Technicians from Mighty IT have been helping customers over many combined years. Along the way, we've made a list of the questions that most users have about their computers, and we've attempted to answer them here.
These answers have not changed a lot over the years, but they do change occasionally and gradually. Geographic location might change some of our answers. In some places, like the middle of the Iraqi desert, technicians have to worry much more about sand, dust, and heat damage. Computers in the Pacific Northwest often have mold and moisture damage, and there are other places and usages that present their own problems for computer users. Some of the FAQs here may not entirely apply to your circumstances.
This is just our humble advice, taken mainly not from theoretical training, but from our experiences. You should remember that it comes from people that LOVE computers, that have been around and enjoyed working on personal computers, in most cases, since they were introduced into American homes. If we say that a troubleshooting or repair task is relatively easy, that doesn't mean it's easy for everyone, with every machine, or in every situation. Call a repair technician if you are in any doubt. Heck, call us, and we'll give you as much free advice as we are able to. Probably more than you want.
None of this advice is meant to be exhaustive, and we do not want to be responsible for damage to your computer, loss of data, or extreme frustration. Come to think of it, you probably shouldn't read it at all. Do it at your own risk!
Most noises coming from your desktop computer indicate problems with the hardware, or physical parts inside the computer. The parts that generally make noises are case fans, CPU fans, power supplies, and hard drives with spinning platters (non-SSD).
An intermittent or repetitive relatively loud clacking noise can be caused by one of the small cables inside your computer falling into a spinning fan. This is usually caused by moving a computer or opening the case to change out a component. Using small zip ties to contain the internal cables is a quick fix for this problem. This noise usually doesn't indicate a serious or costly problem, as long as you can open up the case and get the offending cable out of the fan before the computer has a chance to overheat.
An intermittent squealing (kind of like a fan belt slipping on your car) or groaning noise is usually caused by the impending failure of bearings in a fan. If this happens to a case fan (one attached to the outside case wall of the computer, usually to exhaust hot air from the case), it's not so urgent. You can probably use your computer for a few days while waiting for a replacement fan to arrive from Amazon, maybe turning it off a little more often than usual, as it may be running a little bit hotter.
If it seems like the squealing or groaning, maybe quieter, is coming from deep inside your computer, turn your computer off as soon as possible (if it doesn't shut itself off from overheating), as the problem may be with your CPU fan. This sits on, and exhausts heat from, the central processing unit of your (laptop and desktop) computer. It is critical to the health of your computer, in that your computer will usually die and be unrecoverable in minutes if the bearings in this fan go out. Luckily, most computers have a heat detection or fan speed detection routine built into the firmware that will shut down the computer immediately if this happens. Replacing the CPU fan is a little harder, especially in a laptop, so you might have to call someone for help. It's also usually more expensive, say $50 to $100, instead of $5 to $10 for a case fan.
It's usually pretty obvious if the noise is coming from the desktop power supply. That's the part of the computer where you plug in the power cable from the outlet. The power supply also has a fan to blow out the hot air it generates (plus some hot air from the computer in general), and the bearings go out in these fans, too. It's generally much louder, and sometimes you can detect whether the power supply is the culprit with a quick tactile test. Rest your fingers on the outside surface near the power jack, and try to detect any corresponding vibrations in the power supply as the noise happens. If so, this is of medium difficulty to replace, and costs about the same as the CPU fan.
If your hard drive is failing, it's probably making an intermittent or constant regular ticking sound. Rarely, it might make a squealing or moaning sound, like the fans, but much quieter -- usually imperceptible. This is the sound of bearings going out also, but very muffled because of the heavy metal case the drive is in. If you hear this kind of noise, or the ticking sound, turn off your computer immediately, not because your computer will be irrevocably broken, but because your data is at grave risk. This means your pictures, documents, music, favorites -- anything you've created or downloaded onto the computer. You need a new hard drive, and you need the data transferred to the new hard drive before those bearings go. You might need help with this, as it's pretty complex and difficult, and you don't have much time to mess around if your hard drive is making any noise at all.
