My Toshiba laptop is narcoleptic - help!
February 9, 2009 5:26 PM   Subscribe

My computer abruptly shuts off during normal operation. Please help!

The backstory:
I own a Toshiba Satellite A215 which runs Windows Vista. Ever since I bought it, it has exhibited a strange behavior. During normal operation, the screen abruptly goes black (with the backlight still on). The "on" indicator remains lit, but it is completely unresponsive to any input except holding down the power button (manual shut-down). I can then restart it normally. Out of a sample of several dozen incidents, this has only happened when the computer was not plugged in, and it happens fairly consistently when I leave it unplugged (within 20 minutes). Note that the battery does not read as empty - it often happens when it shows fully charged (before and after the incident).

The problem:
While annoying, that is avoidable, and it isn't the main problem (I don't even know if it's related to the main problem). Today, my computer started abruptly shutting off during normal operation, even when plugged in. This time it really shuts off (no screen backlight). Whenever it does this (within about 10 min of turning it on), the "on" and "CPU" and "battery" indicator lights flicker weakly for a few seconds, then go dark. After that it can be restarted. This seems like a really bad sign. Note that this behavior is also not at all correlated with an empty battery. It is under warranty at BestBuy, but (for only slightly irrational reasons), I strongly dislike dealing with BestBuy. Plus, it would be a real pain to go without a computer for a while.

The question:
What are the chances that this is an easy fix? Could getting a new battery possible fix this? Any ideas what's going on or how to make it right again? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated, and I'd be happy to provide more information if needed. Thank you!!
posted by Salvor Hardin to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I know exactly shit about computers, but when this started happening to my laptop, it turned out that it was overheating. I let it cool off (taking out the battery speeds this up) and then started using it propped up on a double CD container and I've had no problems since. Maybe try that?
posted by moxiedoll at 5:33 PM on February 9, 2009

Try using a can of compressed air through any visible fan/heatsinks on the laptop. It may be overheating.
posted by liquoredonlife at 5:36 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thirding the overheating thing. It could be the fans/exhausts/vents clogged up with dust and stuff, and it could be the heatsink has become unseated somehow (unlikely in a laptop), or there isn't enough, or any, thermal paste transferring heat from the surface of the CPU to the heatsink. This is something you can fix yourself relatively easily but you shouldn't because the thing is under warranty and as much as Best Buy might suck, you should take it back and get it fixed.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:53 PM on February 9, 2009

One thing I've found bizarre about at least Toshiba Tecra laptops is that the power control software allows you to turn down/off the fan to save power. Now, I think that's a great idea, but you can set it such that the computer can't turn on the fan if necessary to prevent the computer from overheating! So, although I'd suggest that the previous three posts are probably correct, if you don't get anywhere with them, check whether your power settings are "allowing" your computer to use the fan when necessary.
posted by saeculorum at 6:00 PM on February 9, 2009

If you do take it in to Best Buy for warranty service, try keeping on and hot so they can see if it is an overheating issue. They may do all they can to deny that there are problems and further deny that they can fix it. I've heard of BB taking a laptop for months to repair, then returning it with the issue not exactly fixed.

If anything, attempt to obtain warranty service through Toshiba. If that fails and this is still annoying you, ask around and find a local computer shop that can open the laptop up and see if your heatsink & fan has failed/needs to be reseated/needs thermal paste. Chances are it'll run around 100 bucks for them to look at it and up to 300 if they need to replace a highly proprietary part on it.
posted by ijoyner at 6:15 PM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much!!! Great answers. I will definitely look for dust and try compressed air and report back. I have noticed that the bottom of the laptop gets very hot (markedly hotter than other laptops), but I never connected it to the problems.

Also, thanks for the advice about Best Buy and repair options - a friend of mine once gave them a broken laptop and it took them about three months to fix it - part of the reason I didn't want to deal with them.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:33 PM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: Update: The fan doesn't look very dusty, but on inspection, I don't think my fan runs at all! Maybe the fan is just broken. Thanks so much for your help people - wouldn't have found that without your help. ask.mefi has done it again!
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:11 PM on February 9, 2009

Best answer: Salvor, if you put your hand at the back of the laptop when it's running, and you don't feel hot air blowing out onto your hand, then yeah, probably the fan isn't running. Check your documentation and see if it has perhaps been accidentally disabled in the BIOS. Also turn off all Power Save options in Vista while you experiment. Possibly Toshibas these days have proprietary power save software running under Windows as well, so check that too.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:25 PM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: Actually, while my computer was off, I blew hard in the fan intake (I don't have any compressed air right now). Then I wisely inserted a small nail in the fan intake and gently twiddled the fan a little. For some reason, when I started up the computer again, I felt glorious air coming out of the fan exhaust! It may be (at least temporarily) fixed - it's been running for 5 minutes so far. I think if it's still running in an hour I will declare it fixed. Thanks again.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:36 PM on February 9, 2009

Get one of these suckers.

Same thing happened to mine....but since I got the fan it doesn't randomly turn off.
posted by pdx87 at 7:38 PM on February 9, 2009

Response by poster: Damn, I love mefi. I think I'm gonna get one of those cooling platforms - thanks.

30 minutes and no crash yet :) Fan is still running.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:02 PM on February 9, 2009

Don't use compressed air in the fan, it'll blow the dust into the bearings and then it really will fail.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:25 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was going to suggest you listen to the fan to make sure the bearings were not going out, but it looks like that was your problem. This could cause a surge that would cause the battery or power supply to shut down to avoid damage. Even though it is working now, you should probably look into getting the fan replaced. It is probably just a matter of time before you let the magic smoke out of the fan. Those cooling platforms work, but are not always practical if you're on the move a lot. You can get some 1/2 inch rubber feet that will elevate the laptop off the desk to improve the heat dissipation without the extra base.
posted by Yorrick at 8:28 PM on February 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thanks for asking this. I have a Toshiba A205 that's doing the same thing: I don't notice the fan working at all. I'm gonna try your nail trick, maybe get one of those cooling thingys too.
posted by Robert Angelo at 7:03 AM on February 10, 2009

Response by poster: Cool :) I just stuck the nail in there and tapped the fan blades a couple times. In retrospect, I realize that before I did that, blowing on the fan (with the computer off) did not make the fan move, but after I tapped it, the fan did move when I blew on it.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:16 PM on February 10, 2009

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