So a few months ago, my wife decided that, since she was going to be working from home full-time, she needed a new laptop, and if we were buying her a new laptop anyway, it might as well be one that could run the occasional game.
So she wound up with a monstrosity that sported an 18.4″ 1920×1080 screen, an Nvidia 9700GT mobile graphics chip, blu-ray playback, a quad core processor, four gigs of RAM and a 500 gig hard drive.
She played quite a bit of LoTRO on it, as that was her MMORPG flavor of the time, but then she got massive amounts of overtime dumped on her at work and didn’t have time for hardcore MMO play.
She switched mostly to Nintendo DS games, and started chewing through them like crisps, by the way, it’s kind of scary.
Anyway, her job calmed down a little bit and she caught the MMO bug again and reinstalled Dark Age of Camelot, which is notable mostly for being one of the MMOs that got brought out as direct competitors to Everquest before Blizzard stomped every other MMO into the ground with WoW. It’s actually quite a fun game. We played it for a bit together, but I kept getting sucked back into EQ and now I simply don’t have time for MMOs.
Problem is, it crashed a lot. And when I say crashed, I mean that her machine would, after about a half hour of play, simply power down.
I tried a few things. Updating video drivers, setting processor affinity, running disk integrity scans… nothing worked.
I came to the conclusion that the only thing that would cause a laptop to crash in the way hers was crashing was that the system was shutting itself down in order to protect itself from burning up, but I needed a way to test this.
I decided to install Crysis, let it decide what settings were best for itself (it suggested “High” settings, by the way – her laptop really is a beast), and try running it for a half hour or so to see if it would crash the laptop.
It actually took right about four minutes to crash the laptop. It didn’t even make it through the opening movie.
So my diagnosis – that it was a hardware issue, not anything to do with DAoC – seemed like it had some merit.
I decided to open it up, look sagely at the innards, and say “hmm” a lot. I don’t know much about laptop hardware, so I didn’t think this would lead to anything in particular, but I figured it would look cool inside and saying “hmm” might make it seem like I knew what I was looking at.
I popped the bottom off, and things were pretty much as expected. Lots of neat stuff crammed into a very small space with inadequate ventilation. Cooling was handled by a pair of heat pipes; one from the CPU and one from the GPU, both moving heat to a fairly small fan responsible for blowing it all out of the machine.
It didn’t seem like anything was, you know, user serviceable, but I got out a mini screwdriver and started poking at things anyway, because just saying “hmm” wasn’t having the effect I’d hoped for – which is to say, it wasn’t making me look very smart or like I knew anything about what I was doing.
Anyway, I was quite surprised when I tried to tighten the screws holding the heat pipe down to the CPU, because it actually tightened quite a lot. It seems like the screws, over the last few months, had worked themselves loose from thermal expansion and contraction, and they needed to be cinched up a bit to bring the thermal transfer plate back into contact with the CPU. A few turns of the screwdriver later, it was snugly fitted again, the laptop was reassembled, and I cheerfully played Crysis for 40 minutes before declaring the machine resurrected,
Anyway, long story summed up: My wife’s laptop broke, I opened it up without any actual hopes of fixing anything, I lucked out and it was a really simple problem, I get to feel really gleeful about it for at least a week.