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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