You come home after a hard day at work and you are eager to check your Facebook . You whisk into the door, jump in your chair, turn on your computer and nothing happens! We’ve all been there, now you are flipping through the phone book looking for a local repair shop only to be disappointed by “Well It’s going to be $99.99 to take a look at it.” But wait! By reading this tutorial I will give you step by step information on how to diagnose and troubleshoot your computer by showing you all the tools you will need to do it! Just read below and I will give you all of the steps and information on how to fix your PC.
Basics – Computer parts and what they do
Your computer is made up of 6 major components that consist of the motherboard, CPU, memory, power supply, video, and hard disk drive. A computer will not function without these components in working order. So, this is your first hint to what may have failed when you went to turn on your computer and it didn’t start.
Motherboards – Where do all those wires go?
Let’s start off by discussing motherboards. Think of the motherboard as the trunk of a tree, it provides a base for branches to grow from. Like the trunk of a tree the motherboard acts as a base for all of your components to attach. Your basic motherboard these days comes with a CPU socket, memory slots, expansion slots, sata connections, on-board LAN connection, USB ports, and a host of other I/O peripherals. Some of the more common form factors is the Standard-ATX, Micro-ATX, Mini-ITX, Nano-ITX, Pico-ITX. There are currently two popular socket types supported on motherboards, Intel and AMD which brings us to our next topic.
CPU(Central Processing Unit) – What makes that computer of yours tick?
Think of the CPU as the brain of your computer. It processes, calculates, and carries out the instructions that you give it. As mentioned above there are currently two common manufacturers of CPU’s which are Intel and AMD. The Intel processor currently uses an LGA socket type, or Land Grid Array. The most popular of these is the LGA 775 and LGA 1155. The AMD processor uses several different socket types and can be a little more confusing, however the latest socket types in use are the AM2, AM2+, and AM3. It is very important to look up which socket type your motherboard uses to make sure it is compatible with your replacement processor.
Memory – Volatile and Non-Volatile
A person asks me, what can I do to speed up my computer? My response is almost always “upgrade your computer’s memory”. Computer memory can be described as volatile and non-volatile. Volatile memory is able to preserve its information so long as it is powered. Where as non-volatile memory is able to retain it’s information even without being powered. Some examples of non-volatile memory are the flash drives you use to store those pictures, or ROM such as hard disk drives and CD’s.
Another type of memory is called Virtual memory. Virtual memory has the capability to store space on your hard drive to compensate for the lack of physical RAM to run a program. Your computer programs can access the physical RAM much faster than it can virtual memory. So if your computer is running a bit slow chances are you need to upgrade your memory.
Power Supply – Where do you get power to all of those components?
A Power supply gives your computer power by converting AC(Alternating Current) to DC(Direct Current). It then runs current through a wiring harness with special connectors assigned to different parts of your computer. The most common power connector used for the ATX form factor is the P4 connector. It is a 24 pin connector with another with another small 4 pin connector, this supply’s power to your motherboard.
Next is the molex connector, it is a 4 pin connector which can supply power to your hard drive, cd-rom, and fans. Most modern power supply’s will have 1-4 pin floppy connector as well, although most people do not use this anymore. Becoming more popular is the sata connector, it supply’s power to your sata devices such as hard drives and cd-roms. Unlike the standard molex connector the sata connector has 15-pins and its shape prevents wrong insertion to devices. Finally the PCI Express connector is a 6-pin connector that power’s your Graphics card. Just be sure you have this tightly fastened or you could have no video when turning your computer on. For a laptop you are going to have an external power supply, when replacing your laptop’s power supply it is important to know the amperage and voltage.
Note: You can use the Antec Power Supply Calculator to make sure you aren’t overloading your PSU for free by visiting Antec.
Video – What you can’t see does hurt you!
Without video all the information you see, all the video games you play, all of the social networks you love wouldn’t seem so grand. A graphics card is an expansion card whose job is to display content via your monitor. There are two widely used monitors an LCD and the older CRT. LCD screens were most commonly used in laptops, but over time have evolved into our everyday desktop monitors as well. The older CRT monitors have all but disappeared due to the trend of LCD and other flat panel monitors.
