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Motherboard Failure: Diagnosis and Solutions

Posted by nik on May 11, 2019

Repair of electronic components

Repair of electronic components.

If your computer suddenly (or not so suddenly) stops working, the motherboard is one of the likely culprits. Unfortunately, they’re also one of the most problematic computer components to repair or replace. Not only is the motherboard usually one of the pricier components on the machine, if you have to replace it you often have to replace the CPU and the memory as well – an expense that can mean a whole new computer would actually be a cheaper alternative. However, before you dig out the credit cards, there are some things to check because that seemingly dead board may in fact be okay. In this article I’ll show you how to diagnose motherboard problems, and some alternatives to replacing a broken board.

What Is a Motherboard?

For people who didn’t grow up building computers and who haven’t learned the architecture of these ubiquitous machines, let’s have a brief tutorial about the components of a personal computer and where the motherboard fits into the scheme. Conceptually as well as physically, computers have three basic kinds of components: the processor, the storage (memory and permanent storage as well), and the input/output (I/O) system. The processor is your CPU, probably a microchip from AMD or Intel, along with your GPU if you have one. The storage is your RAM and your hard drive(s) – where you put your information. Finally, the input/output system is all the elements that let you interact with the computer – the video card and monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, and so on.

So where does the motherboard fit into this system? Well, the motherboard isn’t conceptually important, but it’s physically crucial. It’s the circuit board (really a set of circuit boards put all together) on which all these other components are placed. The CPU plugs into the motherboard, where it communicates via a channel called a “bus” with the hard drive, the memory, the keyboard, and all the rest. The memory is generally placed directly on the motherboard; the hard drive is probably in its own area, but it connects to a hard drive controller which is located, you guessed it, on the motherboard. The keyboard and the USB slots are wired right into the motherboard. The video card plugs into the motherboard, usually with its own bus.

It’s called a “motherboard” because, like a mothership, it’s the base on which your whole computer operates. No motherboard, no PC.

There are so many wires in there.

Early Warning Signs

If your computer starts to develop issues, most of the time, there are some early warning signs that a part is going bad. Here are some things to look out for with your motherboard:

  1. Motherboard doesn’t recognize/show peripherals.
  2. Peripherals will stop working for a few seconds or more.
  3. Slow boot-ups could indicate that your motherboard is going bad, though it could be other components as well (more on this below).
  4. Computer won’t recognize flash drives, or monitor sometimes shows strange lines (particularly relevant if you have onboard video on your motherboard).
  5. Motherboard doesn’t POST (Power On Self Test).
  6. Burning smell or burn marks anywhere on the motherboard itself.
  7. Bulging or leaking capacitors

Signs of Failure

Motherboards are historically the most difficult pieces of hardware to diagnose because, in most cases, you have to rule out every other piece of hardware that is connected to it. There aren’t usually any real signs of failure, other than your computer suddenly turning into an expensive doorstop. A hard drive might give you signs of failure, such as blue screens or lost files, but a motherboard will just suddenly stop working.  That being said, here are some things you can try first to ensure the problem is with your motherboard instead of another hardware component.

Diagnosing the Problem

ATX Motherboard

There are some easy troubleshooting steps you can take to determine if your motherboard is going bad. Below we break the troubleshooting procedure into two categories: 1) What to check if the computer still passes the POST and boots (or attempts to boot), and 2) what to check if the computer no longer passes the POST or does not even turn on.

Computer Passes POST and Boots OS

If your computer still turns on and even boots into the operating system, you should rule out other hardware components first to make sure these aren’t causing the symptoms listed above.

Harddrive(s):  Are files taking a longer time to transfer?  Are you seeing errors or blue screens?  Has boot time increased significantly?  Do you hear any clicking or loud whining noises?  If the answer to any of these questions is yes, your harddrive may be going bad.  It will be worthwhile to run the diagnostic utilities in Windows and/or from the drive’s manufacturer.  Also, see our companion article on Hard Drive Failure:  Warnings and Solutions.

Video:  Does the display seem garbled or do you see artifacts on the screen that you did not see before?  Do graphics-intensive tasks cause blue screens or instability?  If so, your videocard may be going bad and will warrant further testing.  Also, see our guide on videocard failure symptoms for further troubleshooting.

