Can this computer be saved?
April 19, 2012 10:29 AM   Subscribe

Can this laptop be saved? What are my options for getting it looked at cheaply/getting a replacement cheaply? Details inside.

I totally deserve this. I used my laptop (Gateway...not sure of the make/model, am at work) to death and didn't take care to keep it clean. After about 3-4 years of use, it seemed to die this morning. I let it hibernate after I fell asleep last night, as I do most nights, except this morning it wouldn't kick back on when I tried to pull it out of hibernation.

Same deal when I rebooted. No screen/any graphic of any sort came up, nor bootup sound fx. I could hear the motor start and then, after a few seconds, quit. The computer would nominally "stay on" (as indicated by the power light) but nothing happened. Retried it several times. It also got very hot last night, and I stopped playing a high-ram/gig computer game a couple weeks ago because it tended to overheat my computer to the point shutting it down.

It's probably shot, right? Anything I might be able to do to kick-start the motor again? Where might I go (I'm in Dallas TX if that matters) to inexpensively have it diagnosed? I've had bad experiences with Geek Squad, FYI.

Assuming I can't get my laptop going again...I'd like to get a used one but I am not sure what a fair price would be. I'd like to be able to do what I did on my previous laptop, which was perhaps a streaming live sports (this can really tax the laptop but it's the primary reason I have for using TV) while having a couple other smaller applications up *if I can,* like a web browser, a chat program and a lightweight poker client. Also, of course I would endeavour to take better care of it. Again, this is what I did to my old laptop and it handled it for about 3-4 years. I can't get one at Best Buy because I'm maxed out there. My credit is pretty suspect otherwise too. My girlfriend's old laptop, which is available to me as a backup, runs streaming video very choppily/buffers slowly, etc.

I'm a little embarrassed about this question because it betrays both my poor care of my laptop and my general hardware ignorance. I don't even know how much ram/gigs I was using, although I do know I still had more than half of my physical memory free, so I didn't tax it in that way. Any help on any of these issues would be very much appreciated.
posted by mreleganza to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
could you borrow an identical power supply somehow? Was that what was getting hot? That would be a cheap fix if that is the problem.
Nothing you are doing is outside of recommended use of your machine. You did nothing wrong, it just perhaps died.
Try to find a cheap local expert with references on craigslist.
posted by StUdIoGeEk at 10:39 AM on April 19, 2012

you should be able to find a new laptop for under $400 if you monitor for a few days.
posted by pyro979 at 10:40 AM on April 19, 2012

Does the computer do *anything* when you reboot it? (does it make some kind of startup sound, do you see/hear hard disk activity?)

Have you tried plugging it in to an external monitor?

Look up the detailed specs online if you can. Does it have a replaceable battery? ( not the main power battery, but a "clock battery" that can be easily replaced?

Have you added any RAM to it since it left the factory?

If you turn it on and "allow it to boot up," as it were, are other computers on the same network able to see it?
posted by ShutterBun at 10:44 AM on April 19, 2012

(re-read: no bootup sound, gotcha)
posted by ShutterBun at 10:45 AM on April 19, 2012

could you borrow an identical power supply somehow? Was that what was getting hot?

Hmm. I never checked the power supply, but the laptop itself would definitely get quite hot.

You did nothing wrong,

I appreciate that, but I never cleaned it is the problem. Full of crumbs and crud. That couldn't have helped.
posted by mreleganza at 10:46 AM on April 19, 2012

Trying a different power supply (or borrowing a generic one where you can choose voltage/connector) would be my first stop on the way to fixing this.

Next comes the stage where I would totally dismantle the laptop, making a careful note of screw locations, and clear all dust and crap from the inside. Next, check that fans are still spinning up, and look for any obvious signs of blackening due to overheating.

Failure to even get to the booting-up stage is most often a power-supply or mainboard failure, though.
posted by pipeski at 11:47 AM on April 19, 2012

No beep and no POST screen are very bad signs. It sounds like a motherboard issue, not a power supply issue. Worse, replacing a motherboard is expensive, to the point that it's usually better to just buy a new computer unless you can get it replaced under warranty.

While it is technically a motor, what you're hearing start and stop is the fan; it's supposed to come on when the computer needs cooling. It's going off because your CPU isn't doing anything, so it doesn't need cooling. Even if the fan were broken, you should still get a POST screen.

The one thing I would try before giving up would be to replace the thermal paste between the CPU and its heat sink --- if the CPU isn't dissipating heat correctly, it will shut itself down almost immediately, and that would explain the symptoms you're getting. It's not too hard to replace thermal paste yourself (and there are a million YouTube videos that explain it), but it can be hard to disassemble a laptop enough to get to the CPU.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:52 AM on April 19, 2012

oh, and the crumbs and crud --- chances are they are only mucking up the keyboard. Dust and things like cat fur* can clog up the ventilation and make it less effective, which would contribute to your heat problem but probably was not the final cause of death.

* Cat owners (I'm one myself): The crud inside your computer is straight out of a horror movie
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:57 AM on April 19, 2012

It sounds like the motherboard is dead. It might be possible to revive it using some of the info in the thread, but my guess is that you won't be able to do so.

