My home desktop is still locking up when it gets too cold (and what next)

August 25, 2020

In early 2019 I wrote about the mystery of my home desktop that was locking up when it got too cold. At that point the machine was about a year old (I built it in March or so of 2018) and the winter of 2018-2019 was its first winter and thus my first chance to see this. I regret to report that I haven't really done anything since then, and the machine will still lock up when it gets too cold. For last winter (the 2019-2020 winter), my workaround was to raise the heat here; in combination with a generally mild winter that was enough to have only a couple of lockups during especially cold overnight times.

Current world and local events suggest strongly that daytime interior temperatures will not be an issue this coming winter, because I will almost certainly be working from home almost all of the time and so will want it warm enough to be comfortable (which is well above the temperature the machine locks up at). However that still leaves me with the direct issue of overnight temperatures and the indirect issue that I have a machine with some sort of flaw that's now my primary machine for doing work.

The path of least resistance is to do nothing and assume that nothing really bad will happen. My machine will probably lock up a few times overnight when I'm not using it over the winter, but that's no big deal. The path of more effort and some risk is to reseat at least the memory, loosen and re-tighten the motherboard screws, and perhaps experiment with canned air to selectively cool spots on the motherboard to see if I can identify something that triggers the problem. This risks a slightly flaky component into a very flaky or even a dead component, which would leave me with a dead machine, and also has no guarantee of fixing or even identifying the problem.

(But re-seating things should be very low risk so I should really try it, however much I don't like working with hardware.)

The sure but more expensive path would be to replace at least the motherboard and (probably) the power supply. Buying a new motherboard or PSU would be necessary in practice even if I identify a fault in my current one and get it replaced under warranty, because I'm not going to be without a home desktop for so much as a day if I can help it. This feels wasteful (the current hardware is only about two and a half years old) and expensive, but if I put a reasonable value on my time and annoyance it's probably the second cheapest option after doing nothing. It also means I would have to figure out at least a new motherboard, which is where I started thinking about how I want a type of PC and motherboard that's generally skipped. However, it would give me an emergency spare motherboard and PSU that would be comparable to my current machine, which is something I might decide I care about in the current conditions.

(Having a reliable motherboard with two M.2 slots and a backup emergency spare would also make it less scary to upgrade to M.2 NVMe drives. Right now I've been holding back on that partly because my emergency machine is my old home PC, which has no M.2 slots and I lost full trust in.)

(This entry is one of the ones that I write in part to convince myself to do something sensible. Whether I actually will is an open question; knowing myself, the most likely option is to do nothing until the weather starts getting cold enough that the issue's more imminent.)

Written on 25 August 2020.
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Last modified: Tue Aug 25 23:51:37 2020
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