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PC Troubleshooting Tips - Bad Motherboard or Power Supply?

written by: •edited by: M.S. Smith•updated: 8/31/2010

If your PC will not turn there are two likely culprits. Learn which one is too blame.

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    PC Wont Turn On

    One of the most difficult computer problems to troubleshoot is when you press the power button and nothing happens. The possible reasons include pretty much every possible thing that could go wrong with a computer. In most cases it boils down to being an issue with either the motherboard or the power supply. In this article we will discuss troubleshooting methods to determine whether or not you have a motherboard or power supply problem that is preventing your computer for starting.

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    Check the Power Strip

    This is a real easy one that often gets overlooked, but sometimes your power strip or surge protector can get tripped or turned off. It happens most often when people place them under a desk and then accidentally step on them. It could also happen if a power surge trips the breaker on the strip. If your power strip or surge protector has a button or switch, flip it off and then back on to see if that fixes the problem.

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    Watch the Fans

    PC case fan Take the side panel or cover off your desktop computer and look inside to see what happens when you press the power button. What you mainly want to see is if the fans start to spin. I’ve seen computers where the power supply has gone bad and when you press the power button, the fans will move for a second and then nothing else happens. Check the fan on the back of your power supply as well as the case fan or processor fan to see if the behavior is the same.

    If you press the power button and your fans come on and run full blast but nothing else seems to work, then it may also be a problem with the motherboard. Listen for any beeps that may sound when you turn on the PC, as these beep error codes will help to identify a hardware problem. One quick fix that often works in this case is to unplug the power, then remove and reseat the RAM.

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    Swap the Power Supply

    Most home users probably can’t do this because they won’t have another power supply just lying around. If you do happen to keep a spare, swap it out with the one in your PC and see if that makes a difference. On the other hand, you could take the power supply out of your malfunctioning PC and put it into another computer to see if that will work.

    When a power supply burns out it sometimes literally burns out and you can smell it. Electronic components have a distinctive burnt smell to them.

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    Remove Peripherals

    blown capacitor One common way of diagnosing computer hardware problems is to remove all the peripherals like the DVD/CD drive, hard drive, modem card, sound card, and so on. All you really need is the processor, RAM, and video to test the functionality. If you can get the bare-bones configuration running, shut it down and add one component at a time until you the problem reappears. Sometimes a bad piece of hardware will prevent the entire computer from turning on. I’ve personally experienced this with a fried modem.

    Also inspect the motherboard for any puffy or damaged capacitors, as this is a definite indicator that your motherboard has gone out. Capacitors should be flat across the top. If you see any that look swollen on top or are leaking any kind of fluid or have a crust around them, it means they have gone bad. The actual term is a ‘blown’ capacitor, and it means you need to get a new motherboard. Also look for blown capacitors on your peripherals – especially the video card.

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    Under no circumstances should you attempt to disassemble the power supply in your computer. It contains dangerous components that are not to be handled by novice users, and the risk makes them not worth trying to fix. You can buy a new power supply starting around $30 depending on the size.

    If you can get your computer started but the motherboard keeps rebooting be sure to check out this article for more helpful hints.