It always staggers me that the same consumers who think nothing of changing the oil or fixing a flat tire on their car turn pale with dread at the thought of performing similar maintenance on their desktop computer. That’s the whole idea of the IBM-inspired PC – to be an assembly of interchangeable parts. Here are five quick fixes for common problems:
The CMOS battery – is your computer senile?
If your computer forgets the system time and different internal setting such as BIOS information, it could have a bad CMOS battery. These are the size of a dime and mounted into a socket directly on your motherboard. Removing them can be tricky, as they are usually held in place with a clip mechanism of some kind. If you can get them out without damaging the board, it’s all of a dollar or two to replace. Rare problem; CMOS batteries last as long as ten years, but some may be defective or recycled.
Fans – is it making a lot of noise?
Just like the engine of your car, parts of the computer need to keep cool in order to function well. Any noise that your computer makes like a whine, screech, or hum is a sign of a fan about to go. Replacing a fan is a matter of ten to twenty dollars. Replacing the part the fan protects is usually a matter of hundreds of dollars. The two main fans are the big case fan and the small fan over the processor – the one mounted in the power box doesn’t count here. A fan is easiest to replace – it’s a single cord connecting to a plug somewhere in the case. Just remember where the plug goes when you install the replacement!
CD/DVD drive – is it refusing to read the disk?
Dust and dirt on the optical read head of a CD or DVD drive can make it act like it can’t find the disk. No need to tear it apart looking for the read head, however, since it’s a laser sight the size of a Q-tip end. Just get a can of compressed air at any computer or office supply store – usually no more than seven dollars. Open the CD drive and blow the canned air all over the inside, then try the disk again. Canned air is also good to clean fans – it’s safe to blow on electronic parts even while they are running, and whizzing the dust off your fan would help it go longer before it breaks down. Just never turn the can upside down while using it – it makes it spray out frost!
Cords and cables – is something not making a connection?
There’s a reason why tech support people always ask first if it’s plugged in. This goes for anything inside the machine. Especially after moving it, a computer can occasionally have a wire wiggle loose from it’s socket. Depending on which wire, you may lose sound, not be able to reset it, or it might even fail to run. Just open it up and look for every internal wire, and gently feel to see if they’re securely plugged in. It is also rare that a wire attached to the motherboard would come loose by itself, as they usually have clips to hold them in, but it does happen. Especially common are the wide, flat cables plugged into the disk drives, with a plug shaped like a harmonica. These fall apart fairly often.
Power box – no go?
A computer that does not even start – no sound, no light, just like you never plugged it in – has one of two problems. Either the power box is dead, or the motherboard is fried or cracked. The power box is the big part that the power cable connects to, and inside it has a snake’s nest of wires running around connecting everything. Do not take out the power box without first drawing a diagram and labeling where every wire goes. However, if you successfully get the box out, it’s one of the cheaper parts to replace, running from $60 to $120. Most hardware tinkerers’ first computer repair is a power box.
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