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How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

There may be a time when your desktop computer does not start up. There could be a few reasons why it does not start. The first thing that comes to mind is a failed power supply. Here's how to test your desktop power supply.

How to tell if your desktop computer power supply has failed

Living in Phoenix, we have one thing that really takes a toll on a desktop computer. No, it is not the heat, it is the dust. Since our environment here is so dry, we get a lot of dust.

How to clean the dust out of your computer

And since dust does conduct electricity, power supplies have a tendency to fail. Even if you routinely clean your desktop computer, they still only have a life span of around 3 to 5 years.

So, if when you press the power button your desktop computer does not start and there are no lights that light up, then you may have a failed power supply.

Now if you do not feel comfortable working around electricity or inside of your desktop computer, please contact a local computer technician.

How to test your desktop computer power supply

  1. Disconnect the power cord that comes from the outlet to the power supply.
  2. After you have disconnected the power cord, open up the case and touch any metal part of the power supply or case to discharge any remaining energy.
  3. Make a note or take pictures of all of the connections that lead from the power supply to the different devices. Once you have documented all of the power leads, then remove all of connections (SATA, Molex, PCI-e, ATX, MB, etc.) to all of the different devices and motherboard.
  4. Create a jumper from a piece of thin gauge wire or paper clip.
  5. Plug the power cord back in to the jack on the back of the power supply.
  6. Using the jumper you created, connect Pin 16 to either Pin 17 or Pin 18.
    Motherboard power supply connectior
    If the power supply fan starts to run, the power supply has output voltage and is good. If the power supply fan does not spin, it is time to replace it.

If your power supply has failed, make note of what type and how many connectors your existing power supply has.
Common desktop power supply connections
Also check the stated output of your existing power supply from the label on the side.

I also recommend that you use tape measure or ruler is measure the dimensions of the power supply, (Width x Height x Depth) as you will want to get as close as possible to these for the replacement power supply.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

There may be a time when you need to run a program in Windows that does not have a shortcut to it. Usually it is a program that is not used that often. So here is how start a program using the Run dialog box.

How to get to and use the Run dialog box in Windows

The Run dialog box is meant to run programs that you don't necessarily use that often and you do not have a shortcut to. It may be a system application or a downloaded installation program.

There are two (2) ways to use the Run dialog box. If you know the name of the application you want to start, you can usually just type the name into the Run dialog box and click OK.

For example, if you have Microsoft Word installed on your computer, you can just type Winword (the actual name of Microsoft Word) in the Run dialog box and click OK. Microsoft Word will then start up. That is because the program directory is in the Path (it is an environmental variable). The Windows system directory is in the Path by default.

If your program is not in the Path, then you will have to click on Browse... and manually find the program you want to start. Once you have the name of the program you want to start in the Run dialog box, just click on OK.

Now bringing up the Run dialog box is fairly simple. The way you go about getting to it is kind of different in each version of Windows, but there is one keyboard shortcut that works for all versions.

Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R

Here are all of the ways to access the Run dialog box in the different versions of Windows.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 7

The Run dialog box in Windows 7
The Run dialog box in Windows 7

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Navigate to All Programs > Accessories.
  3. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Type Run in the search box right above the Taskbar.
  3. Left-click on Run in the search results.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 8.1

The Run dialog box in Windows 8.1
The Run dialog box in Windows 8.1

  1. Left-click on the Start button.
  2. When the Start screen appears, just type Run. It will automatically bring up the Search dialog box with Run in the search field and the results will appear below it.
  3. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Right-click on the Start button to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + X to bring up the Power User menu
  2. Press the R key.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

How to bring up the Run dialog box in Windows 10

The Run dialog box in Windows 10
The Run dialog box in Windows 10

  1. Type Run in the Search box (Cortana) on the right side of the Start button.
  2. Left-click on Run in the search results.

Or

  1. Left-click on the Start menu.
  2. Scroll down the list of programs until you come to the Windows System folder.
  3. Left-click on the Windows System folder to expand it.
  4. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Right-click on the Start menu to bring up the Power User menu.
  2. Left-click on Run.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + X to bring up the Power User menu
  2. Press the R key.

