Network Troubleshooting: Fixing Dead Computers

By Doug Lowe

As a network administrator, you will be called upon to resurrect the dead. If a computer seems totally dead, there are some troubleshooting things you can check:

  • Make sure that the computer is plugged in.

  • If the computer is plugged into a surge protector or a power strip, make sure that the surge protector or power strip is plugged in and turned on. If the surge protector or power strip has a light, it should be glowing. Also, the surge protector may have a reset button that needs to be pressed.

  • Make sure that the computer’s On/Off switch is turned on. This advice sounds too basic to even include here, but many computers have two power switches: an on/off switch on the back of the computer and a push-button on the front that actually starts the computer. If you push the front button and nothing happens, check the switch on the back to make sure it’s in the ON position.

    To complicate matters, newer computers have a Sleep feature, in which they appear to be turned off but really they’re just sleeping. All you have to do to wake such a computer is jiggle the mouse a little. It’s easy to assume that the computer is turned off, press the power button, wonder why nothing happened, and then press the power button and hold it down, hoping it will take.

    If you hold down the power button long enough, the computer will actually turn itself off. Then, when you turn the computer back on, you get a message saying the computer wasn’t shut down properly. Arghhh! The moral of the story is to jiggle the mouse if the computer seems to have nodded off.

  • If you think the computer isn’t plugged in but it looks like it is, listen for the fan. If the fan is running, the computer is getting power, and the problem is more serious than an unplugged power cord. (If the fan isn’t running but the computer is plugged in and the power is on, the fan may be out to lunch.)

  • If the computer is plugged in and turned on but still not running, plug a lamp into the outlet to make sure that power is getting to the outlet. You may need to reset a tripped circuit breaker or replace a bad surge protector. Or you may need to call the power company. (If you live in California, don’t bother calling the power company. It probably won’t do any good.)

  • Check the surge protector. Surge protectors have a limited life span. After a few years of use, many surge protectors continue to provide electrical power for your computer, but the components that protect your computer from power surges no longer work. If you’re using a surge protector that is more than two or three years old, replace the old surge protector with a new one.

  • Make sure that the monitor is plugged in and turned on. The monitor has a separate power cord and switch. (The monitor actually has two cables that must be plugged in. One runs from the back of the monitor to the back of the computer; the other is a power cord that comes from the back of the monitor and must be plugged into an electrical outlet.)

  • Make sure that all cables are plugged in securely. Your keyboard, monitor, mouse, and printer are all connected to the back of your computer by cables.

    Make sure that the other ends of the monitor and printer cables are plugged in properly, too.

  • If the computer is running but the display is dark, try adjusting the monitor’s contrast and brightness. Some monitors have knobs that you can use to adjust the contrast and brightness of the monitor’s display. They may have been turned down all the way.