Server Fault is a question and answer site for system and network administrators. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I have a client PC at work that appears to be shutting down randomly as of late (very annoying!). I have investigated the guts of the case, cleaned out a lot of dust, and the problem persists.

The PC is a fairly old HP Pavilion desktop(purchased in about 2002). It has a Pentium 4 1.8GHZ processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, 2 HDDs, neither of which is the original drive (both are Western Digital, primary is 320GB, slave is 250GB). The PC is running Windows XP SP3.

It seems as though it might be a power supply issue, because the power just dies out instantly, but with the age of the PC it could be something more.

Should I just replace the power supply and then continue to test the machine? New power cord? Gut it and cut my losses? Over-the-top paper weight?!

share|improve this question
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Try replacing the power supply with a known good power supply. It could be the power supply, motherboard, memory, and sometimes more. You might not have clean power going to the power supply, so a line conditioner would be another solution to keep blowing power supplies.

share|improve this answer

In my experience, the symptoms you describe almost always mean the power supply is bad and needs to be replaced. Unfortunately, when a power supply goes bad, it loves to to take other components, at random, with it. You seem to have two options:

Save the computer

Cheaper but time consuming method: If you wish to save the computer, try running the computer with a known good power supply, a new one or a compatible one from another working computer. If that fixes the problem, great! Buy a new power supply. If it doesn't, then you need to isolate as few components at a time as possible and test them, but still with the known good power supply. When you find a bad one, replace it test again, until the problem is fixed. Once all the other pieces are fixed, you still won't know if the power supply is bad, unless you get it tested with proper test equipment. Whatever you do, you don't want to test it in another computer, then you'll end up with two dead computers instead of one. If you can't get it tested, but found other bad components, you may wish to replace it just to be safe.

The computer is lost

Expensive but quick method: For whatever reason, the above doesn't or won't work for you, then you need a new computer. Depending on how much damage has been done, you might end up building most of a new computer using the previous method anyway, and could have saved yourself the trouble by just buying a new one in the first place.

My recomendation: Try a good power supply and hope that fixes it. If it doesn't, then you're probably replacing the heart of the computer anyway, so get a new one, budget allowing.

share|improve this answer
If you do decide to get another computer, bear in mind that you can put the old hard drive into the new computer (IDE or SATA connection or external USB enclosure) to access it's data. – Marcus Jul 9 '09 at 17:50

Cutting out like that is often a power supply problem as you recognised, power supplies are pretty cheap and easy to replace, so I'd recommend changing it. If that doesn't work however then your looking at something more serious and you want to consider whether its worth paying any more to replace parts, or just replacing the PC.

share|improve this answer

Assuming you've got the thing plugged in to a UPS, it's most likely the power supply. I've certainly seen it more than I'd like.

Just get a new supply before you start really trying to troubleshoot. Think about it... a new power supply is $30-40 from any office supply or computer store. How much would it cost you to spend a few hours troubleshooting?

share|improve this answer

My father's computer did this same behavior and I found it was the processor cooling fan and also a degredation of the arctic silver paste making contact between the processor and heat dispersion blades. You may want to check both of these. If the processor overheats, it can cut the computer off cold-turkey. We found the computer would stay on longer if it was off for a while and stay on less time if it were already warm - which lead us to a thermal issue. To determine if the power supply is the issue, you could disconnect all components from it and see how long it runs without load.

share|improve this answer

the question I'd have it is it worth saving? How much time have you already spent and how much are you willing to spend? It's likely the power supply but even at $40 for parts you've likely spent $100 in time. For a machine that old I'd just replace it with This HP (349 direct from HP) if you want to stick with them or this Dell (starts at 279 but will likely end up close to the same price)

share|improve this answer

Also don't forget to consider your time. If it's a personal system at home or you work for a small company, or simply don't get overtime, it might be worth the time to swap power supplied, memory, HDD, the CPU, heatsink, and so an. On the other hand if you spend 10 or 20 hours to "repair it", you accounting people will tell you it would have been cheaper to replace it with a new more reliable system.

share|improve this answer

My first two guesses:

  1. Power supply. I've seen several that have had the behavior you describe.

  2. CPU overheating. I've seen some cases where the thermal compound broke down or wasn't applied properly or the cooling fan slowed down, etc, etc. Long story short, the PC ran perfectly until you actually did something that heated up the CPU. The motherboard would shut off the PC immediately when it detected the CPU overheating (safety feature).

I'd start with the power supply and if the problem persists check the CPU.

But since you said it was an OLD system sometimes the best/fastest/efficient solution is to simply replace the PC.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.