Memory (RAM):  Even though it doesn’t have any moving parts, there is a chance that your memory could be failing and causing your system to error or become unstable.  In this case, a running a diagnostic tool such as Memtest86 or Memtest86+ is recommended for further troubleshooting.

Processor (CPU):  Although somewhat rare, CPU failure could be a cause of system instability.  If you have an Intel processor, downloading and running the Intel Processor Diagnostic Tool may uncover issues with the processor itself. For AMD processors, try the AMD system monitor tool.

Power Supply (PSU):  A failing or insufficient power supply (or one that is operating out of spec) can quickly cause a system to become unstable and also potentially cause damage to the other computer system components.  Ensure you have the proper power supply for your system, and double check the supply’s voltages to make sure they are operating in line with their rated output (the voltages can easily be monitored in the BIOS or in software utilities supplied by motherboard manufacturers).  If you are still unsure, please also read through our article on power supply troubleshooting.

Motherboard BIOS Updates:  Many system instabilities can be fixed by a motherboard BIOS update (especially on newer hardware).  Please consult the support site of your motherboard’s manufacturer for more details.

Finally, also a brief word on system cooling:  In many instances, errors are experienced due to improper cooling or even cooling failure in a computer system.  If any of the system’s components are operating out of spec due to overheating, system instability can result.  A visual inspection of the system is suggested to make sure that all components are seated properly and being cooled sufficiently (i.e. case and component fans are operating normally).   Temps can also be monitored for anomalies inside the operating system using a wide variety of tools – we suggest a few free ones you can use in our article on PC temperature monitoring.

Computer Does Not POST or Turn On

Miniature technicians working on a computer circuit board or motherboard. Tech support concept.

If your computer doesn’t pass the POST test or even turn on, hardware failure is almost certain.  But the motherboard might still be functional. We want to make certain it’s not some other culprit.

The first to thing to do is perform a brief visual inspection on the system itself.  Are all components seated properly?  If the system turns on, are all the fans spinning?  If the motherboard has a visual LED indicator, what color is it (usually green means everything is OK)? If there is any doubt, try re-seating components as necessary and try starting the system again. Some more modern motherboard will even have LEDs for individual components. For instance, if there’s a problem with your RAM or CPU, you should be able to find an LED near that specific component, indicating if there’s a problem or not (again, green usually means everything is OK).

The second thing to do is confirm whether the motherboard produces error (or beep) codes when trying to start the system up with key components missing (e.g. CPU, RAM, video).  This assumes, of course, that the system still turns on.  For example, if you remove the RAM and start the computer, does it respond with error beeps?  Do note that some modern motherboards no longer support beep codes (please consult the manual of your motherboard to make sure yours does).   For more details on different motherboard beep (error) codes and what they mean, please consult these resources here and here.

In some cases it’s actually the power supply that’s bad. Power supplies can appear to still be functioning, as the power supply fan may still run, as well as the CPU fan and any lights that you might have on your computer. But just because these parts activate, it doesn’t mean the power supply is supplying enough juice to the motherboard or other parts of the computer.

Motherboard-CMOS-Battery

The silver CMOS battery inside a motherboard.

Finally, there are two more quick tests you can perform. The first and quickest is to reset the board’s CMOS by removing the battery. The second is to test the components outside the PC case. We have a great step-by-step guide over on the PCMech Forums that will take you through these steps to determine if you have a short or faulty component.

It’s Dead – Now What?

Unfortunately, if going through the diagnostic procedures above did not help, it may be time for a new motherboard. There’s no real way to tell how your motherboard died. Electronic parts experience wear and tear like anything else. All parts do eventually die; it’s a normal thing, though sometimes motherboards can die from being shorted out by a low-quality power supply. Again, this is something you can determine by putting a new and hopefully higher quality power supply in your machine and seeing if it runs or not.

If you know your motherboard is dead, as an alternate route, you could try and repair your motherboard, but it’s no easy task. You would need a solid understanding of electrical components, such as capacitors, for instance. You’d need to not only understand the risk of electrical shock, but also that it’s difficult to check if a capacitor is dead on modern motherboards. However, if you want to give it a go, Tom’s Hardware has put together an excellent and well-researched guide on replacing capacitors.

