PC will not start

I have a five year old Dell XPS-710, Service Tag 47ZNPC1, running Windows 7 Home Premium. The system has exhibited no unusual issues until I tried to turn it on yesterday. When I pressed the power button, I could hear the relay click, but the unit did not start, and the power light flashed yellow on and off. The fans did not start. I did not hear any POST codes and no other lights came on. I then pressed and held the power button again, and after several seconds, the relay clicked and the power light shut off.

The unit is plugged into a power strip that responds to the current draw when the computer is turned on. Ordinarily, when I turn on the computer, the power strip turns on and stays on, but when I tried turning on the computer yesterday, the strip turned on for a moment then shut down.

Today, when I tried turning on the computer, the same thing happened, but when I tried it again a few minutes later, it started successfully.

The computer has been operating normally until now. About a month ago, I added two additional memory sticks, upgrading the memory from 2GB to 4GB. The upgrade was uneventful. The computer is scanned regularly for viruses, and, consistently, none are reported. I have not yet opened the unit to test it or check for loose cabling.
*  750 Watt power supply;
*  Intel Core 2 Duo Processor E6300 (1.86GHz);
*  NVIDIA GeForce 7900GS 256MB;
*  Sound Blaster X-Fi XtremeMusic sound card;
*  16X DVD+R/RW CD-RW drive;
*  4 hard drives – Two ST332062 (320 GB each) SATA, and two WDC WD10 (1TB each) SATA;
*  2 fans, 120mm x 38mm.

Any idea what might be happening?
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Sounds like the BIOS is either going out, or you have a virus that is effecting your BIOS. BIOS is the firmware in your computer that starts up the system. It would also be responsible for boot check codes (beeping when you start the computer). Funny how that beeping accually means something. I would try booting in safe mode and seeing if there is a virus or something effecting this.
You might want to isolate it from the power strip first to see if it turns on normally.  It's possible that the relay on your power strip is worn out and needs to be replaced.  If it is indeed a relay, then it's possible that you've cycled it frequently enough on high current draws that the contacts are worn.

If it turns out not to be the power strip, you could also try unplugging everything from the computer then holding the power button for 30 seconds, then plug it back in.  It also possible that your power supply is failing.
I think it is a hardware problem.
Sometimes helps if you disconnect the computer from power and leave it for couple of minutes. If you want to speed up procedure of discharging the components inside your PC, you can press power button a couple of times while disconnected from power.
If the problem still remains I would say that you have the problem with your motherboard or your power supply.
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Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
The symptoms are of a computer dying - so be prepared to replace it (i.e. the motherboard is bad).

Before doing that, try this after unplugging the computer:

1) remove ALL the memory
2) disconnect all the 12v drive power connectors from the  drives (hard drives, CD drives, etc.)
Then, plug in the computer and turn it on.
If the POST runs then that's a good sign.
You should get beeps saying that there's no memory.  That's a good sign.
If this doesn't work, replace the power supply and try these steps again.
If none of these things work then that's the point where I would say it's the motherboard and decide to replace it or the whole computer.
(There are ways to save the hard drive contents and installs in this case that are very helpful).

Assuming that something works then incrementally boot in these conditions between disconnecting the power:
Add one memory stick.  The computer should work to the point of not finding an operating system but now shouldn't beep I don't believe.
Plug in the boot drive.  The computer should then boot.
Plug things in one at a time to see if any of the drives and/or memory sticks are causing the computer to not start at all.


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gpinzinoAuthor Commented:
Carlisle_Agent, I am not sure what you mean by the BIOS going out. Also, since absolutely nothing happens when I turn it on other than the blinking power light, I cannot get to a screen where i can boot in safe mode.

Serialband, I will try isolating the computer and see if that resolves the problem.
Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
I might add:

The power supply is a very frequent cause of non-starts.  Simply replacing it can fix the problem.
After that, a bad memory stick.  Easy to fix.  Just pull it out if there are other memory sticks in the computer .. there usually are.
After that (although I've very rarely seen it) a hard drive which doesn't want to spin and draws down the power supply.
After that, the motherboard.
fmarshall just reminded me.

