Christina9713
1 Copper

Alienware X51 power cycling/startup trouble, other PC/laptop got fried!

Potentially some unconnected events here, but please bear with the TL;DR. I am not PC-savvy in the slightest...just one of those frantic tech-impaired people waving their arms shouting for HELP! 😛

I'll start early back - basically, I think this house has electrical issues. Before I moved in with my roommate(s), they'd been experiencing power surges that damaged various room equipment (including killing all the fish in an aquarium), electrocuted an external USB fan through my PC (though the PC was fine), caused lights to dim/flicker, and spontaneous whole-house outages while gaming. These were truly terrible; I had little knowledge of what could be causing the issues, but after replacing a potentially burnt-out surge protector with a new one, all the outages stopped, so we figured we patched the problem. 2 gaming computers and a space heater plugged into that new surge protector was probably not good for it, but unfortunately I did not know any better. 

Still, that situation worked for many months. Until about a month and a half ago, when trying to boot my computer one morning; I found that it would not wake from sleep. When I pressed the power on switch, all the lights and fans came on, and the keyboard lights even flickered a couple times, but the motherboard never beeped. The fans would rush for about 3 seconds, then abruptly shut off for another couple seconds. Then it would try again to turn itself on, without me having pressed anything on it. It cycled like this on and on for a couple attempts before I got the sense to turn it off and unplug it.

Opened it up, cleaned it out, tried again, still acting like a stalling car. It would not POST or get far enough that I could actually see any errors on the display. The neighboring computer on the same power strip had been on all night playing music and was not having any issues at this time, btw - so I assumed it was an issue with this particular PC, maybe having dust in it or something shorted out. The space heater was plugged in at this time, but was not running.

Eventually, the PC spontaneously worked. It cycled the on/off thing a couple times, staying on slightly longer and longer each time before eventually making it to the motherboard beep and booting up like nothing ever happened. I checked every log and registry for any sign of what happened, but the computer had total "amnesia" as to what power event was previously happening to it (I guess because nothing actually turned on other than the fans/lights). I was concerned but since I couldn't find anything, I figured I should back up my files in the meantime, then just let it go unless/until something else happened. Maybe it just had a lot of dust in it, and the fans working overtime from all the repeated startup attempts blew it out? (Best solution I could come up with in my head)

Then "something else" happened this Monday. The same exact power-on cycling issues again when trying to boot up from off this time (not sleep). The other PC was, again, still plugged in, on and working normally all night playing music next to it. Roommate turned off her PC when she left; we decided we'd open up my PC together after work and check it out. In the meantime, I went to turn her PC (not an Alienware) back on to use it. Now HER PC was suddenly having startup issues. Not a peep from the motherboard. Hers didn't seem to have the same protective shutoff feature that mine had, either - the fans and lights all came on and just stayed on. No display, no POST, no motherboard error beeps even. I tried a couple more times to turn it on, getting increasingly alarmed before it occurred to me that maybe those horrible power issues were back and had hurt both computers! I unplugged them both and was distraught. 

It turns out her computer was indeed "dead," but mine was not. We were able to get mine to boot normally, plugged directly into the wall in another part of the house (not for long, dw). Hers, on the other hand, was nonresponsive. We think it's her CPU that got fried. 😞 What's totally baffling to me is that hers was working just fine both times, while mine was having those power cycling issues. Was it only when I attempted to turn her computer back on a second time, that it was damaged by whatever power event was hurting my PC?

It was an old computer anyway, so we're replacing it. We also have a big beefy PSU tower now that uses clean battery power and alerts us to any power issues - not taking that chance again, especially with a brand new PC on the way! We also had an electrician over, but he did not find anything that would explain the history of outages and damaged appliances - just said that the space heater caused "voltage drop" and we should be careful using it on the same circuit with the PCs.

There was also a point where I tried to plug an old laptop into the surge protector (the second one - so the new one we had gotten that "fixed" the power outages for a while, but not the PSU yet) and I think it might have made the laptop unsafe to use! At this point I was being foolish and hadn't realized it was probably a localized power issue yet; was just trying to get on the internet to google solutions. The laptop's fan kept alternating between spinning at a very high speed and dead-stop, as though it were being flipped on and off repeatedly by a switch. This confused but didn't alarm me, until the screen started getting garbled, with graphic buttons "bent" oddly across the screen, and then followed by an electrical popping/static sound, that scared me so badly I turned it right off and haven't touched it since.

I've seen reports of other people having similar issues with the Alienware X51 - does anyone think the cycling on/off issue is definitely related to an external power event, and if so, what exactly was the external power event that caused it? If the new PSU starts setting off an alarm, I'll be sure to update, but it's not showing anything abnormal now, so I can't comment.

The other desktop computer and laptop are potential casualties that I'm associating with the Alienware's startup issues, for now. 

