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Displays Laptop monitor issues

Discussion in 'Tech Support' started by yougotkicked, 17 Feb 2013.

  1. yougotkicked

    yougotkicked A.K.A. YGKtech

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    So, over the past few weeks my mother's laptop has presented me with a suit of problems relating to the display that so far I have not been able to nail down.

    It started with some mild flickering of the laptop's screen, flashing black for an instant a few times a minute. Over time it became more frequent. I have confirmed that this isn't simply a backlight going out as the image disappears entirely, rather than simply going extremely dim.

    Eventually the computer developed another unusual tic. While it was being used, the laptop would suddenly drop into sleep mode or hibernate (I believe, it was clearly asleep some times, at other times it needed a hard power-off before it could be woken up). On a hunch I modified the power settings so that closing the lid would 'do nothing', this seems to have worked on this symptom.

    About the same time as the unprovoked sleep states, perhaps a day or two later, another quirk developed. The laptop spends most of it's time as a pseudo-desktop with an external monitor connected via HDMI; occasionally, both monitors would go dark for several seconds. When I disabled the laptops integrated display in windows these seemed to stop, but at a slightly greater interval the external display would go dark and then the laptop screen would come back on along with the external.

    at some point in all of this, catalyst control center began to set the external monitor to 'overscan' by 15%, (which amounts to zooming out a bit, leaving a finger-thick black band between the bezel and the image). I am able to fix this setting in CCC, but sometimes, seemingly at random, the setting will come back.

    After a complete re-install of windows the problems had subsided a bit, but not enough to make the computer truly usable. I assumed the problem was at a hardware level and was only going to get worse, but after several attempts at re-installing drivers for the dedicated GPU we saw windows auto-install a driver that we had been unable to find on either dell's or AMD's site (the auto-installed one was from 2012, while the ones on dell/amd's pages were from 2009), and were pleasantly surprised to see the problems subside almost entirely.

    The integrated monitor still flickers, but at the same rate it was when this all began. Both monitors have gone dark, but maybe once an hour (vs. once every 5 minutes before). I had to re-set the overscan setting once after the driver was installed, but after that it has been fine.

    The laptop is a Dell studio 1749 with a 17" display and a AMD Radeon HD5xxx dedicated GPU, running windows 7 64-bit. It has been treated about as well as you can expect a laptop to be treated, spending most of it's life either on a table or on a lap-desk-thingy. I've check it's operating temps and they hover around 50-60*c IIRC, which seems high compared to my desktop, but not unreasonable for a laptop.

    I have a few thoughts about what may be causing the problems, but nothing seems to fit quite right. a flaky GPU could explain the occasions when both monitors go out, and the overscan settings reappearing, but it shouldn't cause flickering on one screen and not the other.

    Bad capacitors could explain the flickering of the laptop screen, but shouldn't have been affected by the recent driver update.

    If anyone has some thoughts on the matter, or suggestions of additional tests to run, I would love to hear them. I realize that this is likely a hardware problem and probably not easily fixed, but I still would like to get a firm understanding of the problem before giving up on it.

    If we can get the integrated display to remain off, I think the system should be stable enough as a desktop, and my mother will just use her tablet at bit more at meetings.

    Sorry for the lengthy post, but I only ask questions after I've done a fair bit of troubleshooting myself, and I know too little information is much worse than too much.
     
  2. GoodBytes

    GoodBytes How many wifi's does it have?

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    I think you nailed it, it's either the GPU that's faulty, or capacitor that's faulty. However, as Dell uses solid capacitors in their laptop, I would tend to believe it's the GPU, unless it's just bad luck manufacture error on a solid capacitor (the sucky thing about solid capacitors, is that there is no way of knowing if it pop'ed, or broke by looking at them). In any case, it's a motherboard replacement, as I beleive the GPU is soldered on the motherboard.

    The possibly good news, is that the Dell Studio series isn't that old, and if you have a 3 year warranty (which I highly recommend on laptops, due to their compact size, hotter than a desktop, and being transported), you should be covered. If you didn't get a 3 year warranty, contact Dell and request for Dell parts, and see how a replacement motherboard cost.

    It doesn't look too bad for a consumer grade laptop the step needed to replace the motherboard.. I have seen much much worse, so if you pay close attention (maybe also use a camera to take some picture just in case, at every step), you should be good.
    http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/studio1747/en/sm/sysboard.htm#wp1000473
     
  3. Addie

    Addie Member

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    The good thing about Dell's is that you have access to a basic service manual, so if you are out of warranty it is very simple to open it up and give it a clean/have a look around. A really simple way to rule out driver issues in future would be to just load into the BIOS and see if the issue occurs there. A flickering LCD on a laptop tends to be the LCD cable, but combined with the other issues it would be suggesting a motherboard fault (could also be a LCD cable and overheating issue).

    As GoodBytes says, check your warranty and go from there.
     
  4. yougotkicked

    yougotkicked A.K.A. YGKtech

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    Thanks for the input all.

    I honestly haven't looked at the warranty info yet, I assumed we were outside of it, but I'll check to be sure. I'll consider getting a new motherboard for it, but considering the way it is used, and the age of the hardware, we may be better off just sweeping together a cheap desktop.

    This morning we discovered that - thanks to the modified power plan settings - we are able to fully suppress the integrated display by simply closing the lid. Hardly the sort of solution I was looking for, but it will make the system usable. I'm waiting nervously for problems to start cropping up again, but so far it all seems stable.

    I hadn't thought of using BIOS to check for driver issues before, that's a useful addition to the troubleshooting toolbelt :)
     

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