Do I Need To Replace My Motherboard?

by on November 6, 2007

Q: I am fixing a computer (for a friend) that I believe has a fried motherboard but I would like to see if other people have ideas because I don’t want to order a motherboard if that isn’t the broken part. Originally I thought it was going to be a simple power supply change but that isn’t the case… The computer was working fine when they used it and they shut the system down. A week later when they tried to start the computer it doesn’t do anything. I thought the power supply was maybe bad but I swapped one in that I know works and it still shows no life. I check all the obvious things like making sure it was plugged in, the switch was on, and so forth. The computer is a Dell computer from 2004 and I have two other motherboards I wanted to swap in but the LED, Power Switch, and Restart Switch connections (jumpers or whatever they are called) cannot be attached properly to the motherboard with the case.

I have also tried switching the possibly broken motherboard, processor, and RAM into another machine and haven’t been able to get any response from that either. My best guess is there have been some storms in the area lately and maybe lightning damaged the motherboard? The only sign of life the motherboard has is a green light that lights on the motherboard with I turns the power supply on. Otherwise none of the fans move and the motherboard doesn’t make a sound when started, just dead silence. The power supply works… if someone were to guess if this was a motherboard, processor, or RAM problem based on the symptoms what would they guess?

A: You have eliminated many of the possibilities already. The first thing that you should do is determine what the green light on the motherboard indicates. You should be able to do that by looking in the manual for your friend’s computer. You can locate such documentation on Dell’s support website. The best theory that you present in your question is that your friend’s computer was subjected to a power surge. Always have computer equipment plugged into a working surge protector! Here are a few ideas to try before giving up and ordering a replacement motherboard:

  1. I once had an experience with a Mac where a certain pattern of lights coming from the motherboard indicated that the CMOS battery needed to be replaced. The Mac would not boot without the new CMOS battery. There are several reports on the TechRepublic Forums of Windows-based computers dying due to CMOS battery problems. One of the solutions presented in these discussions is to place some tinfoil between the CMOS battery and the CMOS battery connector. CMOS batteries can be purchased at many retail stores and do not cost very much money.
  2. You say that you have placed the motherboard, processor, and RAM in a different computer without success. So you know for sure that the problem is with one of those three components. If you can find inexpensive replacement RAM that is compatible with your friend’s computer, it would be worth testing. Obviously, if the computer still will not boot after installing the replacement RAM, the problem is either in the processor or the motherboard.
  3. You might consider replacing your processor. The website has a basic set of instructions called How to Upgrade a Processor. This can be a rather technical procedure and I only recommend trying it if you have a spare processor on hand. In my opinion, it would not be worth the money and time to purchase and install a new processor for such an old system when the risks are so high that the computer may still fail to function.
  4. Depending upon the exact model Dell your friend has, it may be more cost effective to purchase a new computer rather than trying to acquire a new motherboard.

Good luck fixing your friend’s computer. I hope that you have found my advice to be helpful.