Can you make my CPU stop beeping in the night?
March 24, 2014 3:09 AM   Subscribe

I bought a new Dell XPS 8700 last fall. Lately, the damn thing seems to work like an alarm clock ALMOST every night around three or four am. I wake up to hear three rapid beeps over and over. This lasts for about a minute. This happens even when I shut it down.

Googling has told me that this can be a sign of motherboard failure.

The beep is that same loud chirp you hear when you start up any PC. I managed to make a short video one night. I know the video shows the thing positioned right next to a toy box, but trust me, it's the CPU.

I called the help line. They took over my computer and looked at records of bad shutdowns, errors, etc. They told me other than a few bad power downs (Due to power outages), everything was fine. They said I should turn off my computer each night to stop the beeping.

Even powering down the damn thing does not stop it. At least once it was shut down (not in sleep mode) and it still woke me.

Besides, I've always been told you should just keep a CPU running. I rarely turned my last one off in 7 years.

It always used to go off right around 3 a.m. Since the spring daylight savings time switch, it now goes off around 4 a.m. But not every night. Most nights. Help?
posted by Brodiggitty to Computers & Internet (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You sure that's the computer? Sounds like an alarm clock to me. It's closer to enough other stuff that it may well be hidden in there somewhere.

And that's not the same sound that most motherboards make on startup. A bit too high-pitched.
posted by valkyryn at 3:17 AM on March 24, 2014

Blimey no, you don't need to always keep a CPU running, and it's a waste of electricity. Have been turning my PCs off and on for the last 20 years. I've set the power button to trigger Hibernate so it powers down and starts up real quick.

Easy to tell whether it's the PC or an alarm clock - just unplug the PC from mains power for a night.

If it really is the PC I'd look in the auto power on settings in the BIOS.
posted by yoHighness at 3:29 AM on March 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Iagree that it doesn't sound like the sound is made by the computer (especially if it does it whilst turned off). Can you disconnect the computer and move it to another room for one night to confirm.

If it turns out the sound is coming from inside the computer, I would open up the computer and I'm sure you'll find a watch or alarm in there. Do you have a toddler in the house?
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 3:34 AM on March 24, 2014

The "Sign of motherboard failure" beeps only happen at startup & even then only if the PC fails to get to the point where it can initialise the display, so if you're leaving the PC on, these beeps have nothing to do with those.

It does sound more like an alarm beep.

Oh, and there's no need to leave a modern PC on if you're not actually using it.
posted by pharm at 3:59 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Agree with yoHighness - unplug the thing tonight and move it to a different location. See if the beeps are coming from the PC or something else nearby. This doesn't sound like a PC noise.
posted by jferg at 4:39 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: The iPhone mic doesn't really do the sound justice. It wakes me when I'm upstairs in bed with the door closed. I haven't owned a digital watch since high school so it's not that. You're making me doubt myself. I guess I'll try moving it. But I'll be back with either an answer or more mystery.
posted by Brodiggitty at 4:41 AM on March 24, 2014

Inside the PC box there's a speaker connected by two thin wires to the motherboard. You could disconnect it.
posted by miyabo at 5:10 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's not the computer. Travel alarm clock? Kitchen timer? Kids' toy watch? If it's really coming from the computer case, open it up and make sure the kids haven't managed to wedge something in it (CD tray perhaps). I'd be willing to testify in a court of law that my own children have violated the laws of physics when it comes to getting things stuck in impossible places.
posted by ellenaim at 5:16 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you ever have guests stay in the computer room? It sounds exactly like a travel alarm clock. Maybe it got lost by someone under/near the CPU. Or someone is playing a practical joke on you and put it inside the cover.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:21 AM on March 24, 2014

I'm with the folks that think it's an alarm clock or some other toy or device.
For the ultimate in isolation, take the desktop down and put it in the trunk of your car (I assume your neighborhood is safe enough), then there's NO WAY that it could wake you up even with the door closed.
Give this test a night or two and you'll find the culprit, I am betting.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 5:35 AM on March 24, 2014

Best answer: That sounds more or less like my computer's motherboard alarm (mine is a somewhat deeper tone, and louder). But of course it could easily be another device.
posted by miyabo at 6:04 AM on March 24, 2014

Best answer: I agree with others that doesn't sound anything like the noise a computer makes and sounds exactly like a watch alarm.

