Thursday, 29 March 2012

Troubleshooting your newly built PC

Building your first computer and having it work is one of the most fulfilling feelings that you can get. Unfortunately, the computer may not always work first time. This is not an uncommon occurrence, and you shouldn't feel disheartened if your new computer doesn't work first time. Instead, you should try to work out the problem with the tips below.

A typical computer internal, image thanks to

Frequently Seen Issues

"My Computer doesn't turn on when I push the button"


There's a number of problems that could potentially be causing this issue, but it shouldn't be too difficult to fix.
1. First ensure that you are pushing the correct button on your case. Sounds stupid, but you may be pushing the wrong button - and you may as well check before going any further

2. Assuming you are pushing the correct button, look for the Power Switch connector that goes from your case to your motherboard. You may have connected it the wrong way around (the writing should always face outwards of the motherboard), or it may have become disconnected during cable management or by accident.

3. If you have checked this, and are 100% certain that it is not the issue, then you should remove the pins that connect the case to the motherboard and attempt to bridge the connections with a metal (but plastic-handled) screwdriver - and to be on the safe side make sure it's not magnetized. If you can leave the screwdriver there for a few seconds and it doesn't turn on, we can assume this isn't the issue. To turn it off again if this sorts the issue, you simply turn off the power supply completely, or hold the screwdriver on the pins a little longer. If this makes it work, it's likely that there's something wrong with the cases power switch connector, or you're connecting it wrong - consult your motherboards manual for more help.

4.  You should remove the power supply unit entirely, and check that it is working using the Paperclip Test, as detailed here (the method should be similar for all power supplies, look it up if you need verification). If your power supply fails the paperclip test, it's likely that the power supply is faulty. You should also check that if your power supply has a voltage switch, that it is set correctly.

5. Check that there is nothing that is causing the motherboard to short. It shouldn't be directly touching any part of the case - that's what the standoffs are for. If you are using a very large cooler like the Hyper 212+, you should be using the motherboard backplate that came with the cooler to deal with the weight of the card.

6. If all else fails, you potentially have a dead motherboard - you should attempt to try another motherboard in the computer, but if it comes to it, it may be time to RMA your motherboard.


"My Computer comes on, stays on for a moment, then turns off"

This is another issue that appears to be fairly common. This one is a bit broader as of the issue though, so the troubleshooting will inevitably be longer.

1. If the motherboard or case comes with a 'Speaker' (usually a four pin 'cylinder', it attaches where the power button and reset buttons attach in most circumstances, consult your motherboard instruction manual for further instruction). If your motherboard does not come with one, try and get your hands on one. When you turn on the computer, see if it makes a beep. If it does beep, and is anything other than a singular beep, you Google the 'beep code' to see what the issue is.

2. Check your power supply, is it set to the right voltage (assuming your PSU needs voltage set)? If it isn't, that's likely your problem - you should set it to the right voltage. If not, you should perform the paper clip test on your power supply as detailed here (again, this works with most PSUs). If your power supply turns on, then off in the same time period as your PC would, there's your problem

3. Remove the connector that comes from case to motherboard for the power button and use a screwdriver to turn it on. If it stays on, your cases button may be sticking or shorting out, if it doesn't, this isn't the issue.

4. Check there is nothing that could be shorting. If your motherboard is touching the case when turned on, this may cause an issue. If the motherboard is not correctly seated on its standoffs, this may also cause an issue. Finally, you are using a component that requires a backplate like a Hyper 212+ CPU cooler, ensure the backplate is correctly fitted.

5. Reseat everything. You'd be surprised how many times taking it all out and putting it all in could fix the issue - even if you thought you built it immaculately.

6. Boil down to the basics. Remove all non-essential components, including hard drive and DVD drive, as well as all USB additions. Leave only the motherboard, the power supply, the CPU and a single stick of RAM in the correctly designated slot (read your motherboard manual). Don't use a case button to trigger it on, use a screwdriver with a plastic handle to bridge the Power Switch connectors. If it stays on, slowly begin to add components back again, one by one - when/if it stops working, you can be sure that component was the issue.

7. If nothing else works at all, you will either have to buy a POST Test Card to identify which piece of hardware is actually causing the issue.

"The computer turns on, but it doesn't do anything"

This is a fairly common issue too, and it's also not a problem. There are several that can cause this one, so do not fear.

1) This one is nearly always caused by something not being in right, be it CPU, RAM or GPU, you should make sure that everything is actually in the motherboard correctly. Reseating everything can't hurt.

2) Ensure that all the cables are in, some graphics cards require multiple additional power adapters from the power supply, and some motherboards require two CPU connectors. Ensure that you have plugged it all correctly.

3) If you're using certain motherboards, you may find that onboard video is turned off with the insertion of a PCI-E graphics card - this means the motherboards video outputs will not work. Ensure that you are plugging your video cable (for your monitor) into the graphics cards output.

4) If it still doesn't work, and there are no speaker beeps (assuming you have a speaker), you may have accidentally fried your CPU or Motherboard. If you get an irregular beep code, you can work through that to determine the issue using Google.

"Computer turns on, then after a seemingly random period of time, turns off."

This is a fairly common issue from what I've seen. If you do a Google search, you'll see you're not the only one experiencing this issue. If you can get to a working Windows installation, it'll be a lot easier to diagnose the problem. Let's go then.

