Yes, chip creep.

Your computer won’t boot and has been cycling through showing the pre-boot Dell Screen or HP or a BIOS message but the computer never boots.

You call out to your computer person. If your tech is worth their salt they will already have a few ideas of what to check.  The technician reaches to the back of the computer amongst the dust bunnies, and slides the tower out.

Before long the tech has popped the side off the computer tower, “messed” with something, then while wishing they hadn’t forgotten their flashlight, the tech has replaced the computer and is pressing the power button. You ask if it is a goner and are answered with a cheerful login screen.

You ask “what was wrong” and as the tech scurries off you think you heard them say “chip creep”.

So what is Chip Creep?

Thermal Dynamics, my dear Watson. The machine gets hot while running, and when we have heat we have expansion, and then because nothing ever lasts, we have cooling and contraction. Every internal part of the machine can be effected by this process, but with newer designs fewer parts are as susceptible. Yet, in my experience, RAM, the system memory, can be loosened over time. Video cards are probably the second most effected piece of hardware.

So what should I do about it?

Nothing if you like, but if you are one of those fearless renegades you might add the re-seating of RAM into you arsenal of troubleshooting. RAM is easily distinguished once a tower is cracked open (laptops usually require much more care and expertise).  Opening a case in itself might either be a complete chore or a snap depending on the model. Sometimes just getting a computer unplugged takes contortionist dexterity.

Random Access Memory (HDR)

If you do manage to open your desktop computer, you will see anywhere from one to four sticks of RAM all neatly lined up on the motherboard. Your mission will be to slide back the clips on both ends and release the silicone stick. Each piece of RAM is loosened and then pushed firmly back in place. The clips will by design take back hold of the memory module.

You notice how dirty it in there and tell yourself you’ll blow it out one of these days.  Then shut the box back up, plug in the power, the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, the card reader, the bar code scanner, the printer, and even the USB powered coffee warmer. Presto, the machine lives again, and you are one big hot shot around the joint.

Re-seating RAM

  • As you can imagine there is harm that can be done by a careless technician, only attempt if you are good at this type of thing in the first place, i.e. know your own weaknesses.
  • Follow a logical order when troubleshooting, i.e “Keep it simple stupid”, have you tried just powering down, or unplugging it for a moment?
  • Know the dangers. Static electricity can zap a machine doing more harm than good, also a sight challenged operator and a screw driver could really do some damage.
  • This might be something to try if your computer has its fan whirling abnormally at full speeds for a long extended time.
  • This also might be something to try if, as in the example above, the computer continuously attempts to boot but fails to load Windows.

Re-seating a Video card

  • Same precautions as above, it is better to know what you are doing and use some care so you don’t permanently do any damage.
  • Even more precautions, as video cards often need an extra uumph to get them to seat down in the mother board correctly, more force equals more chances to really mess something up.
  • You might want to try this if you already tried troubleshooting the monitor and the cables but you can not see an image.

The average person probably will never open up their computer, at least those who wouldn’t try opening up anything that looked closed for a reason. Then there are those of us who have been tearing stuff apart all of our lives and can say from experience we probably can get it back together. However be warned. Do not go above your level of comfort that’s what people like me are here for.

Finally, most of you should stay clear of your laptops, the parts are in there tight, screws can be lost, plastic can be broken. A friend of mine decided her laptop needed a good cleaning so she took it all apart, I do commend her gumption, but while tearing the machine down she broke a soldered connection to the power button. I’m sure the $50 replacement part has only heightened her hobbyist technician skills.

So that’s the ins-and-outs of “Chip Creep’, now you know if I come and go in a flash what it is I’ve been up to under the hood.

Feature Photo Credit: “The Creeping Siamese” by Flickr user Marxchivist under a Creative Commons license.

Photo Credit: “Random Access Memory (HDR)” by Flickr user Sensual Shadows Photography under a Creative Commons license.