Assuming your bios settings are default (or know what they are and are comfortable resetting them). Power down the computer, unplug the power cord from the back of the machine and remove the battery from the motherboard. If the noise continues then its definitely not the computer.
posted by missmagenta at 6:09 AM on March 24, 2014

Are you certain it is not coming from a surge protector with battery backup? Mine would make random beeping noises and was located very near the CPU.
posted by davidvanb at 6:25 AM on March 24, 2014

Do you have your computer plugged into a UPS battery backup? The last UPS that I had my computer plugged into had a battery failure of some kind and it beeped like this in the middle of the night. The battery would trip the circuit like the power had gone out and then it would beep and wake me up in the middle of the night too.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 6:29 AM on March 24, 2014

We have a Sony iPhone speaker dock that is waaay too easy to hit the wrong button for an alarm clock setting (the only thing I hate about it) and suddenly have an alarm go off at some point when you're not expecting it. It took me a while to figure out what was going on with it (and the alarm goes off whether or not the iPhone is docked, which made it all the more aggravating to figure out).
posted by bellastarr at 6:34 AM on March 24, 2014

I own a Dell XPS, but I haven't ever heard that particular sound coming from my computer. I thought it was going to be the computer BIOS beeps (the beeping starts about a minute into the video).

Before watching the video, I suspected the UPS as a possibility as well, but that alarm doesn't match with the UPS alarms I've heard.

Also, if the alarm last exactly 1 minute (or 3 minutes or 5 minutes), I would lean even more towards a watch or battery powered clock alarm, and the sound is certainly quite similar to the alarms I've heard on small digital time pieces. It's been my experience that computer alarms are more random and last for as long as the error condition.

Finally, I've never heard of a computer alarm while it was shutdown.

So, in my mind, some pretty strong circumstantial evidence pointing towards hidden/misplaced watch or similar item.
posted by forforf at 6:50 AM on March 24, 2014

Best answer: Windows update runs at 3:00 am by default. Maybe you are getting beeps when the computer reboots?
posted by rdr at 7:32 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The first time it woke me, I also thought it was the smoke detector. I ended up running downstairs and that's when I found the computer beeping.

I do not have a UPS, so its not that. The only other thing I thought it might be is the router, but that makes even less sense. I'm a bit groggy whenever I go to inspect this, but I'm 98% sure it is the computer, and now my mission in life is to solve this.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:52 AM on March 24, 2014

The fact that the beeping started happening an hour later after the DST switch makes me think it most definitely isn't the computer itself as Windows should have set the hardware clock accordingly. Also pretty much everything everyone else has said.
posted by Venadium at 8:05 AM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, what Venadium said. I'm guessing some sort of standalone alarm clock as well, that isn't synced to anything that can adjust for DST.

You haven't had any houseguests that don't like you or would play a prank on you, have you? If you're convinced the sound is coming from the PC, open the case - there's not something laying inside, is there?
posted by jferg at 9:10 AM on March 24, 2014

You can prove whether it is or isn't the computer: unplug it from the wall overnight.

PC speakers used to be removable, maybe yours is?
posted by flimflam at 10:14 AM on March 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

That sounds exactly like the really irritating stopwatch whose alarm function little ms. flabdablet keeps accidentally enabling by randomly mashing the buttons. That goes off at about 3am, too.

Noises as high-pitched and intermittent as that are really hard to locate. Even when that stopwatch is driving me insane, I have trouble finding it amidst the 9-year-old's customary hurricane-style arrangement of all the things.
posted by flabdablet at 10:33 AM on March 24, 2014

It's not the computer. Step one: Follow flimflams suggestion. Unplug the computer before you go to bed tonight.
posted by humboldt32 at 11:13 AM on March 24, 2014

Best answer: If you are absolutely sure it's the PC (unplug/relocate/whatever), it MIGHT alerting you to an overheating CPU condition. I've heard various signals like this from Dell PCs (and others), before, and this was the issue.

I can't Google more on the next part, but if the noise is coming from your PC, and it's going off at 1-2 AM your time, it could even be related to a scheduled computer speed test that Windows 7 seems to does automatically, every once in a while. This test has the capability to stress out components and I guess it make them run hotter than usual. This might happen in Windows 8, too, but I wouldn't know.

