Fixing My Custom Built PC After a Power Outage

Posted by Hugh Ang at 5/10/2010 10:09:00 PM

I usually wouldn't blog about hardware but since this experience felt just like debugging a software problem, here it goes:

The NJ area experienced a pretty bad wind storm this past weekend. Downed tree branches knocked out some power lines, which caused scattered power outages in the area. My house was one of the unlucky ones that were hit with the outage. After the power came back in the next morning, one of my desktop PCs that I built several years ago wouldn't start. This is the PC that I have just recently upgraded from Vista to Windows 7 and I also built inside the host PC a VPC with VS.NET 2010 and all the other latest cool stuff (Silverlight, etc.). So I was determined to figure out what went bad and hoped to salvage as much as possible.

The symptom of the problem is that initially it wouldn't even turn on when I pressed the power button. After I switched to a different circuit in the house, it could start with fans and lights on. So it was evident that the PSU was still good. But there was no display on the monitor and no system start beep sound either. What was even worse was I could smell burning plastic. Some board was fried during the outage and now with the power on, sending the current through the board is still burning it.

I turned off the power and began visually inspecting the mobo, hoping to find where the burn was but to no avail. I started disconnecting the IDE cable to the DVD rom, SATA cables to the HDD, unplugging RAM. I would make one change at a time while powering on to see if there is a system beep. Nothing so far.

The last item was the video card with dual DVI interfaces for my two monitors. After I unplugged the video card, bingo! the system started making beeping sounds. And as I flipped the video card over, sure enough I found the burning spot, which I wouldn't have been able to see when it was installed closely to the bottom of the tower in the facing down position. Fortunately I had a spare video card. After plugging that in I had no problem booting into Windows 7. It did require resetting the resolution after automatically installing the driver for the card. Minutes later, I noticed that automatic Windows update was complaining about not able to complete the updates and a closer look revealed that the system clock was set to 1/1/2006. I suspect this was done as I was resetting the BIOS during the diagnosis process - while the power cord was unplugged, I pressed and held the power button for a few moments.

So fortunately it was only a small loss instead of the MOBO/CPU that are commonly getting fried during power outages. One thing I will be doing for sure going forward is to use the battery backup surge protector as opposed to a low end one I was using :-)