead and by one. Even the cheapest standard desktop now should have considerably higher performance than your old system. – AndrejaKo Jul 26 '10 at 11:52
This computer doesn't need to be fast, or new. My mother-in-law uses it to read emails. That doesn't warrant spending several hundred euros on new hardware when almost all the existing hardware still works. I have some thermal paste, so I just need to affix the cooler again. But I'm afraid it won't help because the chip is burnt and can't be replaced. And I can't get a new motherboard for such an old processor. Perhaps a used motherboard on eBay? That is worth a try! – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '10 at 11:59

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