Did I zap my new computer?
January 4, 2018 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I purchased a new computer from Best Buy and it arrived a few days ago. I began windows 10 updates and moving over my files. I had decided it would be a good idea to add a second hard drive for all my photos, so I turned it off and opened the case. I didn't touch anything but I noticed there doesn't seem to be a spare space to attach a second hard drive even though the specs did mention room for upgrades. There is an additional bay but I'm not sure where to connect the cables. However I can figure that part out later. When I closed the case and plugged it in again it wouldn't start up. The fan was running but there was no light and nothing on the monitor. Usually it starts up right away.

After several tries I did get it to start up once more after unplugging and holding down power for a while.
I called tech support to find out why and they had me turn it off and do the same thing again, only now it wouldn't turn on at all. I got frustrated with them asking me if I was pressing the right button (seriously LOL) and after trying for a while I decided to exchange it for a new one at best buy for no hassle.

The new one works fine only now I am terrified of opening the case. What could have gone wrong? Was it a fluke or my fault somehow? I tried looking for loose connectors and everything seemed fine. I've installed hard drives and a few other parts before but that was quite a while ago.
Should I pay someone to look at it and install the 2nd hard drive?

Computer is Acer Aspire TC-780 EB-13 with windows 10
Will be used for photography mostly and would also like to run autocad.

posted by photoexplorer to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Please note that when I opened the case, I had already removed and unplugged the power cable.
posted by photoexplorer at 8:09 PM on January 4, 2018

It is possible but I would say extremely unlikely that you had a static electricity discharge. People who work inside computers a lot will sometimes clip a wire from their skin to the case to ground themselves. I've always felt that the risk was overblown and I've opened many cases without incident, but it's a possibility.

See: for example
posted by dbx at 8:21 PM on January 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It is possible, although unlikely, that you damaged the computer via a static electric discharge when it was open. If your house is really dry, it's possible. Every computer repair manual starts off with some variant of "discharge static electricity before working on a computer"... although personally, in more than 20 years of mucking around in computers, I have never managed to zap one, and I am pretty cavalier about things. Modern PCs are surprisingly tough.

That said, I habitually open the case with the machine plugged in, and at some point necessarily end up touching the PSU or chassis, which eliminates the risk. Although unplugging the machine may seem safer (and probably is, in some marginal way), it removes the machine's ground. You could get a grounding strap if you are concerned this might have been the problem (but you need something grounded to clip the strap to, of course, which cannot be the insides of the system itself if you have unplugged it).

Anyway, I am skeptical of that theory in general, though I suppose this is the time of year when it is perhaps most likely (winter = dry house = more static).

If I was a betting man, I think it's more likely that you knocked something loose inside, in the process of opening or closing the machine up. The fact that it just wouldn't turn on, but then did go on once when you held the switch down, makes me wonder if the wires running from the motherboard to the case switch got loosened somehow.

Since the computer has now been sent back, there is really nothing anyone can do except speculate. If the computer was still around, there are a bunch of troubleshooting steps that you could take to isolate the problem (make sure the PSU works, make sure the motherboard is getting power, test switches, etc.), but since that's ship's sailed... who knows.

I wouldn't be afraid to open it up again, though. Life's too short to go through it living in fear of letting the magic smoke out of your technology. Just keep backups, and know enough about how a computer works and what's inside of it to know what parts will give you Instant Regret if you touch them. (This article is quite good, IMO, better than the average "how do computers work" webpage by far.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:25 PM on January 4, 2018

I'll let others handle suggestions on installing the hard drive, but I'll just mention that you might want to consider that someone at Best Buy might be able to get your original computer running again, so anything you installed or logged into on that hard drive can potentially be accessed. I'd change any passwords for accounts that were left logged in when the computer crashed. This is why people often drill a hole through old hard drives before they're recycled.
posted by bluecore at 9:11 PM on January 4, 2018

That machine has 7 USB ports, just buy external drives and leave the thing unopened until you feel confident enough to mess with it. Computer enlightenment is not always quick. I've been opening up desktops since 1984 and have seen all manner of strange things happening as a result. One computer I had would just stop working as yours did as a result of a stupid standoff screw attaching the main board to the case not being at precisely the right level of tightness. Too little or too much would flex the system bus just enough to impede connection.
posted by Chitownfats at 4:03 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It's unlikely but possible that you damaged the computer. Many people are cavalier about ESD, because modern gear is fairly resilient and also has characteristics that make it seem even more resilient than it actually is. In the old days, when a CPU was merely thousands of transistors, damage became apparent fairly quickly. These days, with CPU's with billions of transistors (Broadwell Xeon has over 7 billion!), it's pretty arrogant to assume that the fact that the system boots means that a bare-handed handling of your mainboard, CPU, and RAM while walking around in a dry house on nylon-fiber carpet while walking around in a polyester shirt hasn't caused any damage. Modern consumer-grade memory also lacks ECC, so damaged memory cells do not raise an alert.

