Diagnosing Display


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Troubleshooting Video - The last CRT I saw was over 15 years ago until last month, they are still being used.

Troubleshooting these errors are fairly easy to resolve.

If your monitor or your video card has failed then it is hard to troubleshoot because you can't see what is going on!

Troubleshooting Video Techniques:

Troubleshooting Monitors:

There are some things that will indicate that the monitor is beginning to fail if it is a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) monitor vs a Plasma Flat Screen monitor.

When a CRT monitor starts to age the constant heating up and cooling down causes what is known as micro fractures in the solder joints. On older monitors this wasn't a problem because all the solder joints were fairly thick and the micro fracture didn't effect the joints. With the advent of micro chips and wave soldering the heat resistance of solder joints decreased, thus every time the joints heat up then cool down minor fissures appear in the solder joints weakening the connection, eventually the joint fails.

You can see this effect on a CRT when you get different phenomenon:

  • 'Hour glass effect' that is when the top and bottom of the display area are at the edge of the viewing area and the middle has a discernable area that is indented.
  • The video will only display red and green, or yellow and red, or yellow and green colors, this means that one of the control circuits for the color 'gun' has gone out.
  • The video will not fill the complete display, there is a gap either on the top or bottom or one side and using the adjustment controls on the monitor will not make the display move or expand.

All of these problems are can be fixed but at what cost? If you paid $300 for the monitor three years ago is it worth $150-300 to fix it, remember that a tech is only going to touch up the areas that are bad or replace the control board that is bad. If you have a high value monitor that is out of warranty then the cost of the repair may be a viable proposition.

Plasma or Flat Panel screens present a different set of problems. Like a laptop screen they use 'liquid crystal' technology.

  • One of the things that is most noticeable when a plasma screen is going bad is a black line somewhere on the display. The connection to that area has degraded to a point where the voltage can not get to the underling crystal array. Not fixable at a reasonable cost.
  • When you plasma screen begins to flicker or dim this is the power inverter inside the display. This is a repairable condition but should be undertaken by a qualified technician.
  • Another condition is when it will not power up, this may also be attributed to the power inverter inside the display case.

As with the CRT display how much will it cost to repair and is it cheaper to buy a new one?

When Troubleshooting Video Observe ESD!

Troubleshooting Video Cards:

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One of the main cause of failure of a video card will be heat. The newer video cards have powerful processors that create a lot of heat. So much so they have their own heat sink and fan. Some of these cards also require their own power connection because the motherboard bus can not supply the power required to operate the processor, memory, and fan.


Scenario: You are working along or playing a game and your computer either locks up or starts getting real slow when the screen images change.

Troubleshooting Video Problem: Because you are not reading a file or crunching numbers we can rule out some system memory, hard drive full, or Operating system errors. Only happens when you are loading up your video with a large amount of graphics.

Fix: Take into consideration two things:

  • 1. Does the video card share system memory?
    If your video card shares system memory you need to add more memory to the motherboard or go into your BIOS setup and increase the amount of ram the video card can 'barrow' from the system memory, unless you have already done this it may be set at default, different motherboards have different settings for this amount of reserved memory for sharing with the video card. (If you give more memory to the video card that means that there is that much less for the system, you may want to add more memory to the system.)
  • 2. Does your video card have a heat sink and fan.
    If the increase in available memory doesn't resolve your slow or lockup problems consider increasing the amount of cooling the video card receives, add a fan, move any cables that could be blocking air flow.
  • If this doesn't resolve you problem then you should consider sending the card in for repair if under warranty or buying a replacement.

Scenario: You install a new program and when you run it you get a message on your monitor: Signal out of range

Troubleshooting Video Problem: Your program is requesting a resolution that either the video card or the monitor can not support.

Fix: Your only choice for this problem is to upgrade or quit using the program. If you decide to upgrade I would suggest upgrading the oldest component first.

Scenario: Your monitor shuts down with a error: Display driver not working properly.

Troubleshooting Video Problem: The monitor may be timing out, in other words the idle time setting in the Display settings may be to low for your use. It could be set for say five or ten minutes. After the given time the computer will send a message to the monitor to 'go to sleep until a key press on the key board wakes you up'.

Fix: To see if this is the problem, go to the control panel, display, and under the 'Screen saver' tab at the bottom of the page is 'Power' button, open the 'Power' properties and see what it has for 'Turn off monitor'.

  • If this is a desktop and you use the computer continuously I suggest a setting of 'Never' for all settings on this page. You can set the screen saver for what ever period you think is necessary, in other words you know your work habits, set the screen saver to come on after the computer has be idle for xx minutes. Most business environments require a 10 to 15 minute idle period before the screen saver comes on.
  • If this does not cure your problem the next step is to upgrade your drivers for your display.
  • To do this you have to open up the System Manager (right click on My Computer, select 'Manage' from the menu. Then select 'Device Manager'.
  • In the right window expand the 'Display adapters' expand the selection, go to your display adapter, right click on the icon, select 'Update Driver'. You can let the program search the internet for updated drivers or if you have the install program that came with the adapter you can try to replace the current drivers with a new driver from the cd. I would suggest you let the program search for updated drivers.

Now if after doing both of these steps and the monitor still gives you a message that the driver is not working properly you are having a hardware failure.

After troubleshooting video your options are:

  • If the computer, display adapter, and monitor are under warranty contact the manufacture's support and get them fixed.
  • If they are out of warranty I would suggest connecting the monitor to another computer and see if the problem follows the monitor, if it does then the monitor is failing.
  • If it does not then it would be the video card, or the embedded video controller if that is the way the motherboard is built.
  • Replace the video card, or disable the embedded video controller and install a video card, or replace the motherboard.

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