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Dell Dimension 4100 turning into Nightmare!

Posted on 2006-05-14
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Last Modified: 2007-12-19
Ok.  I have a customer who called me with a Dell Dimension 4100 that wouldn’t boot.  The screen wouldn’t show anything and the light on the keyboard and mouse wouldn’t turn on.  I went to their home checked it out and it looked like a motherboard problem.   Then I brought it back to the shop. When turned on all it would do is make 3 long beeps.  According to the Dell website, 3 beeps mean that there is a problem with the RAM.  I reseated it and tried different RAM and tested all the parts individually, everything looked fine.  Still nothing fixed the problem.  I informed the customer that the motherboard was bad and ordered a replacement.  I installed the new motherboard, turned it on and everything was great.  It booted into Windows several time.  I wanted to run PC Check on the computer, so I made a floppy and started the program running a 1 hour test.   Everything was great, everything was passing.  Then I looked away for 5 min and looked back and the screen was black.  Nothing would show.  I restarted the computer and it wouldn’t boot, started giving me keyboard errors, and then wouldn’t even display the Dell splash screen.  Then to my HORROR, upon boot, it made 3 long beeps and the light on the keyboard and mouse wouldn’t turn on.  

What could be the problem?  What does the 3 beeps really mean?  Thanks
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Question by:dbloecher06
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by:tim_qui
tim_qui earned 100 total points
ID: 16679429
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by:NetTechDude
NetTechDude earned 500 total points
ID: 16679509
Maybe you have a power supply problem and your power supply fries one mobo after the other.
Can you measure all the voltages on the ATX connector with a voltmeter to see if any is out of specs ?
Don't trust the sensors (in general) that you can read out with some software like MotherBoardMonitor (aka MBM5) or similar.
I have no clue what the three beeps mean other than "some arbitrary problem that's not easy to solve"
I think If those codes were of any great help to the average serviceman, they'd be documented better.
The usual "swap and replace 'till it works" procedure is the standard way, in my eyes.
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by:NetTechDude
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@tim_qui: 4100 is a laptop that belongs to the inspiron series, not an XPS-series desktop machine.
Right ?
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by:NetTechDude
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ID: 16679534
Forget what I said. 4100 might be a  desktop, too "Dimension 4100" Why can't I delete a stupid (really stupid) post by myself ? Might any admin do that, please ?

"3 long beeps"  don't even appear on the list that tim_qui gave you.

The right list of beep codes is here : http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/dzuul/codemess.htm 

*** With thist list at your hand, please check the four status LEDs on the mainboard. ***

I find again that "3 Beeps: A failure occurred in the first 64-KB of memory. -> Reseat the memory modules." doesn't help much. Plus you did that already.

With wich ram did you run that new mobo ? With your ram  or with the customers ram ?
May it be that the customers ram is defective in such a way that it fries mobos ?

Or might there even be a CPU problem where the CPU might fail to do sth ? This would probably explain the trouble during the stress test when the CPU might have been hotter than usual. Did you try another CPU, too ?
Maybe there's an error inside the CPU cache that will only appear after some time. I admit, this is a far fetched idea, but why not ?
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by:tmj883
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ID: 16679583
Along with a "bad caps" mainboard problem, Dell has also had some bad power supplies. Sounds like this one is killing mainboards.
T
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garycase earned 740 total points
ID: 16679720
I've found that a remarkable number of "weird" problems go away with better power supplies.   This seems like a prime candidate to try that -- but unfortunately the 4100 does not use a standard ATX unit.   This is a good unit for that system:
http://www.pcpowercooling.com/products/viewproduct.php?show=S36D

This could also be a CPU issue, but the fact that the POST is executing (or you wouldn't get the "beeps") indicates the CPU is probably okay.   Are the diagnostic lights on the rear panel illuminated?  ... if so, what colors are they?


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by:enzo67
enzo67 earned 100 total points
ID: 16679808
I had this problem before, the video shares the memory, could be a video problem or the add on video card could be bad, try a new video card.
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by:garycase
garycase earned 740 total points
ID: 16679850
enzo67 -- r.e. "... the video shares the memory ..." => on a Dimension 4100 ????   Not according to the manual on Dell's web site.   This computer does NOT have onboard video.

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by:jamietoner
jamietoner earned 100 total points
ID: 16679977
dbloecher06, what color are the diag leds on the back of the system, when the system gives the 3 beeps this will also give us an indication on what is causing the problem and is usually alot clearer then the beeps. If it gives a yellow yellow green green code its a memory issue as the 3 beeps is indicating, its possible that a stick of bad ram could be damaging the dimm slot and/or the memory controller, which would explain why the replacement motherboard failed. Its also possible the power supply could be feeding bad voltages to the motherboard and you would need to replace the psu as garycase suggested.
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by:skiippiie
skiippiie earned 100 total points
ID: 16681816
Has the power supply ever been changed before this problem occured? I had a similar problem and after inspecting the power supply I learned the customer had replaced the power supply in the Dell with an off the shelf power supply. Dell power supplies are proprietary and most off the shelf ones won't work even if they appear to connect properly. The problem you are having sounds exactly like the one I had with the above scenario.
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by:dbloecher06
ID: 16683856
Thanks for the comments everyone.   Ya, I think it might be the memory or power supply.   Before I ordered the new motherboard I tried different memory, I removed the CMOS battery to clear everything and it still didn't work.  

