Postcards from %$&[email protected]!

By Shamus Posted Monday Dec 6, 2010

Filed under: Pictures 223 comments

It’s late Saturday night. So late, in fact, that it’s actually early Sunday morning. I’m working on the software I wrote to make Drawn to Knowledge. Also surfing the web and listening to music, as you do. Suddenly I notice these stray red pixels on the screen. Hey! What are those? They’re not really single pixels but bocks of pixels, scattered in repeating patterns across the screen. Is my program malfunctioning or… No, that doesn’t make sense. I’d be seeing it in my program, not the entire display. Ah! More of them! The mouse isn’t moving right!

Crap, looks like reboot time. Ah. Never mind. The computer seems to have shut itself off. Damn it. What did I have open? Did I lose any work? Sighing, I power cycle the computer. The boot screen appears.

The dots are still there.


The dots are blue this time, but it’s still the same thing. When it gets to the Windows loading screen, two columns of horizontal red bars appear. I obviously can’t take a screenshot at this point, so I have used Google Image Search and Paint Shop to re-create this incredible likeness:


It doesn’t boot all the way up. The screen goes blank just as Windows loads. I try it a couple more times, just to make sure. Finally I turn it off and go to bed. Maybe it will get better overnight?

Yeah. I’m sure it’ll be fine in the morning.

The next morning, it is actually not better at all, but instead is exactly the same. Incredible!

I swap monitor cables. Same result. I swear at it. Same result. Finally I yank out my too-expensive-to-replace graphics card and switch to the integrated GPU. I reboot the machine and get the error:

Cannot find NTLDR.
Press Ctrl Alt Delete to restart the computer.

You can’t find what? What the heck is “NTLDR?” What is the point of this incomprehensible error message? What could “NTLDR” stand for that has to do with integrated graphics cards?

My wife Googles this on her laptop, sees it’s a problem with missing operating system. Ah. Of course. I look and sure enough, I’d knocked out the HD power cable when I pulled the graphics card. I plug it back in and it’s all good.

To the guy who wrote that error message:

You are a villain of the highest order. Who was the error message for? Yourself? Was typing out “HARD DRIVE” or “operating system” or “boot sector” just too many letters? Do you think that everyone who buys this computer is going to know what NTDLR is? When a car runs out of gas, it says the fuel tank is empty. It doesn’t just have a light that comes on that says, “No PBPFS”. (What? It stands for Petroleum By-Product Fuel Source. Don’t tell me you don’t know THAT. Let me guess, you’re one of these dolts that runs around calling it “fuel” or – shudder – “Gas”. You sicken me. I can’t believe they let people like you drive. There should be some sort of mechanical certification for people who want to drive. Sheesh!)

It would have been better to make the error message, “HEY ASSHOLE, PLUG IN YOUR HARD DRIVE AND INSTALL AN OPERATING SYSTEM.” Sure, it would have been offensive and needlessly hostile, but at least it would have told me what the problem was. That’s what error messages are for, you feeble-witted, lazy, irritating dullard.

In short, please exit the industry through the most direct means possible, preferably leaving your job to someone who can communicate with other human beings. Thank you.

Okay, it was only a momentary annoyance to me, but it’s a clear case of the kind of interface ineptitude that leads to hair-pulling frustration, confusion, and needless expense. A bit of sloppy work can ruin things for a lot of end users. A couple a seconds of thought and a few keystrokes is all it takes to save some hapless user a lot of aggravation.

In the meantime…


It’s dead. It’s an odd sort of dead, though. It sort of works. I would expect that any failure would be lethal, but this odd ability to display slightly scrambled images is somewhat curious.

Still, the card is just over a year and a half old. (April 2009.) I’m very disappointed that it died so quickly. The computer is very well ventilated, there was minimal dust, and I kept the machine cool in summer. (A byproduct of keeping myself cool, actually.) I had it off the floor, in a rack, and not sitting on the carpet. The entire machine is protected by a descent UPS. And finally, I don’t think I’ve moved the computer since the card was installed. I play more games than most, but it’s not like I’m some overclocking power user. My machine has received the best care I could offer it, and my weeks of Minecraft and WoW should not have been enough to kill this card.

Alas, I don’t have any means of dealing with this right now, so I’m stuck with integrated graphics for a while. I don’t suppose any hardware companies want to send me a replacement? I promise I’ll perform one of my skilled and highly technical reviews on it. If you want to know my hardware specs so you can send a compatible card, then here is what I was able to figure out:

* CPU: I can’t tell. There’s a fan covering it and it hurts when I stick my finger in to stop the blades.
* Motherboard: Yes
* Memory: Just one. There another empty slot here in case I wanted to buy another memory, though.
* Operating system: Windows. I don’t know which version. The one with a picture of four colored squares when you start it.
* Monitor: The flat kind.
* Keyboard: 95 key Windows compatible. (There’s actually more than 95, but I don’t know what they do and I never press them. Should I count them anyway?)
* Mouse: UBS mouse with red light.
* Hard Drive: Full

If I have a choice, I’d prefer a red graphics card. I heard those were the fastest.


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223 thoughts on “Postcards from %$&[email protected]!

  1. Andrew B says:

    I feel your pain and would ship you my card, but kind of need it. If it helps though, this whole post. Made me chuckle while stranded miles from home, in the snow, waiting on a non-existent bus. So that’s surely worth a graphics card, right?

  2. poiumty says:

    Oh Shamus, you’re a veteran computer programmer and don’t know the first thing about hardware? Please tell me you were sarcastic.

    The problem seems like poor production. Does it still have a warranty? Alternatively, stick it in someone else’s computer and see if it has the same problem.

    I have two SLI connected cards which are 3 years old each, and they still work damn fine, even though i had lots of PSU troubles with this rig. Doesn’t seem like it has any excuse for doing that.

    1. Stellar Duck says:

      At least he knows that da red wunz go fasta. That’s a huge advantage right off the bat when selecting a anything. :D

      I feel your pain Shamus. Hope you get it fixed soon!

      1. Coffee says:

        It’s obvious that the solution would be MOAR DAKKA!

      2. Nyaz says:

        In fact, that’s everything you need to know about computer hardware!…

        …wait… actually…

      3. ZapperDude says:

        But, I thought the my blue one with racing stripes was the fastest O_o

        What if I get a RED one with RC stripes!!! They most be 10 times faster than light!!! :D

        1. MediocreMan says:


          U’m steel not kunvinced da xtra inch eez wurth et.

    2. Jarenth says:

      As if computer hardware needs an excuse to go haywire.

      1. Ramsus says:

        Indeed. This computer’s first major issue was the motherboard frying itself. I’m pretty sure the scientific explanation for why it did so was to spite me. I’ve had this thing for about five years now and I always seem to get these ridiculous problems and the reason for why they happened usually amounts to “these things just happen”.

        1. MrWhales says:

          Oh, i had a computer awhile ago that would either over heat itself, or literally FREEZE over. Like ice crystals…. Somehow we worked out that the power supply was loose, but that might have been from me kicking it.

      2. Halceon says:

        Oh, absolutely. In the almost three years I’ve had this laptop It has:
        a) lost 2 power cables
        b) almost wrecked the battery
        c) lost a DVD drive, because it wanted to no longer be a part of all this
        d) become openable only with long fingernails
        e) decided that it doesn’t support Win XP anymore, literaly forcing me to switch to 7
        f) repeatedly stuck its middle finger up at my attempts to record both my mic and the audio output.

        The dvd thing is the only one with a good explanation – I might have lost the screw that held it in place.

        1. General Karthos says:

          In the four plus years that I had my laptop….

          NOTHING went wrong. Not a thing. My family has owned it for a further year, and still nothing has gone wrong.

          But then…. It’s a Mac.

          (In the interest of fairness, I do have a new Mac laptop that has been a TOTALLY the same story. Nothing’s gone wrong with it, though I’m only six months into it.)

          Maybe the computer Gods like me. Or maybe they’re about to smite me. Now would be the most devastating possible time, seeing as I have a 20 page paper due on Wednesday….

          1. SKD says:

            You are absolutely screwed and might as well go to your instructor and tell him to just mark you down for an F/failure/incomplete as you have drawn the eye of the Computer Gods.

    3. kmc says:

      Is he supposed to? By my understanding, he’s not an embedded systems programmer, so I figure he probably knows whatever’s pertinent to his experience, which has no reason to include hardware. That’s like saying, “Oh, you’re a karate master and you don’t know which three types of steel make up a traditionally-forged Japanese blade?” Martial arts ain’t martial arts, and software ~= hardware (credit to MATLAB for syntax, where most of my experience comes from–although I figure all the programmers out there should know that. I mean, you’re programmers, right? ;.P )

  3. Nathon says:

    Clearly your OS is an NT derivative and NTLDR stands for NT Loader. “NT” stands for “New Technology”, even though it’s about 15 years old. Back when NT came out, there was a massive letter shortage. You may remember it. All kinds of things were spelled without vowels or spaces. Those were hard times.

    I guess my point is this: go easy on the ancient error writers of yore. They didn’t have vowels or lower case letters to play with.

    1. MintSkittle says:

      People still type without vowels in this texting age, even when the vowel supply is as healthy as ever.

      “If I have a choice, I'd prefer a red graphics card. I heard those were the fastest.”

      Attending the Orky Skool of Tek are we?