It could even be other automated, early-morning tasks that are stressing things out: full virus scans, backups, etc. It's possible that SMART hard disk alerts are propagating to motherboard alerts in this way, as well (errors, overheating hard drives, etc.), though I've only seen this in server-class hardware.
posted by catkins at 12:35 PM on March 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: CMOS battery?
posted by umberto at 12:40 PM on March 24, 2014

Unplug the computer before you go to bed tonight.

What if the beeping is because of a battery failure, and is powered by said battery? More to the point, if it is something that is near the CPU, but not the CPU, unplugging it won't tell you anything, really, one way or the other. If you want to really make sure it is the computer move it to a totally different room on the other end of the house.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:54 PM on March 24, 2014

This seems like something that can easily solved by process of elimination. Namely, unplug your computer completely, then see if the beeping stops. Repeat for all devices in that area until you find the culprit.

And no, that doesn't sound like a PC beep I've ever heard. Do you have roommates that enjoy pranks? If you're sure it's coming from inside the computer, then I wonder if they popped it open and stuck an alarm clock inside just to mess with you? Might be worth spending a few minutes to check.
posted by Aleyn at 2:18 PM on March 24, 2014

Response by poster: OK, mea culpa. I decided to record my startup beep and compare it against the video I have.

Close, but if the glove does not fit, you must acquit. So then I did some digging behind the toybox and found... wait for it... a potty training digital watch for my son. So I'm going to bring it to bed with me tonight, and if it wakes me up at 3 or 4 I'll report back in the morning.

Apologies to you all for the wild goose chase. Thanks for being the voice of reason.
posted by Brodiggitty at 3:19 PM on March 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

a potty training digital watch for my son.

See? The process of elimination!
posted by pracowity at 6:14 PM on March 24, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: See? The process of elimination!

Ah I wish. I slept with the watch under my pillow. Awoke at 4 a.m. to the beeping of the computer in my living room. I so wanted it to be the watch.

The potty training watch, BTW, is designed to go off at short intervals to remind the kid to go pee. More timer than watch. And it's garbage. It is hard to get it set at all.

So from here, I will be focusing on other suggestions in this thread. I can only really adjust one or two variables per night. Tonight I will look at the bios info and probably try unplugging the damn thing all together.

I'm about to go out of town for a few weeks. I'm not sure how long this thread will remain open but I'll try to keep you posted.
posted by Brodiggitty at 2:48 AM on March 25, 2014

Check EVERYTHING that could be beeping. And definitely isolate the computer in your car or something.

My housemates and I lived with the all-pervading pips of what we thought was a dying mains-powered smoke alarm every few minutes for over 48 hours while we waited for the landlord to come and fix it. In the end it turned out actually to be coming from a CO detector that just needed a couple of batteries and could have been sorted out in a couple of minutes. They were so close together we couldn't tell where the noise was coming from. Infuriating.
posted by mymbleth at 5:38 AM on March 25, 2014

This reddit thread has a few interesting ideas that you might do to help rule out whether or not it's your computer making that noise (although I agree with the dogpile that the beep doesn't sound like a computer). Personally, I suspect someone hid an Annoy-O-Tron-like device inside your PC case (though not this exact linked unit because that's not the frequency of its beep).

But just like others have said, the very easiest test you can possibly do right now is unplug the computer when you go to bed tonight. If it beeps, it's not the computer. If it doesn't beep, it's something powered by the computer. Narrow your troubleshooting from there.
posted by wondercow at 6:21 AM on March 25, 2014

Response by poster: Ok, So I may have located one other toy that could be responsible. Batteries have been removed.
posted by Brodiggitty at 8:39 AM on March 25, 2014

You might consider looking up the manual for your motherboard. It should have a list of every single noise it's capable of making, together with what said noises mean.

But I'd bet money it's something else. Really sounds like a toy or alarm clock or something. If your kid is old enough to be potty trained, he's old enough to hide unexpected objects in unexpected places.
posted by valkyryn at 10:58 AM on March 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have the culprit. It was a cheap hello kitty calculator/data organizer. I am sorry for wasting your time folks, but thank you for being the voice of reason and pointing out the obvious - that it didn't sound like a CPU.

I was certain based on my groggy encounters with the device that it was coming from the computer. I was also certain that my kids, 3 and 1, wouldn't have any toys like that. I wasn't thinking of the age-inappropriate gifts that kids sometimes accumulate.
posted by Brodiggitty at 7:47 AM on March 26, 2014 [6 favorites]

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