staticI always knew electricity and computers don’t mix well, but static electricity is a pain in the behind also.

As I mentioned the other day in my post on the Kirksville Tornado, when I returned to my office that evening, we began having a computer problem.  My primary computer is a Dell Vostro 200 mini-tower, under 1-year-old.  When the tornados began to hit I started shutting down our systems, but when it came time to unplug them (as you should during a storm), the tornado sirens started sounding and that meant it was closer than I thought, so I left without unplugging.

When I got back to the office a few hours later and went to turn my Vostro on, I got the Dell logo screen and then… nothing.  No function keys worked, nothing changed, it would just sit locked on that screen.  Finally I bit the bullet and called Dell tech support since I was still under warranty.

The tech agent, who was actually one of the nicest I’ve ever dealt with, told me to remove the side panel of the computer tower.  After that was off, he told me to locate the main power cord connection that runs to the mother board.  I did so, and I did look it over for signs of damage, and it looked perfectly fine.

Secondly he had me remove all four of my RAM chips and then reinset them.  At this point I knew where he was going with this, and it was more than likely that my system had received a shock of static electricity.

cmos_batteryIt was the next thing we did that I would have never thought of.  If you’ve ever opened up your computer you’re sure to have noticed a round silver battery on your mother board.  This is the CMOS (Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) battery which helps your system remember things like the time and date while your system is shut down.  He had me remove that battery from the mother board and leave it out for over a minute.  We then popped it back in and tried to boot the system.

We did get the system back up and running, although we did keep getting an error message.  The technician had me go into the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) system, and it seems while the battery was out, the system convinced itself it should have an old 3.5″ floppy disk drive.  Why it thought this we had no clue, but we reset that and the computer is working great now.

Oddly, it is actually working better than it did before the storm.  We had been having a weird problem with it not shutting down programs properly, and at times we would have to confirm each one by hand when shutting down the system.  That problem has not appeared once since we did this reset.

Now, this isn’t something I would recommend doing just for the heck of it when you have a computer problem, but it is best to know that this is a possible solution that your tech support may recommend for you to do.

Two other lessons to take away from this:

  1. Yes, you should unplug your computer when possible, but the tech guy quickly added when I told him the sirens had gone off, “Sometimes your life has to come first.”  If you can unplug your system, do so, but don’t ever risk your life for it.
  2. I am a big believer in remote backup services, and seeing as I use one extensively now, I can’t tell you how much panic and stress that takes out of a computer crash.  Even though my system was down, and it would be a pain if I had to set it up all over again, it was a relief knowing all my documents and files were safely stored somewhere on a remote server.  If you haven’t started backing up your systems yet, do it, you won’t regret it for a second the first time you have a computer problem.

All in all it was a good learning experience, if also a bit frightening.

Categories: General Computing Tips   

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