    2. Veloxyll says:

      Damn you letter shortage. Back in my day, when my hard drive was unplugged computers went BEEP BEEP BEEP and tole ya that the Primary Master Hard Disk was Fail. You kids today and your crazy letterwords.

      1. blue_painted says:



    3. MrWhales says:

      This is a public service announcement to notify you that you are either:
      A: /That/ guy
      B: Very close to being /that/ guy

      On behalf of the People Of the Internet, please cease and desist.

  4. asterismW says:

    I feel bad for laughing at your pain… but… I just can’t help it. That was hilarious.

  5. Skip says:

    FWIW, the code that displayed the ‘cannot find NTLDR’ message quite likely had to fit in 512 bytes, so when you ask, “Was typing out “HARD DRIVE” or “operating system” or “boot sector” just too many letters?” you’ve actually hit the nail right on the head. Yes. It was too many letters. Now maybe you can argue that it should have been a different cryptic message, but that’s a different argument entirely.

    1. Atarlost says:

      A better error, since BIOS errors shouldn’t be operating specific would be “cannot find OS” Also “missing bootloader” Both options use fewer characters while being more clear.

      There really is no excuse.

      1. Atle says:

        Can’t find OS is vague. Can’t find NTLDR is more precise. When calling tech support (or other help, or googling), you would want a precise error message.

        Precise also happens to be more technical. That’s in general a necessity, because of the need to name the particular technical issue we’re dealing with.

        One thing I dislike about Windows, are non technical error messages. My favorite is from Vista and describes a problem with wireless connection: partially connected.

        What the *bleep* does that mean? Protecting me from technical lingo by giving me total uninformative nonsense instead?! It turns out, the issue is that wireless router has been found, password is okay, but there is trouble getting IP from DHCP.

        While “can’t get IP from DHCP” is technical and average Joe might understand nothing, at least it’s informative and you can pass it on to some people who knows what’s required for an internet connection to works (independent of platform).

        “Can’t load OS” is of course not as bas as “partially connected”, but it still is vague. And average Joe won’t know what to do with anyway. Can’t find NTLDR tells you much more precisely what’s wrong, and are in my opinion much more helpful.

        1. Dave says:

          It’s not actually “can’t find OS”–it’s a more specific “can’t load kernel”. The machine has managed to bootstrap enough that it can read the boot filesystem, but when it looked for the kernel file on the filesystem, it couldn’t find it.

          By the time that there’s enough smarts to go looking around in NTFS partitions for kernel executables, there’s enough room to write a proper error message, and include technical details.

    2. PhotoRob says:

      Assuming this is true, you can fit a *LOT* in 512 bytes – your entire post is 408 characters long, and it includes the actual message and all of Shamus’s suggestions. Surely they could have come up with something better than that.

      1. Jabor says:

        Remember that in addition to the message, they also have to include the code that navigates the filesystem, locates the files necessary to continue the boot process, load them into memory, and get them running.

  6. Brandon says:

    “Cannot find NTLDR.” isn’t actually a “missing operating system” error, it’s a windows specific error. NTLDR(short for NT Loader) is the file that tells Windows how to load itself.

    I don’t really know how having a missing HDD could possibly cause this error, unless you had NTLDR on a separate drive from your Windows directory.

    1. Miral says:

      It could be the result of having a relatively new PC — the OS can install part of its bootloader into the BIOS.

      (Although the explanation below is probably more likely.)

    2. Ian says:

      It’s most likely because Shamus has two hard drives. The boot sector on NTFS formatted drives is the same regardless of whether or not the drive is a system drive.

  7. antsheaven says:

    For some reason I’ve been having problems with that particular brand of card myself (Funky fan problem on a 4650, a dead X1650). I’m sure they make perfectly fine cards, but I guess I just have bad luck with them.

    Anyway, did you make sure that your power supply unit can handle that card? Bad power supply can create all kinds of problem.

    1. Felblood says:

      There’s guys commenting that they had trouble with this model in the old post reviewing this model, too.

      Maybe we’re on to something.

      1. Tizzy says:

        Don’t forget the selection bias: people who didn’t have problems with that card won’t report it here, and people who have had problems with *other* cards will not report it here either.

        Given the number of graphics cards that come out of factories every year, you are bound to have a sizable number of faulty ones, even with a very small percentage of undetected defects. Especially since they’ve been pushing the envelope pretty hard these days. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck, and given the number of components in a computer, something is bound to fail in the relatively short term (better the video card than the hard drive!)

  8. guy says:

    Ouch. My computers tend to push 5 years before burning out a component other than DVD drives, which like to mess up on day three.

  9. Max-Vader says:

    If there actually was a computer that displays error messages like “HEY ASSHOLE, PLUG IN YOUR HARD DRIVE AND INSTALL AN OPERATING SYSTEM.”, I’d buy it. Anyway, sometimes I get the sneaking suspicion that some companies intentionally half-ass their computer/meachanical/whatever products. Making it cheaper saves money AND the customer will have to buy a new one all the sooner! Now that’s marketing genius.

    And yes, it is a well-guarded secret in the industry that “red ones go fasta!”

    1. Nathon says:

      Real error messages I’ve seen:

      “Bummer, dude.”
      “You’re hosed.”
      “OHHHH…. I give up
      Core dumped”

      Also, see: planned obsolescence.

      1. Avilan says:

        Makes you remember “Guru Meditation”…

        The blue screen of the Amiga. Which was black and red and not blue at all…

      2. FacelessJ says:

        I got a “Nothing to do” once. Screencapped, and made a great screensaver. :P

      3. MichaelG says:

        The programming language APL was an interpreter and would sometimes put out “Nonce error”. Look up “nonce” and you get “A word invented for the occasion.”

      4. Daemian Lucifer says:

        How about this one:

        But hey,no ntldr is at least more informative than this:

        And I had errors like that one(Im sure everyone has).Its pretty annoying.

      5. Eroen says:

        I fondly remember some installer or possibly configuration window suddenly disappearing, in is place now only a tiny MessageBox saying “Look what you did now!” the stuff of legends, surely!

  10. Nevermind says:

    By the way, NTLDR is a file. That sits on your hard drive and is apparently required for the OS to start. You can actually delete it by hand and see the same message: “Cannot find NTLDR” (I tried it once).
    So, the message is not that bad – it says exactly what is missing. Not that it’s any consolation to you, though.

    1. Jarenth says:

      The message only exactly tells you what’s missing if you already know what the message is supposed to tell you. People who aren’t pre-blessed with this knowledge however (how I envy their wisdom) are left hosed.

      1. Nevermind says:

        Yes, but I don’t see what message could be helpful to people that DON’T know that. Unless the message is ridiculously long, you just can’t explain everything in it.
        Basically, if you see ANY error message at startup and you have no idea how the OS starts, you’re left hosed. I’m pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to work.

        1. Jarenth says:

          This is sadly true.

    2. Brandon says:

      But if the file is “missing” because your hard drive is disconnected, it sorta misses the problem altogether now, doesn’t it… This is a missing the trees for the forest kind of error message.

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        Assume your drive’s FS gets corrupted (you’re on a FAT drive or something): now your HDD is connected, but the error message says “Windows Hard Disk not found” (or something). Now you waste an hour checking the cables, getting replacements, etc…, then put up the exact same rant, but replace “This message is too technical, it should say what the user has to do to fix it!” with “This message tells me to fix something that’s obviously not the problem! It should say what actually went wrong so I don’t waste time looking at the wrong thing!”.

        Now maybe in this case the boot sector code (NOT the BIOS, which sure as heck shouldn’t be being flashed by an OS!) could distingush, but this is the code that is trying to load NTLDR: the code that loads NTOSKRNL: the code that loads Windows – it doesn’t have the luxury of a message table!

  11. Villain of the Highest Order says:

    Give me a break, booting a system could fail in many places, and that message lets you know (through Google) at exactly what point the process failed: the post succeeded but the loader for windows NT was not found. Sure it could be better, and if that message is coming from the BIOS then it is unusual to assume you are running windows.

    Now I think some minions are jamming up my hallways because they can’t figure out how to unload a briefcase rack properly. Excuse me while I make an example of the lot of them.

    1. Shamus says:

      Yes, all I needed to decipher the message about why my computer wouldn’t boot was… a working computer. This is an excellent system.

      1. Christopher M says:

        And that is why spare iPod Touches are so useful. Backup internets, gaming, and I hear it plays music as well!
        Next time you have a job, you should totally get one.

      2. Deadfast says:

        Shamus, it is quite clear you never bought a computer component that came with a PDF manual. On a CD.

        1. Avilan says:

          To clarify: it is obvious that he never bought a DVD burner that required extra drives, and had the manual on a PDF on a disc…

        2. Soylent Dave says:

          Or when I bought my wireless network adapter, and the installation procedure told me to connect to the internet to download & install the drivers for it?

          Yeah – if I could do that, I probably wouldn’t have needed a wireless adapter. Because I would have already had an internet connection.

        3. Nyaz says:

          Actually, my phone company and internet service provider suggested that if I had problems setting up either of their services, I should call them or check their website.

          How do I… I don’t… understand…

          1. Christopher M says:

            The goal at that point is simply to ask, “How?” and see how they respond. Much merriment may ensue.

            1. Nyaz says:

              Yes, that would be nice. Of course, without a phone or internet, your ways of communication would be a bit… limited (except from walking up to them and asking in person, of course. But then you’d probably have to talk to a store clerk with limited knowledge, and… yeah).