1. If your computer is turning off seemingly at random, it may very well be overheating. Overheating usually occurs when the heatsink has slipped off, or when a very demanding application is in use. You can check your temperatures either in the BIOS when you turn on your computer, or using a Windows-based application like CPUID's HWMonitor. You should be able to Google "[piece of hardware] max operating temperature" and find a pretty conclusive guide to if the temperatures are causing problems.

2. You may be having driver issues. For example, there was a version of the AMD Graphics Drivers that would cause my computer to shut down immediately - and without warning upon booting 'Saints Row: The Third'. If it appears to be attributed to a certain application running, or only happens around the execution of a certain piece of software or under certain conditions, you're very likely dealing with a driver issue.

3. If your computer is not overheating, and it's not a driver issue, it's equally likely that you're having a problem with your power supply. Ensure that the power supply is powerful enough to keep your system alive (enough amps on the 12v rail, enough wattage etc.) If not, you've found your issue. Power supplies will also fail at random at some point of their life, you should try borrowing or using a known power supply for testing here. You should also check power supply voltage is set correctly, if this is needed for your power supply.

4. If you're pretty sure that your power supply is OK, you can attempt to use software such as WhoCrashed to determine what is shutting down your computer. This software, however, cannot always say exactly what is causing the shutdown.

5. Test your RAM. You can do this by using a BootCD or BootUSB with Memtest86 on it. Just leave it running for quite some time, and if there are no errors, this is unlikely your problem.

6. Check your motherboard isn't shorting or close to shorting on anything. It could be that the motherboard is moving a tiny amount because of the fans, and this is causing it touch metal and short out.

7. Check the cases Power Switch attachment to the motherboard. Try bridging the 'Power Switch' pins with a screwdriver and use the computer like that for a while. If it seems to not turn off, there's a pretty big potential that your case is somehow shorting or the button is getting stuck, and that it is to blame.

7. If all else fails, begin to try replacements on all of your components, or buy a POST Test Card. Hopefully, you'll find the issue that way.

'My computer makes crackly/stuttering sounds'

It's fairly rare to see, but sometimes, computers will 'stutter' while in use. It's an incredibly annoying and frustrating - and if you're not sure what's going on, downright terrifying problem. However, what you're experiencing is most probably DPC Latency (which is usually caused by software or drivers asking for unusually high I/O reads/writes), and can be helped.

1. Do an operating system update. It doesn't matter what you're using: Windows, Linux, Mac; it's all the same! Some of the time, you'll find your issue sorted by this alone.

2. If Windows Update does not sort this issue, download LatMon and check the 'Processes' and 'Drivers' tabs. If any application or driver is reporting that it is generating a large amount of latency, it's near certain this is the software causing your problem. You should either terminate the process, or you should go on the hunt for updated drivers for your hardware.

3. If you don't find the problem with LatMon, go to 'Computer Management' (Right click on 'My Computer' and select 'Manage') and then go to the 'Device Manager' listed on the left. From here, you can right click and disable all the pieces of hardware until you find the one that is causing the issue. I strongly urge you not to disable anything that you do not know what it's for. A stutter-y computer is better than one that doesn't work at all.

4. As a last resort, you could attempt to use an automatic driver updating software, just to take the tedium of finding all the latest drivers out of the equation. If that doesn't work, you may need to consult a professional - or if you find the issue, but not the drivers to fix it, return the component.

Computer turns on, and stays on - but doesn't do anything

Common Hardware Failure Signs

This section will tell you the common signs of failure for the majority of your components. You can cross-check your symptoms and see if you can identify the problem. Remember, updating your OS and drivers can often help with issues, regardless of whether or not they appear to be anywhere near related.

  • Random shutdowns that don't seem to be attributed to any application or other part
  • Bloated capacitors on the motherboard (with bulging caps)
  • Occasionally blue screens can indicate a problem with the motherboard
  • A burning smell followed by a not working computer could be a motherboard issue
  • Uneven voltage (as recorded by software)
  • Massive overheating
  • No 'beep' from the computers internal speaker when turned on.
  • Computer spins up, but nothing happens.
  • Random application instability
  • Random blue-screens
  • Issues found in Memtest86 test
Hard Drive
  • Scrape-y noise from the hard drive while in use
  • Ticking from the hard drive when in use
  • Issues reported by S.M.A.R.T monitoring or SeaTools.
Power Supply
  • Computer turns off at random intervals for no apparent reason
  • Burning smell, pop/bang noise, or smoke
  • Bulging capacitors inside the power supply
  • Incorrect voltages to components (measured with hardware monitor or physical voltage monitoring tool) 

Warnings and tips

  • With power supplies, wattage is not the only important value - you should also look for a single +12V rail, high efficiency and a lot of amps on the rails (high 20 amps on +12V should be fine for most systems 
  • When it comes to CPUs, higher frequency/more cores isn't necessarily better. Look into benchmarks before making your purchase
  • Buying older hardware in interest of price isn't a great idea. A lot of companies begin to slack a bit with their support of older cards, so you may find your card not performing correctly with new drivers.
  • Read the manual. You may not think this is important, but if you're not entirely experienced, you may miss a step that could ruin everything.
  • The paper-clip test is an extremely efficient - and safe - method of testing power supplies
  • Google is your friend 

Well, I spent a lot of time writing this article - I hope it helps you, your mother and your dog, but if it doesn't - don't give up hope. Keep searching and maybe post on a few forums. There may be someone even brighter than me that knows your issue. If you want to leave a comment with a problem you believe to be common and a method to fix it, that'd be lovely :).

Thanks for reading.

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