Symptoms of a Failing Computer Power Supply

I have been doing IT for many years, working with hundreds of PCs, and I cannot remember having to replace the power supply in any of the computers I managed. Probably was just a stroke of luck on my part.

Power Supply

Recently that stroke of luck changed.  Have you ever heard that things happen in threes?  In this case, three was the magic number.

The following computer power supply failures occurred within a period of 3 days on 3 different computers that were around the 3 year mark in age.

First, my niece… Her PC would not boot.  Power was present to the monitor and other peripherals; however, no power to the computer. Suspected and later confirmed it was the power supply.

Second, my brother… His PC would not boot.  Power was present to the monitor and other peripherals; however, no power to the computer. Suspected and later confirmed it was the power supply.

Third, my PC… The domino affect. First symptom that I noticed began about a month ago. On occasions I would walk away from my computer, returning  an hour or two later to discover that my computer had shutdown and booted on its’ own. Second symptom was more recent. Following a boot of the computer I would go online and suddenly a lockup would occur to the point that nothing worked other than manually powering down the PC. When these two symptoms occurred, I often rebooted and worked with no problems and would not experience these symptoms again for days. Third symptom that occurred was that the computer would suddenly shut down. Then came symptom number four… Power was present to the monitor and other peripherals; however, no power to the computer.

Here are some symptoms you may experience that could indicate that your power supply is failing. Diagnosing power supply problems can be difficult; however, once you start seeing more than one of these symptoms, put the power supply on your troubleshooting checklist.

  • Circuit breakers popping when the PC is turned on
  • System startup failures or lockups
  • Noticeable change in how long it takes for your PC to boot and shutdown
  • Spontaneous rebooting or intermittent lockups during normal operation (small brownouts)
  • Memory Errors
  • HDD and fan simultaneously failing to spin
  • HDD file system corruption
  • USB devices power issues
  • Overheating due to fan failure
  • Electric shocks that are felt when the case is touched
  • Smoke
  • BIOS beeping codes detected

During the course of all that I was experiencing, I was leaning toward the power supply being the culprit and had prepared myself early on. As soon as I started experiencing the first round of hiccups, I made sure I had a backup of all of my data (which I religiously perform on a regular basis anyway). I also went to the computer manufacturer’s website to explore power supply problems and to determine if there were any specs on the power supply in my computer, and if there was any information available on how to remove and install the power supply.

The computer I own is a Hewlett Packard multimedia PC with a 300 watt power supply. What I found on the HP site for my PC was awesome. It showed, step-by-step, the removal process (with pics) and even a video on how to remove the front and side panels of the computer, where the power and drive leads for the power supply were located and what to be cautious of (such as static electricity).

Power Supply

I have been inside of computers many times and knew pretty much the rundown to remove and replace the power supply; however, something as simple as removing the case panels was a major help. When it came time to remove the power supply in my computer, the homework paid off. I had the panels off of the PC, the power leads to the motherboard and drives disconnected, the drives pushed forward to create working room, and the power supply removed within 10 minutes. All together, in my case, removal of (6)-six screws were involved. Note: While I was inside the case of the computer I performed a thorough cleaning, as well.

To replace the power supply, I ended up going from a 300 watt power supply to a 400 watt power supply made by Dynex (through Best Buy). The form factor of the Dynex matched my system perfectly. There are numerous power supply options available on the market (see here for an example)

Dynex Power Supply

Following the replacement of the power supply in my computer I noticed (2)-two remarkable improvements. My computer starts up noticeably faster and shuts down noticeably faster. For example, it took me 1.5 to 3 minutes to boot up prior to the replacement.  Following the replacement of the power supply, my computer now boots to the Windows 7 desktop in less than 1 minute.

In the end, diagnosing a failing power supply can be a challenge, but eventually the symptoms of things to come will rear its’ ugly head. Just be prepared, have your data backed up, and do some research.