I have seen cases where a Bad CD drive prevent the entire system from powering up.  It's something about the system design, because it happened frequently on a specific model of old computers, but not any others, that I used to manage.  As the aging CD drives started failing, the systems stopped powering up.  Unplugging or removing the CD drive allowed the system to proceed to boot.
The flashing amber power light you got when it wouldn't start indicates a power issue. Bypass the surge protector, if that doesn't help then its either a failing PSU(most likely) or a motherboard(possible but not as likely as the psu). Also check the motherboard for leaking or bulging capacitors as that can cause this issue aswell.
BIOS chip is on the motherboard, being you cant replace that. Easier to save yourself trouble and replace the motherboard, if its not the power supply that is. #1 problem in my workstation is a bad powersupply. Although, you said "Today, when I tried turning on the computer, the same thing happened, but when I tried it again a few minutes later, it started successfully," that would lead me to believe the power supply wasn't the problem.
Fred MarshallPrincipalCommented:
I agree from what you described that the power supply isn't as likely a problem.

BUT: it's easier to deal with (than the motherboard) so swapping it out really MUST BE tried.  
If you don't have one available then start with disconnecting the drives and pulling the memory sticks.

If you inspect the motherboard and find capacitors that are puffy on the top or worse, with goo coming out then if the motherboard hasn't yet failed it's very likely .....
If there are bad ones there can still be good ones and it only takes one.  So do take a minute to look at them all.

The capacitors are the size of a regular pencil eraser .. maybe a bit longer than that .. and some are a bit smaller in diameter than that and shorter.  They generally have shiny metal tops generally with 4 indentations in a cross or X.  You can find pictures on the web.
gpinzinoAuthor Commented:
Well, I certainly have a lot of ideas to work with. Bear with me, guys, while I take a day or two to troubleshoot.
>Today, when I tried turning on the computer, the same thing happened, but when I tried it again a few minutes later, it started successfully

That is the typical symptom of a power problem - there is a difference between cold boot up and warm boot up.  The warm boot up works because there is a residual charge in the capacitors that enables the system to completely boot up, whereas a cold boot has nothing to help it start.  These are clues that capacitors are not working as they should, and if they are bulging or leaking, that is clear evidence, but they can be bad and look perfectly fine.  Bad capacitors can be in the power supply or motherboard, so those are the two places to check.
gpinzinoAuthor Commented:
Well, I tried disconnecting the computer from the power strip and plugging it directly into an outlet. No luck trying to start up.

I then opened it up and disconnected the DVD drive. No good.

I disconnect all the hard drives. No dice.

I finally, removed all the memory and disconnected the video and sound cards. Everything I could think of was disconnected. Stil no luck trying to start up.

The capacitors on the motherboard look good, but I understand they may still have failed. I guess I will get a power supply and try that. If the capacitors are bad in the power supply, I would have to replace it anyway.
use my troubleshooting guide :  http://www.experts-exchange.com/Hardware/Components/Motherboards/A_1945.html                  (Short-overview-of-how-to-troubleshoot-bad-hardware-when-a-pc-does-not-post)

this can help also if the disk has problems :
Most likely your PSU has gone bad. You can try reseating your RAM, however this appears to be more of a power issue.
gpinzinoAuthor Commented:
Well, it looks like it was the power supply. I stripped the thing bare, no drives, no memore, no video, no audio and it still failed. I replaced the power supply and it is running again.

This is a very tough one to assign points. There were great suggestions from all of you. Thank you. The lion's share of the points go to fmarshall. He jumped in early with a detailed troubleshooting approach and hung in there throughout the discussion. Special thanks, too, to serialbank and davorin for their quick and correct analysis, coupled with suggestions on how to rule out other issues.

I am closing this thread. If the problem returns, this poor box is going to the recycle bin!
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