Death of a GeForce 7900GS graphics card
It would seem, most of our horrid problems this week which occurred, are because of cooling related issues (heat) besides maybe the RAID 0 array, which goes unexplained at the moment. It was Wednesday night, I went out for dinner for several hours (6 hours, to be exact), arrived home and noticed my computer had switched itself off... which seemed quite intriguing. Searching for an answer to the power down, I tried turning the system back on several times - it would power up but then shut down again almost instantly. After opening the case, I noticed coolant from the water cooling setup laying in abundance at the bottom of the case (and on the floor) and that naturally raised some amount of fear. This is after the other system failures during the week - I was beginning to think my computer was cursed, and the gods had something against me.
After further and closer inspection, I looked at the graphics card and noticed the water cooling VGA block literally just hanging from the graphics card - that along with the heat and strange smells. The water cooling pump had failed which is responsible for cooling GPU and CPU. After examining the rest of the system, everything else seemed to be okay - obviously the motherboard was fine because it was still powering up which suggested that the CPU, memory and so on was also saved from death and the coolant I was using was high quality. One of the most important (and expensive) components, the CPU, survived since Intel has advanced thermal management (monitoring and throttling) built into their latest Core 2 processors and actually have had thermal management in their older processors for some time now. That is hard controlled through the system BIOS and if excessive heat occurs no matter what you are doing or using on the PC, the system will take appropriate measure to ensure the system powers down or at least slows down clock speeds and voltage levels.
There wasn't much heat radiating off the CPU, in fact it was very cool (almost cold) - thermal throttling had kicked in once the water stopped flowing through the pump and as a result would have radically reduced clock speeds and voltages to compensate for the rise in temperatures. On the other hand, when it comes to the graphics card, I could barely touch the PCB let alone the other components such as capacitors, RAM or core - it was clear thermal management didn't kick in. The result was amazing yet quite scary to know that if the graphics card kept operating and hadn't died (although it seems like it took a full 6 or 7 hours for it to finally fizzle out and die), the effect of the cooling failure may have been much worse under different yet similar circumstances.
The graphics card managed to generate so much heat that it completely melted the plastic clips which attach the VGA water block to the card - a quick test with a cigarette lighter shows that the water block area which screws into the card is flammable, we must have got lucky there and avoided that catching on fire. It also got so hot that it melted the upper copper surface of the VGA block and imprinted the nVidia logo and parts of the GPU core information writing onto the water block base itself, as you can see above. On the reserve side of the water block (the side that doesn't make contact with the GPU core), we saw discoloration of the copper surface - the surface even started to crack in areas suggesting that bizarre temperatures must have been reached at its peak. Basically, it was a scary sight - to think the graphics card allowed itself to reach such extreme temperatures, it was a blessing that PCB didn't catch on fire and I hate to say, the entire and computer and possibly subsequently the desk and then house. There's obviously a low chance of that happening but when you're working with such high temperatures, anything is possible and cannot be left to chance.
"Why did this happen?" you may be asking. That's what got us thinking too and we try and provide some reasoning and cautioning advice. We are certainly not a mission to make companies look bad - we feel it would be a disservice to our readers if we did not write an article, hence here we are.