Dead or just resting ... intermittently
March 26, 2011 2:18 AM   Subscribe

Old faithful, a Dell Inspiron 6000 (circa 2005) with upgraded RAM shuts down after start-up. Intermittently. I've reformatted and reinstalled the system software (XP Pro SP3) and removed the battery. Can I fix, should I send to a tech, or is it time to upgrade? Australia.

The machine starts if I hold down the power button for a longer period than usual but sometimes/50%+ that doesn't work either.

Relevant info: The Feline chewed through the power cable between machine and adaptor 2 months before while I was using it; it shut down and wouldn't restart. I removed the battery, wrapped the cable in insulating tape, rebooted and all was fine until these recent incidents.

Q1. Is this type of problem something I can troubleshoot and fix myself with resetting or hardware replacement, if so, what should I try?

Q2. Is it a job for a tech? What should I ask them check/repair?

Q3. Or is the problem potentially too expensive/not worth to troubleshoot/repair compared to the cost benefit of buying a new gizmo?

Q3.1 If I were to buy a new gizmo to be the family room quick reference, recipe search, weather review, email check machine running wireless from a Belkin router off a crap satellite connection, what should I buy for the cheapest money. Prefer not less than 15" in at least one direction. PC family.

Thanks oh wise ones.
posted by Kerasia to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
just taping the power cable will never work. i'm going to guess (among many possibilities) that the power cable is either shorting or unconnected intermittently. try retaping it and see if it works any more reliably.

solution: fix the broken wire with a solder gun and some tape or buy a new adapter.
posted by at 4:29 AM on March 26, 2011

If the RAM is a recent upgrade, did you notice this symptom before the upgrade or after? (If it has been running properly for an extended period after the upgrade, you can discount this, but I had a long running battle with a desktop machine doing random resets after memory upgrade.) If the problem started when the RAM was upgraded, reverse the upgrade and see what happens.

Re: the power brick/adapter... it could be a culprit, but since the unit is often battery-powered , if the charger/supply is flaky, you might not notice. The battery buffers minor power interruptions. I'd be surprised if that were the problem. Charge the battery to 100%, run the computer without the power brick attached. If it continues reset/blue screen, then forget the adapter. If it doesn't, recharge the battery when it's dead and try again several more times. Only when you can associate the power adapter with the reset should you suspect the power adapter.

What else? Internal connectors and/or dust/crap inside. What ages in these machines is the hard drive, heat sensitive parts, and interconnects. I usually tell folks that 90% of electronics problems are connector related. I routinely disassemble, wiggle and re-seat anything that comes apart internally when I troubleshoot a problematic laptop. In MOST cases, it changes things for the better.

The problem you are fighting is that laptops are now really cheap. A replacement for a Dell is usually a damned good idea even when the Dell is working, IMO. For $400-$600, you can get a new box with an entirely new set of problems to deal with. At that cost, repair starts looking like a poor option, unless you are comfortable with DIY stuff.

The only danger in playing with a laptop repair is that you'll break it or forget how to reassemble it. There are few high voltages in them, and they are relegated to the LCD display backlights, usually.

My advice(s)... replace it if you can afford it. Give the old, wiped box to a techie friend. Steer clear of Dell. Expect to do this every 5 years or so.
posted by FauxScot at 4:52 AM on March 26, 2011

I have worked with laptop repair depots in the past. I am an owner of a Dell Inspiron 6000 and have taken it completely apart before.

You have multiple possible failure points. The adapter should not be fixed, it should be replaced. It sounds like there could be a short in the adapter. If your kitty chewed through it enough for positive and negative to cross, the adapter is junk and you should replace it outright. The reason is that chewed adapters, although not often, can cause power issues down the line that damage components. The DC converter (the brick) can have issues that cause it to fail if there is chewing, the power components of the laptop can get burned out as well. The worst part of this is that the DC Jack where the adapter plugs in is directly attached to the motherboard in this computer. This design has not been used in years because the repair cost is high to replace a motherboard ($250 for the part alone, expect 1-2 hours labor @ minimum $50/hr). More manufacturers have been using a DC board separate from the motherboard to prevent shorts and burnouts from damaging the motherboard itself.

The RAM could also be an issue. This computer is limited to 2GB RAM in two 1GB DDR2-800 (PC-6400) SODIMM sticks. If you put in more than 2GB you will likely get failures. If you put in slower RAM, it can cause issues. Faster RAM such as DDR2-1066 should not cause issues unless it requires higher voltage.

Professional opinion on this would be: if the RAM is out of spec I would try replacing it with something in spec. If the adapter is in bad enough shape, I'd consider replacing it as well. Don't buy replacement parts from Dell as they are very expensive; look online instead. If you find that these fixes don't work, it's probably going to require more work than this computer is worth. I would move on to a replacement laptop after these quick checks.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 12:10 PM on March 26, 2011

Best answer: Try taking your ram out and putting it back in again. If it has a loose connection, not snapped in all the way, whatever, you can have wonky issues.
Replacement power supplies can be had starting at $10USD on ebay, so not much to loose by replacing that with a cheap one.
If you do replace it, you probably can't go wrong with something from a major manufacture, with a dual-core Intel processor (Core Duo, i3, whatever), and some flavor of Windows 7. 3-4gb of RAM would do you nicely. 15 inch screens are pretty typical. Budget PC is fine, but I'd probably skip the ultra-budget with the Intel Celeron/Atom or... whatever the hell AMD's cheapest processor is these days.
posted by itheearl at 4:20 PM on March 26, 2011

Response by poster: Nearly one year after asking the question

I took out the ram and put it back in and it's been working well for the last 12 months. Yay Dell. It has, however, been overtaken in my affections by a 27in iMac. Sorry laptop, you were a good friend for so many years but the iMac is, y'know, bigger, brighter, quicker, and has a cute apple logo.
posted by Kerasia at 3:10 PM on March 15, 2012

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