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52 Responses to Symptoms of a Failing Computer Power Supply

  1. Two weeks ago I replaced three Power Supply’s as well on customers computers. I’ve wasted so many times diagnosing problems thinking it’s the RAM or Motherboard only to find out the Power Supply is going bad. I have two different PS Testers and sometimes they read fine yet when the PS is replaced the problem is solved. I keep 3 PS’s on hand so I don’t have to pay retail at Best Buy for a replacement. My preferred brands are OCZ, Corsair, and Antec…try to find one with a 3 year warranty and on sale or with a rebate.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Big Geek Dadday,

      I’ve been doing PC’s for years and I never experienced power supply issues. I can see that I have been really lucky.

      One thing I have learned from the comments here is that the Power Supply (often) can be the culprit in many situations. You will think it is one thing when it is the PSU.

      I go with you on your choices of PSU’s. In my case I needed a PSU fast and Best Buy was right down the road.

      Thank you for sharing your expertise. Very much appreciated. I learn something from all you guys everytime I do a post like this. Makes us all better techs.

      Rick

  2. Dwayne says:

    I would say it’s been a “stroke of luck” on your part. I’ve been repairing PC’s for 8 years mostly as a primary job. In my opinion, if it was a cheaper brand of computer (you get what you pay for!), you also have a cheap power supply. I ALWAYS keep PS’s on hand because it is almost my first suspect when:
    1.) The PC will not turn on.
    2.) When it shuts down during BIOS screen.
    3.) The PC shuts itself off during boot during different different parts of boot.
    4.) The PC is acting strange during different times rather than at the same point of operation.
    I keep an Antech and a Thermaltake PS on hand for testing.
    For my personal computer, I build my own. The case and PS are always thermaltake. I’ve tried thermaltake processor cooling units (look cool but sure don’t cool!) but stick to the simple Intel retail you get when you buy a retail processor. SO, don’t buy an OEM processor, buy retail to get the cooling unit when ordering.
    Hey, I should start an PC section on MY blog, LOL.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Hey PuterGuy,

      How about doing a guest article for What’s On My PC… We’ll talk later…

      Folks, PuterGuy is just that… A red blooded geekster that is at the top of his game. Right now, his blog is geared toward personal things (such as gardening, mushrooms, etc…). Very nice blog. We need to visit his blog [ here ] and encourage him to put up a section on information technology and computers.

      Thanks for sharing the tips and your expertise.

      Rick

  3. techpaul says:

    My experience is right in line with this article and your previous commentors’. (Including the PS tester results.)

    It was experience which taught me the “symptoms” can be quite misleading, and to think “power supply”.

    Another great article, Rick. Keep ‘em coming!

  4. g says:

    Sounds like a great excuse to build a new PC!!

    • Ramblinrick says:

      G,

      Was my thoughts exactly. As a matter of fact, when the time comes, I just may swap out the mobo, processor, etc… in this HP. The box on this is well built and actually easy to get around.

      Rick

  5. Rick,
    Excellent article on a very helpful subject. I’ve seen a symptom or two from your list myself. Thanks very much.
    Best,
    Paul

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Paul,

      Great to see you here. I bet you have experienced this! Believe it or not, this is truly my first power supply issue I have experienced. I managed a network of PCs and not once did I experience a PSU issue.

      Rick

  6. pochp says:

    I never expected that pc power supply was this so complicated Rick! Speaking of lockups, can you tell me why I experience log on lockups in Ubuntu but not in W7 in the same netbook? That’s the reason why I switched back to W7.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Pochp,

      I am not too familiar with Ubuntu. The problem could be related to a specific program (or software) you are working in that does not set well with the OS.

