What to do with a broken computer
October 28, 2009 4:51 PM   Subscribe

What should I do with this pretty nice, but (fatally?) flawed desktop computer?

I have a desktop computer that was built for me by an acquaintance in 2007. I used it for a year and a half, and maybe a year into that time, the computer started shutting itself down randomly, giving me the blue screen of death, not booting up, even in safe mode, etc. The fix was new memory. The computer worked great for another six months, and then started shutting itself down, etc. again. Again, the fix (after a repair person tried a lot of stuff and couldn’t find any obvious problems) was new memory. This worked for a couple weeks, and then the shutting down reoccurred. I kept losing my data every time this happened, so this time I gave up and bought a Lenovo laptop. The desktop has been languishing in the corner collecting dust ever since.

So in short: the computer is in shutting itself down mode right now, and nobody can figure out what’s wrong with it. I’ve been told it’s a pretty sweet system, with a great video card and fast processor, etc. and I loved it while it was working, but I don’t know anything about the actual specs. Do I try to sell it “as is” for cheap, do I take it apart and try to identify the separate parts and sell them in pieces, or do I just throw it away because nobody will buy a messed up system?

I guess my question is essentially, is there a market for “lemon” computers?

posted by prior to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
Spend $50 on a new power supply.
posted by flabdablet at 4:52 PM on October 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

But before you do, check the motherboard for capacitor plague.
posted by flabdablet at 4:54 PM on October 28, 2009

Seconding capacitor plague. Memory problems that occur with increasing frequency are indicative of this in many cases.
posted by dinx2582 at 5:14 PM on October 28, 2009

Have you blown the thing out thoroughly with compressed air? It might have a few dust bunnies that cause overheating.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:17 PM on October 28, 2009

Seconding the power supply and capacitor plague suggestions. If you have time, I'd start there. After you've done that, which serves as a good investigation of the overall health of the individual components, you can part it out, which is probably easier than selling a whole broken system.
posted by krilli at 5:46 PM on October 28, 2009

Is there a market for spare computer parts? Yes. Sometimes even busted parts. A coworker of mine buys up broken ipods & iphones and fixes them for resale.

Go to craigslist and list the parts. The problem you have is that you can't identify which part is broken. We have a good idea, but a buyer won't want to risk that uncertainty; the end result for you is a classic market for lemons problem: buyers assume you've got trash and offer trash prices
posted by pwnguin at 6:01 PM on October 28, 2009

The sort of interesting deal with computers is this:

There is a market for working computers from 2007. There is not a market for non-working computers from 2007. You could strip it down and try to sell the parts on ebay, but you'd get a fraction of the cash for it, and that takes time that isn't always worth it.

But as people here have indicated, I would bet you a plate of beef chow mein that you could probably fix it if you interact with people here and try some things out. Seriously, there are more smart computer people here than you can swing a cat at. Try it out.
posted by koeselitz at 6:10 PM on October 28, 2009

Clean out cpu cooler - heat may be killing you. When you replaced the memory, the heatsink got a bit of a cleaning, blowing out some bunnies... (?)

Powersupply as mentioned earlier. Once again, try cleaning dust out of it first. Dodgy powersupplies are awful for causing all sorts of undiagnosable problems.

Is the problem easy to replicate (does it happen say within a few minutes of turning it on, does it hardly boot at all?) Then diagnosing it should be a bit easier. Try ripping out every non-essential part. Does it work now?

Motherboard. can you borrow one somewhere? Build the system on the (hopefully known good) motherboard. Add one part at a time (one memory stick, use the on-board video first time around etc. etc.)

If I was nearby, I would love to come help you out.
posted by defcom1 at 6:52 PM on October 28, 2009

Donate to charity and take the write-off?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:00 PM on October 28, 2009

Just treat yourself to a new bare-bones CPU/mobo/PS/case and re-home all the other components. It sounds like it isn't worth it to you to diagnose the problem (and maybe others have tried), and with three generations of memory being blown out, you know it's an expensive proposition if you don't get it right again.

(Do not give it to charity. You're giving some kind volunteer, most likely, a real headache. Charities like new computers as much as for-profit businesses for the same reasons. So generally only give old computers to charity if they're pretty recent and working and you can verify that they're OK with this.)
posted by dhartung at 8:20 PM on October 28, 2009

Symptoms suggest power supply (or the cleanliness of the power from you wall), and overheating. Have you ever opened the case and vacuumed out all the dust bunnies?

