Identifying Video Card Failures

I am going to start the Hardware Repair Section with an article to help you identify the cause of your GPU failure.

First thing to do is to get a hammer and handsaw. Now you take the saw and…
I’m just kidding, use those tools only to build wooden mining rings. For the video cards the first part of failure identification is to use your eyes and sense of smell.

1. Look at it like you have Superman’s X-Ray eyes.

Check if there is any component on the cards back that is missing. It can take some time and a looking glass, but this is the first thing you have to do. You would be surprised how many second hand cards that are for sale have missing components. You will know something is missing once you see it. Usually it is broken and the solder is left on the card while the SMD component is missing. Look for white spots on the surface of the card. The white spots are chemicals that have been on the card surface since it was manufactured, but due to heat abuse they have changes to a visible white powder like substance on the cards surface. Those white spots usually form around the VRM section of the cards. VRMs are responsible for the smooth power delivery of the cards, and usually when there is power, there is also heat. Also check for scratched lines on the PCB itself.

2. Use your “Nasus” to smell the card.

Do what most dogs do when they meet for first time – smell with your nose. When components inside of the power delivery of the GPU fail, they usually burn out and introduce a smell to the card. It smells like melted plastics and burned electronics. If you detect such a smell, this is indication that something on the VRMs has failed or the SMD components located just above the PCI-E connector to the motherboard.

3. Take it apart to see what it is made of.

Remove the cooler, clean the GPU chip from any baked thermal paste and do an inspection of the components on the board also. Usually the BIOS chip is on the side of the GPU chip. It is 8 pin SOIC chip usually between the GPU chip and the card output ports. Look to see if the card had any modifications done, like attaching cables or doing pencil/volt mods to the VRMs. Also check for scratched lines on that side of the card too.

4. Put it back together and test it.

Put everything back together, don’t forget to put thermal paste on the GPU chip, clean any dust from the cooler and prepare to put the card on a motherboard. Be prepared to stop power to your board if you see smoke or smell burning from the card. As this is the first time you connect you card to your hardware, you have to be prepared that the card can have a short circuit and this can result in damage to your motherboard and other components.
Power ON!
If you don’s see fire coming out of the card continue reading below. If you see fire – well Stop, Drop and Roll.

5. Check what is happening on the card.

Some cards have visual indication on the power delivery circuit in the form of LED lights. Check if you have all green or red and consult with the vendor manual what should be the normal state of the card.
Check the if the fans are working. If they are, then your power delivery most probably works fine.
Check for picture on the monitor. You might see a black screen, or picture with artifacts. Both ways are can be repaired to some extend. Also check if the card allows the PC to POST at all. You can do the last by using the connected to the motherboard internal speaker. If the GPU does not post the motherboard will send a sequence of sounds to the speaker. Check the motherboard manual for explanation on those. Also power on your regular speakers, to see if you will hear windows loading even if you don’t have a picture on the screen.

All of the above will give you information on what is going on the card and what you can do to fix it.
Every card can be repaired with the right tools and spare parts.

Here is a short list of things to take out from the first article of Hardware repairs:

1. White substance on back of card – it had thermal abuse and really bad cooling while under 100% load.
2. Bad smell coming from the card – something has burned on the card. Don’t connect it until it is repaired.
3. Fan does not spin – Power delivery failure. Disconnect and read how to change SMD components in the next article.
4. PC does not POST with the card in it – Check BIOS chip. BIOS is what gives the card instructions on how to get initialized and communicate with the motherboard during POST. You can read how to recover BIOS failures in the next article.
5. Black screen and you can hear windows loading or artifacts in screen – We have to check the power delivery of the card, the components connecting the GPU to the output ports, the GPU chip itself, the BIOS image loaded. Check out the BIOS recovery article.

If you liked what you just read, please comment in our forum or help us keep the light up by donating to the addresses in the footer.