Two desktop PC burn-ups : household circuit problem vs unrelated (?)

Posted on 2009-12-29
Last Modified: 2012-05-08
First, a five year old or so Dell desktop. Was running fairly reliably on Windows XP - did have a blue screen of death or two per week though. But clearly was physically distressed, i.e. fan runninng furiously , clearly too hot. During a night, while I think was in sleep mode (but not certain of that) died as an entire circuit in my condo tripped, and the old cheap surge protector it was plugged into just about literally burned up (well, at least smelled like burned plastic/wire).
So, replace it with new Dell Inspiron 537S windows7. Running fine a couple weeks, then, while sleeping, or just idling (not so sure if it was in sleep mode or not) - it failed. Power supply gone. this time was plugged into a pretty decent new surge protector (which i think had "tripped" in that printer also plugged into it was shut down - but came back up undamaged.

So, question is, just how rare, or not rare do those of knowledge in such matters suppose it is for the power supply unit on a new Dell desktop PC to primarily fail?  Or should I suspect there is some sort of bad incoming power supply issue?


Question by:mkingreed
    LVL 2

    Accepted Solution

    I have had several power supplies go bad.  But, did any new hardware get added to the machines? remember that addition CD ROM drives or hard drives require power and can burn up a power supply.

    Author Comment

    I had not added any new hardware or peripherals.

    LVL 47

    Assisted Solution

    The first one was due to go.  No argument there.

    The second one could be just accidental.  All manufacturers have computers that go bang when new.  In that the protector went as well is suspicious but it could be just reacting to the power supply going bang and doing it's job.

    I'd check with neighbours and see if they've noticed any power problems.

    Author Closing Comment

    Pretty much confirmed my thoughts, still useful comments
    LVL 2

    Expert Comment

    The primary protection components of a surge protector are MOVs (metal oxide varistors) which break down (essentially short out) when the voltage applied exceeds a threshold.  The speed at which they break down, the amount of current that they can draw before they are destroyed, etc. are what determines the quality of the surge protector.  So, if a power surge is significant, it is possible for the MOV to become destroyed and therefore useless before the surge has totally passed, leaving the components connected to the surge protector to take the impact of the rest of the surge.

    In my experience, I have found printers to be less impacted by surges than PC power supplies, which could explain why the printer survived and the computer did not.  As for the second PC power supply, that could have been "the luck of the draw" or an indicator that there is a problem with the ac power being supplied.  Possible causes of ac power problems are bad grounding (an electrician can check this), a bad power company transformer which does not adjust rapidly enough for load changes, or other power company customers who have large, fast power changes (e.g. a large motor starting and stopping) connected to the same transformer.

    Troubleshooting incoming ac power problems is a job for an experienced electrician and the power company.  The best thing that you can do is to connect your PC to a UPS (uninterruptible power supply).  Remember that the PC should be connected through the plugs labeled battery and surge, while the printer should be connected to the surge only plug.
    LVL 17

    Expert Comment

    Power supplies can fail but Dells aren't any more prone than any other supplier. I go through a regular stream of Dell hardware repairs and I've had to replace one power supply in the last year.

    I'd be looking towards the power supply myself. Chances are it's something that pulls a good deal of current causing a kickback on the line. To give you an idea of how mad power problems can be, I once had a customer with a PC that crashed every time the person in the house next door turned on an electric kettle for a cuppa. Mad stuff!

    As suggested above, check with the neighbours and the building management.

    The biggest problem is that today it's a PSU in a computer but tomorrow it could be something much bigger that could cause a great deal more damage.

    Check the power.

    Author Comment

    Thanks much coalmanski and Mike Carroll.

    These are very informative comments.  Indeed I do suspect there is some local power surge issue in this condo unit. When the first PC blew, (along with a circuit in my condo unit) the condo unit directly below me at the same time had a circuit out. And my own unit has, best I can put it, a quirk in the wiring of an other circuit in the unit (burns out light bulbs way way too fast). Anyway, sounds like might be worthwhile to get a pro electrician "on the case", and meanwhile, plug the (when-repaired) PC into a different circuit, on a darn good surge protector.

    thanks again both


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