Of late, my Windows Vista desktop system has been terribly unstable. I'll get several random BSODs and lock-ups in a day and the reboots have become more frequent. I'm inclined to believe that my hardware is to be blamed.
A few months back, my Abit KV8 MAX3 motherboard Northbridge (NB)fan made grinding noises and one day the stock fan just died. I got a Cooler Master NB heatsink to replace the fan and added an additional Cooler Master casing fan (bringing it to 2 casing fans). The NB and CPU temperatures looked okay (both hovering around sub-40C) and yet the random reboots continued.
RAM and CPU
Could it be the RAM or CPU then? I tested the RAM modules with Memtest86+ as well as Vista's own memory test utility. No reboots during the tests and not a single error. I ran Prime95 torture test, I didn't get any errors but there was one occasion it blue-screened.
I was thinking of more suspects and I came down to the power supply. The power supply of my system came with my casing and it has a 200W continuous power output rating (450W standard output rating). It's able to offer only 10A on +12V. I thought with that spec, the power supply would not have been able to provide enough juice for my system. So, I replaced the original power supply with an Enermax Tomahawk 500W dual rail power supply with 80%+ efficiency. The Enermax is able to offer 22A on each +12V rail. Cool....but alas, my system was still acting up.
Next, I took a closer look at the motherboard BIOS settings. I lowered the FSB speed from 204Mhz to 200Mhz and adjusted the CPU core voltage accordingly. That made a difference! No more blue screens but I now got Vista to lock up at random though not frequent. Could it be a driver issue?
Chipset Driver Update
While I always use the latest Vista device drivers for my system, I have neglected updating the third-party VIA chipset drivers all these while. So, I updated my system with the latest VIA drivers and guess what? Vista is now deactivated and I have 3 days grace to reactivate it. What's going on? How can a simple driver update trigger a Vista deactivation? That led me to this article: WARNING: device driver updates causing Vista to deactivate.
Windows Vista Activation
I tried reactivating Vista online but it reported that my activation ID has already been used (yes, by me...duh!). I called up Microsoft "toll free" automated activation service on my mobile but got an automated reply that my activation request is denied. So I opted to speak to a customer service agent, explaining the reason for activation and finally got Vista activated. However, it is not without incurring a call cost of over RM10 on my mobile.
So, it's now a wait and see game. As I type this long post, my system has not crashed and I hope it stays that way...