The difference between a good capacitor and a capacitor that needs replacing.

The difference between a good capacitor and a capacitor that needs replacing.

For most people, though, they’re much better off buying a new motherboard. In this case, its best to look for an exact replacement. If it’s too old, you might want to consider looking into a newer motherboard for your system as long as your components will work with it. On the other hand, it might be worth looking into building an all-new PC if you can afford it.

It’s worth heading on over to the PCMech forums and consulting some of our experts on what board is best to buy for your system. Alternatively, you could get some good advice on building a new PC, if that’s the route you decide to take!

Data Recovery

Another tech support concept of miniature technicians working on recovering data in a hard drive.

Another tech support concept of miniature technicians working on recovering data in a hard drive.

As far as data recovery goes with a dead motherboard, you’ve truly lucked out. If it was a dead hard drive, chances are, you’d have to send your hard drive to a data recovery service who would then charge you hundreds or even thousands of dollars to recover your data. And that’s if your data was even recoverable.

Recovering your data is as simple as getting a new motherboard and putting the computer back together. However, with your old hard drive plugged in, you’ll need to select it as the boot device in the BIOS settings first. After that, all of your data should still be there on boot up.

Alternatively, all you need is an adapter that turns your hard drive into an external hard drive. At that point, you can just plug it into another computer and all of your data should be available.

Have you had motherboard problems before? What were the symptoms and how did you fix the problem?  Let us know in the comments below!

We’ve got the mother lode of motherboard information! (We apologize for that joke.)

Here’s a guide to telling what motherboard model you have in Windows…or a more general piece on what kind of motherboard you have.

Want some in-depth hardware knowledge? Here’s how the capacitors on your motherboard work.

Building your own PC? Read our guide to picking the right motherboard for your build…and this guide to the various variations on the classic ATX motherboard design.

Here are some insights on why motherboards don’t have built-in WiFi.

Here’s a tutorial on using Mini-ITX motherboards for small PCs.

We’ve got a great guide on diagnosing problems with your power supply, and how to know when your BIOS needs to be updated.

 

17 thoughts on “Motherboard Failure: Diagnosis and Solutions”

Muhammad Usama says:
My pc hangs up there is no window error, no cpu heating.
core i7 3rd gen with 500 watt power supply.
I cannot understand the problem.
Please help me out.
Reply
Giovanni Carbajal says:
I have a problem with my motherboard ๐Ÿ™ it doesn’t turn on anymore. The leds indicators doesn’t light up nor when connecting it to charge. I remove the back cover to see if everything was ok, and noticed that there is a part of the motherboard heats up. Even though it burns you if touch it for a few seconds. What could be the problem in here? Same happens with the motherboard isolated from everything else
Reply
Jimmy says:
Hello, Could you pls give me more advices on my problem of the PC. Whenever I turn on the power, I dont hear a beep sound and the monitor doesn’t display anything; and also my keyboard+mouse aren’t working (NO LED light is shown). However, the PC tower is running. I see the fans are spinning and the small green light on my video card is also on. I tried the method that removing each component and boot up the computer to hear the beep… and I heard no beep. I’m not really sure if it’s my mboard or the power supply. Could you give me some tips pls?
Reply
Holt Moems says:
When i turn on my PC. The fan moving 1 sec and off fan and then fan moving and
off. And when i unplugged Light read on and beep beep beep 3 time.
Reply
Jo says:
I’m having issues with my HP beats laptop
When I start it up sometimes it will come all the way up and then shut down sometimes it begins to start and shuts off immediately. I have been told it is the battery and the charging port to the hard drive and now the motherboard
Bios said something about drivers but did a test and the battery and hard drives passed. I’m really confused. Need a straight answer
Reply
ajson says:
Thats a PSU the fans turning on for a sec.
Reply
Sarah says:
Hi my laptop is a HP Envy and when I use my laptop it goes from full charge to 20% in 30 to 45 min when set to full brightness or 1.5 hours when set to power-saving mode. My laptop is a little more than 2 years old, but I only started using it extensively from last Aug. Any ideas on whether the problem is due to a fault in a chip in the motherboard problem or the battery? Thanks.
Reply
Tomi says:
Hello
When I’m playing a game (csgo) my game goes down many times during a game, and shut down once, wondering if the problem is in my components, any idea?

