I’ve been the proud owner of an HP ZD7000 for close to 3 years now. It’s been a fantastic laptop and fortunately it had the nVidia Geforce 5600FX chip for graphics instead of the 5700, as the 5700 had a lot of problems which until recently were largely denied by HP. However, mine has been a great workhorse. It’s my desktop PC and portable PC (because you can hardly call it a laptop, unless you’ve got a really big lap) in one, and as a Java Developer I spend a lot of time in front of it – and it does a lot of hard work compiling and building J2EE apps using JDeveloper pretty much every day for those past 3 years.
That was until last week when it started acting up. I’d recently installed Ubuntu and had thought that something that Linux was doing was causing it to have a little paddy on me, particularly since I was running the high performance nVidia drivers and playing Eve Online on Ubuntu. Playing games on any PC requires significantly more power than browsing the web or writing Word documents. The graphics card gets a lot hotter, which in a normal PC is no big deal, the fans can cope. On a laptop you need some significant extra cooling to cope, particularly on the ZD7000 if you’ve got the GeForce 5700 because that’s basically what will fry it. With that in mind I put the laptop onto an Akasa Coolpad. It’s worked well in the past and keeps the laptop running quite a bit cooler than without it.
But on Friday it started hanging in Ubuntu, without doing anything. I uninstalled Ubuntu and reverted to Windows XP since that seemed to be more stable previously. Then a couple of times Windows spontaneously shut itself down. Since I’ve had this problem in the past with the graphics drivers when running on the battery, I wondered if it was the latest nVidia drivers that I had recently installed. So I reverted back to the stock drivers that came from HP and gave that a try.
And then I got a Blue Screen Of Death with a Stop 0x50. After rebooting and agreeing to send the crash analysis to Microsoft it came back and said that dodgy memory was possibly the answer. So I ran the Windows Memory Advisor and almost immediately it crashed. So I took the RAM stick out and rebooted and ran the Windows Memory Advisor again. This time it worked a treat, so I was rapt.
Except that the laptop continued to just randomly shut itself down after about 20 minutes of use. I suspected maybe the battery was having something to do with it because it had always done that before when running on battery. So I took the battery out and ran it. It seemed to last a bit longer, but still crashed – and I was only browsing the web with Firefox!
This was Friday morning. Fast forward to Friday evening and I was beginning to suspect that my ZD7000 was having the same problem as many others that are listed on the ZD7000 forums. I wondered if it was the motherboard that had died, or at least if the Geforce FX5600 had finally given up after so many hours of Eve Online and running at 58 degrees Celsius for half it’s life. I’d ran the Windows Memory Advisor on the remaining memory in the laptop and that had come back clear, so it really pointed to a failing motherboard. Every 10 minutes or so the laptop would just switch itself off – no warning, just bzzzzoooooooo, down it went. Dead. It’d re-power up after a few seconds, and then 10 minutes later, it’d switch off again.
It makes developing any software pretty difficult – and you definitely don’t want to be fighting a bunch of Serpentis or Angel Cartel NPCs when it switches off (trust me, even in a Domi you take a bit of a hammering when the PC suddenly disconnects before the Eve cluster notices and warps you away).
I checked on eBay for ZD7000 motherboards and found a few in the US for around $299 – which is a lot better than having to buy a whole new PC or laptop. Most of them were declared dead and were only being sold for spares, but some worked.
And then I had the brainwave that perhaps, just perhaps, if I was very lucky – the problem might be a second dodgy RAM stick. It seemed unlikely but it was worth a try. So I removed the second one too and replaced it with a 512M stick from another laptop that I haven’t used in a while. Then I left it running Passmark Burn In Test while I went out and did real life stuff (yes, I do have a real life too!). I figured that if it couldn’t browse the web for 20 minutes with the other RAM then there was no way it would run BIT for a couple of hours if it still had the same problem.
Somewhat to my surprise, it was still running 4 hours later. The core temperature was running at 58 degrees and the fans sounded like a jet engine on takeoff, but it was still running.
And it’s stayed running today too.
So, if you have a ZD7000 that is apparently dead, or dies regularly – I’d thoroughly recommend putting some known good RAM in it (and remove ALL the RAM it currently has in it first) before you decide that the motherboard is dead. These symptoms of mine looked very much like a failing motherboard. Don’t throw out that awesome laptop until you’ve checked the memory!