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Dead PC? Maybe you can fix it


This is the time of year when millions of us are plugging in new computers. Most of those PCs will work just fine. Some of them won't.

If you're in the unlucky minority, don't panic or start dialing the manufacturer's technical support number just yet. A completely dead PC may be suffering from problems that you can correct without opening the case or spending hours waiting on hold. In fact, they may have nothing to do with the computer itself.

If the PC won't start at all, make sure you've actually turned it on. I know this sounds stupid, but it's amazing how many dead computers come to life when you feed them electricity.

On many PCs, the power button looks just like the reset button, which is designed to restart the computer without going through a complete shutdown. Check the setup manual to make sure you're pushing the right one.

If that doesn't work, look at the back of the computer and see if there's a second power switch. I ran into this problem with a machine I bought a couple of weeks ago. When I pushed the power button on the front the PC wouldn't start, I checked the back of the unit and discovered an unmarked black rocker switch. I pushed it and everything worked fine.

You're more likely to find this arrangement on "generic" store-brand PCs and computers assembled by local shops than on brand-name machines.

Still no luck? Make sure that the power cord to the system unit is plugged in at both ends. Some new plugs and receptacles produce a very tight fit. Push the plug in all the way at the computer end and at the wall outlet or power strip. Push hard - you won't hurt anything. Make sure the monitor is firmly plugged in, too.

If you're using a power strip, make sure the strip itself is turned on. Most power strips have their own switches; if the power strip switch is turned off, the computer won't get any juice.

Once you're sure everything is plugged in, check the wall outlet itself by plugging in a lamp or some other gadget that you know is working. If there's no power to the wall outlet, nothing plugged into it will work. I've seen this happen when people set up a computer in a previously unused corner where nothing has been plugged in before.

If the outlet is dead, turn the computer's power switch off and check the circuit breaker or fuse box. If you have circuit breakers, reset the breaker that controls the outlet by flipping the breaker switch to the off position, then flipping it back on. If you have fuses, make sure the fuse controlling the outlet hasn't blown and replace it if necessary.

While computers don't use a lot of power (the equivalent of a TV set plus a couple of light bulbs), the current the computer draws may be enough to trip a breaker or blow a fuse on a circuit that's already heavily loaded, particularly if your system includes a laser printer.

Try plugging the computer into an outlet on a different circuit and see if it starts up. If it does, you may have to unplug some appliances on the overloaded circuit, find a new location for the system, or call an electrician to upgrade your wiring.

Long shot: If an outlet is dead and the breaker or fuse is OK, look at the outlets in nearby bathrooms and along the the kitchen counter. In newer homes, you'll find one or more that have push buttons between the receptacles. These are Ground Fault Interceptors, which will keep you fromm getting electrocuted if some psycho tries to kill you by plugging in a radio and chucking it in the water while you're in the tub.

GFIs are flaky and often trip for no apparent reason, but you may not notice if you haven't plugged anything into the outlet lately. Unfortunately, when a GFI trips, other outlets on the circuit may go dark, too. If the outlet you've chosen for the computer is south of a tripped GFI, it may not work, even though it's not directly adjacent to the bathroom. The solution: push the reset button on the GFI. I've repaired several "dead" outlets this way.

When you've tried all these tricks and the computer still won't turn on, it's finally time to call technical support.

Now, let's assume you're a little luckier. Your computer and monitor both appear to be running, but nothing appears on the screen. This is a different problem entirely.

First, check the monitor's front panel controls and make sure the brightness is turned up. If you're not sure how to do this, look in the manual that came with the monitor to make sure you're pushing the right buttons. I've seen more than one monitor arrive RTC with the brightness set to zero.

Still in the dark? Turn off the computer and monitor and make sure the video cable is plugged in. Double-check your setup manual to identify the video adapter port on the computer. On most systems, the video cable is hard-wired to the monitor, but on some, the cable has to be manually connected at both ends. That done, turn on the computer and monitor again.

If the screen is still dark, it may be time for more serious trouble-shooting. To identify the source of the problem, try connecting the monitor to another computer - in your home, if you have more than one PC, or at a friend's house. If the monitor doesn't work on a second computer, return it and ask for a new one. If the monitor works with another PC, the fault may be with the video adapter inside the PC. In that case, it's time to call the manufacturer's tech support line.

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Pub Date: 12/21/98

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