      Rick

  7. Frank says:

    Rick.
    In my many years of working on systems, the common problem I have found that many major manufactures (Dell, HP, Gateway, etc.) make their systems with power supplies that are vry low in wattage. When they are new that might be okay, but over the years, adding more devices (extra optical drives, additional hard drives, etc) as well as poor soldering joints etc. place a strain on power supplies and they simply can’t handle the additional strain that is placed upon them.
    Over the years, we have lowered the voltage supplied to the CPU (from 5 volts down to the 2 volts range) and that places more heat on the processor which creates more heat inside the computer case itself.
    Add to that dust which is greater if you place a tower on the floor) and you have a receipe for a power supply that has a short life span. I always suggest using at least a 600 or above wattage supply for any desktop. It will stand the additional devices as well as the surge from startup, etc. One additional suggestion I would also make is to any tech. invest in a power supply tester. They are very inexpensive and can save you time when trobleshooting or seeing if you have a power supply that you can swap out. Recently I had a HP that had a defective power supply. On some of the pavilions, they used a very small power supply (150-180 watts) and the supply itself was small in size. I had a supply on hand from a e-machine that looked identical in size, but would not work because it did not contaiin the -5 volts that most HP motherborads require. Even know it fit physically and look identical, it would not work. My tester picked up on the missing -5 volts immediately. I highly reccomend a tester. You can get them off e-bay. I purchased one for a $1.00 (plus $5 shipping from Hong Kong) It was well worth it. Hope my humble opinion will help someone.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Frank,

      An excellent synopsis on how to nail down (troubleshoot) PSU issues, how deficient the PSU’s are in OEM configurations (which is big time true), how adding components can put the PSU over the edge, PSU replacement recommendations and equipment that can be easily purchased (inexpensively) to troubleshoot.

      Folks, Frank is a friend of mine who was born with the gift of troubleshooting electronics, computers and clocks. Yes, even clocks… You don’t see that much anymore.

      Now all I have to do is get him to write me a guest article on something that will make our heads spin.

      Rick

      • Frank says:

        Thanks Rick for the compliment. Just one quick followup. If any of you ever encounter a noisy fan or one that has even stopped to being gummed up, don’t throw away a good power suppy just because of that. Yes, you can purchase replacement fans, but what if you need it repaired right now? Here is a “old trick” that I have used over the years. Uplug the power from the case and remove the power supply. Take the top cover off the power supply (usually 4 small screws). Then remove the four screws that hold in the fan and slide it out. If your lucky and 2 wires that power the fan unplug, you can work easier, if not, simply slide it out far enough to work with it. You will see that there is a label on the side of the fan that goes towards the rear of the supply when it is in the case. Take a small knofe (or fingernail if you still have any..LOL) and
        remove the label. You will find either a small rubber or metal cover that was hidden by the label. Remove that little cover and you will expose the shaft that the fan spins on. Now take some rubbing alcohol if you have it and pour a little into that opening. then proceed to spin the fan until it becomes free. If you do not have any alcohol, thats ok, proceed to the next step.
        The next stepis to take a little oil (yes, even cooking oil will work and place a little down into the hole and do the same procedure. Spinning the fan until it spins freely. Once you are satisfied, install the cover AND the label back onto the fan. Reinstall the fan back into the power supply. Make sure you install it in the correct position (You should be able to see the label from the back) and install it back into the pc.It should work as good as new for sometime. I have had them work for several years without anymore issues. Hope this little trip will help someone.

  8. Bill Mullins says:

    Rick,

    I’m coming late to the conversation, but I wanted to throw in my 2 cents. Any time I’ve been involved in PSU replacement, it has generally been because of an underpowered PSU which was not up to dealing with added components, as many here have suggested.

    Component/peripheral manufactures do a great job of marketing, but a poor job of explaining the additional power requirements needed.

    I agree with Frank’s advice – 600 Watts minimum.

    Great article!

    Bill

  9. Pooya says:

    Hey I was searching about power supply issues and stumbled up on this. You mentioned the “brownout”, which is probably what I’m experiencing but I’m not sure. Can you tell me what exactly you meant by the brownouts/intermittent lock ups? Here’s my issue : in the middle of some relatively CPU intensive operations suddenly my PC becomes very very slow and CPU loading jumps to 100%. This goes on for a couple of minutes until again suddenly the loading comes back down and everything is fine again… Is this what you were talking about?