          2. Veloxyll says:

            There’s a hole in my bucket, Dear ‘Liza, Dear ‘Liza…

      3. Meredith says:

        This is exactly the problem for normal users with only one computer. I’d have to wait until I got back to work (Monday morning) to Google this, or else call and bother someone with a functional computer. Not exactly optimal.

        Hope you can get a new card soon.

      4. StranaMente says:

        Similar to this is when you have a problem with your connection to internet, which requires an internet connection to be solved (oddly it happens to me quite often).

      5. pinchy says:

        Had this exact same problem myself- a nonsensical error message that I had to go and look up on the net. Once again being a hoarder came to the rescue seeing I could use my old brick of a laptop that sits in the cupboard for the sole purpose of looking up stupid error messages when my other computer crashes.

        On a somewhat related note I’d also like to take this moment to thank the people at Microsoft for making XP’s recovery console require a knowledge of DOS in order to go back and find an old system restore point. I mean yes I did know how to use DOS but that was what 15 years ago now, I have enough trouble remembering where I’ve parked my car some days.

        1. Oh my goodness and that is EXACTLY why I take my laptop along (and a network cable) when fixing computers. I sucked at DOS when DOS was the thing you used let alone now when I use Ubuntu on a daily basis and only work on other people’s XP machines. Hates Micosoft, we hates it.

    2. Syal says:

      I like how it’s assumed you can use the internet to find out why your computer won’t work.

      EDIT: Curse you, Ninja Shamus!

  12. Deadpool says:

    I’m certain you’ve seen it, but this week’s loading, ready, run seems particularly apt for this conversation…

    1. Michael says:

      I wasn’t aware antiheroes watched Canadian sketch comedy. Good on ya.

      I’ve learned two things today; the other is that red ones are faster.

  13. Exasperation says:

    I once got a program to crash with a “Y tu madre tambien” error message. Rude, uninformative, and in a different language. Bonus! (I’m not sure anymore, but I think it turned out to be a problem with the version of DirectX that was installed or something like that.)

    1. Michael says:

      DirectX insulted your mother in Spanish?


      1. Exasperation says:

        It wasn’t DirectX, it was a different program which was upset about which version of DirectX I had installed.

    2. Nyaz says:

      There was a Fable 3 app for the iPhone that I tried out, and it bugged out so badly the error messages all appeared in three different languages, depending on how many times I pressed the button. (French, spanish and german, I think in case you’re wondering.)

      It’s kind of interesting, because iPhone apps have to go through this unholy approval process to make sure they are bug-free or whatever. So yeah, that works…

  14. Jarenth says:

    Cheer up, Shamus. I hear Percentage Dollar Ampersand Exclamation At-Sign Exclamation is a great holiday destination during the off season.

    1. Robyrt says:

      Just don’t go there in July. Your ears will burn!

      1. albval says:

        And it is not really suitable for kids, either.

  15. Andrew F. says:

    It’s funny, “Cannot find NTLDR” isn’t the error message I’d expect to see in the event of a disconnected power cable… the BIOS shouldn’t be able to see the drive at all in that case, and should just report that it couldn’t find anything to boot from. Which might sound like the exact complaint Shamus is making, but in a way it’s worse, because NTLDR is a Windows file. What if the user has Linux or some other OS installed? So rather than being an incomprehensible error message that’s technically accurate, it’s an incomprehensible error message that might not even apply to the situation.

    1. antsheaven says:

      Probably the hard drive cable wasn’t entirely disconnected.

      1. Andrew F. says:

        Yeah, I guess that could be it. Especially with the newer SATA-type connectors.

    2. Deadfast says:

      Somehow BIOS managed to read the Master Boot Record (MBR) which pointed it towards NTLDR located on the primary partition. That was unavailable and this cryptic error message was the result.
      If GRUB (or any other boot loader for that matter) was present it would complain about its files missing in this situation instead.

    3. Shamus says:

      Thinking back over this some more:

      I have two hard drives in the machine. Perhaps I unplugged the primary, and so it tried to boot off the secondary? That sounds iffy, but if true it would explain the message. The second drive used to have Windows on it, but it’s now just a data drive. I yanked it out of another machine, put it in this one, and then just deleted the /windows directory.

      That would explain HOW I got the error, but not why the guy who wrote the error message has been allowed to live.

      1. Avilan says:

        That’s exactly what happened.

      2. Dys says:

        Seconded, that is indeed what happens. I’ve done the same thing myself often enough.
        I do know what NTLDR is, but after a hair raising half hour trying to work out how I managed to erase my OS, finally realised it was a missing power cable. DOH!

        It’s not a bios error as far as I know, but a hard drive boot error. How it knows it should be a windows drive I don’t know, but I would guess the format has something to do with it.

        1. MichaelG says:

          If his second hard drive used to have Windows on it, it probably still has a boot sector with a Windows-specific loader on it. My guess anyway.

          1. Avilan says:

            Yes, I think that is the reason. The thing is that the BIOS probably has the second drive in the boot order, although it never gets used normally, and when it can’t find drive 0, it goes to drive 1… And find a drive, but no operating system. Hence the message.

      3. Jabor says:

        Well, there are compromises that need to be made when you’re writing error messages to fit in whatever space is left over after you’ve packed your bootloader down to 512 bytes.

        1. Mari says:

          I’m not sure that “can’t find NTLDR” is so much a compromise as a raised middle finger at end users. As has been mentioned, an error along the lines of “can’t load OS” is both shorter and more informative to users who don’t know what NTLDR is/does (which is about 85% of them I suspect although I freely admit that I made that number up). Sure, there would still be a handful of clueless users who don’t understand “OS” but I think it would come a great deal closer to a compromise.

          Of course, alternatively, the error “can’t load OS” is vague and could refer to thousands of problems. If I were actually smart/savvy enough to have memorized a list of all key files involved in a Windows bootup then “can’t find NTLDR” would be much more informative and give me a better shot at fixing the problem. Assuming the problem wasn’t something like an unplugged power cable, of course.

          1. Luke Maciak says:

            This is probably sad, but I do have few dozen of these cryptic messages memorized. This sort of happens to your brain when you work in IT long enough.

          2. Kyte says:

            Except it could fail in many parts of the OS-loading process. By clearly specifying where it failed, you can find an answer. In 512 bytes there absolutely no way to give a full explanation on what went wrong and how to fix it, so you’d need to Google/call tech support for the answer anyways.

            1. decius says:

              “Cannot find NTLDR.” – unique
              “OS Failed: NTLDR.”- Shorter, more descriptive, unique
              “OS error foo”- Shorter, much less descriptive, unique
              You can put exactly as much information into n bytes by using descriptions that are helpful as by descriptions that aren’t. The tech is going to have to look up the arcane error message anyway, so make it one that the average person can partially parse.

      4. Ian says:

        As everyone else said, the code to find and load NTLDR, the basic drive geometry, and the error messages must be contained in 512 bytes. Any stage 1 boot code is always going to be exceedingly terse. The descriptive error messages can’t really come until you hit stage 2 (NTLDR, in the case of Windows) since there just isn’t enough room for it.

        If you want to see more about the nitty gritty about the NTFS boot sector, check this out:

      5. Neil Polenske says:

        NT Loader still don’t explain jack, which frustrated the shit outta me cause I get this error message ALL THE TIME. It is easily the most common hurdle I had to deal with when my old computer got ornery, mostly because the SATA cables for the two HD drives I had utilized some L-shaped plug that had to be twisted around in some ungodly fashion in order to connect with the mobo. This message is pretty much is a guaranteed event if I ever move the damn thing.

        1. Rosseloh says:

          Before I wiped XP and switched to 7, my windows install was borked in such a way that it would give me the NTLDR error EVERY time I booted. The solution? Have the windows CD in the drive whenever I booted.

          I still don’t understand what was going on there.

          As for graphics cards, mine tend to last about 10 months, which means I’m due another update soon. But then, I push them quite hard.

      6. Neil Polenske says:

        NT Loader still don’t explain jack, which frustrated the shit outta me cause I get this error message ALL THE TIME. It is easily the most common hurdle I had to deal with when my old computer got ornery, mostly because the SATA cables for the two HDs I had utilized some L-shaped plug that had to be twisted around in some ungodly fashion in order to connect with the mobo. This message is pretty much is a guaranteed event if I ever move the damn thing.

  16. Primogenitor says:

    What do you mean you’ve had it a year and a half? Clearly it should have been replaced three times over by now! How have you coped without being able to see the shiny sparkly pixel dust?!?

  17. Jeremiah says:

    2 years? That’s pretty rotten luck. My desktop has had its video card for nearly 5 and a half years and still runs strong. Well, as of a couple months ago, at least. It’s currently dismantled waiting for people interested in older PC components to buy them up. Heh.

  18. Brandon says:

    I think the worst error message I’ve ever received is just a popup box that said D:

    They used an emoticon as an error message. I’m pretty sure that’s even less descriptive.

    By the way, the hardware in your computer sounds pretty awesome. I wish my computer was that great.

    1. Newbie says:

      Are you sure it wasn’t the D drive?

      If I got C: I wouldn’t assume it was a smiley face… but I have got that before… I wonder if that was what it meant…

      1. Brandon says:

        Considering it was on a website, I was assuming it wasn’t referring to D drive. It could have been I guess, but completely out of context and considering the fact that it was the only thing in the popup box, I kind of just felt like the code was sad for me.

