On Troubleshooting a Computer & reclaiming it’s soul!

Fixi it!I like to fix faulty computers, and yesterday was a challenging day. A cousin’s PC was showing multiple organ failure symptoms, experts were called– most prescribed resuctication bills of Rs.5000 at the minimum, so I was informed if I knew any good technicians. I leaped in saying ‘you know I  too meddle with computers & I don’t ask for bills’. So off I went  to my cousin’s house.

When I pressed the power button… i was greeted with multiple beeps –> ram/ram slot failure. ‘hmmm ‘ I said. Switched the slots with the lone 128 ddr ram( they had a 512 ddr… which some proliferate technician has labelled dead) and Powered the PC on…  lights started blinking properly! ‘ hmm slot failure…’. Next I asked for the supposedly dead 512 ddr RAM and en-slotted it in the good slot… yes the lights started blinking again.

Rule 1:
Never trust the computer Technicians who come to prescribe costly renovations.

Rule 2:
Never believe a Technician who does not carry out a detail sniffing inside the cabinet,or  does not get his hands dirty,or  comes ‘corporate’ dressed, labels first of any failures on the RAM, or has visiting rates like Rs. 300. (without a second opinion)

I had already gotten rid of the cabinet surfaces, now I decided to check the fan speeds, CD/DVD Rom housings. So I dived into a pile of 6 years of dust & debris accumulation! I threw out a unused half damaged floppy drive & it’s IDE cable (which I noticed that my cousin nicely kept on his bed). The CD/DVD Rom was coming in and out ok & the fan speeds seemed normal & uniform with no speed fluctuations. ‘Hmm no SMPS trouble’

Rule 3:
There have been cases I have seen where a partially malfunctioning SMPS can create confusion by displaying all symptoms of  Hard-Disk failure or CD/Dvd Rom drive failure. So check out the SMPS before delving in further.

Now, I un-slotted the monitor cable from it’s CPU port. ‘ karammba.. there’s no NO SIGNAL message/animation’. Clearly with some doubt I spoke …’ The monitor’s broken’

Rule 4:
First of any PC fixing session has to be started with monitor checking. Assume the user to be a stupid-end user(always) and proceed. First, check if everything is plugged. Next, switch on the monitor power and pull out the monitor cord from CPU to simulate a powered down CPU condition. If the monitor dose not display some animation or ‘NO SIGNAL’ messagemonitor is broken! (However, remember this is not common, I encountered this for the first time yesterday)

I wanted to see the CPU at my own place with my devices at hand. So uncle ferried me to my home on  his A.C. car with the CPU. But before that they fed me a good deal. That’s a part I always like!!

As suspected, the CPU was fully working but fault was in the monitor was proved when I plugged my own monitor into the CPU. However a strange problem emerged from the dusty box!!! It powered down in 20 seconds after showing the windows loading screen. I had to disconnect the power, until the mother board LED went off totally, else the machine wont even start up again. I wanted to eliminate what was now causing the trouble! so next came the intriguing sequence of steps. I was suspecting there was some kind of capacitor problem, as it seemed to me someone in the circuit was storing some charge which was inhibiting the re-boot procedure. But system was going down halfway into the loading procedure. So there would be some device with a faulty section which preferably had capacitors was causing the problem! So I took out my light saber… a cute little DSL ( Damn Small Linux).

Rule 5:
Always keep linux handy, to use it you need to learn about the machine as you would be required to understand the often eccentric looking debugging messages. This learning enriches you & you can quickly become the ‘wizard on the block’ or ‘the generous pc fixer on the block’ who does not ask for money!

The problem was uncovered in matter of minutes. I entered the bios sat there for 5-6 mins ( no power down!), checked the booting priority then fires the DSL live cd. Quickly the boot up diagnostics showed. usb ok, system ram ok, then froze on the 20% mark of Auto-configuring devices step. Clearly the earlier hypothesis was bang on. So I quickly disconnected the hard drive, re-did the procedure, same problem… Hard disk was not the culprit. There was a Internal modem in the system, I un-screwed it. Procedure was restarted, and this time the Auto-configuration went right through to 100 % in 5 seconds flat!!!!

Rule 6:
In a ‘not booting PC’ any thing and everything can be a culprit, you have to  get your hands dirty to find the pin in the haystack( or the problem in the dust-dump).

System did boot up properly, stayed like that for some 10 mins or so. I powered the system down, connected the Hard-drive, removed the DSL live cd & performed  system re-boot. Ta da… it was working like dream! Cool & butterly smooth!

Rule 7:
Consider your PC /Computer like your living pet, keep the personal touch! Don’t kick it about! 50% of the problems won’t occur! Learn about your hardware, keep the motherboard manual handy! Most  importantly… LEARN LINUX!