I recently received a phone call here at TechRepublic from my friend, Kyle. For the past few months, he has been building a new computer from scratch. He had finally received the last part he needed to complete his masterpiece—an AMD Athlon processor. However, after he had installed the CPU, he realized he wasn’t getting a video signal from his computer, and he couldn’t figure out what was causing the problem.

Tech-head Ed to the rescue!
I love trying to figure out problems concerning hardware. Call it an obsession, if you will. After work, I made my way over to Kyle’s home to take a look at his new toy.

I must say the computer was quite impressive. Kyle had built an AMD Athlon machine. The processor was running at 950 MHz, with the computer BUS at 133 MHz. For memory, he had one PC-133 128-MB SDRAM DIMM. For his sound, Kyle had gone all out. He had a SoundBlaster Live Platinum sound card with digital output. And for video, he had the latest video card using the NVIDIA GeForce 256 chip. The video card apparently gets so hot that it needs its own separate fan. I’ve seen heat sinks on video cards before, but I have never seen a video card with a fan. Kyle also had a 10x DVD-ROM so he could watch movies on his computer and an 8x CD-RW. And to top it all off, he installed a 40-GB hard drive.

No video signal . . . must be the video card!
After getting over my awe of the machine, I decided to take a look at what could be the problem. My first assessment was that the video card or the AGP slot that it was in could be bad. To test my theory, and to kill two birds with one stone, I had Kyle take out the AGP video card and put in a PCI video card. We hooked up the monitor to the PCI card and turned on the computer. Still, no video signal was being sent to the monitor.

We removed the PCI video card and replaced the AGP video card back in its original slot. I consulted the manual to see whether a jumper could be the problem. As I was reading through the manual, it occurred to me that there was no video error code when we started up the machine.

Perhaps it’s the memory?
I then remembered a problem that I had encountered when I was fixing another friend’s computer. This machine was able to hold both SIMMS and DIMMS. As a test, I had removed the DIMM that was in his machine and replaced it with two SIMMS. When I started up the machine, there was no video signal sent to the monitor; in addition, there was a memory error code when I started up the machine.

I told Kyle to remove the memory from the computer. He did so, and we started up the PC once again. Now, there should have been a memory error code, consisting of a set of three beeps from the PC speaker. However, there was nothing. Not a single beep at all. I began to suspect that there could possibly be a problem with the motherboard itself.

A grounded board is a happy board
I asked Kyle whether the motherboard was grounded properly. He wasn’t quite sure if it was or not, so I attempted to do a little surgery on the computer. I picked it up from the floor and placed it on the bed nearby so that I could have better access to the board.

I removed the power supplies and the ribbons connecting the hard drive and CD-ROMs to the board. I also removed the video card and sound card from the slots they were in and set them off to the side. After removing all of the screws from the board, I removed it from the shell.

I found that the board was being supported by two different types of stand-offs. One was exactly the same type as the stand-offs that I used in my home PC. I decided to remove the other kind of stand-offs from the shell and replace them with the type that I was using. After those were replaced, I added a few more—just to make sure the board was secure.

Putting it all back together
Once I was satisfied with the positioning of the stand-offs, I put the motherboard back in. I placed it on the stand-offs and screwed it in place. Kyle attached the power supplies where they were needed. I then put in the processor.

Now in case you’ve never seen a board for an Athlon processor, the slot in which it fits has a “guide” of sorts to make sure the processor goes into place properly. You slide the processor down the guide and push it firmly into the board. As I was pushing the processor down, I heard a loud snap. The processor had locked into place.

Kyle looked at me and explained that he thought that might have been the problem all along. He had never heard the processor snap into place when he had originally placed it into the board. Since the board was loose because there were not enough stand-offs underneath, he was afraid that he could possibly break the board if he pushed too hard on the processor. It seems that Kyle never actually had the processor placed into the slot. This was the reason why we never got a video signal and never heard the error codes for the video or memory.

Time to test the machine
After I had placed the video and sound cards back into their respective slots, Kyle took the computer back to the desk and hooked it up to the power supply, keyboard, and monitor. He turned on the power, and lo and behold, the monitor turned on, and we could see the computer booting up on the screen.

But not all was well. A floppy error had appeared! I told Kyle that he probably put the ribbon on backwards when he was hooking it back up to the board. He turned the machine off, switched the ribbon around, and started the computer back up. We almost immediately heard the floppy drive accessing. From this point on, the computer worked perfectly.

So what is the lesson to be learned?
The lesson to take away from this should be quite clear: You may think you have put something in correctly, but you can never err on the side of caution. Take the time to double-check your connections. You just might save yourself (and your friends) a lot of time and trouble down the road.
Have you had a problem getting your hardware to work? If so, we’d love to hear your stories. Feel free to post a message below, or send us a note.

Ed Engelking is a Web Editor for TechRepublic. He is also the co-owner of UCANweb.com.