Just like a car or a home, computers require a little upkeep to ensure they continue running smoothly and don’t break down on you at inconvenient times. However, no matter how diligent you are in applying said upkeep, there’s always the possibility that your PC will be hit with a serious hardware or software problem.
It’s never fun having to deal with a PC that’s not working properly, especially if you don’t speak fluent PC. Fortunately, many of the problems you can encounter when using a PC are pretty easy to fix or, at the very least, diagnose. Below are five common PC errors you might encounter, along with instructions on how you can fix them yourself. Most of the knowledge shared in this article only applies to desktop PCs, but some specific tips and solutions can be applied to laptops as well.
Let’s get started!
Computer won’t turn on
This specific error refers to a PC that isn’t getting any power. Most people are prone to saying “it won’t turn on” when the computer does in fact power up, it just doesn’t show anything on the monitor (we’ll cover that error later in this article). If you’re pressing the power button on your computer and literally nothing is happening, then read on.
If your computer isn’t getting any power, chances are good the issue involves your computer’s power supply unit (also known as a PSU). First, check to make sure the power cord is properly connected to both the outlet and your computer. Some PSU power cords can be a little finicky when plugging into their respective PSU power outlet. This may seem obvious, but you’d be amazed how many PC issues are fixed by simply double-checking cable connections.
Other basic checks to run through include making sure the outlet you’re plugging into is providing power, that the power switch on the PSU (if it has one) is flipped to the “On” position, and that the power cord itself isn’t damaged in any way. If you do all that and your computer still isn’t turning on, the PSU itself might be the culprit.
Replacing a PSU
Replacing a bad PSU is something you can do yourself, and it’s actually pretty cheap since there are some solid PSUs out there which can be bought for as little as $50-$60. Just make sure you do your homework and buy a PSU with solid customer reviews, and that provides sufficient power for your needs. A standard 500W PSU from a reputable company should be fine in most situations, but there are also higher wattage options if you’re so inclined.
As for the actual replacement process, the most difficult part is simply remembering which PSU cords connect where. For a basic mid-range PC, there are only about 3-4 connections to keep track of. There’s a large 24-pin connector that links the PSU to your PC’s motherboard, a smaller 8-pin connector for CPU power (this goes in the “CPU Power” slot on the motherboard), and SATA connectors which plug into peripherals like the hard drive and optical drive (SATA connectors have a long, narrow L-shape).
Depending on what type of graphics card you’re using, there might also be a 6-pin PCI-E connector linking your graphics card to your PSU. The PSU likely has other types of cords and connectors as well, but the motherboard power, CPU power, SATA, and (if your graphics card needs one) PCI-E connectors are the big ones you need to worry about.
Just look at the ends of the cables from your PSU, and match them to the components that use them, and you should have no trouble installing a new PSU.
Computer turns on, but doesn’t boot
So what if your computer powers up, but nothing shows up on the monitor? This can also be caused by a bad PSU, but there are a few other potential causes as well, so don’t rush out to buy a new power supply just yet.
When a computer turns on but doesn’t show anything on the monitor, it means that either the monitor is faulty, or that the computer is failing to run the Power On Self Test (or POST) due to an internal hardware error. An obvious first step is making sure the monitor works. This can be done by plugging the monitor into another computer (or anything that outputs a video signal) and seeing if it displays anything. Make sure your monitor is set to the proper input (such as HDMI or DisplayPort) when testing.
If you know the monitor is working properly, then you’ll need to figure out what’s causing your computer to fail the initial POST protocol. Having a spare computer you can use to test and/or swap specific hardware components is great, but even without a spare computer there are still some tests you can run. For example, the POST failure might be due to a bad RAM module.
All desktop PCs have individual RAM modules (also referred to as RAM sticks) plugged into the motherboard, usually two or four. If your PC has more than one RAM module, remove them all, and then plug one module back in, and see if the PC will POST. Add them in one by one until the PC no longer powers on, and then you’ll have your culprit. If there’s a particular module that fails to boot, it’s a bad RAM module and should be replaced.
Having a separate PC to test components with helps here, because it can be hard to tell whether the POST failure is being caused by a faulty PSU or a bad RAM module if you only have the one machine to work with. If you don’t care too much about high-end performance and just want some new RAM modules to ensure accurate testing, there are some decent options available in the $30-$40 range. Just make sure the RAM you buy is compatible with your motherboard.
