My Zoostorm Intel Core i7 PC has finally stopped crashing and here’s why!

Back in July 2009 I bought a cheap Zoostorm gaming PC . I had issues with it from the moment it arrived like the fact that the internal blu-ray drive was not connected and the pre-installed operating system (Vista 64) crashed during launch so I couldn’t even turn the computer on.

I just re-installed the OS, upgraded to 12GB of RAM and soldiered on. The only remaining issue: intermittent crashes.

The crashes were reasonably unpredictable except that they would almost always occur if I did any video encoding or used a 3D rendering package. Often I could get past the problem with a reboot but in the end I just stopped using some applications. For instance, I gave up trying to encode anything with Adobe Media Encoder (part of Adobe CS4) because it was guaranteed to crash for all but the shortest video.

Anyhow, by finding alternative software packages, avoiding some intensive tasks and reducing the maximum CPU load to 95%, I avoided the majority of the crashes and went about my business. It did mean I got sporadic crashes in programs like StarCraft II from time to time but again, they didn’t happen frequently enough to be a problem.

This month, my passion for 3D was reborn and guess what? Yep, I got more crashes! I found one application (Fry Render) that could crash my computer in seconds.

As luck would have it, I told someone in the office about the crashes and they immediately said it sounded like an overheating problem. Of course, I didn’t believe them: the fan never gave any clues that the computer was getting hotter so I didn’t see how it could be a heat issue.

All the same, I went home that night and installed CoreTemp. I had plenty of applications lying around that would help me test the theory. I ran renders in SoftImage and Modo. Sure enough, when the CPU got over 75 degrees centigrate.. BOOM! The fan was a red-herring because it did not adjust speed based on core temperature.

I repeated the exercise several times to be sure and the behaviour was consistent. 75 degrees or more and within seconds I was starting at the Blue Screen Of Death.

I took my computer apart and found that the heatsink and fan were those shipped by Intel with the CPU and the thermal paste on the CPU was in bad shape.

Armed with this information, I bought a Zalman CNPS10X-PERFORMA High Performance CPU Cooler. I also panic bought a new CPU ( Intel i7-950 Quad-Core Processor – only 14% faster than the previous CPU ) and some extra thermal paste.

I had to remove the motherboard from the case to fit the cooler backplate. Quite an ordeal!

I also made a right mess of applying the thermal paste managing to get some of it on the pins of the new processor! Thank goodness the pins are flush with the surface of the chip these days as raised pins would have made it very difficult to get the paste off again.

Anyhow, not to make a long story any longer, the computer started fine once I’d installed the new CPU and cooler.

The idling temperaturehad dropped to 33 degrees C average across all cores from 40-something before.

I immediately started some stress tests. FryRender – the app that crashed my PC in seconds – completed a render in 10 minutes at 100% CPU during the entire process. I rendered a 750 frame sequence in SoftImage. Encoded some video using Adobe Media Encoder.

Max temperature on any core at full load: 63 degrees. Average.. about 60 degrees. Sweet!

My computer works like it always should have done. Finally.

Here’s a little video sequence that represents a few of the things I couldn’t do reliably on this PC until now.

  • Render a long sequence (the explosion particle effect – SoftImage)
  • Render a large scene (the background was from a 1920×1080 render scaled down)
  • Encode video (though to be honest, I encoded and uploaded this one on the mac 🙂 )
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