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Problem Outline

When booting from cold (and my machine is disconnected from main power when off, but leaving it connected doesn't help) the graphics card (single PCI-e card GeForce 460) will not initialise on the first boot, leaving me with the motherboards on-board graphics (which kick in automatically if no PCI-e card is found).

However, if I restart the computer - normally I do this by powering it off just after the numlock lights up on the keyboard (ie, just after POST/BIOS and before Windows takes over), wait for the system to whirr down, and power up again - the graphics card will work correctly. Once double-booted in this matter the system seems to work correctly - with no noticeable problems.

This is reproducible every time I try to boot - it has been working like this for about a month now.

Background Information

Sept 2010 - I suffered a hardware malfunction (crashes in Windows and graphics corruption on BIOS screens). By way of spare hardware I determined that replacing the PSU removed the issue, so I replaced the PSU with a brand new one of slightly higher power (460W replaced with 500W).

Oct 2010 - The problem resurfaced. I purchased a new graphics card (GeForce 460), which removed the problem. The new graphics card immediately started having the boot initialisation problems mentioned. I presumed there was a motherboard fault all along, but because the system worked once booted, and I was temporarily out of spare money, I left the system alone and continued to use it.

Early/Mid Dec 2010 - In the space of 5 days I recieved 3 instances of hard drive corruption (seemlingly fixed by chkdsk and sfc in each case...). Since I was already under the impression the motherboard was faulty, I purchased a new one ASAP, this also required new RAM (as I dropped from 4 slots to 2 and didn't want to drop mem quantity).

Past 3-4 weeks - With the recently purchased PSU, Graphics Card, Motherboard and RAM I'm suffering the problem outlined above.

So, what could be causing this and how do I can resolve it?


Additional Notes

  • Once double-booted the system seems to work entirely correctly.

  • The graphics card problem has occured on two entirely different motherboards.

  • I do not have the opportunity to test the graphics card in a different computer (I've only the old motherboard, which is dubious, or a really old desktop that still has an AGP port).

  • Under load (ie, modern games for long enough for temperatures to plateau) the system remains stable and performs as expected.

  • The software that came with the new motherboard and SpeenFan both report all voltages and temperatures are within nominal bounds, when idle and when under load.

  • I've looking over the BIOS settings for my motherboard multiple times and can find nothing that helps.

  • This system is configured to run with everything at standard levels - no overclocking.

  • I've tried booting the system with only the mobo and graphics card connected (thinking maybe my new PSU was too weak for the new gfx card, even though it meets the quoted PSU requirements for the card) but the same problem persists (and really if the PSU was weak I'd have problems with the system under load).

  • When the gfx card does not initialise the fan on its cooling unit is running, possibly slower than otherwise - but this measurement is by eye and so unreliable.

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2 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

If someone was to come to me with exactly what you said, I would assume that something is wrong with the graphics card e.g. it is not "loading" in time.

If the BIOS has a way of choosing the graphics adapter, I would make sure it is set to PCI Express and not auto, but other than this, I suspect that the problem is with the graphics card.

When the gfx card does not initialise the fan on its cooling unit is running, possibly slower than otherwise - but this measurement is by eye and so unreliable.

The fan speed is not constant, it is heat controlled. If the card is not actually being used, it just has power, therefore, the fan will be running at the minimum level.

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The BIOS is already configured for PCIe, and that's a valid point about the fan. The graphics card being the problems seems to be the core of this, but then - why would it work correctly under load...? –  DMA57361 Jan 17 '11 at 13:47
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@DMA57361 - There are millions of components, it could simply be a transistor used to store power is malfunctioning and it requires extra time to boot - at this point the internal graphics have already taken over. It could be one of a million things and a problem in one area doesn't always break other things. –  William Hilsum Jan 17 '11 at 15:31
    
This has, for whatever reason, started happening less frequently. But, ultimately the answer isn't going to be solved until I buy new hardware, which isn't going to happen any time soon. Ticking this off as this and the comment are going to be correct, I'm sure. –  DMA57361 May 19 '11 at 9:27
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Given that your've pretty much replaced everything but the hard drive and optical drives I would begin to look there.

The 460 is likely to be quite a power hungry beast of a card and it may be that when it is starting up it draws enough current to pull one of the voltage lines slightly low in the power supply and thus make it difficult for the motor in the hard drive to start up quickly. This would either be a sign that the power supply is not "beefy" enough, that the hard drive needs moving to another power rail our of the PSU (i.e. try a different lead out of the PSU) or that the hard drive itself is starting to fail.

If the hard drive motor is taking a long time to start up it would cause the issue you are outlining as by the time the BIOS has POST'ed it would expect that within a couple of seconds the hard drive should repsond, if it doesn't then it may assume the hard drive is not there so as not to hold up the boot process. A restart would "fix" the problem as it would not remove power from the drive and so the motor would already be spinning when the BIOS queried it and so would get data straight away.

The Speedfan software is able to query the S.M.A.R.T. data on the drive, there may be some indication there of it taking an abnormally long time to spin up.

My advice is to try Speedfan first to see if it is taking a long time to spin up, try moving it to other power leads (current PSUs typically have two 12 rails out so that a high load on one should not affect the other as much) or as a final option try another hard drive.

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Your first two paragraphs were a concern - and I have previously tried the machine with only the Gfx Card connected and the same problem occurs (See 2nd to last bullet point). The hard drives are not an issue as you descrube - in the case where the gfx card "stalls", everything works as expected except the gfx card - Window's boots quite happily and programs all seem to work, just using the onboard graphics and the gfx card doesn't show in the device manager, etc. –  DMA57361 Jan 17 '11 at 13:44
    
500w might be a little light with a 460 depending on what processor, how many hdd's, optical drives, sound card (possibly) ect.. you are running. I have not used a any of the new fermi cards so I don't really know for sure but the PSU is where I would start. –  Kyle Jan 17 '11 at 14:42
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