Computer keeps unexpectedly resetting or shutting down
If your computer keeps suddenly resetting itself without any input on your end, chances are that something inside the computer is overheating. Most modern computers automatically reset or shut down when they detect abnormally high temperatures to avoid damaging whatever component is overheating. Assuming you’re an average user who hasn’t messed around with fan speeds or overclocking, the next step is to determine which component is overheating.
The first thing you should do is open up your computer so you can clearly see all the fans, including the heat sink fan on your CPU, and the fans on your graphics card. Turn the computer on, and make sure all the fans are spinning. If you notice a high buildup of dust in the fans, you can clear them out using a can of compressed air. Also, make sure there isn’t an abundance of cables or other obstacles which could block airflow from the fans. If a fan isn’t spinning or is otherwise damaged, you’ll have to replace it or the component it’s attached to.
Working with thermal paste
If all the fans are working, but your computer keeps unexpectedly resetting/shutting down, you might need to reapply thermal paste to your CPU. Again, this sounds a lot more complicated and scary than it actually is in practice. Tubes of thermal paste are pretty cheap, and you don’t even need that much paste for the actual application process.
Once you have some thermal paste, remove the heat sink fan from your CPU. If you have to, rub off any leftover residual paste using a soft cloth and a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Then, apply some fresh paste directly onto the top of the CPU chip. The ideal amount is roughly the size of a pea. YouTube will be very beneficial here for visual reference.
With the paste applied, reseat the heat sink fan on top of the CPU, reseat everything you had to take apart, and see if that solves the problem.
One last potential cause for unexpected resets is a faulty reset switch. This problem is relatively rare, but it can still happen from time to time. If you open your PC case, you’ll notice some cords connecting the front panel buttons (power and reset) to specific slots on your motherboard. Unplug the reset button cord from the motherboard and see if the unexpected reset issue persists. If the problem is indeed a faulty reset switch, you might be able to contact your case manufacturer for a free front panel replacement.
Monitor suddenly turns off, but computer remains on
This issue isn’t as common as the others on this list, but it can still be a pain to deal with when it does crop up. Much like when your computer fails to boot, figuring out why the monitor suddenly shuts off but the computer itself stays on requires a little trial and error.
The three most likely culprits in this case are a loose or bad cable, the PSU, or the graphics card (also referred to as a graphics processing unit or GPU). The first thing you should do is test all your cables. See if they work with other devices, and if not, replace them.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, remove your graphics card and see if the error keeps happening. Most motherboards have an onboard graphics processing chip, so you should still get a monitor image even without the graphics card (just make sure you’re plugging your monitor into the right place).
If the error keeps happening even without a graphics card plugged in, then the problem may lie with your PSU. The PSU may be faulty or it may be trying to supply power to too many different peripherals. Try unplugging the SATA power cords (hard drive, optical drive, etc.) before powering your computer on. Leave the computer running and see if the error happens again. If the error keeps happening even with only the basic power components plugged in and the graphics card removed, you might have to replace your PSU as we discussed above.
Poor performance and a distinct clicking sound
One of the most basic tenants of proper PC maintenance is that a clicking noise of any sort is usually bad. Nine times out of ten the clicking is coming from your computer’s hard drive (also known as a hard disk drive or HDD). Standard HDDs are handy for storing all your games and files, but since they utilize moving parts, they’re also prone to breaking.
The clearest sign of a failing HDD is when your computer starts running slowly. If your operating system is installed on the HDD and you notice that even basic functions take forever to load, it might be time to replace the HDD. If you open your PC and you can hear a distinct clicking sound coming from your HDD, it’s definitely time to replace it.
Time for an SSD upgrade?
Rather than replace your old HDD with a new HDD, you might consider using a solid state drive (or SSD) for the replacement instead. SSDs are generally more expensive than HDDs, but they’re well worth the added cost. True to their name, SSDs have a solid construction format which involves no moving parts. This means they last longer, and are far more shock-resistant than HDDs, not to mention significantly faster.
As long as your HDD isn’t completely broken, you can utilize both your new SSD and old HDD to get the best of both worlds.
The HDD isn’t always the source of the clicking, so it’s important to do your due diligence just to be sure. If a particular component is audibly clicking, the best thing to do is replace it. Fortunately, other than the HDD the most likely source of the clicking is a fan, which can easily (and inexpensively) be replaced.
Though computers are complicated machines, fixing them and maintaining them isn’t as frightening as people often assume. It’s often a very simple solution, or at worst, a single component that is designed to be replaced.
Just trace the source of the problem with testing, and you’ll be back up and running in no time.