  19. Duoae says:

    That “sort of dead but sort of still working” thing used to be fairly common in the old style of pipelines on graphics cards. I remember when unlocking “locked” pixelshader pipelines and (whatever the other ones are called, i forgot!) on budget cards could result in you being able to increase the power of your card to be comparable to its better siblings without the messiness of overclocking….

    However, those pipelines were locked for a reason and the reason being that the quality and error-free-ness of them was not guaranteed…. so you could possibly unlock a few of the locked pipelines with no hassle…. or you could get what you see up above – graphical artefacts.

  20. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Im so sorry for your loss Shamus.I can sympathize,because I recently had to go back from my cool liquid cooling to this noisy old air cooler.And I had the dread of watching all that liquid on my motherboard,praying that nothing got fried and that it would work after drying(sadly,something was fried).And it was just a year old cooling.*sigh*

    Hope you find a decent and cheap replacement soon.

  21. Jonn says:

    Interestingly, had the same thing happen a few years back – one card in SLI configuration decided it needed to add red lines and blackish-blue dots to the screen, for some reason.

    Weirdly, it seemed absolutely fine – passed every test for obvious faults, even aced some benchmarks. Guess the cards just fell in love with those dots.
    Then again, taking out the main card, the secondary card decided to break with their new tradition and not show the dots.
    Broken hearted? We may never know.

    Thought maybe it was an SLI thing, actually. Only upside was the timing – was planning on an upgrade soon, which is probably not very helpful to anyone else having the error.

    Almost the oddest computer hardware fault I’ve ever experienced. Except for Windows randomly crashing and locking the motherboard, back in ‘ye olde’ 95 era. Glad that went away. Now if only those error messages you need your computer operational to decipher would improve, we would be set! At least, until the next card decides it needs to draw polka dots, or whatever the new craze is.

    1. Jonn says:

      Post above reminds me, the strangeness began shortly (a day or two) after a major update to the graphic drivers (I think it was major, at least).

      The cards happily ran through their rather poor diet of washed-out brown and way-too-bright brown with no complaint. About 5 minutes after closing the game and trying to browse the ‘net a bit, they decided to add some colour to the screen.

      Maybe thats what happened to your card, Shamus? Too much brown, so it added some colour.
      The perils of free review-copy games…

  22. Valaqil says:

    I’d like to take this chance to plug Speccy. I installed it when it was a beta download with no guarantee of working and it still performed beautifully. The program tells you what hardware is present in a brief summary page, as well as having categories for detailed information of each piece. Since installation, I’ve used it repeatedly when going to troubleshoot or buy new hardware. It’s easier, for me, than digging around in Windows settings or the chassis itself. I imagine you do know a bit more about your hardware than what you posted, but this might be useful later.

    1. Nick Bell says:

      Apparently it is from the creators of CCleaner and Recuva, two of my favorite Windows tools. I didn’t even know they made this. Definitely need to add it to my collection of tools.

  23. bbot says:

    Oh man. I know you were kidding, but reading that spec list on what is supposed to be a technical blog was just painful.

    Humor of that genre should either be overtly wrong (2.77 megahurtz, 128 megabit hard drive) or consist entirely of tedious hardware nerd in-jokes. (NVIDIA Fermi EZ-bake Edition)

    1. StranaMente says:

      I think the purpose of that list is to resemble one from an average coustomer who’s about to buy a computer accesory.
      Most of the computer illiterates ignore even the meaning of the questions about specs (like for a question about your sex you may anwer: “often”, instead of male or female).
      And, by the way, you shouldn’t need to know every single component of your computer to buy any of its part (or so I think, agreeing fully on the linked post).

      1. Mari says:

        Sadly, it’s more technical than the spec list I’ve gotten from a few clients. USB is apparently far too technical for some people. Thus “mouse?” is answered with “yeah” which is clarified into “it has a wheel thingy between the buttons” when I press for more detail. Questions about memory and keyboards are met with blank stares because they have no clue about the memory and assume all keyboards are the same (you mean they can come with different numbers of keys? Why? There’s only 26 letters anyway.)

        I had one sweet lady with egregious amounts of malware on her computer explain to me how she “shops” for computers. She calls Dell (because her computer at work is a Dell) and tells the guy on the phone that she wants a $900 computer. That’s it. The price limit is her only involvement in buying a computer. The rest is chosen for her by the person working for Dell. They could send this woman an Amiga and she wouldn’t know the difference although she would bring it to me and complain that it’s much slower and not as pretty as the computers at work. As far as she’s concerned the specs of her computer are “It’s a $900 Dell.”

        1. Rosseloh says:

          I get that a lot in computer sales as well. Problem is, we’re a retail outfit, not a tech support shop, but they still feel obligated to call our store and say:
          “I’ve got a problem with my computer that I bought from you.”
          “What computer is it?”
          “It’s an HP.”
          and so on


        2. Veloxyll says:

          NTL;DR :P

          That said, listening to talk about specs is boring as all heck. When I blew up my old computer and got this one, I do not deny zoning out while storepeople were talking to me. Their talk of different hardware was meaningless to me because I had no context

        3. Simon Buchan says:

          What’s wrong with picking a retailer and a price point? If anything, even those specific values are pretty good.

          1. Avilan says:

            It’s what I do too; but of course with sliiightly more specs (I need a graphic card with at least 1Gb dedicated memory. And a processor speed > certain amount. And of course I would never do it to an online one-brand dealer like DELL, but instead shop around. My favorite brand is ASUS, btw.

            The way I see it is… $900 computer??? And no other specs??? She is buying a computer that is way faster than what she needs.
            These days, if buying a computer for only surfing and working (Office package)… you can get a good reliable laptop for $350. Tops.

          2. Mormegil says:

            My first reaction to this was to think what a perfectly reasonable strategy it is.

            I know nothing about washing machines. I don’t want to know anything. I don’t care. I have led a full life without such knowledge so far and have no reason to suspect that will change. So if my washing machine died I would walk into a shop and ask for the middle range model of a brand I’d heard of.

            This lady is just treating her computer as an appliance that she needs for her day to day life but has no interest in learning anything about. Not saying it’s a great idea (particularly if she is a regular malware sufferer) but it’s the same logic that most people use on their cars.

            1. Mari says:

              Apparently I’m weird. Well, ok, I know I’m weird. But when I need a new washing machine I have some idea what I want it to do, at least. No, I don’t go to the store demanding a certain horsepower motor or anything but I at least know that I want it to have x, y, and z cycles and be super-capacity. The same goes for any appliance I use. I know virtually nothing about televisions on a day-to-day basis but when it’s time to buy a new TV, I research and read everything I can find until I know what I want out of a new television. I didn’t even WANT a stinking cell phone but when the hubs forced me into getting one (because he’s a big worry-wart and has issues with me driving long distances in a 15-year-old-car, the silly man) I spent several weeks reading up on cell phones, watching video reviews, looking at benchmarks, comparing features and specs until I knew exactly which phones would do what I needed with the greatest ease-of-use and the least annoyance factor.

              I just find it incomprehensible that anyone would walk into a store or call a company and let them pick your product for you. I don’t think all computer users need to be experts or understand all the special jargon or anything that advanced, but having some understanding of the product you intend to buy seems like common sense to me.

              Going back to Shamus’s car analogy, we’re talking about walking onto a car lot and telling the car salesman, “I want a $28,000 car.” and then taking the first one he shows you. What if he offers you a Ford Escape to drive your family of 7 around in? What if he offers you an Excursion for you to commute to work with? What if he offers you a used Yugo? Any one of those things (or worse) could happen if you have no clue beyond price point what you’re shopping for.

  24. Christopher M says:

    My Google expertise (in this case, “typing in the series of letters from the picture of the dead card”) reveals the dead card to be a Radeon 4850 with 1gb ram. Replacements run about $100 on Newegg.

    If you’re willing to step down a peg, you can go for a 4650 – they can be had for $50 or thereabouts, if you’re careful. Shouldn’t cause too much trouble, unless you’re trying to play Crysis on very high detail.

  25. Ben Orchard says:

    Shamus, you are a very amusing person.

    BTW, I strongly recommend CPUID/CPU-Z (available at Complete system specs, and free.

  26. Hitch says:

    I’m sure the guy who wrote the “NTLDR not found” error message was hired to replace the guy they fired for writing “Keyboard not found. Press F1 to continue.”

    1. Lanthanide says:

      In case anyone is wondering, “Keyboard not found. Press F1 to continue.” is actually a *real genuine* error message. Hitch didn’t make it up.

      The only thing you can do at this point is reboot the computer, because plugging in a keyboard at this point is generally not recognised anyway.

    2. Chargone says:

      silly as that error sounds, I’m sure it’s meant to essentially mean ‘plug in a keyboard that actually works so you Can press F1, dumbarse.’ or something to that effect. it’s actually a lot clearer and more useful than the NTLDR one <_<

      1. Viktor says:

        I’d agree, except that you can use the computer without a keyboard. If I need to, say, Google search for the drivers to my keyboard, I can do that with copy/paste. It’s slow, but I can. If I need to press F1 to regain access to my comp, then I can’t.

    3. HAHAHAHHAHAH! I remember that one. Drove me NUTS!

      1. Avilan says:

        Indeed! Good times, good times.
        Now, what drives me nuts is some computers that does not recognize the USB keyboard until windows is fully loaded. I have came across two in the last two years where I can’t get into safe mode or anything because it does not recognize me pressing F8 until the login screen pops up…
        I had to make a friend of mine go and buy a $2 “old fashioned” PS/2 keyboard that we plug in into his computer when it breaks, so we can fix it.