Does your computer have other noises that I didn't talk about? Go to our contact form at the bottom of this page to ask about the specific symptoms your computer is showing, and we'll do our best to find out what's causing them.
Fan failures are responsible for a lot of weird noises in computers.
If you press the power button on your desktop computer and get no lights, no sounds, and no movement of any kind, my first suggestion would be to check that your power cord is plugged in firmly at both ends, that your surge protector (you have one, right?) is plugged in and turned on, and that your rocker switch, if you have one, on the back of your power supply is set to the on position. If all of these things check out, your power supply has probably failed. It's a little more complicated on a laptop, so I'll make another FAQ about that, because this scenario happens a lot for both types of computer.
The simplest solution to this problem, and one that works approximately 95% of the time (in my experience), is to replace the power supply. It's not a terribly difficult procedure, but it can be a bit difficult to replace all the power connections once you have the new power supply in the case.
Test the new power supply before you put it into the computer. If it doesn't fix the issue, it's possible that the power supply was damaged by a power surge (if you do not have it plugged into a good surge protector), and other components may have been damaged at the same time. Capacitors on the motherboard sometimes bulge with age, and may have gotten bad enough to stop working entirely. Alternately, the processor may have fatally overheated, or rarely, some other component on the motherboard could have been thermally damaged. All of these problems require more expert troubleshooting and repair or replacement.
Are you uncertain whether your symptoms match the ones I described? Go to our contact form at the bottom of this page to ask about the specific symptoms your computer is showing, and we'll do our best to find out what's causing them.
My computer has no lights, no sounds, no movement of any kind!
If you press the power button on your laptop computer and it doesn't respond (no video, no indicator lights, no fan sounds), my first suggestion would be to check that your power cord is plugged in firmly at all ends and that your surge protector (you have one, right?) is plugged in and turned on. If all of these things check out, your power adapter has probably failed. This is a little more complicated than the desktop case, so there might be a few more troubleshooting steps.
If your power adapter has a light on it, and the light is off, chances are that a new adapter will solve the problem. I would estimate that around 75% of the time, no lights/sounds/video on a laptop is solved by a new power adapter. It's extremely easy, of course, as you've certainly unplugged and plugged the power adapter many times, but it can be very expensive to buy a new adapter if you're not certain that is the problem. Laptop adapters are very proprietary (that is, each adapter generally only works with one or a few laptops), so you have to find someone with the same adapter (same volts, same amps, and same tip!) to test it out before you buy. Try calling a computer repair person to see if they have one you can use.
Another problem that could be indicated in the no lights/sound/video situation is a damaged power jack on your laptop. The jack is usually soldered to the motherboard (or sometimes to a wiring harness) and the solder can flex and break over time, or with rough handling. One way you could troubleshoot this issue is to plug the power adapter into a power outlet and plug it into the laptop, then VERY gently wiggle the power adapter tip in the jack. If the power indicator light on the top or side of the laptop flashes with your wiggling, it probably means your jack is messed up. This is a pretty complicated problem to solve, as it requires soldering on the motherboard, and you probably need to call a technician.
The final reason you might be experiencing this problem is damage to the CPU, graphics chip, or motherboard, most frequently caused by heat. Damage like this could also display other symptoms, like multiple beeps, flashing indicator lights, or racing cooling fans when you turn it on. Laptops are extremely prone to heat damage, especially if you have a habit of using them or leaving them running on a surface that blocks the vents on the bottom of the machine -- like on your lap! To prevent this occurrence, get into the habit of using a laptop cooler like this one from Amazon.
Once the laptop has been damaged in this way, it is extremely difficult to get it back into usable condition. Even if you pay someone a lot of money to reflow (resolder) or replace the chip(s) on your motherboard, it is unlikely to last. The good news is your data can usually be saved from the hard drive, and if your laptop has good memory, hard drive, or other improvements, they may be transferable to a new machine.
Are your symptoms a little different than the ones I talked about here? Go to our contact form at the bottom of this page to ask about the specific symptoms your computer is showing, and we'll do our best to find out what's causing them.
My laptop doesn't respond when I push the power button!