Or

  1. Press the Windows Logo key Windows logo key + R.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

So, you are thinking about building your own computer. There are allot of things you have to decide on. So here are a few things to keep in mind when building your own custom-built computer.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Building your own system can be quite satisfying, like being able to say "I built it myself". And you can also perform any service on it, since you know where everything is located.

But if you do not plan it out, it can be a nightmare. Like having to return components that are not right. It can be a real headache if you order them online and have to ship them back.

So, let's take a look at some of the considerations you have to think about before you purchase the components for your custom-built computer.

Form vs Function

It is an age-old problem: Form vs. Function. Do you want a system that is really cool looking or takes up very little space (form)? Or maybe a system that can run graphic intense games or can hold ton of components (function)?

Over the years I have built both types of computers for my personal use. My first few were built purely for function, playing games and a ton of storage using a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks).

They were big and not very pretty to look at, but they served the purpose. But systems like that have one big issue: cooling. Trying to keep all of the components cool was tough.

Now a few years ago I decided that I was tired of having to leave the side panel of my computer case off and have fan blowing air in to it. It just didn't look good to me or others that I might have come into my office.

I wasn't playing the games anymore and the size of hard drives had increased, so I did not need to have a RAID any more. So, I decided to start using a case that was more appealing to the eyes.

A custom-built computer based on Form

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on form, then the first thing you have to decide on is the case. They come in all sorts of sizes, ranging from the ultra-small mini-ITX to an ATX bench case.

You can go with a conventional looking case or something unique, like clear Plexiglass. You can get them with a ton of LED's or just plain.
A computer case with a custom finish
You can find them in all sorts of colors or you can apply your own finish.

Custom cases: Faux Stone and Chalkboard
Custom cases: Back in Black
Custom Cases: The Antec Skeleton

Or you can go with something completely open like an Antec Skeleton.
An orginal Antec Skeleton case
It is whatever you want your custom-built computer to look like. Once you have decided on a case, the case will dictate what components you can put inside (motherboard, graphics card, power supply, etc.).

If the case you want to use can hold a micro-ATX or standard ATX motherboard, you can follow the Function factor instructions below. If the case you want to use can hold a mini-ITX or mini-ATX motherboard, finding a motherboard is the next step.

Since mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases are small, the motherboards for them will have limited options for what CPU's (Central Processing Unit) they can use. Remember that the faster the CPU runs, the more heat it will make.

And with smaller mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, CPU cooling options may be limited to just air cooled heatsinks. It just depends on how much space inside of the case you have available.

When it comes to GPU's (Graphics Processing Unit), you may or may not have room for one. But if you are not going to be using your system for graphic intensive programs like Photoshop, you can easily use the on-board graphics built-in to the motherboard.

In some mini-ITX and mini-ATX cases, you can use a GPU if you use a riser board that comes up off of the motherboard. But keep in mind that some cases can use full-height expansion cards and some can use only half-height expansion cards, so double check the specifications for the case.

When it comes to drives, you will probably have to go with a 2.5" drive, either a (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)). Of course, it all depends on what the case has been designed to hold. The same holds true for a CD / DVD / BD optical drive.

You will also need a power supply that fits the case size. Some cases come with them, so do not. And be prepared to pay a little more the smaller form factor, mini-ITX and mini-ATX, power supplies than micro-ATX or standard ATX ones.

You also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for all of the different components. If you are going to use a GPU, make sure you have enough PCI-e (8-pin and/or 6-pin) power connectors.

And lastly, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

A custom-built computer based on Function

If you are thinking about building your custom-built computer based on its Function, then the first thing you have to decided is what CPU (Central Processing Unit) are you going to use (AMD or Intel).

As strange as it may sound, the CPU will dictate everything else in your computer. For example, let's say you want to build a high-end gaming or 3d rendering machine and you want to run an Intel Xeon or Intel I9 processor.

First, you will need to find a motherboard that has all of the features, like PCI-e slots, you want and the correct socket type for the processor you have chosen to use. Always check the specifications for the motherboard to make sure that the processor you want to use is supported.

Remember, that even if a motherboard has the correct socket type, the BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) may not support the CPU you have selected. I always go to the manufacturers website and double check the supported CPU's.

Now that you have the CPU and motherboard selected, how are you going to cool the CPU? Air or liquid? Air cooled heatsinks sit on top of the CPU and can get kind of large (tall), so you will have to have a case that has enough room for it.