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Pooya,

      No, what you are experiencing is not what I consider a brownout. A brownout is when dips in the power (or electric) occurs. Memory could be an issue in your case…

      Rick

  10. Trent says:

    I feel pretty lucky.. my PSU is only 220W, yet I run a 3.0GHz X4 CPU, and a radeon 6670 1GB DDR5 GPU…. Plus 12GB of ram, a DVD burner, many USB ports, and a media card reader… How does that even work? XD

  11. Cheryl Maltry says:

    I have question about replacment of a 300W PS to the DYNEX 400W PS. I installed the PS relatively easy with all the correct hookups and powered my HP Media Center m7590n. The cpu turns on and boots very fast, fan runs and looks like no problems, then within 5-10 minutes of having the PC on it turns off on its own with no shutdown indicators or warnings??. I powered it on with the internet connection unplugged and it actually stayed on for about 30 mins but when i attached the internet lan cable and went to start IE and browse the cpu just shut off?? motherboard has no visible indicator lights to check but i did a throughout cleaning of all fans, case, etc. earlier before i had to purchse PS from Best Buy. Any feeback would help..

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Cheryl,

      Were you experiencing this problem prior to replacing the power supply? If not, check all your connections and make sure you did not knock something loose (like memory modules).

      Rick

  12. Tom M says:

    Hello, I recently had a problem starting my computer. No usual symptoms other than nothing happening when pressing the power button. Note that only after turning off the UPS (CyberPower 1000AVR) for a few seconds and then turning it back on did the computer start up when pressing the button. I suspect the UPS here even though it’s less than two years old. The PSU is about 8 years old (Antec NEOPOWER 480W ATX12V Active PFC Power Supply). Also finding out that PFC power supplies require a pure sine wave and this particular CyberPower unit does not have this type of output. Did I ruin my PSU? Thanks

  13. Ben says:

    What size power supply would you recommend for a server?
    I’m running Xubuntu 12.04 LTS 64 bit on
    AMD 2.2ghz AM2
    4 gb DDR2 Corsair ram
    Adaptec RAID5 6 port SATA with 6x 1tb HDDs
    nvidia 8500gt
    1x 2tb HDD sata drive
    1x 80GB HDD sata drive
    GB ethernet card
    1x sata dvd/cd read/write drive
    2x 80mm fans and 1x 120mm fan
    currently using an Antec EA-500 500 watt PSU

    I’m currently experiencing odd problems with USB devices not unmounting properly and alot of lag while playing videos and transfering data at the same time.

  14. A CPU that had a chronic boot problem finally ended in PSU issue. First, it would not boot then not open the CDROM. I plugged the CDROM from a different plug then, wala, it opened! I was able to reformat thinking it was the booting problem. After several boots, it came to point of not booting-up again and the monitor showed only Windows XP without any boot-up process. The monitor display was half dim and not fully bright as it was on earlier boots.

  15. John Mendoza says:

    I have a Sony Vaio PCV- RZ16G Desptop computer with a 480W power Supply and would like to know if I can replace it with any power suppy by any brand as long as its of 480W

  16. John says:

    Following the large Red Compaq Logo during start up on my 2003 Compaq Presario 6000 comes a black screen that says, “We apologize but Windows failed to start due to sudden power shut down or software problem, etc.” You have 30 seconds to decide between Safe Mode, Normal Start, etc. Once the computer finally starts it’s good to go throughout the day with normal starting, stopping, etc.. However if you let it sit for a few hours it starts with the black screen with the 30 second start selections every time. Now it’s taking several attempts using Safe Mode to startup. After searching everywhere for answers I’m coming to the conclusion it may be the Power Supply on its way out. I found a new Power Supply on eBay for around $43.00 with shipping. Anyone ever heard of this problem and did a new Power Supply repair it, etc? Thanks.

