Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

This feels like a hardware problem. I suggest some troubleshooting steps and repair options.

On 3/29, I was online with a laptop (Windows 7 Home Premium, Service Pack 1, HP Compaq Presario) during a storm and my power went off momentarily. I turned everything off after that. Everything worked the next morning, but it would not detect a dial tone. I can do anything I want except get online. I only have dial-up available here.

I've tested every phone jack, cord, and phone, and everything is working. My laptop just won't dial up. It just hums while going through every phone number and says "no dial tone". I unplugged the phone and hooked it up to that connection and it still says "no dial tone". I've rebooted many times. I even did a restore but I can't get it to pick a date for 3/29. It will only go back to 3/30. I'm using my desktop to find out what I have to do. I hope you can help.

In this excerpt from Answercast #14, I look at the fact that hardware breaks, explore ways to figure out if this is what happened, and talk about how to protect against this sort of problem in the future.

Fried modem?

Fundamentally, this feels like something in the laptop broke. My guess is that something in the laptop's modem (the device into which the phone line plugs into) has broken.

Perhaps it took a power spike. Perhaps there was some form of static or some other kind of electrical damage that caused the laptop's modem to get damaged.

Don't forget to look at hardware

This is one of the things that, I think, people tend to not think about. I actually have an article on it called, "Hardware Can Break."

  • The fact is: it's not always software.

Software definitely has its share of problems; don't get me wrong. But, very often it is hardware, especially in a situation like this where you're dealing with a power storm or a storm that had a power issue... and now all of a sudden, after that, a modem doesn't work.

Equipment troubleshooting

You've got a working phone line, you've tested it on all of the possible plugs.

It sounds like the hardware is busted.

The only solution that I am aware of is to have that hardware repaired. What that's going to take for your Presario? I honestly don't know. I would get in touch with HP/Compaq and see what kind of options they have for that particular model.

Chances are the modem may be a replaceable module. I know that it is on some of my Dells and I'm hoping it is on yours. In which case, it's probably something you can safely replace yourself.

Whether it's going to cost you money or not will depend on whether or not you're in warranty; or whether or not the warranty even covers this kind of power-related issue.

Surge protection

What I would suggest in the future, if you are in a lightning or storm-prone area, is to get yourself a surge protector.

That not only protects the power (which typically isn't quite as necessary for a laptop), but it also allows you to run the phone line through surge protection in that device.

Typically, a surge protector will not only have power plugs, but will also have a couple of plugs where you can plug in the phone line. You then plug the protector into your laptop. That will protect the device (your laptop) from those unexpected power spikes that sometimes come across phone lines.

But, to me that's what this smells like. I think you have a broken modem and you need to go out and get it fixed.

Article C5289 - May 3, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

AG Wright
May 3, 2012 1:07 PM

If the internal modem is not easily replaceable there are USB modems.
I sometimes work for a small dial-up ISP and many new computers don't have a modem and have no other way to install one.

May 4, 2012 9:17 AM

From experience the easiest way to progress is to obtain a cheap USB modem.
It will either work, issue resolved, or not thus disproving the modem as being at fault.
I always used to keep an old USB modem lying around for emergencies and just such events as you have experienced.

May 4, 2012 10:26 AM

The exact thing happened to me here one night some years back during a storm so silent I wasn't even aware of it until a blinding flash of lightning came. Fried the modem in the laptop right away. No one could get inside it to repair it, so I went on eBay and bought a small external one for five bucks plus shipping. I'm on broadband now but that little piece of hardware saved my bacon and kept me from having to simply throw out an otherwise fine laptop. Now, to get it online through the broadband modem, I use a pair of plug links with my router. Perfect. I have use of my desktop AND the security of knowing my laptop is functional when I need it.

May 4, 2012 11:25 AM

You said "I unplugged the phone and hooked it up to that connection and it still says "no dial tone". It sounds like the problem is the phone line connection to the laptop is defective.
Try connecting you laptop to another phone jack.

May 4, 2012 12:40 PM

“... a lightening storm ...”

How could possibly a storm be lightening???... A storm can only make things _harder_ for you! For instance, this particular storm wrecked your dial-up modem. Probably, it was the lightning that often accompanies a storm that did the job......

Oxford University Press:

lighten (verb)

1 [transitive] lighten something
to reduce the amount of work, debt, worry, etc. that somebody has
-- Synonym: lessen
* equipment to lighten the load of domestic work
* The measures will lighten the tax burden on small businesses.

2 [intransitive, transitive]
to become or make something become brighter or lighter in colour
*The sky began to lighten in the east.
* lighten something: Use bleach to lighten the wood.

3 [intransitive, transitive]
to feel or make somebody feel less sad, worried or serious
-- Synonym: cheer
* lighten (up): My mood gradually lightened.
* lighten something (up): She told a joke to lighten the atmosphere.

4 [transitive] lighten something
to make something lighter in weight

Heaven forbid that I or any of my staff ever make a typo. Smile
May 4, 2012 5:29 PM

You will need far more than a Surge Protector to save your electronic components from Lightning! Surge Protectors are good for surges and spikes. I used a good and expensive Surge Protector, but inside my modem was a melted mess of electronic components after the telephone cables had been hit by a Lightning Strike. Lightning can be anything from 1 billion to 6 billion volts and up to many thousand amps! You would need a very large Lightning Arrestor to stop this. At the first sign of a storm, either disconnect (remove plugs from sockets) or at least, get very prepared to do so, and do it when you hear the first rumbling of thunder in the distance.

Peter Mackin
May 4, 2012 6:36 PM

@Robert, I agree that the cheap surge protectors from Home Depot or Target will not help much if you have a surge caused by lightning. However, a UPS typically comes with surge protection and a lot of them even provide a connected device warranty such that if you computer is damaged by lightning while connected to the UPS, the UPS manufacturer will pay to have your computer repaired or replaced. That is another option that is much cheaper than a whole house lightning arrestor.

Finally, I have one quibble about lightning voltage. Typical lightning voltage is 10 to 120 million volts. While this is a huge value, it is over an order of magnitude less than 1 to 6 billion volts.


May 4, 2012 7:20 PM

It might be worth a shot to first try removing the modem in device manager and then rebooting so that it finds it and reinstalls the modem. I've had some luck with this method that seems to fix some malfunctioning devices.

May 6, 2012 2:09 PM

"... a typo ...”


Hardly, shall we say. "E" is adjacent neither to "t" nor to "n", on any keyboard. BTW, learning words is not embarrassing. Objecting to it is.

Very well. As we did with the original error, I'll correct my comment: Heaven forbid that I or any of my staff ever make a typo mistake.
May 7, 2012 5:11 PM

I had a strange lightning incident a couple of weeks ago. A bolt struck very close to the house. I have DSL. Lost internet access, but all power and phone lines were fine. Turned out only the phone jack on my surge protector was fried. Connecting the DSL modem directly to the phone wall jack solved the problem. {flame deleted}

May 7, 2012 9:11 PM

Even a good UPS won't save your modem, I have one (of 2 or 3 over the years) and I also now have 8 US Robotic Model 5686e modems sitting on my shelve with blown optical couplers (the input line isolation device), the modems work, just cannot detect the dial tone so no connection.

Lightning storms can move in fast here in Northern Ontario, the strike can be several kilometres away and still take out the modem.

Best advice/protection, disconnect modem if inclement weather in area.

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