        1. krellen says:

          In general, if a machine has a PS/2 keyboard port, the BIOS will load PS/2 keyboard drivers and not look for USB devices. Newer machines that don’t have PS/2 ports will use USB devices at boot-up.

          Your problem is trying to use new accessories with old appliances.

  27. Aces McGee says:

    You know, I’m sure it’s just possessed by demon’s like Josh’s computer. You probably all got demonic infestations during Spoiler Warning. Better make sure Rutskarn and Mumbles don’t have possessed computers too. I recommend this guy named Lankester Merrin, looks a bit like Max von Sydow he could probably take a look at it…

    In all serious though, sorry to hear about your card.

  28. Rallion says:

    Shamus, if you haven’t already, you might want to just try the card one more time before getting a new one. I had artifacts that looked a lot like that, and reseating the card helped. It’s a long shot, but it should be easy enough to try and would be preferable to getting a new card.

    1. Miral says:

      Seconded. Sometimes a card will glitch out like this (usually due to overheating, sometimes due to slipping slightly out of the slot), and taking it out of the slot, clearing it of any dust, letting it cool down, and putting it back sorts it out.

    2. KnottyMan says:

      I had one of my CAD machines do this on one of the two Dell 30″ LCDs attached.

      Turned out to be a loose/bad ground on the shield on DVI port 1. I swapped the cables and it fit just ever so slightly better that way. Screwed it down tight and been fine ever since.

  29. Rat says:

    I once had a GeForce4 die. It all began with some stray gray pixels trailing a window I moved. As time passed, the top right corner of the screen background would be slowly eaten by those gray pixels. More than single pixels, I think they were 8×16 blocks. I took a snapshot and I thought it would be fine, but it actually captured the glitched pixels. After a couple of hours the whole system locked up and didn’t boot again until I unplugged the card. After seeing memtest86 running on a bad ram stick, I figure it’s just the ram what’s “damaged”–the sample for that batch tested OK. Just swap it… if you can… HAHAHAHA!

    And you don’t even NEED to delete NTLDR. If you have enough files in the FS root, it might get moved to “page 2”, and then you get that very same message *even when NTLDR is actually there*.

    And yeah, you got the message because of a second HDD (which most likely used to have a copy of Win2k+), otherwise the BIOS would’ve said something about unbootable media.

    In a binary domain one figures you’d get either total success or total failure. Yet computers are the finest example of partial success.

  30. Zukhramm says:

    The problem is in the mothermodem, the very heart of the hard drive.

    Yep, useless error messages are terrible. The worst are those just telling me “there was an error”. Yeah, thanks. No I know why my program locked up, there was an error.

  31. Samkathran says:

    I hate to do this Shamus, but I have to call you out about one part:

    I swear at it. Same result.

    This is clearly a dirty, stinkin’ lie. Swearing at it always fixes any computer-related problem. That and hitting the case a few times. If neither of those fix the problem, then it is no longer (or never was) a computer at all, but just a really expensive paperweight. You might as well throw it out the window at that point, it’s less frustrating that way.

    PS: Awesome PC specs :D

    1. Jarenth says:


      Everyone knows that the real end-all solution to every technical problem is blowing on it.

      1. RTBones says:

        Respectfully, I disagree. The solution that works in some fashion every time: repeated percussive maintenance

        1. Pickly says:

          Another person here who begs to disagree. Turn it off, leave it for an hour, than turn it back on.

          1. Mistwraithe says:

            The three Rs of troubleshooting software

            Restart the program
            Reboot your computer
            Reinstall stuff (program, operating system, etc)

            Can’t fail ;-)

            Unfortunately you have a hardware problem. I think the 3 Rs still apply but the third step is “Return to store” instead which isn’t so helpful!

            1. Zukhramm says:

              For hardware the third R is “remote detonation”.

      2. Lanthanide says:

        You’re probably aware of this trick, but others might not be.

        A big source of problems in tech support is cables simply not being plugged in. But if a tech support person on the other end of the phone, who is obviously the lowest form of life on earth, asks the troubled user “are the cables plugged in?” they’ll be met with a surly “of course they are”. But by saying “sometimes dust get into the connections and messes them up, so unplug the cable, blow in it to get the dust out, and plug it back in” forces the user to plug the cable in. When you get the reply “thanks, that worked!” it’s a sure sign the cable was never plugged in to begin with.

        1. Jarenth says:

          I could lie and say I knew this, but you wouldn’t believe me anyway now that I’ve said this.

      3. Hitch says:

        Absolutely. The only tool a real computer tech ever needs is a can of compressed air.

  32. Dev Null says:

    I hate that guy who writes those messages. Seriously, its not even lazy; surely it takes more effort to come up with something as deliberately cryptic as that than it does to just say to yourself “well damn, this test will never fail unless there’s no OS on the system at all” and then type “NO OS detected.” That would be a _bad_ error message that you would use if you were lazy, and it would still be a vast improvement over “Cannot find NTLDR”

    1. Ian says:

      It’s not about laziness on a stage 1 boot loader at all. It’s about space. The person who developed that code had 512 bytes to store basic disk geometry information, the code to locate and execute NTLDR, and the error messages. It’s literally impossible to put descriptive error messages into it due to how the PC boot system is designed. Here is a site with a nice breakdown of the NTFS boot sector.

      Also, putting “No OS detected” would be far worse, I think. At least putting “cannot find NTLDR” gives you an indication as to what it’s looking for. It’s meant to be a message viewed and interpreted by technicians. Regardless of what’s actually drawn on the screen, a layman is going to think, “oh, my computer’s broke,” and take it somewhere to be repaired (or restore it to factory defaults).

      1. Lar says:

        Obviously the solution is to name the file OS.exe, making the error message “Cannot find OS”

    2. Freykin says:

      A bit in his defense, it’s referring to the file NTLDR.EXE, so it is a specific file. They could have certainly named it better though.

  33. Dys says:

    I know a guy in Israel who works for Alienware. Odd, isn’t it?
    Last time my gcard blew up he sent me another one.
    Apparently they cost him around $40 over there…

    Unhelpful and infuriating comment ftw.

    1. Christopher M says:

      So tell him it blew up again, then send the card he sends you to Shamus!

  34. StranaMente says:

    Don’t know exactly what’s the US policy about guarantees, but in europe is at least 2 years by law. If you have some time to spare, you can find the invoice and contact the production house about this problem.
    It may save you some money at the cost of some research and waiting…

    1. Mistwraithe says:

      In New Zealand everything basically has to last as long as a reasonable person would expect it to. I would reasonably expect a computer to last at least 2-3 years (probably no longer given the rate of obsolescence in the industry!) so you would be fine.

      I fear the US isn’t so hot on this sort of consumer protection legislation though…

    2. krellen says:

      The US hates all consumers (since they are not businesses) and provides almost no legal protection to them at all.

      I wish I was kidding.

  35. Jansolo says:

    A graphic card with red PCB (Printed Circuit Board, yeah, I had to googled at that time) is your best choice.

    At least, it was said for my Sapphire 4870. That’s totally true (I mean, a lot of people said that. Actually, I don’t know whether a red PCB is better than a blue one).

    By the way, my hard drive died a few weeks ago. Then I discovered the wonderfull world of reinstall everything.

  36. Trix says:

    Is it odd that when I look at that error I think of “TL:DR”? Sorta ironic considering…

  37. Mark says:

    Shamus, to get system info on Windows, a place to start would be to run DirectX Diagnostics, or “dxdiag”.

    I haven’t heard the most flattering things about ATI cards, while my two-year-old Nvidia geforce 8800GT has been able to handle anything I’ve thrown at it. If you’re not averse to switching brands, my understanding is that something in their current 400 line is an updated version of that well-regarded chipset. If you can afford to try to be future-proof, it might be something to consider, if it turns out you need a replacement.

    1. Ian says:

      In contrast, my last two NVIDIA experiences have been pretty awful. Between the nForce 750i chipset that my current motherboard was based on (many, many people have had issues with the nForce 7 series*) and the driver issues that I had on my old 9800 GTX (I run two monitors, and one of the driver updates made a pigs breakfast of the display quality on my secondary display, though that might have been because of the faulty motherboard chipset), I eventually just upgraded to a Core i7 with an Intel X58 chipset and a RADEON 5830. And, honestly, I couldn’t be happier.

      *Oh, issues issues. You’d be amazed at what I couldn’t do with that motherboard chipset. I couldn’t play fullscreen videos because they would hard lock my system. I couldn’t play games that used 2D acceleration because it would do the same thing (no Plants vs Zombies for me on that compy). Stress testing either of the two 3D cards that I had in the board indicated issues with the cards, which actually seemed to be a problem with the PCI-Express bus (in contrast, the ATI card passed all tests on my X58). I also had issues with my PCI-E X-Fi. The audio had a tendency to get very crackly after running for a while. Oh, I also couldn’t update World of Warcraft and some other things due to issues with the disk controller corrupting data.

      I’ve done my research and I’m far from the only person to have those issues with an nForce 7 chipset. I just feel sorry for the people who sprung for the expensive 780 boards, only to run into those issues. The chipsets manufactured later don’t seem to be affected, but that doesn’t help the early adopters.

