The Mystery of the Orange Light, Part 1

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 “help it in” 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.)

The Mystery of the Orange Light:
Part 1Part 2Part 3

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  1. Paul

    Of course I can tell you what the problem is!

    The computer is a DELL! Running WINDOWS!! That’s what the problem is!!

    Seriously, this sounds like a difficult problem. You have obviously fixed your computer (as you are posting [unless you’re posting from another computer {which is unlikely [can I fit any more brackets into this sentence??]}]), which is good, but as to what the problem actually is… I’ll think about it. :-)

  2. Yes, the problem is now fixed. :-)

    Although it could have had to do with the fact that the computer was a Dell, it is very obvious (to me, at least ;-)) that Windows was not the cause of the failure.

  3. Paul

    ^^ Obviously. I merely through the Microsoft bit in for good measure.

    Clever, no?

  4. The reason for your insertion of the Microsoft phrase is obvious to me also.

    You “through”? ;-)

  5. Paul

    *eye twitch*

    I made a GRAMMATICAL error.

    Excuse me. It is time for a period of self-punishment and purification.

  6. Nory

    I would really like to know the answer. My sister just had the same dang thing happen to her Dell.

  7. Alrighty, I’ve just posted Part 2.

  8. Mike

    Don’t you want to help anyone, what is the answer? Do you just want attention? THank about it.

  9. Mike,

    Of course I want to help people who have the same problem. I also wanted to write this post in a story format so that people who didn’t have the problem could enjoy reading the post also, since the number of people with this problem is likely to be very small.

    Because this “story” is so long, I had to break it up into several different posts, which I would hope would have been implied by the fact that the post title is suffixed by the phrase “Part 1″ and by the fact that the post has a concluding sentence reading “To be continued.”

    In the post, I invited people to guess the answer while I worked on parts 2 and 3, which have since been completed. I did not have the intention of not telling anyone the answer.

    If you want to read the rest, please refer to Parts 2 and 3.

    Thanks for your feedback.

  10. face

    Your video card for your monitor had a malfunvtioning compnent or a malfunctioning fan

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  14. The IT company I work for uses Dell machines internally, and over the course of time I’ve encountered a couple of these “orange power light” failures. Each time, the problem was that the CPU needed to be reseated. Upon removing the heatsink/fan, I discovered that the CPU was only about halfway into the socket, loosely sitting there. Putting it in the rest of the way and making sure the heatsink is firmly in place afterward took care of it in a pinch.

    After reading most of this entraordinarily descriptive blog, I began to wonder if Dell has any idea that this happens… it is after all a pretty unlikely scenario, despite having seen it 3 times in 6 months on several GXxxx models. Perhaps the easy-to-remove (like everything else inside a Dell) heatsinks shift a bit after heating up to operating temperature and cooling down over and over again. On a generic (non-branded) PC that isn’t built with parts designed for speedy removal, this isn’t a problem… that heatsink won’t go anywhere unless you pry it off with a screwdriver, instead of simply flipping a level to release.

    Yet another reason to build one’s own PC.

    Take care,

  15. Thanks for this advice Owen. Now I’m wondering if my orange light problem could’ve been fixed just by reseating the CPU instead of replacing my computer’s entire motherboard…

  16. Patrick Edwards

    Thanks, John, for posting this.

    I was having this problem for the last few days and had remembered that the last time it happened, I had to call in Dell with a motherboard. But with the warranty no more, I was hoping I could find a solution.

    Therefore, know that no one is feeling more joy than I am (had to revert to the old laptop to even get on here–took me a while to realize that my Comcast internet doesn’t only work on the home computer :).

    I went in and pulled up the two memory cards (I think that’s what they were) and pushed them back in firmly, adn then I unplugged something else that was plugged into the motherboard and replugged it, and when I plugged in the hard drive, the green light popped on!

    At first I was confused because once I connected everything back into the hard drive–including the monitor–the monitor continued to be orange. But I just rebooted and the hard drive kicked into the monitor and all is well.

    Thanks again. Sincerely.

  17. hey ive had the same problem i tryed the stuff above can someone email me at and help me out???

    much appreciated

  18. tom

    I’m sorry if i’m late on this post but i’d just like to second Owen’s theory. I’ve encountered this same problem and by reseating the heatsink and cpu the computer was able to start successfully.

  19. AJ

    i have reseated the memory the cpu and heat sink and changed the power supply but mine still wont get video any ideas?

  20. maap

    guauuu, this post is running since 2005, it´s a long life. in this moment i´m having troubles whit a “dell” and his orange light, the problem apparently is in the mobo, as AJ I have done everything in my power but it was unsuccessful, so it will be garbage


    i think this is the problem of processor and may be fan jam/loose or other way the cables unplugs and reset the plugs. the pc goes to on

  22. Arrest Mugshots

    I had the same problem. Updating the BIOS resolved the problem for me.

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