It started out as a normal Saturday. It was October 8, 2005. Shortly after waking up, I proceeded to go through the steps of turning on my computer.
I successfully completed two out of the three steps I would normally take to turn on my computer. I first plugged in the surge protector. Then I flipped the surge protector on. Normally I would then press the power button on my computer, but I was startled to hear my computer turn on all by itself. Eek! It’s trying to take over the world!… uh, just kidding.
I looked at my Dell computer case. The power light was orange instead of normal “everything’s okay” green. The monitor was blank and its power light was also orange. And so began The Mystery of the Orange Light. Dun-dun-dun-duuunnn…
Although orange is one of my favorite colors, I knew my computer was not trying to appeal to my color favorites. Something was obviously wrong. I held down on the power button in an attempt to turn off the computer. It didn’t turn off. So I flipped off the surge protector. Of course, the computer turned off (I would get really freaked out if it didn’t…). I flipped the surge protector back on. The computer turned on by itself – again. I repeated this; same result. I held down the power button… longer. The computer finally turned off. Flip off, flip on, no automatic starting up. Whew!
After that was solved, I ran downstairs and made a beeline to the location where my computer’s packaging was stored. I grabbed my Dell Dimension 8400 User’s Manual and went upstairs. After a bit of searching through the manual, I found a section that read “If the power light is steady amber – a device might be malfunctioning or incorrectly installed.” It then suggested that I reseat the memory modules, the graphics card, and the other PCI cards in the case.
Oh, great. I was a little nervous about opening my case, though because this computer had died on me before I had had some experience with accessing the innards of my computer. After going through the routine of unplugging everything from the back, I pulled out the case into an open area, put it on its side, and opened it up.
My last computer failure was due to what appeared to be an overheated hard drive. So the first thing I did was to look for any evidence of high temperatures. I didn’t see any circuitry that looked or smelled like it had been through a barbeque, so I proceeded with the actions suggested in the manual.
I had two DDR2 RAM modules in the slots. I picked the one that was the most easily accessible and delicately took it out of its slot. The instructions then stated that in order to avoid damage to the module, I had to push straight down and push evenly on both ends of the module. If I did it correctly, the latches on both sides of the slot would snap into place to hold the module in position.
The RAM module would not go in. I tried pushing softly. I tried pushing hard. It didn’t go in. I wasn’t sure if I should push harder because I was afraid I would break it. In the end, my dad was able to help me get it back in. Turns out I had to â€œhelp it inâ€ by closing the latches while pushing…
After spending about half an hour or more on that one module, I, of course, did not want to try the second. Nor did I want to try the graphics or PCI cards. So I closed the case.
I tried doing some mental troubleshooting. The job of finding the failed component was made even more difficult by the fact that the Dell Diagnostic lights on the back of the computer were off, which the manual said meant the computer is off or “a possible pre-BIOS error has occurred.” I started my thought processes with the list of components whose reseating was suggested by the manual. At first I thought it must be the graphics card, since there was no monitor output. I tried both the analog and digital cables of my LCD monitor with no success. When I thought about what the Dell Diagnostic lights were telling me, I thought “it couldn’t be that.” It must be something that would normally provide data to the graphics card. Otherwise the diagnostic lights would probably indicate a graphics card failure. Could it be the motherboard? The power supply? The power cord?
As I usually do when I’m stuck with a major hardware problem, I called my friend Jordan, who is quite knowledgeable in computer hardware, having built his own computer. He guessed that it probably had something to do with the power supply. He also suggested I check the connections on my motherboard. I checked the connections. No luck.
The only way I could think of as to test the power supply was to get a new one and see if it worked. Same with the other possibly-busted components. Ugh.
In summary, I was stuck. I was sure the warranty was expired. The only thing left that I could think of would be to call a local computer repair person later in the week.
And so concludes part 1 of The Mystery of the Orange Light! Dun-dun-dun-duuunnn…
To be continued.
(By the way, if you can guess what the problem is on the first try, I’ll be quite impressed.)