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No vid, no beeps, cpu fan blowing hard. NOW prob's fixed - but how?

A Gateway 500gr desktop computer (using onboard video) was working fine for years. Suddenly, it had no video signal, no mainboard startup beeps, and the CPU fan was blowing hard.  

I removed the one PCI card (a phone modem), and it booted up correctly. (Problem gone).

Just or good measure, I reset the CMOS. The computer still booted correctly.

Then I reinserted the modem PCI card, and the PC is still booting correctly (Problems still gone!)


What do you thinks going on? Will the problem come back? (It's important because I want to return the PC to its owner.) Should I keep the unused Modem card OUT?  

I've heard that a PSU can go bad "just a little" so that it can only power so many parts - which would explain why the PC worked when a part was removed. But NOT when I put it back in. Unless PSU's can be just "on the edge" like that, going back & forth...

(One could suspect resetting CMOS fixed it, but it booted before that.)
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3 Solutions
>>  Will the problem come back?

No idea.  And I don't think anyone could answer that.

>>  Should I keep the Modem card OUT?

As you said, it isn't being used so keep it out.

>>  What do you thinks going on?  

Could be anything.  

Capacitor on the blink?  Works one day, next day has a day off.  Check the board for distorted capacitors.  Google "bad caps" for more information.

Power supply being a little testy?  Perhaps but I'd suspect the CPU fan wouldnt' work.

Cosmic forces unbalanced.  As good a reason as any.
It's not uncommon at all (if not the commonest or first way) to try and solve a low-level hardware problem by removing and replacing the offending piece of hardware. It's the hardware equivalent of restarting a system to fix a software or OS problem.
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Look VERY carefully on the board for any signs of deteriorating capacitors -- leakage, bloating, etc.    What you've described is often caused by bad capacitors.

The issue could also be deterioration of the capacitors in the power supply -- more difficult to ascertain unless you take it apart and inspect it as well (probably not worth the trouble).

I agree that if the modem's not being used I'd simply leave it out.

Did you blow out the interior with compressed air when you had the case opened?   There may have simply been a "dust blanket" over the heatsink that resulted in too little cooling, and thus the high-speed fan -- although that wouldn't explain why it wouldn't even get to the BIOS screen and/or no video.

One thing I would DEFINITELY do if you haven't already ==> replace the CMOS battery.   A $2.00 part that may very well have been the heart of the issue -- if the BIOS lost its settings that could cause what you saw.   A new CR2032 (confirm that's what this system uses, but it's almost universally the right part) battery is very inexpensive "insurance" against that possibility -- and if it's been more than 3-4 years since it was replaced, it's almost certainly time :-)
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it can be the pci card was creeping, and had a bad contact - or setting - blocking the PC bus
so by removing / reinstalling it, you "repaired" it
will it come back ?  probably not but as said - impossible to tell,

you can always check in event viewer if any problems are listed there !
I have often fixed problems with PC's not starting or even showing POST, by simply removing power cable, pressing power button, (Machine sometimes shows signs of life for a brief moment) and then putting power cable back and turning on.

Years ago someone at Dell technical, told me this discharges the capacitors and solve a lot of startup issues. I used this last night and it worked, so even works in newer machines.

You might have done something like this inadvetantly, which is what solved the problem.
dgrrrAuthor Commented:
The problem recurred a couple days later. I tried the following:
> reset cmos
> replaced battery
> discharged the capacitors, (see above)
> pulled the pci card
> pulled the RAM
> unplugged most of the power cables

Nothing worked - until I took a screwdriver and
> banged hard on the PSU
> tapped lightly on various parts of the mainboard

Now its starting up again.  I told her that, based on the above, it is probably bad capacitors in the PSU, and that we could try replacing the PSU for $30-$70, but that we couldn't rule out the mainboard.  It's a 10 year old computer, so I told her her she might want to put that money (and my labor costs) toward a new computer - altho this one could go another 5 years with a new PSU.

For now she's just leaving the computer on, to avoid the startup issue.

Am I correct - that the banging solution indicates the PSU / bad capacitors?
Gary CaseRetiredCommented:
Hard to say for certain, but that certainly sounds likely -- especially if it's working fine except for the startup issue (a clear sign of capacitor failure).

I'd pop in a $40 PSU ... but if she doesn't want to do that, just wait until the next time it won't start up :-)

... I understand her reluctance, by the way.   I help a lot of elderly folks who still use older systems running XP and do virtually nothing except internet browsing and e-mail, and don't want to switch away from Outlook Express.     They want to keep those machines running !!
>>  Am I correct - that the banging solution indicates the PSU / bad capacitors?

You've got a suspect but not definite proof.  You could try vacuuming the power supply and removing any dust that is there and in a 10 year old computer I'd expect quite a bit.  Also measure the voltage outputs and see if they are within tolerance.
did you remove - inspect  - and reinstall all cards and cables?  that can also be the cause
also - did you look for the bad capacitors?
dgrrrAuthor Commented:
Thanks ppl. FYI the cpu heatsink was very clean, in fact this persons house (and the computer interior) are the most dust-free I've seen.  And the capacitors in the mainboard look very good. (I couldn't see the PSU capacitors.)

Exactly, this person does nothing but use outlook express for email and internet explorer for the occasional article or video.  So I hope she votes to replace PSU. (Altho if we do so and a month later the problem recurs because it turns out to be the motherboard capacitors, I'll feel dumb - but I'll warn her its a possibility. As is a new computer having problems.)

Final question - when startup problems like this occur, and time is not an issue, are there any parts I should NOT try reseating? One could unplug / remove EVERYTHING from the mainboard (data cables, power cables, pci cards, video cards, ram, CPU, CPU heatsink, CPU fan, Jumpers, front panel / lights / usb headers / connectors...)  But that takes time and is risky (more to screw up, especially the headers. Are any of those NOT indicated?
dgrrrAuthor Commented:
(Sorry dbrunton - trying to reassign points to acknowledge your first response.)
No problem.  

You shouldn't disconnect these:  RAM, CPU, CPU heatsink, CPU fan, Jumpers, front panel / lights / usb headers / connectors...

That should be enough to see if they system will do something.  No joy then remove the RAM.  That should provoke an error message of some sort.  If it doesn't then the board is dead, dead, dead ...  If it does respond, it still might be dead and further checking may or may NOT be warranted.

You could disconnect all of the USB headers and front panel connectors but you need a switch of some sort to connect to the on/off header block to test starting of board.  It is possible that a bad on/off switch on the front of the computer can seem to cause starting problems.

You remove heatsink CPU to check thermal compound and that it is attached properly and blow out dust.  Occasionally a fastener comes loose.

Do disconnect/remove all external USB connections. all PCI cards, networking and printer cabling and keyboards and mice, internal disk (hard, CDROM, floppy).  Video card removal is a gray area, sometimes the boards don't adjust to removal of card automatically and expect the BIOS to tell them.  So the system may start up but display nothing on screen ...

Removing and cleaning of slots and RAM and then reseating can cure memory problems especially in dusty environments.
before removing anything -touch the metal case first - to uncharge yourself
then there's no problem disconnecting reseating anything - but avoid touching the contacts
i would leave the cpu cheatsink alone for the moment (you would need to replace the heatpaste otherwise)
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