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A PC is just like any other machine. Given enough use and time, it will break down. It's not really a question of "if," it's more of "how much can you get out of it before it does?" To most PC owners, this is a tragedy. But if you're like me, and you carefully picked out each component to build your dream machine with the money you saved up for years, then having it go on the fritz on you is more or less equivalent to an aneurysm.
A couple nights ago, my PC (lovingly nicknamed Ultimus Maximus) and I had a little episode.
Because of that, I thought it'd be a good idea to write about what a novice PC owner should do when his rig does decide to just stop working.
Step 1: Keep a calm and analytical mind.
Step 2: Okay, just kidding. You may flip the fuck out for no longer than 25 minutes. Go ahead.
Step 3: Calm back down and identify what's wrong
This is where it gets really tricky. To be able to do this, you'll have to understand a few basic things. Your computer is made of multiple components, and the major ones would be the motherboard, the processor or the CPU, the power supply or the PSU, the video card of the GPU, the memory or RAM and your storage or your HDD. Identifying what part does what makes it easier to diagnose the ailing computer.
Essentially, if you don't see any LED lights that light up, nothing turns on or if there's a horrible burning smell in the room, it's likely going to be your PSU. So make sure you buy trusted branded PSUs.
If the display is wonky, it could be your GPU.
If anything else goes wrong, like failure to boot or being greeted with a BSOD, it could be any of the other components or a combination of any of them.
Step 4: Power down, unplug PSU and make sure to remove all the static electricity from your body before tinkering inside your tower.
Step 5: Open your tower up
This method varies from casing to casing, but it's generally a panel on one side that unscrews from the back. Remember to not take anything out first. This is just for you to see if everything looks okay and for easy access later on. Oh, also, this is so you can go "Man, I gotta clean this up every now and again."
Step 5: Is it the power?
So you've determined that pressing the power button does nothing. If it's just the button, LEDs on the motherboard would still light up. So, logically, it must be the power supply. But hold on there, cowboy. Before taking out the power supply, it may be better to test your cables and sockets first. Once you've determined that it's neither of those, then it may be a safe bet that it's your PSU that's the problem. If you have a spare one lying around, try putting that into your rig and fire it up, just to be sure.
For more help, click here.
Step 6: So the power turns on. Is it the display?
Image from here.
Again, the first thing you should check out are the cables. [Insert bogus statistic about how many errors are caused by faulty connections] Make sure the jacks are properly plugged into the ports, on both ends - the case and the monitor. They jiggle loose sometimes. If that doesn't do it, it's something else.
Dust gets into your rig. That's inevitable. You gotta make sure the contact points are clear of any insulating dust. Time for me to teach you a little trick. When cleaning any card, the same technique works. Grab any pencil eraser. It doesn't have to be any high end kind, but it's better if it's got no metal parts on it just so you avoid scratching that onto the contact points. Unscrew your card from the back, pop it out of the board and simply "erase" the conductive part that should go into the motherboard to remove all the dust and dirt. Plug it back in. Do you get the same error? If so, could be something else or your card's fucked up.
For more help, click here.
Step 7: Is boot up messing up? Test your RAM
Normally, this is where most troubleshooting ends for me because my RAM is cheap and poorly made, it seems. First, remove ALL your RAM. As in every single one of them. Clean them up with the method detailed above. Take a camera lens blower cleaner thingy; you can get one from Amazon, then clean the slots. After that, put one back in, then fire up your PC.
Does it work now? Huzzah! You've figured out that one of your RAM cards is fucked up. Which one is it? You'll have to put them back one by one until you find the offending RAM card.
Oh, it didn't work? None of the RAM worked? Then it's something else.
Step 8: Not booting up but you're sure all your RAM checks out? Test your HDD!
If you can get into your BIOS by pressing DEL at the boot screen, but won't continue to load Windows or whatever operating system you're running, then chances are, it's your HDD like a partition problem or something got corrupted. Check if your HDD can be seen by your BIOS. If so, then from your BIOS, try changing your boot hierarchy by prioritizing a disc drive and try booting form a disc. Did it boot up? It's your hard drive. If that's the case, try reconnecting all the cables. That could easily be it. For a more detailed tutorial, click here.
This is what BIOS looks like, and this image came from here.
Step 9: If all those fail, it could be your processor or motherboard.
If upon start-up, you don't hear a beep, it could be your motherboard.
Best way to test out if it's your processor is to swap it out with another processor. For guys who don't have spare parts, it may be best to bring it to a technician or to get in touch with your local tech support. Really, by this time, you should be considering getting it to a professional so they can help you out. CompuServe in Park Square is just fantastic with these things. They've got a "We butingting anything" policy. (Trans: We will play around with anything you want us to put our fingers in.)
Step 10: If you're still lost, go to tipidpc.com or Amazon.com and start budgeting for your next upgrade.
As for me, my 2GB RAM was the culprit. I dunno why it broke down, but I've been getting memory dump errors for the past few weeks before it finally gave in. The slowdown on Ultimus Maximus is noticeable. Maybe I'll just go ahead and skip to Step 10 next time.
Computer cancer removed.