Hardware issues part I

Over the years I’ve built and repaired more computers than I care to remember, both professionally and while helping out friends and family. This article will try to point out some common symptoms, what’s causing it and the most likely solution.

Note! Please don’t try to solve hardware issues yourself if you can’t name at least three components inside your PC and/or are familiar with a screwdriver (not the drink). You should also be very cautious about static electricity as this might short-circuit your PC (kill it), so use special gloves or keep one hand at the side of the cabinet (at least occasionally) while working inside.

Part I, as the title refers to, will be targeted towards motherboard (MB), RAM and hard disk (HD) related issues. If one or all of these fails the most common symptoms are:

  1. Very unstable while working/playing on the PC which will result in frequent visits to Windows famous “blue screen of death”
  2. A message at start up telling you some crap about recent hardware or software changes with a 30 second timer that you most likely will get repeated time after time as the system can’t load/access Windows
  3. When pressing the power button all the lights turn on and stays on while the rest of the PC remains dead
  4. You notice a ticking sound inside (like an old clock), or noise from your HD (louder than before) and the screen freezes, the PC reboots or you get the screen mentioned in 1.
  5. You get some strange messages besides the one mentioned in 2. referring to components you didn’t know you had installed and a possible solution by Windows Help (probably the annoying paper-clip in disguise)
  6. You get a message telling you to install a bootable drive

How to isolate the faulty/broken hardware

The best way of isolating the malfunctioning hardware is to test your computer with other hardware that you know is working. Try removing one component at the time replacing it with a working component and test your computer. Note! Sometimes your PC needs to reboot a couple of times to acknowledge the new hardware. You may also try the suspicious component on another PC off course. This way it might be easier to find the error(s) as you would normally expect to get the PC up and running instantly.

Occasionally you might find all your parts working properly on other computers, and then what?? Well, after numerous hours of testing you might find yourself only having to replace a cable or two (yes they might also break). It’s very annoying but at least you’ll save a lot of $ or £ or €.

Bringing the computer back to life

When (if) you’ve found the component that is not working properly replace it with a new (fixing parts normally only lasts a few months, and this error checking is not something you would like to do regularly, trust me…). Check the guarantee (bring it to a data shop if you’re uncertain), normally the manufacturer offers at least 2 years. Otherwise consider an upgrade. These days computer parts are fairly cheep as long as you’re not aiming for the absolute latest and best around.

Unlike RAM and hard disks the motherboard is sometimes possible to fix yourself. Take a look at your MB and check the capacitors, if you observe an oval shape on top it means it’s broken. If you’re a bit handy you can replace them yourself (capacitors are VERY cheep) for almost nothing (just some time…) or get your “geeky” neighbour/friend/girlfriend/guy-next-door do it.

HD’s can be brought back after running a few tools (or by formatting), but if the noise stays I would recommend replacing it as soon as possible. You can get all your data back from your backup anyway, right? If backup isn’t in your vocabulary I recommend you go out and grab an external USB/Firewire HD. You’ll easily get 2-500GB for somewhere between 1-200 €, and it’s well worth the investment considering it will store all your personal stuff in case something happens.

For more on Power supply failure and audio/video card issues see “Hardware issues part II“.

Feel free to comment and ask questions if you believe I’ve left something out, or have a specific problem.

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