  17. John says:

    Update to my previous post…Prior to starting my computer today I used a hair dryer to blow through the Power Supply fan opening for a couple of minutes to preheat the power supply and low and behold the computer started normally with no black screen foolishness. I headed to eBay to purchase a new Power Supply but after reading some of the feedback left by those not satisfied with inexpensive aftermarket units I searched until I found a new old stock geniune 250 Watt HP-D25337F3R, 5187-1098 Power Supply for $11.95 plus $12.00 shipping. The seller had great feedback and has sold 78 thus far with plenty left, eBay item #170689981645. So even if you have little to no hair having a hair dryer around is not a bad idea.

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Now John that is a new one on me (the hairdryer trick). Power Supplies can really be a challenge to diagnose. Most PC’s today ship with low level power supplies and do not seem to last long (especially if you are a heavy duty PC user). Great information you provided…

      Rick

  18. John says:

    Thanks very much Rick…Well the first power supply I ordered was out of stock so I ordered an aftermarket which looked wimpy in comparison to the original. I installed the new PS and the usual black screen appeared so back to the drawing board and starts with the hair dryer.
    It has to be something funny going on if a hair dryer gets a computer going. I took the side cover off once again and just happen to notice an orange colored mud on the tops of 4 out of the 9 capacitors adjacent to the processor. Two of the remaining 5 had faint signs of the mud starting to appear. I waited until the next cold start and directed the hair dryer at the suspect capacitors for about 30 seconds and the computer started normally. I order 12 Panasonic 6.3V 3300 Capacitors off eBay on Monday and they arrived today Wednesday before noon.
    It took me approximately 7 hours to install 9 new capacitors. That’s using an oversize soldering iron for removal and a general size soldering iron for installation. During the removal process some of the holes were left filled so I chucked up a broken sewing needle in my drill press and cleaned the holes out. Frankly with all the slips and close calls including burning the kitchen table it’s a wonder I did not mess something up however my computer started right up and is working better than ever.

  19. Billy says:

    Hi i recently upgraded my cpu/mobo/ram from a mate who upgraded himself everything worked fine, my previous hardware worked fine aswell altho i had a failed HDD so i replaced that and everything was fine a few weeks prior to upgrading….using everything the same ie PSU/GPU/HDD/BURNER and i press the power button and nothing happens if i leave it for sometime it will boot on its own, if i try a different PSU it still wont boot when power button is pressed. I remove all the additional components and power up just the mobo and cpu and even use a screw driver to short the pins to turn on the machine and it still doesnt boot…..ive read lots of things about how its mobo or PSU the green light is on but nothing powers up straight away. and when it did boot up after sometime i was able to install windows 7 and was running fine for about 30 mins afterwards. now it just wont power up im at a loss everything was working.

    • Billy says:

      also a brother told me he tried to turn on my computer about 30 mins prior to the upgrade and it wouldnt power up either……i suspected PSU so i tried another one and same results

  20. kasujja muhammed says:

    i hope it works with mine. But i there a need to upgrade my psu 180watts

  21. mark says:

    I’ve been hearing a one time clicking sound when I turn on my Hp computer as the computer boots up. It clicks then windows lags or doesn’t load up. Is this a power source issue or a hard drive issue? the click sounds exactly the same as the click heard when one turns off the computer manually.

  22. Ol-Dad says:

    On the topic power supplys – my desktop computer (PSU?) started making a high pitched noise when I turned it off. When it is running I don’t hear it at all. I turn the computer off and that’s when it starts, usually several minutes later. Keep in mind no drives or fans are running, all is silent -then the noise. I turned the PSU switch to off and the high pitched noise stops. So for now I unplug it after it shuts down and plug it back in when I need it . Nothing else seems to be affected. Has anyone else encountered this problem and found a solution ?

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Ol-Dad,

      When you state, “I turned the PSU switch off” are you referring a surge protector (with a switch) or an Uninterrupted Power Supply?

