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

An old XP computer won't boot up; it looks like a hardware problem. We'll look at a few components on the motherboard.

Leo, I've read your article regarding PCs that will not boot up reliably. Well, I have an XP PC that suddenly will not boot up at all. I'm hoping that you will just give me your best guess as to what else I can do to try and repair the PC on my own. It's probably not worth it to take it to a technician for diagnosis. When I power up, the HP PC the screen remains blank. The Windows load never shows up nor does the HP splash screen that normally would precede it.

There's no error message. The white arrow for the cursor is not visible either. There's no beeping sound but the fan continuously spins unusually fast and loudly. I tried using a different monitor and video cables and have also replaced the power supply. Nothing works so far. Do you think this is more likely a hardware problem? If so, which hardware would you check out? Although this is a 6-year old computer, I would hate to replace it because it's been a lightly used computer that's been connected to the internet only once when it was first purchased. I thought low mileage would extend its life but not so for this PC. Any suggestion you can provide to help resurrect this PC is very much appreciated.

In this excerpt from Answercast #31, I look at some simple troubleshooting ideas for a computer that won't boot up.

Fans running, nobody home

I absolutely believe you have a hardware problem. The fact that it is not beeping and the screen remains blank, even though you have it properly connected, implies to me that the CPU (the computer) literally is not running.

Even though the power might be on, the fans might be blowing and you might even see some lights somewhere, that doesn't mean that the computer itself is actually doing anything.

  • That then has me focusing on the computer's motherboard itself.

Motherboard troubleshooting

What I would do to begin with is remove any add-on cards that aren't absolutely necessary. For example, if you have a network card, a sound card, whatever. Any additional add-on cards. Also, go ahead and disconnect all of the USB things (if there's any USB on there)... that you can get by without running.

  • Disconnect all that and see if that does anything.

Then, you might start looking at components on the motherboard.

  • It's very possible that simple things like the RAM not being completely seated in its sockets could cause a problem like this.

  • The processor itself not being completely inserted into its socket could cause a problem like this.

Unfortunately, it could be caused by any number of things on the motherboard. That makes it extremely difficult to diagnose. Unfortunately, if you're not a technician and you don't have the right kind of tools, it becomes almost impossible to diagnose.

So that's why I would begin by removing any cards, any add-on cards that you can. See if that makes a difference. Reseat all the RAM and potentially the CPU, if that's possible, and then see if that makes any difference.

Faulty RAM

If it doesn't help, you might consider removing all of the RAM except for one (if there's more than one.)

  • Sometimes, faulty RAM can cause this kind of a problem.

Ultimately, our options without reaching for a technician are very, very limited. So give those kinds of things a try. You might get lucky.

In the long run, you could also, of course, end up replacing the motherboard; but that begins to push the envelope of what's cost effective. If you're gonna start spending money on something like a motherboard (or as you say a technician), it might just be time to look at a new machine.

Article C5540 - July 2, 2012 « »

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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?

July 2, 2012 6:12 PM

Good advice as always, Leo - I had a pc in for repair last month with an almost identical problem: It had been running for years as the family pc, sitting near the floor, in a house with several cats...
All the vents were totally clogged with hair & dust & the owner (a close friend of mine) had described classic symptoms of overheating
The pc wouldn't boot at all when I hooked it up to power, mouse, keyboard & monitor in my office & I suspected a dead motherboard from the beginning
Because it belonged to a good friend I treated it as a project more than a business transaction, and over the next couple of weeks I tried changing every piece of hardware one after the other, including the motherboard & cpu, with no success!
The Hard drive was fine, by the way, I tested that first :-)
I don't know why I did it, but I think I'd borrowed the usb mouse for another machine & pressed the start button on the problem pc without thinking - Lo & behold it sprang info life!
Well a few more tests confirmed that the (brand new) mouse was faulty: If it was plugged into any usb port, then windows wouldn't start, if I started the pc without the mouse, Windows would start, although I could plug in the mouse afterwards & it would work fine...
Once another new mouse was found the pc booted & ran fine - The lessons I re-learned from this 'project' are: Don't dismiss the basics, Be methodical and change things one at a time, testing after each change, change the cheapest things first!

July 3, 2012 7:48 AM

Don't discount the power supply. It can be partially working and supply power that runs fans but not the motherboard.

If you don't have a spare power supply sitting around, a quick trip and reasonably small charge to a good shop can get you back running faster than testing everything.

Experience is a wonderful diagnostic tool. The tech may be able to tell you shortly after plugging it in what the likely outcome will be.

July 3, 2012 8:09 AM

Hi Leo, I had an HP desktop for 14 years. I had
a bios battery go out. Went by the computer
store and purchased a new battery. Had to update some drivers. I updated my machine to
windows 7 pro.

Alex Dow
July 3, 2012 12:04 PM

Back around 1990, as PCs started to take over from dumb terminals, I had great difficulty convincing colleagues that both had internal batteries.

Only on opening up the recalcitrant devices and showing the batteries to them, would many accept the fact.

July 3, 2012 5:29 PM

I did trouble shooting in a big law firm and quickly learned to check the simple things first. Make sure all the cables are firmly connected at both ends -- the power cords, all the USB cables, the monitor cable, the Ethernet cable, the UPS, the the surge protector (and make sure the circuit breaker is closed).

Fred Wortham
July 4, 2012 6:01 PM

This sounds very much like a possible power supply problem; the lights can be on, the fan can be running, but you still might not be getting sufficient power to the CPU (or other components)--it might even just be a loose cable or connector.

The only way I can think of to test it is to buy a tester from Radio Shack, or somesuch. (Or perhaps borrow one).

Dave Markley
July 5, 2012 7:44 AM

As a rule of thumb, if the HP logo doesn't show when trying to boot, the motherboard is bad. If the logo shows, then the pc can be repaired regardless of the problem (usually).

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