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Thread: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

  1. #1
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    I suspect I have a graphics card going bad, but thought I'd throw this out to the more experienced before spending money.

    The problem is I'm getting "ghost" (transparent) artifacts from previously displayed items, be it text or graphics. They are teal and/or red in colour and cover most of the screen but are strongest in five evenly spaced vertical columns running down the screen. The problem is very inconsistent. It started about a month ago but I've gone a few days to over a week between incidents. I thought at first it happened only after the PC had been on for most of the day, but this morning it started within 30-60 minutes. Usually a reboot would clear the condition. This morning a reboot cleared it but since then it has twice come and gone on its own over the space of 5-10 minutes, which is a new twist on the problem.

    Some additional information:

    1) PC (Dell) & graphics card (ATI Radeon 9700) are just about five years old.

    2) Right before this started happening, I opened up the case to replace a CD-ROM drive. I didn't have canned compressed air to dust out the case so I used a rubber blower bulb to clear out the dust as best I could. There was still some more stubborn dust on some of the components that I'm sure canned air could remove.

    3) I've ruled out the monitor. When the artifacts are on-screen, I can bring up the monitor settings menu artifact free.

    Any thoughts? Any additional information needed? Should a good dusting clear it up or am I looking at a new graphics card?
    Last edited by Gregoshi; 01-31-2008 at 22:25.
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  2. #2
    Ja mata, TosaInu Forum Administrator edyzmedieval's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    There has to be a slight link. The air might have moved some pinions in some parts of the computer, though highly unlikely. You might look at a new graphics card, especially when the card is a bit old. Good cards nowadays are pretty cheap (128MB sells for 50 euros), so if it happens to be the bad part, don't be too scared about it.
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  3. #3
    Prince Louis of France (KotF) Member Ramses II CP's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    As a first line I'd crack open the case again and reseat all the cards inside. Sometimes when you open the case and it hasn't been open in a long time just the motions of pulling it open will cause a card to jiggle a little loose.

    If that doesn't affect the problem you'll probably want to switch in and out your RAM just to further narrow down the problem area. Have you looked at the power requirements for the new hardware you installed? Dell PCs usually come with just exactly the right power supply, with little room for expansion.


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    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Thanks for the ideas. I'll start with a good dusting with compressed air and re-seating everything and see what that does. If that doesn't work then I'll look at the RAM. Ramses, is there anyway to test the RAM short of removing it and seeing what happens? Going from 1GB to 512MB of RAM doesn't sound appealing to me, especially considering the erratic nature of the problem. Just realized I misspelled "erratic" in the title. D'oh!

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramses
    Have you looked at the power requirements for the new hardware you installed? Dell PCs usually come with just exactly the right power supply, with little room for expansion.
    Well, the component I put in was actually the original DVD drive that came with the computer. However, you bring up a question I've had for a while now when consider a new graphics card: How do I determine the power requirements of all the components I have in my PC? I guess I have to pull the documentation of each component?
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  5. #5
    Prince Louis of France (KotF) Member Ramses II CP's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Heh, yeah, it can get a bit complicated figuring out total power requirements for an OEM machine, however if your system is still as manufactured then you can presume your PSU isn't too far from it's max load if it's made by Dell. Then you just have to compare your new vid card's power needs to your old one, and if it's a significant difference you probably want to step up your PSU.

    I've used MemTest (http://hcidesign.com/memtest/download.html) to diagnose bad RAM in the past. It's free, it's small, and it's reliable, but if it does discover a problem you will still have to switch the individual RAM chips out one at a time to discover which of them is the problem. There are quite a few free memory tests out there, so feel free to try a different one if MemTest gives you trouble.

    RAM problems are sometimes subtle, which is why MemTest and similar exist, but when you have an obvious problem like yours it can be easier and faster, sometimes, just to switch the RAM in and out. YMMV.


  6. #6

    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Sounds like the graphics card memory is either overclocked, overvolted or generally overheating. This generally causes the ghosting. I have seen a few cases of this In the past. In one extreme case I had actually run one game played it normally though with some artifacts then quit and fired up another game. The textures from the first game appeared mapped onto the surfaces of the second game! It was very strange.

  7. #7
    Master of Few Words Senior Member KukriKhan's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    When we had the fires here in October, we packed Mrs K's HP desktop in the car. When we returned home, she had "ghosts". Turned out to be a loose vid card, apparently jostled during the moves.

    Good luck, Greg!
    Be well. Do good. Keep in touch.

  8. #8
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Update: I cleaned out the inside of the case and reseated all the cards. That did not work. In fact, after a couple of days, the problem went from intermittent to permanent and growing worse. I managed to locate a graphics card diagnostic utility on a CD that came with my Dell. The diagnostics failed on three test. I have bad RAM on the card apparently. So I have a new graphics card whisking its way to me.

    Thanks for all the help and suggestions.
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    Boy's Guard Senior Member LeftEyeNine's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    [demonic_invincible_sexy_tech_helper]

    Hey Greg, update your drivers, make a virus check, defrag your HDD a-..uh...

    [/demonic_invincible_sexy_tech_helper]


  10. #10
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Quote Originally Posted by LeftEyeNine
    [demonic_invincible_sexy_tech_helper]

    Whoohoo! My new graphics card comes today!! Package tracking systems are awesome!!
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  11. #11
    Prince Louis of France (KotF) Member Ramses II CP's Avatar
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    Default Re: Irratic Graphic Artifacts

    Congrats! I'm assuming you looked into the power requirements and didn't have a significant differential.