      Rick

      • Ol-Dad says:

        That would be the switch on the back of comp just above the power cord plug – new possibly helpful info – I left the comp plugged in after i shut it down when finished yesterday (about 4:00 pm) and no noises all evening but this morning it was back – it came on during the night sometime – this time I removed the side panel while it was running in an attempt to locate the source of the noise – I fashioned a crude stethoscope from a piece of plastic tubing and held it up to my ear – the noise is definitely coming from the on board mechanical speaker – one long, continuous, non-stopping, unchanging, annoying noise – start computer and noise is gone ! – one other small discovery – when comp is off and still plugged in (and not screaming) if I get real close to the box and am real quiet I can hear a very faint erratic sounds coming from that mech speaker – BTW I am using this comp as i type without any known problems -

      • Ramblinrick says:

        Ol-Dad,

        If you figure this one out, let us know. If you completely unplug the computer, is the noise still present??? If plugged, in there is power going to the board and I am wondering if this is not some type of error beep or code being emitted. Really weird…

        Rick

  23. Ol-Dad says:

    Rick – Thanks for your patience – the answer to your question is no – there are three ways to stop the noise completely : #1= push the start button it quits and the comp starts no problem #2= pull the plug it stops #3= flip the switch on back of comp by power cord plug it stops – do you think this one long, continuous, non-stopping, unchanging, annoying noise is an error code ? maybe its the MOBO saying goodbye not the PS ! – the quest continues – Ol-Dad

  24. Ol-Dad says:

    After reviewing the link info I think the term “noise” is too generic and is misleading – its tough to describe a specific noise especially if they are similar sounding – there are a number of noises being reported in those links but unless you can actually hear it how can you tell if its like yours ??? – its like a blind man standing in a parking lot with a bunch of cars blowing their horns at the same time and he’s trying to figure out which one is his ! – maybe that didn’t make sense but here is new info about MY noise – I shut the comp down but left the power on like a normal shutdown and several hours later the noise started by itself again – so I tried some of the suggestions mentioned in the links – but first the stethoscope thing – same as before – the noise is definitely coming from that onboard mechanical speaker – no sound from anything anywhere (PS and caps included) – BUT unplug PS cable from MOBO and noise stops instantly along with the little light by the onboard mechanical speaker – plug it back in and noise and light are back instantly – flip switch on back of comp and both fade away – flip switch back and both come back on – I took a real close look at the caps and noticed that a couple did have bulging tops – flipping the switch in back is a doable workaround for now and as long as performance is not compromised I’ll stick to that plan – in the mean time I’m looking at new computers cause I think the MOBO in this ones on borrowed time – not giving up yet but waiting for the last foot to fall – hoping for the best and expecting the worst – Ol-Dad

    • Ramblinrick says:

      Ol-Dad,

      LOL… Your analogy of the noise emitting from your PC in comparison to the other noises described in other articles really gave me a good laugh. You are right, it is “my noise” :)

      I agree, power supply or motherboard… When it starts smoking, time to replace. Just keep your files backed up (or you will be emitting a noise that is “my noise” because you lost your files).

      Keep on visiting here…

      Rick

      • Ol-Dad says:

        update – I had to start leaving the unit on all the time because the on/off solution was creating boot issues – next solution was the discovery that the little black onboard mechanical speaker which is a cylinder about 1/2″ dia and 1/2″ tall could be silenced by putting finger over the 1/8″ hole on top !! a BB sized piece of sticky tack placed over the hole replaced my finger and that takes care of that !! (for now) – yes BKUP and no smoke yet – thanks – Ol-Dad

  25. Brenda says:

    ok my husband noticed the change in boot and shutdown times, but today we had an incident. we found a new symptom. turns out you definitely have psu failure if you hear a loud rapid fire sound lasting a good 3-4 seconds. Rob took his desktop apart and that was the only thing that was too hot to touch and smelled like burning plastic. btw i’m prior military and the term rapid fire is the only way i can describe the sound. it actually reminded me of the firing range on base.

  26. Ryan says:

    My pc is suffering most of the listed symptoms above. A difference is that the hard drive would not spin or start (I know this because I do not hear any sound or feel any vibration). I would like to know if a damaged power supply can be repaired.

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