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Issue #771: May 1-7, 2022

Q:  I have a Dell Inspiron laptop that just stopped working. It won’t turn on when I depress the on switch. I changed the battery and power cable so it’s not those two items. Please help!

– Wayne S.
Hampton, Virginia

A:  Well, I have to say, Wayne, that doesn’t seem like much to work with. I would rather have had the opportunity to actually handle the machine for myself before offering any advice about it.  But that’s okay!  Most of the time, soliciting questions from across the web makes it impractical to get lots of details, and makes getting hands-on time impossible almost all of the time.  Still, I’ve managed to come up with answers with even less information.  So, let’s give it a go, and see how I do.    

The very first thing that comes to mind is that, despite what you said in your question, the system is somehow not getting power.  There are many potential points where a failure could occur, any one of which would stop power from getting to the laptop, which would in-turn cause the exact problem you described.  Start by making sure that the outlet that the power cord is plugged into is actually live.  Plug in some other electrical device like a lamp or fan, just to make sure electricity is available.  Then, make sure the electricity is making it to the power adapter itself.  You should see a pilot light on the adapter, or even on the part that plugs into the laptop.  Make sure the cord that runs from the power adapter to the laptop is not damaged.  If you have a multimeter, check for voltage at the end of the cord that plugs into the laptop. It’s possible that the input connector on the laptop itself is damaged or worn, and short of disassembling the laptop itself, there’s no guaranteed way of knowing for sure.

Next is the power button itself.  The button could be worn or have dirty contacts.  Unfortunately, the way these buttons are manufactured, you don’t feel any sort of detent or click to let you know that you’ve actually pressed it.  So, make sure your press is really a press.  Press firmly, but not so hard that you damage it.  Rock your finger back and forth on the button to work it loose in case it’s stuck.

Assuming you have power, and can actually press the on/off button, the problem might be something less physical.  That is, something wrong in the computer’s start procedure.  Virtually all computers go through an ordered startup process before they actually load their operating system.  When a computer won’t boot, the problem could be with any one of several things, including power, firmware, the system self-test, or failure of any of the dozens of internal components that must be working for the system to boot.  The next thing to try is to perform what’s called a hard reset on the system.  This involves removing all residual power from the system to ensure “something” hasn’t simply gotten stuck somewhere along the line.  Such a reset often fixes problems such as you described.

To perform a hard reset, unplug and remove anything that might possibly supply power to the machine in any way.  This includes obvious things like unplugging the AC power adapter and removing the battery, but also more subtle things, like unplugging USB devices that have their own external power, such as printers, cameras etc.  It’s probably best to remove all external connections just to make sure you got everything.  Then, press and hold the power button for 15 to 20 seconds.  Assuming the power button itself is working, this will drain away any residual power in the system.  Release the power button, plug everything back in, and try to power the machine on.

If it’s still not working, it might have a more serious problem.  Perhaps it got zapped by lightning, or something went out on the main board. Unless you have some mad skills with diagnosing hardware problems (and I don’t think you would have written to me if that was the case) it is time to send your computer to the PC Hospital for some professional care.  If it’s not too badly damaged, someone with the right tools and some hands-on time should be able to diagnose the problem and get it powering up in no time.

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