Recently, I’ve been noticing increased GPU temperatures on my Radeon 9600 XT courtesy of ATITool and MBM. At idle, the GPU was already up to 140°F. At first, I just shook it off as a fluke or an overcompensation as I wasn’t seeing any real issues or graphical corruption. Looking back, I realize that the reason I hadn’t been seeing any problems was the games I (and Kaylen) had been playing: GTA3 (6 year old game), Alice (7 year old game), and Project64 (based off of 11 year old technology). None of these games even take advantage of some of the three year old technologies on my video card; so it wasn’t being stressed enough to fail.
Then I decided to play Dark Messiah since it’d been out long enough to get passed its initial release stability problems; I never had any problems with the demo version either. But once I got through the training mission, my system just locked up completely. I restarted and checked the BIOS hardware monitors and everything looked acceptable. Suspecting something else, I started playing again with the MBM dashboard open on the secondary monitor. When the system locked again almost immediately, I looked at the dashboard to see an insane 240°F (115°C) for the GPU core temperature–well beyond the boiling point for water. I was surprised to see it get that high before failing.
At this point, I acknowledged that the excessive temperatures reported indicated some cooling problems with the video card. I removed the card from the system so that I could get at the cooling apparatus better; and sure enough, there were some large chunks of dust clogging up several of the fins on the sides. I felt that the amount of dust was even capable of slowing the fan down enough for failure. After cleaning and replacing the card into the motherboard, I booted up and checked the temperatures–still ~140°F at idle. To see if there was any sort of improvement, I tried the “fuzzy spinning cube” stress test of ATITool. It got up to and then leveled out at 219°F, locking after a few minutes. There was still something wrong; however, cleaning the dust chunks out of the heatsink did seem to alleviate some of the heat stagnation.
I let the system POST and then went into the BIOS so I could poke around in the computer case while it was on. I positioned a mirror and flashlight so I could see the GPU HSF, and as I had expected, the fan was not spinning at all. I took the card out again and moved it to the kitchen table so I could work on it. I removed the HSF from the GPU and then slid the wires out of the fan power connector. I was going to test the fan with some battery power; however I didn’t know what voltage the fan normally took. But I figured 9V was probably a safe bet and easiest to test with. I laid the exposed fan wires on the battery terminals and nothing happened. It was looking like the fan might just be burnt out and I would need to order a replacement, but I had one more trick up my sleeve.
As Kaylen looked on in amazement, I removed the sticker on top of the fan to reveal the mechanical access hole. As you may know, a couple drops of household oil into a ball-bearing fan can bring it back to top speed or even quiet it down. So, that’s what I did, followed by manually spinning the blades until the motion felt smooth. As you can probably guess, the fan buzzed right up. While I was at it (and because I had made a mess of what was already there), I replaced the questionable thermal compound that was used previously between the core and the HSF. It was a silver material, but not necessarily comparable to the quality of the Arctic Silver I replaced it with. Kaylen had fun snapping pictures while I did this. You can see them below.
And after I put everything back together, I did get to play Dark Messiah for five hours without any problems. It’s actually a lot better game than some of the reviews made it out to be. It reminds me of a cross between Enclave and Thief 3–the former for the combat style and the latter for the atmosphere. However, I will admit that the overabundance of convenient environmental traps to kick or cut detracts from the realism. But at the same time…fuck it, the game is still fun.