Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
A common cause for computers shutting down unexpectedly is overheating. An external drive probably doesn't add heat - but the software drivers might.
I am a DJ and use my laptop (1.2ghz Intel Celeron, 256mb ram, no spyware or viruses, up to date with windows patches and drivers) to play to the music. Ever since i started playing the music from my usb2.0 external hard drive my laptop would turn off by itself with no warning after say.. a few hours, then more and more frequently. So i thought it was overheating but not sure.
As you know mp3s need to be decoded before playing. I tried converting a DJ set into wav files (no compression, therefore not as much processing) and played a set all night from my external hard drive using wav instead of mp3s without my laptop turning off once. I can do a set using mp3s on my internal hard drive without my laptop switching off but my internal is only 40 gig.
I want to DJ music via my external hard drive without having to convert all my mp3s to large wav files! Is it overheating?
Would buying more ram eliminate the problem? Maybe i should get a Firewire external hard drive instead of a usb2 one because they are a little bit faster? Or is the only answer to buy a bigger expensive internal laptop hard drive?
Maybe put my laptop on bricks of ice?
Well, I certainly agree that it feels like an overheating problem.
And I suppose, depending on where you're working, putting your laptop on ice has a certain appeal (make sure it doesn't get wet, ok?).
More realistically, though, there are some clues and some things to try.
My first guess is that the driver for accessing that external hard drive is using all available CPU time. It shouldn't, but I've seen it myself. I have a PCMCIA adapter for reading SD ram cards from my camera and cell phone that does exactly that - as soon as I start copying files from it, the CPU usage spikes, and then stays at maximum until the files are copied off. There's poor design in there somewhere, in either the driver or the hardware itself.
So my first suggestion would be to use task manager to monitor your CPU usage while this is happening. Decoding MP3's is nothing to a 1.2ghz processor, so I really doubt that's the sole problem -though it might be enough to push things over the edge, I suppose. But the fact that it works OK from the internal hard disk really points to the primary issue being that external one.
You might visit Windows Update to see if there are any non-critical updates available for the USB or hard disk drivers, since non-critical updates don't get downloaded by Windows automatic updates.
If the CPU is spiking, I'm not sure that switching to Firewire will help, but if you can try it before you buy a replacement drive, it'd be worth checking out. In fact, even trying a different external drive would be a worthwhile test.
Grasping at straws here, but you might see if you can try a different USB adapter. For example, rather than using the internal one, see if you can borrow a PCMCIA-to-USB adapter - it should use different drivers and that could affect what you're seeing. As I said, it'd be nice to try before you buy, since there's no way to guarantee it'll help.
One other long shot, particularly if you're not seeing a spike in CPU usage, is to try a different MP3 player. Even if it's not the toolkit you might normally use, running a test to see if the problem reproduces or not with different MP3 playing software might be informative. The issue here boils down to statistics and timing: things might happen at different times depending on the speed of the hard disk or its connection to your PC, and statistically speaking if something has a chance of happening say one in a billion times ... well, a billion might be only a second for a CPU, or a few minutes or a few hours for software that's performing a repetitive task such as decoding MP3s. It's a long-shot, but I'd throw this into the mix of things to try as well.