Fixing and/or upgrading a desktop computer

For those who find that their computer is no longer working, I will give you the most common problems and answers.

Desktop computer does not turn on at all – Most likely a burnt out power supply, but it could also be a faulty motherboard.  Faulty motherboards are very rare.  If the problem is not the power supply, you should consider buying a whole new computer and reuse some of the old components in the new computer.

Desktop computer works, but I don’t see anything – Most likely a burnt out monitor.  In some cases, it could also be a broken video card.

Desktop computer turns on but I get an error message and no GUI – This can be one of three problems.  Most common is that the OS is corrupted and needs to be reinstalled.  The second is that the hard drive is dying.  Unfortunately, in some cases, a hard drive that is faulty can seem to work at times.  Therefore, do not throw out the hard drive if you are not 100% sure that it is broken.  The third is that a component on the motherboard or a component attached to the motherboard is broken.  Doing a search online for the error message may provide more insight into the exact problem.

A faulty harddrive can be removed and used as an external HDD until it is completely dead by using a SATA/IDE to USB connector.  A power plug is also given with a SATA/IDE to USB connector that will allow you to power the harddrive by plugging the harddrive into a power outlet.

Desktop computer is slow during summer and fast during the winter – Intel chips are designed to change with the internal temperature.  Therefore, if the chip gets too hot, it will slow down to prevent overheating. To test the temperature inside, open the side of the case and put your hand inside while the computer is still on.  Do not touch any components inside the computer.  If it is warm -> hot, you have a problem with heat.

Desktop computer shuts off after a period of time – AMD chips do not slow down.  Instead, the motherboard is setup to automatically shutdown the computer when the chip gets too hot. You will have to either leave the side of the case open, or buy fans to get the air circulating throughout the case.  To test the temperature inside, open the side of the case while the computer is on and put your hand inside.  Do not touch any components inside the computer.  If it is warm -> hot, you have a problem with heat.

The available solutions for both the Intel and AMD CPU’s is either:

  • replacing the broken CPU fan.  This is assuming that the CPU fan is broken.
  • replacing the CPU’s heatsink and fan with a better cooling solution.  Typically a bigger heatsink and fan.
  • buying and installing case fans to cool down the inside of the computer.
  • taking off the computer’s side panels to allow the heat to escape.

Desktop computer does not produce any music, or sounds from speakers – This can vary from broken speaker, sound card, and/or operating system sound card driver not installed or working.  If you have spare speakers that you know work, you can see if they work with the computer.  If they do, then it is broken speakers.  If this is not the case, you will have to check the other two.

Desktop computer is slow – Reformatting and reinstalling usually makes it faster.  It will get slower over time though as more and more software gets installed.

My computer that is 5 years old is still fairly fast.  Although, I keep installed software to a minimum.  Furthermore, I periodically delete files and/or programs that I no longer use.

Desktop Computer is noisy – In most cases, a rattling harddrive, case fan, or DVD drive can be the cause.  The solution is both cheap and simple.  Use a rubber washer from any home improvement store.  These can be found for 10 cents or more each depending on size.

Another problem can be that the fans are running too fast.  This can be solved by slowing them down at  Unfortunately, if it is getting too hot in the computer case, slowing the fans down is not a good idea.

Determine if fixing, upgrading, or buying a new one is better

When I fix my computer, the most common problem is a burnt out power supply.  This can be replaced very easily.  But if the problem is the motherboard, CPU, and/or RAM, that can be a problem.  The motherboard and the CPU are usually obsolete after a year, and finding a replacement part that will fit is usually not worth the money.  Furthermore, in most cases, buying a new computer is better for the impatient.

Therefore, when I need to replace the CPU, motherboard, and/or the RAM, I will get a new computer.  I will give my old videocard, soundcard, and other stuff that were in the old case to the shop to install into the new case if possible.  This will save me a hundred or two usually.

Computer repair tools and tips

When it comes to a desktop computer not turning on, people often assume that the problem lies with the power supply.  Although, this can be the case 95% of the time.  The other 5% can be another matter.  Therefore, having the tools and the knowledge to verify that the problem is the power supply will help.

Testing for a faulty power supply:

  • Check that the outlet works.

Plugging in a light or any device that requires a power outlet will determine if the power outlet is working.

  • Check that the power button on the case is not broken.

A friend told me that getting a screwdriver and touching the two pins of the connector connected to the power button will turn the computer on and off.  Therefore, remove the power button connector from the 2 pins and test the pins.

  • Check that the power cable from the plug outlet to the power supply is not broken

I have about 5 of these.  They never seem to die, therefore, I keep them.  In any case, faulty wiring can be the culprit.

  • Check that the power supply is not broken.

There are several websites online that will tell you how to use a multimeter, but I prefer to use a more sophisticated tool.  The power supply tester can be used to test for a faulty power supply.  These can cost anywhere from $10 to $50.  Therefore, shop around.  The Dr. Power II shown below is a power supply tester by Thermaltake.


If it is determined that the power supply and all the related connections are working, the problem most likely lies with the motherboard.  When it comes to the motherboard, buying a new motherboard, CPU and RAM is recommended.  Usually by that time, it is too old to bother fixing.


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