Same thing holds true for liquid coolers, but they utilize radiators than need to be mounted inside of the case, either on the rear or top. I preferred the top mounted liquid CPU coolers, as the radiators have far more surface area for cooling the liquid than ones that mount in the rear of the case.

And if you are thinking about over-clocking your CPU, then go with a large, top mounted liquid CPU cooler. But remember that over-clocking will in some cases void the CPU manufacturer's warranty, so be careful and keep it cool.

Next thing to think about is the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) / graphics card(s). Most high-end GPU's require more space inside of the case and if you want to use multiple GPU's then you will need a case that is large enough to hold them all.

By now you have a good idea on what size of computer case you will need. You are probably looking a mid-size or full-size tower. Keep in mind that good air flow inside the case is essential. So, having at least one fan in the front and rear of the case is recommended.

Next thing to look at is the power supply. Since you are looking at a mid to full size case, a standard ATX type power supply is what you are going to need. You just need to know how many watts all of the components you want to use will require. A 600 to 700 watt power supply should be sufficient.

You will also need to make sure the power supply has enough of the proper connectors (ATX12V, SATA, PCIe, Molex) for the motherboard and components you want to use. Keep in mind what additional power the GPU (8-pin and/or 6-pin PCI-e) might require. Each PCI-e connection for the GPU is roughly 75 watts.

And of course, you are going to need some memory modules. Just check the motherboard specifications to find out what type of memory and how many it can handle. You can usually just install one memory module, but I always recommend installing them in pairs (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.). You can get a better price on memory modules if you buy them in twin-packs and quad-packs.

As far as drives are concerned, you can usually go with either 2.5" (Solid State Drive (SSD)) or 3.5" (Hard Disk Drive (HDD)) drives. If you are building a high-end system, you will want to go with one of each (an SSD as the first (boot) drive with an HDD for storage as the second drive). A CD / DVD / BD optical drive is completely optional.

With all of that said, you should be ready to assemble your custom-built computer. And if you feel kind of overwhelmed with it all, go ahead and contact a local computer technician for assistance.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

Have you ever wanted to add more USB ports to your desktop computer? Or maybe a video card or wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapter? Here's how to add an expansion card to your desktop computer.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

One of the coolest things about desktop computers is that you can add more functionality to it by installing an expansion card. Expansion cards range from video cards and RAID controllers to USB ports and wireless (Wi-Fi) network adapters. But before you can do anything, you will need to know a few things:

  • What expansion slots you have available in your computer?
  • What is the height (full or half) of your computer case?
  • What are the power requirements for the expansion card you want to install?

But before you can do anything, you need to know what expansion card slots your desktop computer may have available. The most common expansion slot is the PCI Express (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe, PCI-e)) bus type. See #1 and #2 in the installation instructions at the bottom of this article to find out how to open up your computer case to check.

The different PCI-e bus types

Now PCI-e slots and expansion cards come in different bus sizes, varying in the amount of connectors and bus speed. Generally, the more connectors, the faster the speed.

A photo of a PCI Express x16 slot
PCI Express x16 slot (82 connectors per side x 2 sides = 164 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x4 slot
PCI Express x4 slot (32 connectors per side x 2 sides = 64 connectors)

A photo of a PCI Express x1 slot
PCI Express x1 slot (18 connectors per side x 2 sides = 36 connectors)

The two different computer case heights

Once you know what expansion slot(s) your desktop computer has available, you need to find out what height (full-size or half-size) your computer case is.

A photo of a full-height expansion slot
Full-height expansion slot

A photo of a half-height expansion slot
Half-height expansion slot

Now a full-size case can use either full or half size expansion cards. If the expansion card you are looking at installing is low profile, the manufacturer usually will include both full-size and half-size mounting brackets. But if the expansion card is full height, you will not be able to install it in a half-size case, so double check it before you purchase it.

Check the expansion card power requirements

Now everything that you plug into your motherboard requires power. The drives, processor and even the memory modules require a certain amount of power. Check the specifications for the expansion card you want to install and find the how much power it requires.

Next thing you need to check is how many watts your power supply delivers. This is crucial. Normally there is a power output table on the side of the power supply inside of your desktop computer that tells you what the maximum DC output is.