    2. PhoenixUltima says:

      I’m not too crazy about ATI either. My Dell-puter has a Radeon HD 2600 (I may or may not have gotten all the extraneous letters) and while it’s adequate, it doesn’t like shadows or water very much. I can’t have ambient shadows at all in NWN2, for example, and lots of water in source engine games (like CS:S and TF2) drops the framerate by quite a bit, even with fancy water reflections and such turned off. The next time I get a computer I’m gonna go for one with an NVIDIA card. Most games seem to be tested on those primarily anyway, if all the NVIDIA splash screens in my games are any indication.

  38. 2tm says:

    I’ve had the colored squares and lines problem on two graphics cards in the last 5 years and both times I’ve found a blown capacitor somewhere on the cards board under all the fancy coverings. I’ve only had it happen twice, which does not a strong statistical case make, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you found a blown capacitor under your board shield somewhere.

    I’ve never narrowed down what’s caused it, but it’s always been on my work computer and since I haven’t had to foot the bill and therefor never actually cared enough to look into it seriously.

    1. Christopher M says:

      That sounds like something that could be repaired with a good bit of solder and a deft hand. Might save a little money, yes?

      1. mac says:

        Tried this with a friend’s graphics card.
        He had been running it hot for way too long, when it broke and we took the card out there were two burst capacitors on the card.
        We tried replacing the capacitors, but the board was simply too crowded.

  39. zimboptoo says:

    This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway:

    I would suggest doing a bit more experimentation before giving up on the card. Specifically, testing another graphics card in the same slot and trying the “broken” card in a different computer. I’ve had an entire PCI bus give up on me before (well, either the bus or the slot, but effectively the same thing) but the rest of the board worked fine. Also, it’s probably worth getting a can of compressed air to clean out the slot and try reseating the card.

    And if it really is the card, keep a close eye on the rest of the components. Many of the possible failure points are systematic (overheating/ventilation, a dying power-supply/power fluctuations, short-circuits on the motherboard, moths/ants/rodents in the case) and could start frying your other parts soon. And that’s no fun at all.

    1. Mari says:

      OK, I’ll give you moths and ants but how do you get rodents in your case and not know it?

      1. Chargone says:

        room size super computers.

        there’s space <_<

  40. Mike Has Answers says:

    Put up a donation box and you’ll have enough to buy a new card in a day. I guarantee it.

    1. Chris Robertson says:

      Alternatively, put one up on your Amazon wish list. Considering you last added an item 360 days ago* (as I post this), you might want to prune it a bit.

      Of course, you’ll have to figure out which one to buy. That’s the hard part.

      *Over two years for the Twenty Sided list.

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        Currently? I believe best mid-range is nVidia 460 and best high range is still ATI 59xx. That was about a year ago, but there doesn’t seem to have been much movement in the last 2-3 years.

        1. Ian says:

          ATI unveiled the Radeon HD 6000 series about a month ago. I don’t think any non-enthusiast (aka affordable) models have been released yet. I don’t know about NVIDIA; the only reason I know about the 6000 series is because ATI pimped it in the installer for their recent drivers. :P

          You can get an 58xx for a reasonable price. I believe their closest NVIDIA analogue is the GTX 460. I have a 5830 and it’s been very good to me.

  41. Tse says:

    Same thing happened to me. My GTS8800 died just like that less than half a year after the end of the warranty… The only way I could start windows was by using safe mode… Anyway, I bought a new GTX460 but I could’ve waited a lot longer for an upgrade.

  42. Scerro says:

    I have an old 8800GT that I replaced. It runs a bit warm, but is fully functional… and I don’t know anyone else that needs a card.

  43. Aelyn says:

    My office in the house is quite warm. I’m way down south, my office is upstairs without its own A/C system and the morning sun shines directly on it. I’ve got 2 servers and a desktop running in here along with multiple monitors, a printer, and multiple battery backup systems.

    I lose graphics card a fair bit. It couldn’t be the heat… nah…

    I knew from the first description of your problem it was the graphics card. That’s been pretty typical of my experience. I think I go through about a graphics card a year, and they pretty much all exhibit that behavior.

    The error message reminds me of an old DOS program – written in BASIC – that I inherited at a previous job. It was back in the days when a module was limited to 64k – and some modules wouldn’t compile if you added a single line of code. There were multiple places in the code that went something like this…

    IF something_dumb_like_SSN_for_unique_ID THEN
    ELSEIF oh_bloody_hell_its_not_unique THEN
    ‘We should never, ever get here
    END IF

    That job was very educational.

    1. Avilan says:

      Have you tried a water-cooled system?

      1. Aelyn says:

        I have indeed. It’s been a while and I don’t recall if the graphics cards fared better in that box or not. I did, however, get tired of changing coolant and such.

        Actually, now that I think about it I know I changed the graphics card once or twice. I had the card on the cooling loop initially, but didn’t have the requisite connector for a later card.

  44. Amarsir says:

    Before shelling out on a replacement, see if you can’t look up the warranty on that card. A lot come with lifetime replacements, especially if you registered when you got it. (If not registered then you’re probably in worse shape.)

    Video cards work hard. Not only do we move to the next technology level as soon as possible, but we take the cards we have and push them to the limit. Not even counting all the OCers. The nice thing about the steep upgrade curve is that I frequently have an older card to use as backup – and sometimes even with the right port!

  45. X2-Eliah says:

    Ah, the good old way of going to sleep and hoping it gets better in the morning.

    Funny thing, it actually has worked for me on three occasions.

  46. Brandon says:

    This is completely off topic, but I thought it was worth mentioning that Chime is currently $1.25 on Steam, and you should definitely throw a shameless plug on here for everyone Shamus. Being the Chime spokesperson that you are. :P

    1. MichaelG says:

      But can he still play Chime, or Minecraft or WoW on nothing but integrated graphics? He might be forced to read a book or something.

      1. Shamus says:

        Ugh. WoW is SLOW. I can turn down most effects without hurting the screenshots too much, but I need to keep the draw distance up, and that’s what kills me. So I’m playing WoW at 6fps.

        Ah well. At least it runs and I can do the job.

        1. Brandon says:

          You *could* just use this as an excuse to take a break. I mean, I don’t think anyone is unreasonable enough to expect you to continue your Shamus Plays while your hardware is busted.

          Oh wait, this is the internet. Good luck with your 6 fps!

          1. Vipermagi says:

            That still amounts to six unique screencaptures per second! Obviously, that is plenty for an LP.

        2. Hitch says:

          I don’t know if you can macro a change in graphics settings like draw distance. If you can, maybe set up a toggle between “somewhat smoothly playable” and “looks good for screen shots” so you can switch back and forth quickly?

          1. Shamus says:

            Heh. I just discovered that just pointing the camera down is a really good way to boost performance. Just look down from overhead when you’re fighting, then angle back up when it’s screenshot time. Worked well enough that I could finish Wednesday’s entry without pulling my hair out. Although, the screenshots are still not very pretty. :)

            1. Brandon says:

              Hey, that’s a spiffy trick. I have some performance problems (rarely, but it happens) in some zones.. might have to try that.

  47. LassLisa says:

    This is why I refuse to become a programmer. I think, “well, sure, you run through your boot sequence and if you can’t find the NTLDR file, you say so! Then you have all the information you need for debugging!”

    And then everyone else thinks that’s really bad, user-unfriendly design. So I figure it’s better for everyone else if I never write code.

    That said, from having worked in tech support I do think the specificity of this error message is superior to ‘OS Not Found’. It would be much better for troubleshooting complex issues, even if it takes more time when the issue is a cable being unplugged.

    1. Lanthanide says:

      Just do both. Have a user-friendly message, and tack on developer-friendly stuff on the end. Your user-friendly stuff will probably help the developers work out what it is anyway, and will certainly help out tech-savvy users who have never run across this specific error before, but now have some idea on what to do to fix it.

      The developer-friendly stuff can even just be something as simple as “errorcode=0xDEADBEEF”. Then the technical person can look up their Big Book of Error Codes and find what 0xDEADBEEF means (apart from hamburger).

  48. Allan says:

    I bet you aren’t long out of the warranty period.

    A couple of years ago I got some nice flashy memory for my computer for chritsmas, came with a 18 month warranty. Stuck it in the computer and 19 months later the sticks die a horrible death. GRUB loader memory test gave it 97% failed.

    The old memory that I had before and now have again is probably getting on for four, five maybe six years. Those sticks, aswell as having been subject to the rigours of my games and videos, have been chucked around while moving between home and university, fallen out of the static proof bag and clattered to the floor more times than can be counted, and left to gather dust on shelves, in drawers on desks and on floors(where I’ve occaisionally stood on them).

    Planned obsolescence is an utter bastard.

  49. Kdansky says:

    As for replacement: Most current games are still written with an XBox360 in mind, so it really doesn’t matter much what kind of card you buy. Pick one that has “decent” last year, and is now a steal. I’m running on an ATI 4870 (that is a model that was new more than two years ago), and Metro 2033 is the first game that is slightly slow (at 1900×1024 resolution and high details), but that’s mostly because you cannot change its settings at all and are stuck to “very high” or “pretty high” details. And it’s not like the good games really require decent graphics. Desktop Dungeons and Super Meat Boy both run perfectly fine on pretty much any hardware.

  50. Lanthanide says:

    I’ve mostly skimmed the replies above, but you may yet be able to resurrect the card. Apologies if anyone has already said this.