A full-scale remediation of ESD is probably beyond the average consumer, but a ground strap and grounding the chassis you are working on can be done for less then ten bucks, and finding a suitable working environment and wearing clothing that is resistant to static is a great idea. You can also work on an ESD mat, which aren't that expensive, but isn't really necessary for just adding a drive to a system. Fabric softener is a great tool to reduce static. Even just the ground strap and grounding the chassis gets you most of the benefits.

Some of us work with multi-thousand-dollar parts, so the cost of creating a safe workspace seems relatively trivial. ESD boots and gloves, ESD shop bench and mats, humidity control, wrist strap, etc., outfitting an ESD safe workspace can run a good bit of money, but it's really just one 64GB DIMM or one E5-2697 CPU away from paying off. But honestly you get 80%++ of the protection just from a wrist strap, grounding the chassis, and non-stupid clothing/work environment.

My bet is that you might have caused a short by dropping a screw, or inadvertently loosening a connector, the RAM, or possibly even dislodging the CPU/heatsink. ESD damage sufficient to cause the PC not to boot isn't in my Top 10 list of things I'd expect. That doesn't mean that it's good to be cavalier about ESD damage, most of which will still result in a bootable PC.

Don't be afraid to open it up to add a drive, as long as there's a spot where a drive is supposed to go. It shouldn't be that hard. I had a nine-year-old in the shop a few weeks ago to swap out a 3.5" HDD for a 2.5" SSD with bracket in an HP PC -- and I had him do the work. Spoke no words. Just pointed and motioned. Swapping drives is easy. Adding drives is usually only a problem if there are cables missing or there's no "correct" spot. It's much better to be comfortable with doing some basic PC service yourself.
posted by jgreco at 5:47 AM on January 5, 2018 [2 favorites]

My bet is that you might have caused a short by dropping a screw, or inadvertently loosening a connector, the RAM, or possibly even dislodging the CPU/heatsink.

That would be my bet as well, especially if your computer had a plug-in graphics card. The non-start behaviour you describe could easily be caused by a graphics card seated incorrectly in its slot.

PC expansion cards have a slot connector on the bottom edge and a retaining bracket on the back, and I quite often see motherboards and cases conspiring in such a way that only one of these can be positioned correctly (this is a design flaw that goes back to the original IBM PC). If your first Best Buy machine was built like that, the slight case flexion from taking off the side panel could have nudged the slot connector just past the point of worst tolerable misalignment.

The usual fix for that issue is bending the retaining bracket ever so slightly so that when it's properly screwed down it's trying to push the card into its socket, not lever it out.
posted by flabdablet at 6:48 AM on January 5, 2018

What Kadin2048 said. ESD isn't usually a big deal, but this winter has been pretty brutally dry (at least here in Minnesota) and I've been zapping things all over the place. You're actually usually better off leaving the PC plugged in, since the voltages leaving the power supply aren't dangerous (12V tops).
posted by neckro23 at 8:14 AM on January 5, 2018

Best answer: I dug around and found this picture of a motherboard from a similar Acer system. It appears that this board only has two data SATA connections - which confirms your earlier effort. That means no simple plug and play upgrade.

I would re-purpose the SATA data and power for your optical drive and use those to connect a second hard drive. Needle nose pliers will help getting them out - otherwise you'll likely need to pop the front of the case off, slide the optical drive out, then pull the cables. I'd just put the optical back so the case looks nice. You'll need to check you BIOS setting on reboot and should be good.

If you need an optical drive then an alternative is to get a PCI express card with SATA connectors. This unit seems popular on Amazon and at 13$ relatively inexpensive and would go in the small black X1 PCI slot that is located at the bottom left of the mother board. You'll likely need a SATA cable as well. Potential issues - you make take a performance hit depending on how Acer implemented it's PCI (or not if you are using a regular hard drive), and you may need to do a whole bios and driver dance to get this solution functional.

As for your last one, I think it's unlikely that ESD was the cause (for reasons listed above) but I always ground to case and use a plastic anti-static mat when I am working. You should still unplug the device, for your safety, and because having power to the board that you are touching can break it.

As for your old unit - maybe you knocked a cable loose or bent a connector. But it might have been the factory. Just look at that SATA data connection cable to the hard drive in the picture - it isn't properly seated - its crooked! You can see the metal pins at the bottom! AAAHHHG. Fan only but no post means only part of the board is getting juice and I would guess the problem was with one of the two connections from the power supply to the board. Second guess would be a primary component like the CPU was busted.
posted by zenon at 9:53 AM on January 5, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your helpful answers!
Yes, it is correct that there are only 2 SATA connections, and even though I rarely use the DVD drive I don't want to disable it just yet. I will be looking into adding the PCI express card to add an additional connection. For now, I have moved all my data over to the 3TB drive and it is plenty for now until I have time to add the second hard drive.
It does not have a separate graphics card but I may need to look into that as well in the future.
Even though there weren't any visible loose connections, that may have been what happened. Best Buy has assured me that Acer will just wipe everything on the old computer and my data should be safe.
posted by photoexplorer at 10:52 AM on January 8, 2018

« Older Looking for recipes for homemade dog chews and...   |   Where should I go for my getaway? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.