The good news is that I resurrected my "dead" computer. The bad news is that I missed the obvious and reformatted for no reason!
When the computer was acting up, I fell back into my typical troubleshooting procedures: when things are really bad, make a copy of important files (which I had done the day before) and reformat. At first, everything looked normal and the computer survived long enough to download and install one service pack. Then, the memory began dumping and rebooting again. It appeared to me that I had not changed a thing by reformatting. Frustrated, I shut it down and called it a loss.
The next day, I booted up the computer and tried again. It worked great for about fifteen minutes and began the dump and reboot thing! Then it hit me! The computer might be overheating. Then, I realized DUH--the fan was not working! I spent the morning experimenting to see if my hypothesis might hold water. I placed the laptop on an air conditioning vent and continued doing all of the Windows updates for my computer, checked my email, and surfed the Internet. The computer stayed cool, and it worked beautifully for several hours!
We decided to pay a little visit to the Geek Squad and find out how much it would be to replace the fan. Feeling smug, I told them to skip the diagnostic because I knew I had three hardware issues: the broken fan, three inoperable USB ports (two dead and one half-dead), and a broken sound jack. The friendly geek checked out the USB ports and told me they were not cracked, and it might be dust. In fact, he said dust might be clogging the fan, too! He pulled out some canned air and blew through the USB ports and the fan. That was all it took to fix all three USB ports! The fan did not respond, so Steve and I decided to let the Geek Squad to ship off my baby to Geek Central in Atlanta. We will have to survive at least ten days sans a 24/7 computer.
I felt fairly stupid overlooking such an obvious fix for my USB ports! However, I redeemed myself because I already knew what a Chill Mat was, which I am considering buying to extend the life of our laptop, which turned three years old last May. The friendly geek saw my Targus notebook backpack and asked me how I liked it. Maybe, he was just being nice, but I felt a little bit better.