    I haven’t tried it myself, but a common failure point on modern graphics cards are the solder joints cracking and losing conductivity. This is especially due to the new RohS lead-free solder that simply doesn’t work as well as the old lead-full solder. The solution is to put your graphics card in the oven to melt the solder, and hopefully all the watt-sits will coagulate into a useful do-hicky for the electrons to party over.

    Anyway, so some research on the net about this, I’m really only here to inform you of the idea, not how to go about it. Here’s something I googled which looked somewhat helpful:

    1. Corran says:

      What Lanthanide says is right.

      I know it sounds like a completely silly fix but it can actually work.

      First you of course make sure it wasn’t something silly like an improperly seated card, etc. But you did all that I’m sure.

      My old 8800GTX gave the ghost after three and half years of service; dots and stripes on the screen just like you had.

      After sticking it in the oven (well the grill function on my microwave) for 15 minutes it worked like a charm again.

      The plastic housing warped a tiny bit but that was all.

      I have to add that even though the card worked fine I did replace it with a GTS450 but that’s just cause I’m an IT guy working at home I don’t want to take any risks of being without a working primary pc.

      The three days I had to wait for the new card I used my ‘cooked’ 8800GTX and it worked just fine, not even a hint of dots or stripes.

      If the warranty gone and you aren’t going to get it fixed any other way this is defintely something worth trying.

      Let me add though to what one other poster said; here in Holland too you have a longer warranty by law, products are supposed to last a ‘normal’ life time. When they break sooner the company that sold it should fix it for a reasonable price or get you a replacement, again for a reasonable price.

  51. mike says:

    Shamus, I have $150 burning a hole in my pocket. How do I get it to you?

    1. Mike, I started looking for the paypal button so I could toss $25.00 myself.

      Shamus needs to let us donate some money, having so shamelessly set it up (and without intent it appears, to boot).

      Heck, if we had flamed him, he would answer ;)

      1. mike says:

        This isn’t the first time I’ve gone looking for a donate button, either.

        With no intention of flattery, I can say that Shamus has provided me with enough entertainment and thought provoking content that I almost feel obliged to kick a few dollars his way…

        If only it were possible.

        Oh, and Shamus, are you familiar with Joe Larson’s series; Mr Joe Rants?

        Mr Joe Rants has a similar style, albeit on a different topic and all. But I was reminded of it when watching your Drawn to Knowledge debut.
        Which, by the way is an awesome thing. I can’t get enough of this style.

        Also, I will note, that there were some significant differences between the two shows.

        So, yeah, make some more of that :-)

      2. OldGrover says:

        I feel the same way – I’ve received a lot of value for no money from this site, would definitely toss some $$$ in the pot to keep content rolling smoothly.

    2. Rustybadger says:

      Hee, I know his wife’s Paypal address, so I beat ya to it. If you send it to me, I will make sure it ends up in Shamus’s hands.

      1. Rustybadger says:

        Also: I realised that might sound creepy, so: His wife has an Etsy store, and I’ve commissioned artwork from her in the past. So, not so creepy.

        1. mike says:

          Okay, that is less creepy ;-)

          I’m still not comfortable transferring money through an intermediary who – to me – is unknown and has no way of ensuring their genuine promises will be fulfilled.

  52. psivamp says:

    Hardware is weird. Software can be weird too, but then we just blame bad code or — better yet — the hardware again. I remember when I built my last tower. I thought it fried itself right before leaving for a six-month deployment. Turns out one of the CPU clips slipped and the CPU wasn’t held down with enough force and obviously that was no good.

    I had an extra graphics card lying around — let me check and see if it’s still here.

    No clue where that card went. Found some old hard drives, though…

  53. Irridium says:

    This is probably a stupid question, but did you check the manual before looking up the problem on the internet?

    1. Shamus says:

      Well, no. But even if I had: This error message looked like it was coming from the BIOS, when it was really a Windows notification. So if I did look it up, I would have been looking in the wrong place. :)

      1. blue_painted says:

        I don’t understand why you say it looks more like a BIOS message than a Windows message? To me it *looks* entirely anonymous.

        Oh, and I don’t understand why needing to look something up on another computer is a problem, shurely you’ve got three or four? :-)

      2. Irridium says:

        Ah. Alright, just checking.

  54. ehlijen says:

    I guess it’s probably not possible from the way you describe what happened, but sometimes just turning off part of the graphic acceleration features makes graphics cards work again.

    I’ve got a mobile GT7800 (or something) in my laptop and it’s past it’s expiry date, so it causes hangups, crashes and fuzzy screens unless I dial the hardware acceleration all the way down to nothing.

    For some reason, that doesn’t even let me play UFO anymore though…though when I dial it back up ot the level UFO agrees to run again it won’t do any of the bad things while UFO is running…

  55. Supah_Ewok says:

    So… last week, Josh’s computer blows up in his face, and this week, your graphics card dies.

    Clearly, there is a conspiracy at work. Or Reginald Cuthbert is haunting your computers… FROM THE FUTURE!!!

  56. Luke Maciak says:

    Shamus, the error message is cryptic, but not uninformative. It basically tells you exactly why loading of the OS stopped – it’s because the NTLDR (or the NT – as in windows NT – Loader file could not be found). This usually indicates that BIOS could locate a drive that looked as if it was bootable but could not actually find the loader.

    You say you had a secondary drive in there, which “used to be a primary windows drive”. Chances are it still has a boot sector, so in absence of the primary drive your machine must have guessed it was good enough. Usually if there is no bootable drive connected to the system it will say something like “no bootable drive” or something about not being able to locate OS.

    So it is actually not such a bad message. It basically says “Hey, I’m missing this particular file, don’t know what happened to it!” I don’t know – maybe I’m just used to seeing it after working in IT for so many years. I actually can’t remember the first time I have seen it and what I thought about it back then.

    You know what is my favorite error message? Cyclic Redundancy Check Error. No seriously – you will be trying to copy a or move a file, and you get a box that says just that. No other explanation – you either have to know what CRC is, or google it to figure it out. :)

    1. Robyrt says:

      Cryptic is exactly the problem Shamus is (justly) complaining about. There are plenty of short, informative messages that would accurately communicate this problem:
      “Windows Startup Error: Can’t find file NTLDR”
      “Windows NT tried to boot from drive D: but couldn’t find NTLDR”

  57. TMC_Sherpa says:

    I had a US Robotics modem (flash upgraded to 33.6, talk about a barn burner!) and the only phone number included in the package was for their BBS. So, let me get this straight, if I have a problem with my modem I need to use a modem to get to your BBS to figure out how to fix the modem? Thanks USR.

    Thankfully it was external as it eventually gave it’s life protecting my computer from a lightning strike near my house. Let me tell you I cried when I had to use my old 9600 until I could get a replacement although I did have even slower models floating around so I guess I should have been thankful for what I had. Kids today with their fancy pants broadband….

  58. Ateius says:

    I, too, have had my graphics card fail me recently! Mine was an nVidia 9800 that lasted me a good three years. My CPU power supply overloaded and fried the card, which was plugged in directly.

    After a new power supply and a saga that ended in discovering that my motherboard does not get along with ATI cards, I have an nVidia 450 now. Some of my games don’t work well on it, which makes me sad – GTA in particular gets crazy rendering errors, then chokes and dies, despite the 450 benchmarks showing it as much faster than my old card.

    Hope your problem is resolved more successfully!

  59. Nick says:

    Just because a computer is a box and screen does not mean it is simple. It is by far the most complex piece of equipment that 99% of people will ever use.

    Why do people think that just because they can use Windows that they should be able to understand all the error messages that can be generated.

    Some messages just aren’t meant for you.

    Oh, and that video problem you had was caused by corrupted video memory.

    1. Shamus says:

      Why do people think all users should be treated like idiots? Isn’t that what led to Vista?

      Really, I’m not asking for much. If it had just identified itself as an OS error and not a BIOS error, that would have been enough. Simply throwing the word FILE in there would have been enough.

      1. Zak McKracken says:

        Actually, it’s what led to Mac OS, I think :)
        *quickly ducks away*

        1. blue_painted says:

          The need to treat people like idiots?

          g,d & r

  60. Mazinja says:

    Gah. Computer errors. One sure way to freak geeks right the hell out.

    I’m still trying to see if I can recover the info from the WD Hard Drive I got like a couple of years ago and is now asking for a reformat. Most of my college work is there!

    But I’m too busy being driven insane by a UPS that doesn’t like me playing some stuff without it wailing like a banshee :(

  61. Aaron says:

    So I very rarely comment on any blog, usually because I either can’t find anything worth saying or something that hasn’t already been said. In this case I simply must applaud you, Shamus, for successfully trolling half the people who read this post without even trying. Between this post and the one you linked to regarding your “review” of your previous graphics card, I can’t remember the last time I saw more people completely miss the sarcasm/humor/outright BS of something they read. And as a fellow WoW player, that is saying quite a bit (I’m looking at you Nazgrel Trade Chat). Keep up the great work, and remember: the bigger the fan and brighter the red of your next card, the faster New Vegas will find some new way to barf all over it!

  62. Zak McKracken says:

    Dear Shamus,
    you do seem somehow imbalanced lately. Alright, it’s fun to read your eloquent rants about useless error messages, but then useless error messages are omnipresent in any computer user’s life, let alone a programmmer’s.