A good vacuuming, in my experience, typically fixes these symptoms. Also, is there enough ventilation space around the computer case - typically, 6" on each side ought to be sufficient, depending on ambient temperature and airflow (and how the inside of the case is organized; rats nests of random cables inside the case can really really inhibit airflow and heat transfer).
posted by porpoise at 9:27 PM on October 28, 2009

There is a market for working computers from 2007. There is not a market for non-working computers from 2007.


From a previous answer:
Download and install SIW. Then, create an HTML report (feel free to select none for Network and Software information, it is the Hardware information that is needed). This will give full information about the exact computer so that an accurate value can be determined.
With that information, we can price it. I'd try to sell it for about half the estimated value with a clear disclaimer about the rebooting problem. You might get your half very quickly, or you might have to settle for a little less...

Of course try to fix it first, great advice upthread about that.
posted by Chuckles at 10:13 PM on October 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

do I just throw it away because nobody will buy a messed up system?

If you end up deciding to dispose of it, please do not place it in the trash. Take it to Goodwill or another agency which will recycle the components appropriately.
posted by scatter gather at 10:49 PM on October 28, 2009

For a small fee, you can dump it off for recycling at many places (and sometimes, you can do it without a fee). The local REI store near me had a flyer up recently for an electronics drop-off day, and Apple even has a recycling program - any brand computer, free with purchase of a new Mac or $30 if you only want to dump an old computer (shipping costs included). They promise to recycle responsibly, and domestically, so you know your used parts aren't going to end up being melted down for base metals over a toxic fire in a dumping ground in Africa or China.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:43 AM on October 29, 2009

Thanks for all of this input. Last night I vacuumed out the chassis and saw some dust fly. I tried to get a look at my power supply to figure out how to evaluate it but couldn't figure out how to get the casing around it off. I really am pretty inept with computers...!

Two things I noticed last night were that it certainly does make a lot of noise when it's on. And the shutting down problem is not consistent--sometimes the computer will run for a couple hours, sometimes for ten minutes--last night it ran for about ten minutes of use, and then continued to run for an hour inactive while I did other stuff, and then shut down after another ten minutes of use.

I'm going to run the SIW report and post it later tonight. Thanks again.
posted by prior at 2:57 PM on October 29, 2009

The power supply is not a user serviceable part; unlike the rest of the system, it operates at high voltage and stands a chance of killing you.
posted by pwnguin at 6:11 PM on October 29, 2009

Last night I vacuumed out the chassis and saw some dust fly.
it certainly does make a lot of noise when it's on
sometimes the computer will run for a couple hours, sometimes for ten minutes--last night it ran for about ten minutes of use, and then continued to run for an hour inactive while I did other stuff, and then shut down after another ten minutes of use.

What you're probably looking at, then, is a dust-clogged CPU cooler. The CPU gets hot, and the CPU fan spins up to try to cool it down, but big plugs of dust in the tips of the cooling fins - right under the fan - will stop the fan from achieving much. The CPU overheats and shuts itself down for protection.

Unplug it all, take the left-hand side panel off it so you can clearly see all the innards, then take it outdoors. You're going to want to look at it in bright sunlight, and the dust you're going to blow out of it is better outside your house than in.

Find the CPU cooler: this will typically be a big square block with fins, maybe 3" x 3" x 1.5" high - with a fan on top. Look carefully between the fan blades. What you should see is metal fin edges; what you almost certainly will see is a layer of grey felt. Purse your lips, put your face as close to that fan as you can get it, shut your eyes and blow - as hard as you can without spitting. An enormous cloud of dust will envelop your head. Step backwards before you open your eyes and breathe in. Repeat until you can see all the fin edges.

You can apply the same blowing treatment to the power supply's exhaust fan exit, and then its vents inside the case, while you're at it; also, if your graphics card (the one your monitor cable plugs into) has a little fan on it, blow that out as well.

Five gets you ten that fixes it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:18 PM on October 29, 2009

Thanks again all. An update on the machine: As many of you suspected, it was a power supply problem, although I'm not sure exactly what--the acquaintance who built me the machine turned up and is hopefully fixing it. I appreciate all the advice, as always!
posted by prior at 11:50 AM on November 10, 2009

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