Please computer, don't leave me!
June 30, 2014 4:14 PM   Subscribe

My computer is suddenly dead. How can I resurrect him? He refuses to even turn on.

Last night I used my computer and it was fine. This morning I used my computer and it was fine. Tonight I tried to use it and it won't even turn on.

I didn't do anything weird or sketchy with it so I don't think its a virus or anything. Maybe something burned out?
Its a 5 year old Dell Inspiron 518 desktop. Up until now, its been a lovely little computer. My last Dell lasted me 11 years. I need to at least get this one to turn on once more so I can back stuff up!

Any advice/walkthru repairs would be greatly appreciated. I know nothing about computers so if you say something like "rewire the power source", that's.....not something I know how to do. Also my only internet connection right now is my phone so its hard to look up diagrams and such. Pretend you're talking to your 90 year old grandma who never saw a computer before.

Help! I really can't afford to bring this to a tech person to fix.
posted by silverstatue to Computers & Internet (19 answers total)
That's gonna be difficult to fix with zero money and zero computer skills.

What operating system is on the computer? Some version of Windows, I assume, but which one?

When you say that "it won't even turn on", what do you mean, exactly? You press the power button and absolutely nothing happens? No lights come on, you don't hear any fan noise, the machine doesn't make any beeping sounds—nothing? It's important to be clear on this point.

Many computers have a small LED (possibly on the back) that stays lit even when the computer is powered down. Does this computer have such a light? Is it lit?

It could just be a bad power cable—have you tried using a different power cable to eliminate that possibility? (This probably isn't the problem, though, so don't get your hopes up.)

If it turns out that you just can't power up the machine (due to an unfixable hardware failure), you may be able to remove the hard drive and connect it to a different machine to recover your files. That requires a certain level of know-how, though.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:26 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

If it's not trying to power up at all (i.e., no lights or fan noises or funny beeps or anything), it sounds like the power supply died.

Do you have any friends who might be comfortable swapping in a new one? It's not that difficult, but you do have to make sure everything that was plugged into the old one is plugged into the new one, and that the new one can supply at least the same amount of power as the old one, etc.

Also, before you spend money or call anyone, it's always worth double checking the easy stuff! Unplug both ends of the power cord: the plug that goes into the wall, and the connection to the back of the computer (if the cord comes out). Then plug them back in, in case something got jostled just loose enough that it looks plugged in, but isn't connecting. You might also check that the power strip is working (if you're using one), and try plugging something else into the the wall socket to make sure it isn't a tripped circuit breaker / blown fuse.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 4:26 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: When I push the power button, absolutely nothing happens. No whirring fans, nothing. The green led light in the back is lit. I opened up the tower and the orange motherboard light is also lit.

Its Windows Vista. The funny thing is, I'm pretty good at fixing my computer when it comes to clearing viruses, restoring back to previous versions, etc. But I know absolutely nothing about the actual physical body of it.
posted by silverstatue at 4:30 PM on June 30, 2014

If nothing at all is happening when you try to turn it on, the first thing I'd recommend is to unplug the computer for a full minute and plug it back in. I'd also recommend trying a different power outlet.

If that doesn't do it, my suspicion would be that the power supply in the computer is dead. These can be had for like $45. However you would need to open up the case and unplug all of the old power cables from the old power supply and plug in the cables from this new one. If you have any friends who have built their own computers for playing video games, they might be able to assist with that.

If this is too much trouble and you have another computer you can fall back on, your data is probably not lost: you could take the hard drive out and plug it into another computer and recover your files. You can use a kit like this to plug the hard drive into another computer (it's got attachments for any recent kind of hard drive).
posted by JDHarper at 4:32 PM on June 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

Your powersupply may well have died: they're only expected to last around 4-5 years. If so you're in luck, as it's a cheap and easy fix.

To test the PSU, unplug all the cables and follow these (safe, if slightly terrifying) instructions. Alternatively if you have a multimeter kicking around you can use that. (google 'how do I test my psu' for more help).

If it doesn't start then your psu is dead and you need a new one: a Seasonic 500W PSU is a good unit, you don't need a Dell specific one.

If it does start the next candidate is probably the power switch, which isn't an expensive fix either.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:33 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

just to calm you, even if the machine doesn't start you can back it up by mounting the hard drive into a different computer. Your files are not lost forever.
posted by KathrynT at 4:34 PM on June 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yep, so far a bad power supply sounds like the most likely diagnosis.

If you know enough to open the case and identify the motherboard, replacing the PSU really isn't that difficult. Think of it as a glorified power strip: it draws current from the wall outlet (via the plug on the back of the computer), and distributes that power to the individual components of the computer (via molex connectors).

All you have to do is unplug the molex connectors from wherever they're plugged in, remove the screws that hold the PSU in place, remove it, swap in the new one, put the screws back, and put the molex connectors back. It's basically impossible to mess anything up.