You can replace this laptop with a decent used one for less than $200. Dell D620s and D630s are going on six years old now, so don't expect it to last forever, but they're decent, reasonably fast dual core laptops. They don't have crapware like most new laptops, but your warranty will be short or non-existent. You also won't get Windows 7, so you'd have to add $100 if you want to upgrade. These are far and away better than Netbooks, who have horribly slow CPUs. You do get a short warranty if you buy from Dell. Make sure to get a dual core, and these laptops will do everything you're asking for with no problems. (However, they will not play 3D games).
posted by cnc at 12:02 PM on April 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

qxntpqbbbqxl, though you bring bad news, that sounds depressingly dead-on. Don't have cats, btw.

cnc, that's encouraging to know...cheaper than I thought.
posted by mreleganza at 1:16 PM on April 19, 2012

Full of crumbs and crud. That couldn't have helped.

I fix laptops. Don't worry about it. The fan should probably be blown out occasionally, but it will tell you when it needs that by running the fan very fast and loudly.

(I mean, yeah, you should try not to let stuff get in there, but as a rule, unless the stuff is conductive, it really isn't all that big of a deal.)

Also, if your machine was really hibernating, that's the right way to do it. When a machine is hibernating, it is OFF. What you shouldn't do is let it sleep. The machine is on, but just in a low power mode. I've seen lots of people pull their sleeping machine out of laptop bags and they are REALLY hot. Not good. And wastes power.

As for your problem, try these things:

0-Pull out every "thing" you can. Disconnect the ac adapter, pull out the hard drive, cdrom, battery. Now push the power button for a few seconds. (Seems like voodoo, but I've seen it work.) Then try running it with just the ac adapter. If it works, put things back until it breaks again. What ever thing breaks it again is itself broken.
2-Find the memory and pull it out. Try starting the laptop. If you get the exact same symptoms, you probably have a bad motherboard. If you get another symptom, (look for flashing light patterns) you could have bad memory, or the memory just might need to be reseated. (Put it back in and try again.) Some laptops have two spots for memory in different locations- under the keyboard, and then another under a cover on the bottom of the unit.
2b-If that doesn't work, when you put the memory back in, push down on the memory (don't break it, but just enough pressure to make it flex a little) and try turning it on while it is pressed down. And/or try putting the memory in the other memory slot.
2c-If you are feeling particularly adventurous, try removing the processor and starting it without the processor. Again, if you get no different response, the board is shot.
3- It could be the clock battery. If you can find it (probably a coin battery wrapped in plastic with a two conductor wire coming out of it), unplug it and try again.
posted by gjc at 6:17 AM on April 20, 2012

Yeah, GJC, unfortunately I did mean sleep, not hibernate.

But! I have a strange update.

-Came home from work last night, same deal as this morning. I tried it both with and without the power cord (I really never use it on its battery/not plugged in, so it has full battery power). I don't have any other power cords nor any other computers or parts at this point to test individual components or swap stuff out.

-Later in the evening I decided to see if, when I turned it on, I could still used it to charge my ipod. I found that I could. "Good," I thought, "I can at least still use it for that." I fell asleep.

-When I woke up, I was surprised to hear the motor fan running. Again, the unit was hot although not ridiculously so. Again, I could not bring about any sort of screen.

-I turned it off and back on. This time, I *DID* get a post screen, the one where it notes you have shut down incorrectly and asks if you if you want to load safe mode. Before I could respond, it shut off. I went back to sleep, deciding to let it cool and see what would happen after a couple hours.

-A couple hours later, it did boot normally. I again gut the safe mode option post screen, decided to try regular windows startup. It startup normally. I surfed the web for about 15 minutes and nothing seemed amiss. Then I had to get ready for work, and shut it down again.

-After I showered and got ready, I returned to my computer to find it was still in the "Shutting Down..." goodbye screen. I shut it off manually and went to work.

So that's where I'm at. Seems like it's not irredeemably shot just yet, although it may just be in technological hospice. I'm going to try some of the things suggested in this thread this weekend, and any suggestions based on this new info would be greatly appreciated.
posted by mreleganza at 8:43 AM on April 20, 2012

It still sounds like either a cooling, motherboard, or power supply problem. My advice to replace the CPU's thermal compound may be premature if indeed the computer does still boot. You might try opening the case and dusting it with some that air-in-a-can spray stuff, taking care to hold the nozzle at least ~6" away from the electronics, but I would hold off on major surgery until the computer becomes unusable.

a POST screen ... the one where it notes you have shut down incorrectly and asks if you if you want to load safe mode.

In fact, that's beyond the POST screen. Which is even better--- that message comes from the Windows bootloader, which means the computer has successfully read something from the hard disk.

If the computer does totally die, you can salvage a few dollars by selling it as-is for parts on Craigslist or eBay. Pull the hard disk and the RAM and sell them separately (or keep the hard disk to copy to your next computer. If you sell the disk, you'll want to wipe it clean with something like DBAN first).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:24 AM on April 23, 2012

When it shuts down, do all the light go off? Or does the screen just disappear? I might change my diagnosis/wild-ass-guess to bad backlight on the screen. Get a flashlight and see if there is a faint image of anything on the screen. Or plug it into a external monitor.
posted by gjc at 4:30 PM on April 23, 2012

Update: I posted a new question about replacing it, which has turned (largely due to my followup comment) into another thread about this computer. More insight from you guys is, as always, appreciated.
posted by mreleganza at 5:14 PM on June 25, 2012

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