Question about Acer TravelMate 290LCi Notebook

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Computer dies on me (can't say it better due to no technical knowledge; pls read :-)

Hello there!

My problem is with my Acer Travelmate 290 laptop computer, bought in late 2003 (Europe). It has seen quite a bit of use, but nothing really heavy (no video editing or huge amounts of applications running at the same time) and hasn't suffered any accidents (no spills, no bumps, no screen hitting). I have always been very careful about doing my tidying up, and complying with instructions for updates from both security software (anti-spyware, recommended by the manufacturer, and anti-virus, recommended by the University's computing service), and Windows.

The problem has been occurring at intervals since the beginning (the very first time was barely three months after the day I bought it), but up until 2-3 weeks ago, it happened fairly rarely--about twice a year or less till a few months ago, somewhat more frequently since then--but still not enough to be a major obstacle to daily use. However, two to three weeks ago it began to get really frequent--twice or three times a day some days.

To describe the problem itself: I have the computer turned on (usually I am running an application and possibly moving the mouse around and/or typing, but not always) when suddenly, the screen turns totally black, without any warning, visual or sound, and without showing any of the various screens associated with shutting down. The only thing that I have noticed associated with the screen going blank is a tiny mechanical sounding-noise (ie that doesn't sound like anything that could be coming from the software/ OS, but seems to bear more relationship to the various whirring sounds coming from the 'puter's innards when it is working properly. It's like a slightly hollow-sounding 'click'--something between the sounds 'click, and 'pock' (lol, I'm feeling silly now ...). This happens at the same time as the screen going blank, or just a fraction of a second before.
It then seems to be completely turned off, because I can't hear any of the aforementioned whirring sounds (exactly like when I've turned it off myself).

After, I try to turn it on (pressing the On button, just normally). It tends to do the boot-up up to a point, but at some stage, the screen goes blank again exactly as I described it above. This can happen a couple of seconds after the boot up started (too early for there even to be a screen to go blank), or after it has booted up without a problem, and I'm seeing my normal desktop, or absolutely any moment in between. Eventually, after many tries, it would decide to stay working. Sometimes I would have to leave it for a day or half-a-day, maybe 'cause it was time to go to class (or to sleep, lol), and couldn't afford to try any more. Usually it would be OK after that.

Up until a few months ago I would get a screen sometime during the boot up that said that windows had been shut down in a strange way (I'm paraphrasing, cos I don't have it written down anymore--I *had*copied it), and it had to check disk FAT 32. It gave me an option to skip it and have Windows start normally (which I had to choose in a limited amount of time if I wanted it), but that it was recommended I did not. This part seemed to stop after one of the many IT people I have spoken to about this problem converted the disk to NTFS. She said she didn't know why this was happening, but thought it might just possibly help if I converted the disk to NTFS, and offered to do this for me when she saw I didn't look too sure I could cope with that. It didn't stop the screen-goes-blank palaver, but I'm no longer getting the Checking Disk FAT 32 screen any more, as of the first time screen-goes-blank happened after her intervention.

Speaking of IT support brings us nicely to possibly the biggest obstacle I've come up against in trying to have this fixed: it happens at random times, so there's no guarantee it will be doing this when I bring it in to the service lab--even if I arrange to do it the very next day it's been playing up. Ergo, the technicians can't experience the problem for themselves, which rather impairs their ability to diagnose the problem and begin to think about fixing it. So far, I have taken it to the local official Acer support provider twice, and it's also been looked at by 3 or 4 more people, but nobody's been able to fix it, or even make a suggestion as to what this is. It doesn't seem to be related to the mains power supply, because it can happen even when it's running on the battery, not to mention it's been plugged in the mains in three different houses in two different countries with no difference in frequency of occurrence.

When it was in the Acer service lab, I am told it was hooked up to a machine of some kind that ran tests, and it stayed that way for days the first time and still didn't do anything out of the ordinary. The second visit was three days ago, and I spoke to them today, and they said the same thing. I'd have thought I was going nuts, lol, but friends and family who have been around the house at times when it's been doing it have seen it too lol, we can't all be crazy I guess...;-)

Anyway, I'm getting a bit desperate that it's going to be fixed, and have pretty much resigned myself to the idea of getting a new machine (I mean, I *have* had it for 4 years, after all--pretty good time for a laptop). But I would still REALLY like to know if anyone has come across this before (on any machine), if anyone knows what it might be, and of course, if you know what should be done to fix it, that would surely be a bonus!

Thanks for lending a figurative ear, and thanks for having such a fantastic site! I'm only sorry I never found it earlier! I can hardly wait for all the contributions !

Have a nice day!

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Re: Computer dies on me (can't say it better due to no...

The 'click' sound you hear when your computer goes off is the hard drive head parking itself.  It does this whenever the machine shuts down to prevent damage.

As for the problem itself, I believe your computer is overheating.  There are thermal sensors in your computer which automatically kill the power before temperatures get high enough to cause damage to the components inside.  This also may explain why ACER Labs weren't able to find a problem:  they most likely have their lab air conditioned and set to a relatively low temperature.  I suspect that you tend to use your computer on your lap or on a desk surrounded by a lot of clutter.  This reduces the available airflow, and may cause the cooling system to re-use warm air instead of fresh, cool air to ventilate your computer.  One possible reason it may have gotten worse lately is an excess of dust, lint, cat hair, smoke residue (if you smoke), etc., has clogged the heatsinks that channel the air, reducing the airflow, and literally insulating the components,

There are a number of products available to help you with this problem, however our first task is going to be to remove any build-up of foreign matter on your machine.  Most office supply stores sell cans of compressed gas.  I would recommend purchasing one and applying it liberally to the vents on your computer.  Make sure that the machine is turned off (and unplugged, with batt. removed, for extra peace of mind) and spray the air into each vent opening, being careful not to invert the can (the compressed liquid may come out, which may cause condensation, leading to a short circuit if the battery / power is reapplied immediately).  Once you have done this to each of the vents twice, let the machine sit for about 2-3 minutes before reinserting the battery / power cord.  This should take care of the immediate problem, however you may still have issues with the device overheating depending on the environment you use it in.  To combat this, I recommend purchasing a 'laptop pad'. They can also be found in most office supply stores, and provide either a raised surface for the laptop, to allow more airflow, or on some of the more expensive models there is a fan to actively generate airflow.  

To prevent this from happening again, I recommend dusting your computer's interior about once a month.

Posted on Nov 09, 2007

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Re: Computer dies on me (can't say it better due to no...

It sounds like you might have an overheat issue. IF you don't use it on a flat surface OR if the fans have sucked too much dust then it could turn off abruptly to "save itself". I have had similar issues with Toshiba laptops and a good cleaning of the heatsink inside fixed the issues.

The problems seemed to rear it's head more often when the laptop was used on a bed or lap. To clean these depends on the model. The fans suck all the surface materials into the heatsink and over time it will block itself up causeing the video or processor to overheat. Laptops have sensors that halt the hardware if that sensor trips.

One other thing is that you might have a lemon, one of my Toshiba laptops had a secret recall to replace the motherboards as they overheated. It took me searching through many laptop forums to get the information and I got it warranty repaired 2 years after the real warranty expired.

Posted on Nov 09, 2007

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