We also found that part of a case fan had popped out and come loose in the case; I have NO idea if that has anything to do with these power issues, or if one event precipitated the other. I have posted a second thread on it, currently waiting on moderation; I'll post a link as well once both are up.

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westom
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RE: Alienware X51 power cycling/startup trouble, other PC/laptop got fried!

Address unknowns and popular urban myths.

First, surges (that typically destroy hardware) occur maybe once every seven years. You do not describe a surge.  Apparently you have some basic electrical defects.  For example, that protector on one plug could have even caused death of fish on another circuit.  But since an actual defect was never identified, then almost nothing unique to your situation can be posted.

We can note some well understood principles relevant to your situation.  For example, a protector adjacent to a computer and not properly connected to an earthing electrode can make computer damage easier. In your case, apparently that power strip protector had further defects.  Apparently because only speculation blamed that power strip.

Second, your computer behavior centers around a power controller. It decides when to power on, power off, and even when the CPU is permitted to operate.  No log entries are possible since an OS does not operate when its CPU is not even permitted (by a power controller) to operate.

Power controller may order a PSU on, dislike what it sees, and power off in seconds.  That is what a controller is suppose to do.  Nobody can say anything more without some hard numbers.

Third, if any appliance causes incandescent bulbs to change intensity, then a wiring problem is obvious.  In most cases, that is due to poor workmanship (ie wire nut improperly installed).  In rare cases, that is reporting a serious human safety issue.  Never ignore those last four words.

Fourth, power problems clearly do not 'fry' a CPU.  It might fry other parts.  But definitely not a CPU.   Making conclusions only from speculation is a contributing factor to your failures.  You did not even identify why that power strip caused an outage.  Only assumed its removal solved a problem.  That is not a computer saavy issue.  That is a problem traceable to how layman make conclusions by not using proper thought processes.  You did not identify reasons for failure.  So power problems have always remained.  A major layman thinking mistake is to assume no problem exists because things work or symptoms are not apparent.  You did not identify why that power strip caused outages.  So the problem most likely remains even when symptoms do not exist.

Fifth, zero reasons exist to believe a "beefy CPU tower" provides 'clean' power.  I will assume that is really a UPS.  Normal and ideal power for a computer is when incandescent bulbs dim to 40% intensity or double in brightness.  So a UPS does nothing useful there.  Especially since all computers convert cleanest power to 'dirtiest in the building'.  Then computers use superior filters, regulators, and galvanic isolation to convert intentionally made 'dirtiest' power into rock stable, cleanest, low DC voltages.

That robust nature of all computers is why UPS power (when in battery backup mode) is routinely so 'dirty'.  It need not be 'clean' because all electronics are so robust.  Do not power motorized appliances from a UPS.  That power can be so 'dirty' as to be potentially harmful to motorized appliances.  Same 'dirt' is ideal for electronics.

Your AC main voltages must vary by tens of volts.  Or hundreds of volts for a laptop.  Then internal computer voltages do not even vary by one tenth volt.  Because best power 'cleaners' are already inside every computer.

UPS has one function.  Created temporary and 'dirty' power so that unsaved data can be saved.  UPS does nothing to protect hardware; only protects data.  Ignore advertising myths, wild speculation, and intentional lies that say otherwise.  Or do what layman are always suppose to do - learn from numbers.  And ignore subjective recommendations.  Believing subjective claims or making conclusions from them is a major layman mistake.

Sixth, stop sacrificing computers as it a problem is solved when a computer magically starts working.  You have electrical problems.  Ignore any recommendation that does not include numbers.  If you do not spend $5 or $14 on a meter and then learn how to use it using layman simple directions, then you must get an electrician in ASAP.  Those symptoms can be reporting defects that can even result in fire.  Obviously a first problem is a lack of someone who can think through what is otherwise a simple problem.  What should be layman simple decisions were ignored.  Worse, speculation has been promoted as a conclusion.

Again, do not ignore what should be obvious.  That defect or defects were never identified by facts.  Instead, only speculation was used.   So a serious human safety issue probably has existed all along.  Somebody must start hunting for the problem; not curing symptoms.

As a side note - manufacturers of better computers provide comprehensive hardware diagnostics for free.  Those exist so that strange, intermittent, or problematic failures are identified in minutes.  Without speculation.  You should download and operate Dell diagnostics when hardware is still good.  So that you know how to execute them, what constitutes good hardware, and to better appreciate a difference between speculation and hard facts.

Ask to learn how to identify your problem.  Since defects must always be identified long before any solution is implemented.  Only useful answers come with numbers; ignore all others.  Or get an electrician ASAP.  Stop curing symptoms - a common layman mistake.  First identify and then fix the defect.

As noted up top, we can only provide principles since facts (especially numbers) unique to your venue are not provided.

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