Expansion Cards can be broken into three categories PCI, PCIe, and AGP. PCIe is now the most commonly used expansion card on the market. PCI and AGP with a much lower data transfer rate are primarily plug and play. PCIe graphics cards use a 6-pin power connector as they need their very own power, most PSU(Power Supply Units) come with these. Graphics cards have five standard outputs, DVI, VGA, HDMI, RGB, and S-Video. Most standard LCD monitors use either a DVI connection or VGA, but usually come with an adapter for either.
The most important thing once you have your graphics card installed is to install the video drivers which came with the graphics card. Always use the manufacturers drivers it is your best option, and be sure to check for updates because chances are there is an updated driver that you can install. The drivers are important to offer the best video quality and resolution for your monitor.
Hard Disk Drive – I need a place to store all my pictures!
There are a few different types of Media Storage that I will touch on very quickly. The first is magnetic storage devices. There are three different categories here which include Hard Disk Drives, Floppy Disk Drives, And Tape Disk Drives. The most common storage devices you will see these days is Hard Disk Drive. Floppy and Tape Storage devices have become for the most part obsolete.
The next media storage we will look at is CD-ROM, DVD-ROM. These come in various forms which includes CD-R, CD-RW, DVD-R, DVD-R and many others but we will take a look at these. CD-R and DVD-R technologies allow you to record them just as you would a floppy or cassette tape. CD-RW and DVD-RW are rewritable technologies allowing you to write to them more than once.
And finally we look at SSD or Solid State Drive. Have you ever seen a solid state drive? Chances are you have if you own a flash drive or other removable media such as an SD card for your camera. A Solid State Drive means that it has no moving parts, this is a newer technology and is starting to become more popular among computer storage. However Hard Disk Drives are still the most common of media storage for computers.
Tools – Tools you need to make your own repairs
Now that we have gotten familiar with some of the technologies and parts we will be dealing with, lets take this time to look at some of the tools we may need. In this section we are going to look at not only tools but some of the measures we will need to take in order to keep our delicate parts safe from the environment around you. Learn more about multimeters.
Believe it or not the tools needed for PC repair are minimal. The two tools I would recommend as a must have for anyone repairing their PC is a screwdriver and a multimeter. The first thing when dealing with tools used on computers is to MAKE SURE they are demagnetized. Magnets are very harmful to microchips and can cause irreversible damage to them. How many of you have ever touched something only to get a small shock at the tip of your finger? Well then you already know what ESD(Electrostatic discharge) is. ESD, although giving you minor discomfort can be damaging to any piece of electrical equipment.
Which brings me to our next two tools. An ESD wrist strap gives you a grounding to a metal surface to dissipate any electrical current when working on your PC. Another good thing to have handy is an antistatic mat, which are very portable and also used to dispel those unwanted shocks. There are other tools such as POST Code readers and Power supply testers, but in general you may not use these very often. For most errors and voltage readings you can simply look up on the manufacturers website for info. If you suspect the problem is a hardware issue maybe you have an older part set aside you can use for testing purposes.
A Motherboard can sometimes be difficult to troubleshoot. The first thing would be to look for noticeable damage on the motherboard itself, such as discoloration on the main board. Also look for bubbled or leaking resistors. If your have beep codes at start-up try looking on the manufactures website for a code chart. As you will find out a lot of PC troubleshooting is process of elimination, which brings us to our next step.
The process of elimination is simple, begin removing all cables, memory, expansion cards, disconnect all power leads except for the motherboards. If this doesn’t succeed the final step is removing the motherboard from the case and place on your antistatic mat. This will ensure you do not have a short, which could be caused by screws being to tight shorting it out to the case.
Typical problems with a CPU is not being properly installed. When troubleshooting the CPU you should check the following.
- Make sure the correct amount of thermal compound is applied
- Make sure the CPU is properly seated in the board
- Make sure all connections are tight and the heat-sink is securely fastened
Some other problems that may occur are random crashes, computer locks up after a short time of use, above or below normal voltage readings.
Also check the CPU temperature, if you are getting above normal temperatures while the computer isn’t under load this could mean the CPU is getting to hot due to a failed heat-sink or improperly installed thermal compound. High temps could also be the actual CPU is faulty.
