Fix It: My Computer Won’t Turn On!

 In Fix It

Your computer won’t turn on. You press the power button… nothing. You wiggle the mouse, tap a few keyboard keys… nothing. Your monitor says “No Signal” or something similar. OH. EM. GEE.

Don’t Panic

Freaking out, throwing the computer out the window, or hitting or kicking your computer when it won’t turn on will mostly all make this situation worse. Take some calm, deep breaths, and understand that in this particular situation a number of things could be wrong – from the very simple to the very serious. Until you know what it is for sure, assume that your data will be OK. All is not lost, usually.

Power Issues

If no lights on the computer come on, no fans make any noises, and there is generally no sign of life from the tower part of your desktop (or if you have a laptop, it’ll be just one whole piece) – you likely have a power issue.

For Desktops, try the following:

  1. Unplug the power to the computer from both the wall or surge protector and the back of the computer.
  2. Without plugging it back in, press the power button on the front of the computer for about 10 seconds, then let it go.
  3. Plug the power cord back into the computer and the other end back into your outlet.
  4. Press the power button. If nothing happens, try plugging your computer directly into the wall instead of a surge protector.
  5. If this still doesn’t help, you may – at the simplest – have a dead power supply that needs replacing by a professional if you are not comfortable working inside your computer.

For Laptops, try this method:

  1. First, check the power cable and the transformer (the brick part) for power. Make sure that if it has a light on it that it is on and receiving power from your outlet.
  2. Remove the power plug from the computer. Depending on the model of laptop you have, there might be a power charge meter on the battery itself or on the side of your laptop (like the Macbook and Macbook Pro newer models where the battery cannot be removed). Check the battery to see if it has a charge.
  3. If your battery does not have a charge but it’s been plugged in a while, you may need to have your cord replaced or your battery serviced. At best, you have a faulty cord or battery. At worst, the connector on your computer’s system board might be broken or damaged and cannot connect to any power cord properly. If your computer is under warranty, take it in for service. If not, you may have to try replacing the cord first, then the battery to see if this resolves your issue. Usually a system board issue will be considered a “non-economical repair” for out of warranty laptops.
  4. If all the above is fine and the battery has a charge, remove the battery if possible (these instructions vary for different computers, check your manual or Google if these directions do not work for you) and make sure the cord has been unplugged. Press the power button for 15 seconds, then put the battery back and plug the machine in and try to turn it on.

Memory or Video Issues

Most laptops and desktops that are able to power on but not boot will have other issues that could prevent you from seeing a normal boot up. If you are seeing nothing on the screen (or “No Video” / “No Signal”) but the computer fans make noise or the computer beeps or has lights on, then you likely do not have a power issue.

A generalized technique is to listen for beeps the system makes on start-up. Older computers usually beep once as they are loading, newer computers do not necessarily beep at all. However, three quick beeps usually means something is wrong with the memory (RAM) – do not worry yet, this should not be confused with your hard drive, where your files are actually stored. If you are comfortable, on Desktops you can open up your computer’s case and look for anywhere from one to four sticks of memory (see the picture for comparison). Ground yourself by touching metal anywhere on the computer’s case, then reach inside with your other hand and push on each stick to make sure it is firmly seated. You may also wish to try removing each one and seating them back in place. On a laptop, there’s usually an easy-access removable plastic piece on the bottom that has been labeled either with an “M” for memory or a small picture of a memory stick.

If you do not hear beeps, but your fans, lights, etc. on your computer all behave as normal – make sure your speakers are on and listen for the Windows / Mac start-up sounds. If you hear this but still have nothing on the screen – your computer has booted properly but your video has gone bad. You can usually get this serviced under warranty, or find a new one fairly cheaply. There are many types of video cards, but you can usually Google your computer model on another computer or if you don’t have access to one, write it down and take it with you to the store you’re going to try to find a new video card at.

Worst Case Scenario

The absolute worst case scenario is a bad power supply that goes bad over time instead of immediately failing, and as a result has taken out the rest of the system components. If your computer is not under warranty and your professional is working on your computer, have patience. Replacing a bad power supply may cause the system to work for a while until the other damaged components start to fail. You can’t blame your technician for this, it’s nearly an impossible situation to detect early. In any case, start backing up your files to an external hard drive or on CD or DVD, or invest in a subscription to an online back-up service like Mozy or Dropbox. If your computer is more than 3 years old, at this point you will probably also want to budget and plan on replacing your computer soon if the warranty has expired.

Hi, I'm Zöe. Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this, please feel free to leave a comment below.
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