A photo of a typical desktop power supply output table
A typical desktop power supply output table

If your computer is a low-profile or Small Form Factor (SFF), knowing what the power output is critical. Most SFF computers have smaller power supplies (physical size) that have lower power output. Generally, SFF power supplies have less than 300 watts of output, which may or may not have enough power to run an additional expansion card.

And to top it off, the expansion card you want to install might even require more power than it can get through the PCI-e bus, thus requiring an additional connection or two from the power supply.

High-end video cards are known to require an additional PCI-e power plug(s) from the power supply. If your power supply doesn't have enough PCI-e (6 or 8 pin), Molex (4 pin) or SATA (15 pin) connections, you will need to upgrade your power supply.

A photo of a video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections
A video card that has both 8-pin and 6-pin PCI-e power connections

So now that you have got the require information and purchased your expansion card, it is time to install it.

Installing an expansion card in a desktop computer

Installing an expansion card is relatively easy. You may or may not require tools, as some computer cases are tool free. At the most, you might need a Philips head screw driver to get the side of the case open and to secure the expansion card to the case.

  1. Disconnect the power cord from the computer. After disconnecting the power cord, place your hand on any metal part of the case to discharge any residual energy. Never work on a system that is plugged in and energized.
  2. Open up the case. This usually means having to take the side panel off. Take a look at the back of the case and find out what side all of the motherboard connections are on. The side panel you need to remove is on the opposite side of these.
  3. Remove the expansion slot cover panel on the back side of the case. Some panels are secured with a screw, some are stamped right into the metal back of the case. If it is a stamped panel, you will have to work it back and forth to break it off, so be careful not to cut your fingers doing it.
  4. Install the expansion card. Most cards will slip right in, but make sure the notched edge of the mounting bracket slides down into the slot in the case. Sometimes you have to give it a little push from the outside of the case to get it in. Once it is in place, secure it down.
  5. Replace the side of the case, connect the power cord and power your computer up.

If Windows doesn't automatically install the driver for the expansion card, you may have to use the installation disk that came with it. If the expansion card did not come with installation media, just go to the manufacturers website and download it.

Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

When it comes to repairing computers, there are times when I have to be able access Hard Disk Drives (HDD), Solid State Drives (SSD) or CD/DVD drives outside of a laptop or desktop case. That is when I need to use a drive adapter or docking station. So here are some of my favorite drive adapters and docking stations.

Using a drive adapter or docking station to access a drive

Having a power supply or motherboard fail can be a real pain in the butt. Not only can you not get your computer to start up, but you cannot even get to any of your documents or settings. That is when having a second computer and a drive adapter or docking station comes in really handy.

Using a drive adapter or docking station can convert a HDD or SSD drive to a USB device. And if you use a drive adapter, you can actually connect a CD/DVD drive to a ultra-thin laptop and use it a record or playback CD's or DVD's.

Now I have several different drive adapters and docking stations that I use for different uses. The majority of them are USB 3.0 but I do have a couple that are USB 2.0.

The easiest one to use is a drive adapter that attaches directly to the back of the device. This is the type I use to connect a CD/DVD drive to ultra-thin laptops that do not have CD/DVD drive. I also use it with desktop computers with CD/DVD drives that do not work.

Photo of a single drive adapter
Photo of a single drive adapter

Now the majority of drive adapters and docking station can only work with Serial ATA (SATA) drives. The one pictured above not only works with SATA drives, but also with 2.5" or 3.5" Parallel ATA (PATA) for those 'old school' drives.

And the cool thing about this drive adapter is the power supply for it uses a standard Molex connector. You can use it to power up any older device that has a Molex connection.

Photo of a single drive docking station
Photo of a single drive docking station

The most common docking station is for a single SATA drive. The nice thing about docking stations is they have power buttons, so you do not have to disconnect the USB connection first before disconnecting the power supply.

Photo of a multiple drive docking station
Photo of a multiple drive docking station

You can also get docking stations that can hold more than one drive. These come in handy if you are cloning one drive to another. They can also be used to recreate failed RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) arrays.

The down side to docking stations is you can only connect 2.5" or 3.5" HDD's or SSD's to them. If you want to connect a CD/DVD drive, you will need to use a drive adapter.

Using either a drive adapter or docking station is just like using an external drive. Just attach it to a USB port and power it up. Most computers will automatically install a driver and assign it a drive letter. From there you are ready to go.

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