What I'm Not Playing This Week: Thermal Grease Edition
Many of you know that I am an avid PC gamer. One of the reasons that I love the PC is as a platform is that it’s completely under my control; when things don’t work, I’m not greeted with an opaque error code and an unresponsive controller. No, when things aren’t right it’s completely up to me to dig in and figure out why my baby isn’t healthy. I built her, I know her from the ground up, and dangit, I can fix her! It’s terrifying working without a hotline to call or a warrantee to fall back on, but fixing things for yourself is immensely rewarding.
Except, y’know, when I can’t fix it. Sometimes the problems are just too strange, and seemingly no amount of googling and forum surfing and friend asking is capable of turning up the correct answer. My typical reactions to this situation typically fall into two categories: A) Assume it’s a corrupted file or driver and do a complete reformat. I was overdue anyway. Or, B) Open my box and discover some manner of catastrophic hardware failure, necessitating the immediate abandonment of the entire box and the ordering of a brand new set of parts.
So which was it this week? Hit the jump and find out why I’m not playing anything more demanding than Solitaire this week.
Before I get to the big reveal, let’s talk about the specific issues I’d been experiencing a bit, just to give you an idea of the gravity of this situation. Basically, I’d been having strange full-computer lock-ups that would mangle my processor during high-intensity games or programs for about 45 seconds, then subside. My general reaction when this happened was to panic and start searching for whatever errant process was responsible for stealing all my clock cycles, but I never caught the culprit. Eventually I gave up, and dealt with the lock-ups by minimizing everything and speaking soothing words into my tower. It started about a month ago, and even then, only once in a while. But recently it grew much more frequent; instead of only happening during games, it would happen when I was simply watching Hulu, and each one grew longer. I tried everything I could: updated drivers, cleared out my hard drive, defragged, ran every virus and spyware scanner I had, and turned up absolutely nothing.
In a fit of desperation, I dug around in my case trying to see if anything was amiss. I checked my fans, all my connections, my power supply, even my RAM sequencing… everything seemed normal. That’s when I decided to detach my CPU housing, only to discover that my thermal paste, the compound that facilitates the transfer of heat between the CPU and its fan and heatsink, had taken on the approximate consistency of corn starch. If you’re new to the PC hardware world, that is very very bad. Basically, I’ve been cooking the crap out of my processor, and those lock-ups are the result.
So gaming on my poor little box is going to have to take something of a hiatus while I wait patiently for my new syringe full of grease to show up. I’m risking enough just turning it on to type this up, but I figure at this point, the damage has been done. I need a new processor now, (though that was true even before the overheating started) but as things are, there’s no way I can afford one, so this little bit of paste has to keep the ol’ girl running at least another few months. Wish me luck!