  12. #12
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Well, I got a card with comparable power requirements, but the darn computer wouldn't boot after installing it. Some of the diagnostic lights on the back of the case light up amber instead of green. The sequence indicated a problem with the graphics card (surprise). After a call to Dell support, they tell me my PC will only support 256mb of onboard RAM - and I got a card with 512mb. So, now I get to explore return/exchange policies.
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  13. #13
    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Little surprises like this are the reason I try to steer people away from Dell ...
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

  14. #14
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Up until this graphics card issue, I've had almost zero issues with my Dell for four years now. And the once or twice I called tech support, they were quite helpful. However, until researching this problem, I hadn't realized how much proprietory stuff was inside. I just wish I was able to find out more about what's inside than I was able to.
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    Honorary Argentinian Senior Member Gyroball Champion, Karts Champion Caius's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Hitting the pc may be good, but screaming obsenities at Dell is cheaper. Not entirely effective though.




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  16. #16

    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregoshi
    Well, I got a card with comparable power requirements, but the darn computer wouldn't boot after installing it. Some of the diagnostic lights on the back of the case light up amber instead of green. The sequence indicated a problem with the graphics card (surprise). After a call to Dell support, they tell me my PC will only support 256mb of onboard RAM - and I got a card with 512mb. So, now I get to explore return/exchange policies.
    That doesn't make much sense. The card has it's own RAM which is nothing to do with the system RAM. Your problem may be down to power requirements. Which card did you get?

  17. #17
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    I was a little mystified by it too caravel, but I guess that is what his script, er, technical docs said. I had a 128mb ATI Radeon 9700 TX (TX = Dell's "special" version) and tried to replace it with a 512mb Radeon X1300 - both are AGP cards. My PC has what is labelled as a 250 watt power supply, but the word out in the internet world is that Dell under-rates their power supplies. Fact or myth I can't say. I could find nothing on the TX version of the 9700, so using the 9700's specs, it requires a 300 watt power supply. The specs I found on the X1300 said it required a 300 watt power supply too, so I thought I was good to go on that front.

    Both cards required a direct 4 pin connection to the power supply. However, the 9700 had a very small 4 pin connector while the X1300 had a larger 4 pin connector like the ones for the powering a hard drive or CD/DVD drive. Now the power cable for the 9700 was one line from a "Y" type splitter. The other line ended in an un-used larger 4 pin connector. So I used the larger (previously un-used) 4 pin connector for the X1300 when I installed it. My assumption was that both 4 pin connectors were delivering the same power AND that both the 9700 and X1300 required the same power input. Visontek (X1300 manufacturer) tech support indicated that any larger 4 pin connector would do.

    What miffs me is that ATI/AMD's "upgrade advisor" listed the X1300 512mb card as an option for my Dimension 4550. That was one of the major factors in my purchase decision.
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  18. #18
    Prince Louis of France (KotF) Member Ramses II CP's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    That's a very interesting claim on their part. I would be strongly tempted to go to a shop with a good return policy, purchase an significant step up in power supply, and install it and test it out with the new card. The worst case scenario is you make the trip for nothing and have to return the PSU, but the best case scenario is you don't have to send back your new card, it just cost a little more than you expected.


  19. #19
    Iron Fist Senior Member Husar's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Do other power supplies fit on Dell mainboards anyway?
    I thought they had special plugs everywhere anyway.


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  20. #20
    Nobody expects the Senior Member Lemur's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    Dell has been using non-standard power supplies since 1998. You can't just slap in an ATX and expect it to work; it will not. I know for a fact that PC Power and Cooling makes Dell-compatible supplies, so you're not completely out of luck.
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well, I have others." — Groucho Marx

  21. #21
    Prince Louis of France (KotF) Member Ramses II CP's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    I had no trouble finding a compatible PSU for my old Dell at Fry's. I looked at some from one other shop too (Best Buy? I can't remember, it's been a year) and they had some models that would work, but were not priced competitively. This is a fairly ancient Dell box though.


  22. #22
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    The plot thickens...right before shipping the card back, I decided to check Visiontek's support site/forums. As it turns out, there is apparently a known problem with certain Radeon cards and older Dell systems. If I understand it right, the card's BIOS and Dells motherboard BIOS don't play well together. With the X1300 and X1600, Visiontek has a "beta" program (in beta for 1-2 years?) by which you ship the card to them and they make some kind of magical tweak to it that makes it work with Dells. If they require having the card physcially though, I imagine it is more than a BIOS issue. I think I'll go that route and see what happens.
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    Amphibious Trebuchet Salesman Member Whacker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    That sounds very sketchy. What exactly is the issue, if it was spelled out?

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  24. #24
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    This thread at the VisionTek support forums is about all the information they will say about it. The "beta" program is still in effect almost 1 1/2 years later, so there must be some kind of success rate with it. I shipped off the card to them yesterday, so hopefully within the next two weeks I'll find out if it worked. What annoys me about this is that there was no warning about the issues this card has with Dell systems. I'd have not even wasted my time and money on the card had I known.
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  25. #25
    Moderator Moderator Gregoshi's Avatar
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    Default Re: Erratic Graphic Artifacts

    I got the "modified" X1300 on Tuesday and installed in on Wednesday. So far it is running perfect. Unless I'm remembering incorrectly, they didn't modify the X1300 I sent them. Instead they send me a different card - the X1300 XGE (Xtreme Gamer Edition), which, if I understand the docs, is an overclocked version of the card. I love it when this happens - a warranty exchange that upgrades my purchase. As long as it works I'm happy.

    It is actually working better than my old card (pre-problems). We'd have some graphical tearing (I think that describes the problem) on some of the newer games. My son reports that the displays on these games are normal now. And there was much rejoicing.
    Last edited by Gregoshi; 03-07-2008 at 15:08.
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