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Poll: When troubleshooting general system problems, which hardware component do you start with?

When a system won't power on or exhibits intermittent problems, there a host of potential hardware culprits. If you suspect a hardware problem, but have little evidence to point you in the right direction, where do you start? Take the following poll and let us know.

When a system won't power on or exhibits intermittent problems, there a host of potential hardware culprits. If you haven't personally witnessed the problem, you can often narrow the list of usual suspects from the customer's description. Unfortunately, end-users aren't always forthcoming with information, may omit critical facts, and sometimes just don't know how to describe the situation.

If you suspect a hardware problem, but have little evidence to point you in the right direction, where do you start? Take the following poll and let us know.

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Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

17 comments
enfield_john
enfield_john

The results don't surpise me although I thought it would be more of a landslide for power supply. If the computer won't turn on, it's not getting power. All the power for the computer comes from the PSU. Also, just because a PSU is giving power, doesn't mean it's the right voltage for the right parts. When a PSU is going bad, it sometimes puts out the wrong voltage which can cause different parts of the computer to act weird. Using a powersupply tester (which are cheap and available at most computer stores and Radio Shack)then swapping out the questionable power supply and replacing it with a known good PSU isn't glamourous, but doesn't take long and often solves the problem. Sometimes, I've found that people have upgraded their video card, sound card, etc. without upgrading their PSU. Some of the more powerful cards require a higher wattage PSU than what came with the computer. Most computer makers cut corners by putting in the cheapest made and lowest wattage PSU they can. Even if the PSU is labled as the correct wattage for your components, if it is made really cheaply, it won't last long before it starts giving inconsistant power. Replace your PSU's that came with your machines with good ones like the ones Antec and CoolerMaster make and you'll see a difference in the long run. Also, if you upgrade your video card, upgrade your PSU too so that it supplies more Wattage than what the video card says it needs.

DomBenson
DomBenson

Assuming that the system will power on and function up to the point of running Memtest, that is my starting point. It has the advantage of not requiring that anything be deliberately or accidentally changed, and whilst it can fail for reasons other than bad RAM (CPU,MB and PSU for sure), it makes it clear whether the problem is in one of these, or an expansion card or software, as it is independent of the latter. If the machine simply won't power on, then PSU is a pretty good start - although checking that the power switch is correctly connected can be worthwhile on more occasions than one might expect!

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Maybe I'm atypical, but that's the component I've seen fail most often in the last 15 years. In the last couple it's been hard drives most frequently.

666adolf
666adolf

it would be the power supply as the first step

netforce
netforce

with regards to BIOS obtaining virus'. Perhaps it's not that common now, hackers are going after the bigger fish.....no?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

BALTHOR says "BIOS virus" about everything - malware attack, hardware failure, spoiled milk, rising price of oil, etc. It's the only phrase he knows, so he repeats it endlessly just like the other four-year-olds.

enebelic
enebelic

Infact,I will definitly check the power supply and cabling to make sure that it is powered on,since you don,nt have the initial info to determine the problem.it can happen that someone pulled out the power cable.otherwise try to find out when the computer worked fine last,and when the user last used the computer.

kkernspa
kkernspa

With any problem of this nature, I do agree with Forum Surfer; "Show Me" is a very good way to start. While they are showing you, sometimes you can pick up on abnormalities in the boot process or whatever that will yield clues to the intermittent problem. For example, I have had people say to me that their "whatever" device does not work as well as it had. As they boot up their system, a message might come up about some driver or dll not loading, at which point the user just presses Enter to continue. I say, "What was that?" They say, "Oh it's been doing that for awhile. I just blow right by it." I am sure all of us have been there.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

Naturally I'd start with the power supply and observation of the fans inside it. Many times the fans may start to turn and then stop, that indicates a fault that is forcing the power supply to shut down to protect itself. This would lead to more observation of plug in cards and connections to the motherboard and drives.

jrosewicz
jrosewicz

If the the PC won't power on then I would look at the Power Supply first. As the article title states, for "General" problems, I would actually start with Expansion cards and memory. Its much easier to remove/re-seat a few cards and memory than it would be to pull out the Multimeter and possible swap out the PSU. I've solved many issues by pulling bad or improperly seated NICs.

jimmyreed4tech
jimmyreed4tech

When a system won???t power on or exhibits intermittent problems - I'd probably first check the power supply for the former and RAM for the later.

Wally Bahny
Wally Bahny

I chose Power Supply, but if this were two separate questions, I would answer the same as you.

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

I start with the user. "Show me" exactly what you did. I once cured an "intermittent problem" that was caused by a fan the user kept hidden at his desk. Another time I had acase of slow network traffic during business hours at another job...both wireless and wired. This was a coffee shop. Testing after hours (at the owner's request)everything worked fine. I figured out early the next morning what the problem was as I was testing file transfers...the waitress flipped on the neon open sign and everything slowed down. The transformer appeared to be putting out noise that only had an effect on the communications equipment. None of the other equipment was bothered by it, even items on the same circuit. The router and switches were on different circuits, but the problem existed none the less. Replace sign, shrug shoulders, pay me and see you later. Long story short...I've found over the years that the "show me" approach helps me in any situation. Even if it is a seemingly dead power supply/whatever asking the use what they were doing right before the crash could save alot of time.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

When a system won't power on or exhibits intermittent problems, there a host of potential hardware culprits. If you suspect a hardware problem, but have little evidence to point you in the right direction, where do you start? Take the following poll and let us know. Original post: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/itdojo/?p=118

jck
jck

power supply it can cause bad CPU issues if it has flutter it can cause memory problems if there's flutter it can cause video rendering issues if the current is not stable enough etc etc etc

TechLisa
TechLisa

Without more information, and as a general rule, underpowered or poor power supplies cause more intermittant issues than any other component. Especially on less expensive systems that have been "upgraded" with additional drives/peripherals, underpower or just poorly built PS's will cause grey hair in a child. Next, check the memory-again, without any criteria, this is a great generalization.

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