So I installed the new motherboard.

But the beep and light codes both point to a memory problem, 3 beeps and 2 yellow, 2 green lights (although beep and light codes have never really helped me in the past).  I did try a different CPU just in case, even though it did POST.  That didn't help.   So,  I installed the old motherboard again, and it worked (even with the old RAM) :-p.  I put new RAM in and tested the computer with pc check and it passed all hardware tests.  So, it isn't the motherboard like I thought, could be either the memory or power supply as you all suspect.  Now I'm thinking it could be the power supply because that’s the only part the hardware tests don't check.  I'm going to keep stressing the pc on these tests with the new RAM and see if it dies again.  

The confusing part also is that when the computer stops working, if you have the motherboard sit with the CMOS battery out and unplugged for a day or so, it resets itself.  Usually it only takes 1-10 minutes.  ???

Thanks
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by:garycase
garycase earned 740 total points
ID: 16684233
Modern CMOS chips draw VERY VERY low power -- so even with the battery out, the residual energy in the capacitors can keep them from totally clearing for quite a while.   That's why most motherboards have a "CMOS Clear" jumper -- you short it (with the battery out), and then you can replace it to the normal position and reinstall the battery.   The short grounds & drains the capacitors.

By the way, this is a very handy convertor to have for testing Dell power supply issues -- it lets you use a standard ATX power supply:  http://www.endpcnoise.com/cgi-bin/e/std/sku=dellconverter
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by:NetTechDude
NetTechDude earned 500 total points
ID: 16685468
Can't you build such a converter yourself easily ?

You take an ATX-powersupply with that 4-pin extra-power-plug (known to me as "Pentium 4 spec")
and reroute the atx connector to match this: http://www.quepublishing.com/articles/article.asp?p=339053&rl=1
for the extra power plug, you take one of the old at power supply cable extenders, cut it in half and voilá you have a plug that you can solder to the other wires or the 4-pin extra plug, whichever you like best.

I think it is easily possible to unlock earch pin from the standard ATX plug with a small screwdriver (bending its metal holding clip back) and then reseat each pin to fit the dell layout.

Just if you are in hurry withthat power supply and don't want to wait for the shipment of the adaptor to arrive.
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by:garycase
garycase earned 740 total points
ID: 16685651
Yes, you can easily modify the 20-pin connector yourself; and if you have a 6-pin molex connector available (not everyone will) you could extend the 3.3v lines to it.    Done those kinds of things many times -- but a ready-made converter is a lot handier (and doesn't require you to re-wire the power supply back to ATX pinouts if it turns out that's not the problem;  allows you to try higher wattage supplies easily; etc.).
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by:mluther223
mluther223 earned 260 total points
ID: 16700093
Let me guess... you have 2 memory cards installed?  I had the same problem happen to a Dimension 4100 computer.   I went thru several (4) memory modules (always blew the same one), until I decided on a new course of action.  I replaced the power supply, with an off the shelf power supply.... (yes, a long time ago Gateway and Dell used a proprietary power supply...but no longer),  reseated the memory modules (making sure the slots were free of any dust or debris).  Haven't had a problem with this computer since.   My guess is a faulty powersupply with a poor MB design was causing a spike to run thru the memory module, so I would definately replace the power supply.  Good Luck
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by:garycase
garycase earned 740 total points
ID: 16700162
Whoa !!   Do NOT do what mluther223 suggests r.e. the power supply !!!!!!!

... a 4100 does NOT use a standard ATX supply !!   Do NOT try it (as mluther223 suggests) -- you'll trash your motherboard.

Here's the pinout for a 4100:  http://support.dell.com/support/edocs/systems/dzuul/techovu.htm#dc_power_connector_pin_assignments

... and here's the standard ATX pinout:  http://pinouts.ru/Power/atxpower_pinout.shtml

They are NOT the same !!    Dell has, for the most part, stopped using proprietary supplies -- but the 4100 is NOT a standard ATX unit !!!
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by:mluther223
mluther223 earned 260 total points
ID: 16700363
ok.... guess I must have blown up my motherboard..... no wait... I didn't....lol
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by:mluther223
mluther223 earned 260 total points
ID: 16700372
oooops... my bad..... it 's a 4400 not a 4100......... must be the eyes are getting old
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Author Comment

by:dbloecher06
ID: 16704939
Thanks everyone.  I think it is the power supply because now everything is working with the original hardware and everything tests out fine.  Must just be an intermittent problem with the power supply (I hate those kind of problems). I'm going to order the power supply that garycase recommended.  

Thanks
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by:garycase
ID: 16704965
You're welcome.     Interesting points split -- even a suggestion that would have destroyed your motherboard got points !! ==>  not a complaint ... just an observation :-)
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