Of course, if it turns out that the power supply wasn't the problem, then you're out $45. My odds are on the PSU, though.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:46 PM on June 30, 2014

(Oh, and if you're nervous about getting everything plugged back in, just snap a photo of the innards before you begin surgery, so you can see how it was before. But the connectors are shaped such that you can't plug anything in where it doesn't belong.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:49 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: This would be so much easier if I wasn't looking stuff up on my tiny phone screen. OK so I see the molex connectors do I unplug them? Just yank the white case thing out? I'm so scared to rip something.
posted by silverstatue at 4:49 PM on June 30, 2014

I agree on the PSU. First thing to do is check the two switches on the back of the PSU, to make sure they haven't been thrown. One is your basic on/off rocker switch that works as a master power switch for the PSU itself (aside from the power switch on the front or top of your tower, which is wired to the motherboard). The other switch is sunk into the back of the power supply and sets the voltage. It's unlikely anyone moved this by accident, but it absolutely needs to be set correctly: 110V (North America) or 220V (UK, Europe, not sure where else.)-- it could also say 120 and 240. Disconnect the power cable before messing with the voltage switch. If you're not sure, just don't mess with it; it can break things if in the wrong setting.

The PSU test linked above with the paperclip is not as scary as it looks; the green cable wire ("PS_ON") can be connected to any black wire (ground/earth). The green is a low-voltage cable, i.e. it carries a signal, not a current for powering stuff.

PSUs die; I keep a spare around for this reason. If you have to buy a new one, look for two things: the form factor (e.g. ATX, AT) and the wattage (probably around 350W). You can get a power supply of the same form factor (required) and the same-or-higher wattage. (It'll only take what it needs, so this won't cause it to consume more power.)

A bit of research indicates that you machine takes an ATX (the most common form-factor sold for desktops) at 300W. You absolutely do not have to get a dell-branded power supply. There are plenty of good brands-- you can probably find one that's made to be quieter than the one you had before.

As for unplugging -> The molex connectors are just wedged in there-- firm pressure, maybe a gentle left-right rocking will work fine. The big one attached to the motherboard has a kind of clip on the side-- squeeze the top end of the clip towards the connector and then pull.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:50 PM on June 30, 2014

If you're too scared to do the power supply yourself, there are most likely a zillion folks on Craigslist in your area who would be glad to swap it for you for like $20 plus the cost of the power supply. Just search for "computer repair" and you'll find a lot of people.
posted by Slinga at 4:56 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Most molex connectors can be removed with a firm grip and a firm pull (maybe some gentle rocking back and forth to loosen). Less commonly, they'll have a mechanism that requires you to squeeze tabs on the sides to release them.

They're pretty tough—I mean, don't go wedging screwdrivers into them or anything, but you should be able to separate them pretty easily with your hands.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 4:57 PM on June 30, 2014

The force equivalent of power connectors is roughly like putting very tight shoes on, if that helps. Take your time, wiggle them back and forth, they'll come. You don't need to worry about breaking things, they can take a fair bit of force.

Knowing how your computer fits together opens up a lot of good options for cheaply fixing it, so view this as a good thing!
posted by Sebmojo at 5:03 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: Omg the paper clip thing worked! I mean my computer made a noise. That's progress, right?
posted by silverstatue at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: So um...its showing signs of life but idk where to go from here. I unplugged the molex, plugged a paper clip into the green wire slot and the black wire slot and then plugged the power cable back in. And now there's a quiet whirring noise.
posted by silverstatue at 5:13 PM on June 30, 2014

Most molex connectors can be removed with a firm grip and a firm pull...

It's worth mentioning that you need to pull on the connector itself, not the wires.
posted by jon1270 at 5:36 PM on June 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Woohoo! Ok so that means your power supply is not 100% dead (princess_bride.gif) and may in fact be alive. Yay, but boo, as that means we need to narrow it down some more.

As a first step I'd remove and reseat all your connectors and see if it starts with the switch (this worked for me one time!) then I'd try pulling the power out of the CDRom and graphics card to reduce the load and seeing if it starts.

If the PSU is only putting out a fraction of the power your computer needs then you're still in a replace the psu situation, which as we said above is an easy fix.

Since you're not getting any agonised beeps from the computer it's proooobably not the motherboard or memory, so if the PSU appears to check out then probably the next thing I'd try is the power switch (money's still on the psu though).
posted by Sebmojo at 7:29 PM on June 30, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everyone who has given advice thus far. I need to sleep now but will try more stuff tomorrow. Please come back to this thread if u think of anything else!
posted by silverstatue at 7:53 PM on June 30, 2014

Do you have a reset button? Sounds like you have power so your PSU is probably fine. What I would try doing is swapping over your power and reset buttons. There should be 2 small wires coming from where the power buttons on the case are to the motherboard - probably somewhere near an edge. One is for power, one is for reset, they're usually labelled but the writing can be tiny. If you unplug those from the motherboard and swap them over (ie, put the reset cable where the pwr cable was and vice versa), then press the reset button - does it come on?
posted by missmagenta at 6:49 AM on July 1, 2014

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