    As much as it’s a nuisance that someone didn’t spell out “Windows NT boot loader” — face it, it’s everywhere. Back then when Windows NT (or 2000?) was written (that’s in 2000 or 2001?), they were even more commonplace than now.
    Which isn’t to say it’s not a bad thing … just don’t ruin your day over it, will you? I wouldn’t want to see you combust in a white-hot flame of (completely justified) fury over some Microsoft programmer ten years ago.

    Instead: All hail to Heather, for sensibly running Linux on her Laptop! The world needs more good examples like this.

  63. Cybron says:

    I read a study somewhere that says the red ones are indeed an average of 15% betterer. You should trust my total reliable statistic and not only purchase a red one but coat your entire computer in red paint. Just think of all the better it will be!

  64. Zaxares says:

    My own video card (which was coincidentally also about 1.5 years old!) died in a similar fashion several months ago, Shamus. Funny graphical artifacts, the screen failing to come up when Windows booted up (even though I could hear the Windows startup noises through my speakers) etc. It’s highly likely that the card’s video memory is dying. It could be replaced by a technician who knows what he’s doing, but the cost and difficulty is about the same as what it would take to get a brand new card, so I’d recommend just upgrading with whatever people toss in the tin your way. :)

  65. Rack says:

    For me “NTLDR.EXE not found” would have been infinitely more informative. NTLDR could be anything.

  66. ooli says:

    Ouah first post a didnt like. Pur hate doesnt fit Shamus so well I think. At least the PC specification make me smile.

  67. Jennifer Snow says:

    Oh, poor Shamus. I had exactly this problem a couple months ago when my primary card failed. Fortunately, I use an SLI configuration so I had a spare. But I’m still pissed. And mine was also just about a year and a half old, my computer doesn’t sit on the floor, it keeps cool, I don’t move it, I don’t overclock.

    Let’s get signs and form a mob demanding replacements. That always works.

  68. Sho says:

    For the record, gasoline is a terrible name for a substance that’s liquid at room temperature.

  69. eri says:

    Lots of comments, so I hope this doesn’t get lost in the shuffle, but…

    You say it’s a year and a half old? While you might be out of luck, you can try contacting HIS for a replacement card. Most video card manufacturers have a two year warranty or better, but some require you to register the card with their web site by a certain date after purchase. I doubt they could replace the existing card due to its age, so you might even get a free upgrade out of it.

    Barring that, there’s basically two ways I can see things going if you want a capable video card that won’t break the bank. On the NVIDIA side, there’s the GTX 460, which is very fast for anything other than the most demanding games and 1080p+ resolutions (or the GTX 470, whose price has plummeted recently, but it has a high power draw and will be hotter/louder).

    On the AMD side, there’s the HD 6850 and HD 6870. Both are excellent cards, and while identical to the 5830 and 5850 in terms of performance (they changed the naming scheme around in between generations), they are more efficient and run cooler. The HD 6870 is roughly equivalent to an NVIDIA GTX 470, while the HD 6850 is more along the lines of a GTX 460. If you don’t have a high-res widescreen monitor, the HD 6850 should be fine, but if you’re running a 1680×1050 resolution or higher, you’ll probably want a 6870.

    Really, it’s a great time to buy a video card. Prices are low due to renewed competition, even midrange cards are capable of high framerates running modern games maxed out, and both AMD and NVIDIA have some awesome cards going for them. While I prefer NVIDIA due to their drivers and things like PhysX support, if you want something more efficient then pick AMD and don’t look back either.

  70. Captain Kail says:

    I know your pain exactly Shamus. I had an 8800GTX (that I bought for a whopping $600 after saving for months) and almost a year later, it died too, giving me the blue dots and red lines. When I had it examined by a tech, he told me that the GPU had cracked from intense heat. My PC is well ventilated and cooled, the damned thing killed itself just because it ran so HOT!

  71. Ham08 says:

    I always keep spare parts on hand for just this sort of emergency. Whenever I see an awesome deal on parts, I consider purchase just so I have a backup.

    One time I built two computers with exactly the same parts. I tested them both then only used one of them regularly. The other saw minimum use as a LAMP server for experiments. They both run very well even today 7 years later, but if any parts had failed, I would have had the ability to cobble something together for a working computer with the exact same performance on every level that I was used to.

    As for my current computer, I have backup parts for everything except the motherboard. If that goes, I’ll have to buy more modern parts due to compatibility issues and unavailable replacements (ie modern CPU compatible with new motherboard socket, modern RAM, PSU, etc.).

  72. Julia says:

    Your talent for turning your pain and frustration into something humorous is wonderful. I’m sorry you went through all that, but dang, from that I’d say you are a MASTER of lemonade when you’re handed lemons!

  73. anna says:

    I absolutely LOVE the NTLDR error message. It changed my life.

    The first week of my first semester of college, that error appeared mysteriously on my Windows XP install. I was devastated – I had no idea what that error meant, and I had assignments due that were only available on that machine. I also didn’t have a Windows XP installation disk (well, I owned one, but it was a 2 hour drive away, at home).

    Luckily, someone had given me a set of 3 CDs a few months before that, labelled “Mandrake Linux 7.1”. I think it was 7.1, anyway. I could be wrong. I installed this newfangled “Linux” thing, was able to get to my data and get my assignments turned in.

    I also found out that it had a robust command-line, with ssh and compiling tools built in. These came in handy throughout the semester. As my class-mates struggled to write their software through a PuTTY interface (the CS students all had logins on a box running Tru64 UNIX. This is where work had to be submitted for grading), I was breezing along, writing and compiling the code locally then just copying it over with scp (and testing it on the Tru64 box before submitting! Remember: NEVER assume your code will run the same on two different machines, especially when they are different operating systems).

    So, that’s how I fell in love with Linux. I continued to use Linux throughout college, and enjoyed the heck out of how transparent and open to exploration it was. I learned a lot about how OSes work, including what a bootloader is (I picked up on what NTLDR was at some point when playing with LILO. It just dawned on me suddenly after reading some man page or other. NT… LOADER! It’s like LILO or grub for Windows!). And it was my Linux experience, not my degree, that got me my first real job after college.

    So thank you, Microsoft programmer, for that obtuse error message. It literally changed my life, and is responsible for a large part of who I am today (the adorable Linux geek part!).

  74. Sucal says:

    Might I suggest fire? A fire made using communion wafers, that you and your family dance around, while sprinkling holy water and chanting hymns in both Turkish and Latin. That is truly the only way to divine the sacred mystery of the error message, and the shortcut to mystery.

    Thus Quotith the Raven of the future, to old Old One Eye Odin himself, as crashed once again.

    Its good to see things haven’t changed.

  75. Irridium says:

    Also, anyone else find it funny how Shamus’s machine is now messed up after a certain blog post?

    I’m sure Josh is laughing at him.

  76. SeekerOfThePath says:

    I feel for you. The exact same thing happened to me couple of weeks ago. It took a phone call before I found out the graphics card has been fried. After an investigation I also found out one has to remove dust from inside the computer every once in a while.
    Note: I hate PC shops around my home, I spent two hours looking for one with graphics card in stock.

  77. Jeff says:

    I’ve had similar issues with one of my 9800GT cards from overheating it. I switched it from primary to secondary and set it as my PhysX driver. Ever since then though, I’ve had a temperature monitor up for my video cards.

  78. (LK) says:

    “PC Load Letter”? What the fuck does that mean?

  79. wootage says:

    Hi, the video card has developed bad video memory. I had the exact same thing happen, tracked it down through other user complaints, so I am pretty confident in the diagnosis. Time for a warranty replacement!

    The reason for this is usually heat that causes cold solder cracks (no idea why they call it that) that interfere with the chip connections. It’s because as you heat the board and chips up and cool them down, the materials expand and contract and eventually crack the solder around the pins.
    It’s technically possible to reheat and repair the solder join by baking the board in the oven (not kidding, google it) but if you want reliability, you’ll need another board, preferably with memory coolers n’stuff.
    Oh and for your system identification needs, try PC Wizard ( Free, comes in a portable no-installation version, and works pretty fine for most needs. Best of luck!

  80. Turbosloth says:

    I would just like to comment that if you throw up a “donate here to buy Shamus a new graphics card” paypal link, I would happily throw money at it.

    Note that I don’t really qualify this as ‘charity’ because my motivation would be that running on integrated graphics is going to reduce your efficiency at producing entertainment for me, and that is a bad thing because I like your work and would like to keep consuming as much of it as possible. Since I generally get it in a stupid degree of abundance for an average cost of $0, throwing $5-20 at you every now and then for a new piece of hardware necessary to continue producing it when the old bit goes sproing seems entirely reasonable.

    1. Rustybadger says:


      Also, as mentioned previously, an occasional update to his Amazon or Newegg wishlist would be in order.

      I’m luckier than most commenters in that I have his wife’s Paypal info, so I can just send it to her. Of course, she may throw it away on cheap drink and gentlemen of negotiable virtue- but that’s not MY problem. MY virtue is non-negotiable (I take any reasonable offer).

  81. HeroOfHyla says:

    I had my video card short out 3 weeks after building my PC. The computer simply would not turn on with the card plugged in. That was annoying. And it took ages to get it fixed, because at first I thought it was a power supply problem and had that replaced first. Fortunately my friend had an extra card lying around (he helped me pick the parts for my computer to begin with), so I wasn’t without games while the card was being replaced.

  82. Samuel says:

    That was the greatest description of a computer I have ever seen. You made my day.

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