2 Tips to Help Fix Common Hardware Issues

computer-repairI am pretty sure most computer repairers would agree that the majority of PC issues we come across are self inflicted, often by something the user shouldn’t have done but did, and occasionally by something the user should have done but didn’t. Leaving this aside though, the next weakest link in the chain, in my experience anyway, is presented by the card slots built into motherboards, specifically the RAM slots.

RAM cards themselves are a fairly robust and reliable piece of hardware, problems mostly arise when microscopic particles of dust manage to wend their way down the gap twixt card and slot, thus creating a bad connection. Symptoms are generally zero display accompanied by emitting beep codes, or a fragmented display which sort of resembles a crazy mosaic.

The obvious cure is to clear away whatever is causing the faulty connection, in most cases dust. This is a pretty simple procedure but needs to be done properly in order to achieve any long term success.

About 4 years ago I received a call from a new client whose machine was suffering from the crazy mosaic display. Open arrival at her home the client informed me that she’d been paying a computer tech $80.00 every 3 months or so to “fix” the problem. It turns out all the computer tech had been doing was removing the RAM cards, giving them a cursory wipe over, and then popping them back into the slots.

This would be a temporary solution at best and had been going on for some two years, which meant the unsuspecting lady paid out in the vicinity of $600+ total, more than enough to replace the entire machine with a new one. The computer tech in question was either totally incompetent or totally lacking in ethics, I suspect the latter.

The correct method to fix this issue is actually two-step. First, clean the RAM card’s gold contacts using a clean soft cloth or cotton wool bud and isopropyl alcohol (or similar), making sure NOT to touch the contacts with your fingers at any time during the process. The second step is to blow out the slots on the motherboard using a can of compressed air. Performing the first step without cleaning the slots as well is only half a job and will generally only result in a short term solution.

The Process of Elimination

process of eliminationThe worst possible way to go about fixing a suspected hardware issue is to attack it in a random fashion, always adopt a process of elimination. In the long run, shortcuts will often take a lot longer than a planned route.

About 2 years ago I had a client’s machine that would not turn on at all, no lights, no fan, no sign of activity whatsoever. My immediate reaction was that it must be a faulty PSU, logically, that seemed the most likely option. So I replaced the PSU with a new unit and guess what… still the same. Now I was stumped and hoping the motherboard wasn’t kaput.

So I bareboned the machine, that is I disconnected every piece of hardware that wasn’t essential to running the machine; including the ROM-drive, a second internal hard drive, PCI cards, and all but one RAM card… and… up she booted.

The next step was to start reconnecting everything again until the machine displayed the same fault. I got to the graphic card, connected it back up, powered up the machine, and… nothing. So, in this case it was a faulty graphic card and replacing same permanently fixed the issue.

My point being that it is highly unusual for this type of ‘no signs of life’ issue to be caused by a faulty graphic card and I would not have diagnosed the problem anywhere near as quickly had I not adopted this process of elimination approach.


7 thoughts on “2 Tips to Help Fix Common Hardware Issues”

  1. Seems technology has outdone itself. My computers run 24/7 (connected to a UPS – to maintain proper power levels – so no brown outs or spikes) and these newer babies are over two and three years young. But my pride and joy is my 486, bought as a server, and it’s over 20 years strong. Okay, I do tinker around every year, but it’s just preventive maintenance, Mindblower!

    1. Most machines that start displaying these types of symptoms are generally in the 3 to 4 years old range MB. It can occur earlier but that would be less frequent.

      Where I live, the entire city being built on a volcanic base, dust is real problem, so these types of issues may well be more prevalent here.

      Cheers mate… Jim

      1. Some of the dirty houses I have visited explains the large build up of dust inside the computer case.

  2. Why is it, no matter what you look for, it’s always in the last place you look?

    It may well have been the first place you looked, but it’s still the last place.

    After all, who keeps looking after you find it?

  3. The PSU can be started by jumping the green and black terminals with a paper clip on the motherboard’s main power supply plug.
    A millimeter can be used to check molex and other terminals for 5 and 12 volts(yellow to black is 12 volts, red to black is 5 volts ) or if only sata connectors, used a molex to sata adapter for ease of use.

    Sometime the 4 pins or 8 pin 12 volt plug to the motherboard is loose ..check this as well.

  4. When faced with a system that powers on but gives no display, I find it very useful to remove the DIMMS.
    If the CPU and power supply is working then most systems (Desktop ones, not notebooks) will beep through a small internal ‘beeper’ or speaker (I check it has one).
    If it doesn’t beep then the CPU is not running, so I check the CPU and power supply. If still no joy, I disconnect everything except the CPU and Power supply (all peripherals, all PCI cards, internal drives, etc.) until I get those beeps.
    If the mainboard+CPU+PSU alone do not beep, then one of the three is faulty.
    Once those 3 are working and I get some beeps, I add the DIMMs and monitor. It is important at this stage to check the monitor works (use another PC or use a known working monitor). If a graphics card is required of course this will need adding too. Carrying a spare graphics card is often handy to check it is not the users own graphics card that is the problem.
    Then it’s just a question of connecting the other bits (hard drive, kbd, mouse).
    If it doesn’t boot from the hard drive, it is often useful to try booting from a bootable USB drive or CD\DVD.
    Sometimes it is useful to PXE boot from the ‘bad’ system as this is all done in RAM and does not need any boot device, just the Ethernet. Connecting my Windows laptop the the user’s router allows me to quickly set my notebook up as a PXE server and I can boot the users system from the network by using the BIOS options. I can even retrieve valuable files from the users hard drive via PXE even if the system will not boot from USB, HDD or CD – e.g. see http://www.rmprepusb.com/tutorials/80toolwiz.

  5. I used to have desktops which were easy enough to clean out by removing the cover/lid.
    Now I have laptops & have no idea how to get them apart for cleaning.
    I know I should clean them if what I found inside my desktops is any indication!
    I even have a sparkling clean house but the cobweb-like lint & dust still builds up inside the pc over the course of a year or 2.

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