With the frigid temperatures in Canada’s prairies, and increased power grid demands, we’ve been experiencing power outages which last between five to fifteen minutes. One such blackout knocked my computer offline, and subsequently prevented it from booting up. It would power on, the fans would whir, but the computer would hang at the BIOS screen, without the customary beep. Effectively, the light was on, but nobody was home.
At first I celebrated, somewhat strangely I suppose, given I’ve been looking for an excuse to replace my eight year old machine (an Intel Q6600 from prehistoric times). However, frugality soon took over and I decided to try and fix it. I did build the thing after all, so I figured, why the heck not? It took about two rather frustrating hours to get running again, that I’ll never get back. C’est la vie. However, if I consider that I saved 600 – 800 bucks, by not having to buy a whole new machine, I suppose that was time well spent. My hourly pay is definitely not that high.
I managed to fix the issues through a combination of investigation and voodoo. Well, it felt like voodoo to me. Here’s what I did:
1) Unplug the computer from the wall, and turn the power supply to the off position. My goal was effectively to discharge the motherboard capacitors, incase there was any weird buildup. How’s that for a scientific explanation?
2) Reset the CMOS (BIOS data). In my case, the power outage had actually corrupted the BIOS data, which loads prior to your computer booting into an operating system. I did this by opening the case and removing the CMOS battery (it looks like a large watch battery). I waited a couple of seconds, then replaced it.
How did I know to try this? My computer has a fancy motherboard LED indicator which shows you boot and error codes. I cross referenced the code it was throwing against the manual, which mentioned CMOS/BIOS issues. A shame ABIT no longer makes motherboards.
After doing all this, I put the computer back together and tried powering it on. This introduced another issue, where the computer was no longer outputting video. I was able to fix this issue doing the following:
1) The ram dance: Basically, unsocket your ram, remove any dust in the sockets, and replace your ram. Usually this involves actually moving ram to other sockets, but in this case, given I had a known working ram configuration, I skipped that bit.
2) Disconnect and reconnect connections from the power supply to the motherboard. Clear out the dust in the sockets and replace the cables. I can’t explain why this would make a difference, but this was the last step I took before things magically started working again. More voodoo.
3) If the above fails, try booting with less devices connected to the power supply. Try booting with only your C drive connected to a power source, for instance. This can help rule out specific hardware failure, interfering with the boot process.
Finally, you will need to reset your BIOS settings to whatever you had configured before the outage. Taking out the CMOS battery will effectively lose all your boot settings. So much for replacing my eight year old machine!
To avoid this scenario in the future, I’m going to spend the big money and buy an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). It seems worth the piece of mind, when using your computer on a somewhat unpredictable power system. With a UPS, I can safely power down the machine, instead of letting it forcefully turn off. No more worrying that a power outage may fry my computer hardware. It’s a much cheaper solution then replacing bits that are damaged due to power surges or voltage drops.