My components are quite old already, expect GPU which I bought I think yearly last year.

Thanks
Tomi

Reply
elvin says:
hi, i had this issue. had to go into device manager and manually update video driver. havent had an issue since.
Reply
A frustrated User says:
Hello,i am facing such a awkward problem.I had Windows 7.When i start my pc everything works fine.Yellow light is there.Everything seems to be okay but after 5 minutes suddenly it goes to kind of sleep or whatever mode.Yellow lights turned to red i press restart button and it comes back from exact point where it was closed.I checked ram,HD,power supply everything.All was okay.I thought maybe OS problem so i installed windows 7 again.Problem was same then i installed Ubuntu and still problem is same.After 5 minutes yellow light turns to red and PC goes to sleep or hibernate.I start again and comes back to exact state.Please reply ASAP.
Reply
heather dubrow says:
sometimes I am closing and restarting the windows 10 it is demonstrating some flickering lines finally like we find in control changes. If it’s not too much trouble tell what is the issue. Regardless of whether it is for equipment issue or issue in establishment CD of windows.
Reply
Rushikes says:
When i turned on my PC then it shows on my desktop dell.com . It aslo not boot and POST . so please tell me what i can do ….???
Reply
MAMOOD THE ELEPHANT says:
Definitely a hard drive failure. Replace your hard drive and reinstall window on it.
Reply
kIERON says:
My computer desktop randomly shuts down and reboots at the most random and strange could this be a motherboard issue.
Reply
Bert says:
I don’t know but my pc ever since december 2017 freezes suddenly, and I have do a restart. It happens each day ๐Ÿ™ while the pc is 2,5 years old. I tested everything and replaced memory and graphic card, mouse etc, but that didnt help. Luckily I was able to borrow these items. A memory test with just the motherboard crashed too, with most parts like HD disconnected. I ordered a new motherboard…we’ll see!
Reply
rio says:
my pc was freezing at windows logo. Ive tried formating the hdd but it didn’t get through because it’s freezing at windows logo. I am also sure that my installer was working fine, so i tried to reformat the hdd to the other pc and install a fresh OS (same specs of pc) but the problem was still there. I also tried different working hdd but it shows the same problem.. the freezing at the logo. What do you think was the problem?
Reply
E.D says:
i have a problem. my pc only crash at gaming.. saying windows error and also sometimes my sound of the game go away. i have a Z97 asus deluxe
Reply
Kelechi says:
I have a problem on the motherboard…LG system) and I tried fixing it my self. I brought out the mother board and the power pack and tested it and it came up.. Putting it back to the case is not coming up again. Don’t know what else to do.
Reply
chandra rao says:
HI
i am using Dell make GX 260 Desktop.All of the sudden system is not up.Then checked power supply and shorted the pin green and black and found fan is running.And checked each and every colour cable voltages using multimeter found that 12V is showing 9.9 V and remaining 3.3v and 5 volts are showing correctly.
But when I connected 20Pin ATX connector to mother board, fan is not running but LED on mother board is on.
hence please advice me is it power supply problem? or some thing else.
Reply
ivan valdoir says:
Hello Sir.
I’m having problems with my laptop. when I press power button it doesn’t turn on only the battery and power led light up for 5 secs, no other signs are there.
I don’t know what is the issue. It’s a lenovo G500.
Reply
MAMOOD THE ELEPHANT says:
Your hard drive maybe dead or the RAM is defective. Try to replace either one to see if it helps. If not, the onboard graphic card may be damaged and you probably will need to buy a new laptop.
Reply
Abhishek Roy Choudhury says:
Dear Sir,
When I am shutting and restarting the windows 10 it is showing some blinking lines at last like we see in power fluctuations. Please tell what is the problem. Whether it is for hardware problem or problem in installation CD of windows.

Thanks,
Abhishek.

Reply
MAMOOD THE ELEPHANT says:
Seems to me like you are having problem with your video card, which can’t seem to handle the graphics. Replacing it with a new video card and install the drivers that come with the new card and you will be OK.
Reply

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