Are you getting random crashes or the BSOD(Blue screens)? Having faulty memory could be your culprit. If you are experiencing lag when running memory extensive programs, or frequent crashes faulty memory could be your problem. The best way to rule out faulty memory quickly is to remove one stick at a time and see if this fixes your issue. Excessive heat could be causing the same problems, so be sure you have any excess wires in your computer tie wrapped and clear fans of dust.
If your computer fails to boot and has one beep accompanied by longer beeps your RAM could be failing to load correctly. In most cases you can refer to the manufacturers website for beep codes. As with the graphics card a distorted picture could also be a culprit to faulty memory. You should only use the same type of memory sticks, they generally come in packs of two. Using two different brands of memory could cause problems. When installing new memory make sure to take note of the notches and insert correctly. Often memory is simply inserted wrong or not seated properly during installation.
Troubleshooting Power Supply
When you think about computer repair many do not think of how important the power supply can really be, so in this section I am going to give it’s due attention. Is your computer experiencing frequent reboots? It could be that your power supply is being overloaded. One of the more common problems with power supply’s is a drop in voltage. This could be caused by a failing power supply ,or too many components connected resulting in more voltage being drawn from the unit than it’s rated for. You can check for voltage drops a few different ways.
You can use either a digital multimeter or PSU tester. If the PSU tester shows green then everything is most likely OK. Any other reading then you may have a problem.
Another way to check the voltage of your PSU is through your system’s BIOS screen presuming your computer can power on. This can be found under PC Health or your Hardware Monitor. Another problem you could be experiencing is overheating. If your power supply has become hot to the touch, then you want to make sure there isn’t dust obscuring the fan from properly cooling the unit. If your fan has stopped, don’t try opening up the unit and replacing the fan, just simply replace the whole PSU. When replacing a power supply you may want to get one with a higher voltage than the one you currently have. Doing this will make sure you have ample amount of power for all of your connections.
Video problems can arise in two different forms, hardware and software. The first thing you should check if you have a black screen is the obvious. Make sure your monitor is properly powered, turned on, and not in sleep mode. Software related issues can stem from incorrect drivers to adjusting color settings in the driver dialogue. If your monitor appears dark in color or a tinted hue then you may want to make the correct gamma adjustment in the drivers control center. If you are having problems with multiple monitors, screen resolution or color quality, check your display properties in your control panel. If you have an older CRT monitor and are having problems with flicker, then check your refresh rate it could be too low. A typical refresh rate is 60 hertz.
The second thing we are going to look at is hardware related problems. Signs of a defective graphics card could be frequent lock-ups, unexpected shut downs or distorted pixels. If you are experiencing lock-ups, improper mouse movement or screen corruption you should try to update your drivers or roll back to a previous version. If that doesn’t fix your problem, your graphics card could be overheating or defective. You can adjust your graphics acceleration to a lower setting until you can get a replacement. It is located in your display properties under the troubleshoot tab.
Troubleshooting Hard Disk Drive
If you are experiencing a malfunctioning hard drive, whether it be you own a laptop or desktop computer it should be connected through either an ATA(SATA) or IDE interface. Check your SATA or IDE ports with a working device to identify if those ports are working or not. If your computer doesn’t power on you should check these cables. Checking for loose or damaged cables could identify your hard drive failure. If your computer isn’t starting this could also indicate a short. If you are using an older 40 pin IDE cable make sure it isn’t hooked up backwards. 80-pin IDE cables and ATA cables should be keyed so there is only one way it will fit.
If your hard drive doesn’t power on you should check the power connection whether it be a molex connector or SATA power cable. Make sure you have power to your hard drive by using a PSU Tester or your digital multimeter. You can also try using a known working device. Other signs of hard drive failure could include a bad noise like a loose ball bearing. Corrupted or lost data can also be signs of hard drive failure. Hard drives are mechanical devices and will fail eventually. The most important thing you can do is back-up your critical data onto another media device.
Note: You can use the AS SSD Benchmark tool to test your SSD by visting Alex Intelligent Software.
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