How to tell if motherboard is dead

A bad motherboard might be the reason why your computer won’t turn on. But how do you diagnose if it’s really the motherboard’s fault or some other component like RAM, GPU or PSU?

Turns out there are a few ways to make sure if your motherboard is the suspect. You don’t have to call a technician to identify the problem, you will be able to do it yourself after reading this systematic troubleshooting guide.

We will discuss some key points using which you can tell if your motherboard is dead. We’ll also guide you through possible ways you can prevent that from happening and finally talk about possible fixes you should try before calling a technician.

How to tell if motherboard is dead

Often the signs of a dead motherboard are very similar to other factors like unstable power supply or faulty RAM. These can show up in the form of blue screen of deaths, system freezing or in the worst case, your machine won’t boot. Sometimes swapping RAM, CPU or even PSU can cause the motherboard to not function properly.

So, how to know if your motherboard is dead? Well, if you encounter one or more of the following, it might be one of those bad motherboard symptoms.

1. System not responding

When there’s a problem with the motherboard, it directly reflects in your system in the form of sluggishness or where the screen becomes unresponsive. The apps might struggle to load and your PC won’t register keystrokes or other inputs.

The vice-versa is not true, however. Whenever you see the System not responding error, it doesn’t always mean that you have a fried motherboard, but it does mean that your computer needs a tune-up.

2. Hearing Random Beep Codes

If your PC is randomly shutting down or having boot related problems, you might hear certain beep patterns which are different for every motherboard manufacturer. These beep codes correspond to successful or unsuccessful POST (Power On Self Test) attempts by the BIOS. 

Normally, manufacturers have specific beep codes for various hardware errors or failed POST. You can check definitions of some beep code here. These include but not limited to failed memory, GPU or CPU. Keep in mind that the CPU power needs to be plugged in and connected.

3. Burned Capacitor

Burned Capacitor

A burnt or bloated capacitor is usually the result of overvoltage, overheating or simply aging. In fact, blown capacitors can be indicators of something worse like a problem somewhere else on the board’s circuitry which is causing the capacitor to leak or swell.

You need to closely inspect the motherboard using a flashlight to see if that’s the case. You will notice symptoms like leaking electrolyte, cracking of the top, crust formation or bulging. A bad capacitor will cause random boot sequence errors and overloading, 

4. Glitches or Freezes

Whenever our computer screen glitches or freezes, we tend to attribute it to software that’s running. While this may be the case, it’s a different story if the computer glitches for extended periods of time independent of the software you run. If you’ve tried software troubleshooting and ruled out that possibility, you should start considering any hardware variables including the motherboard. 

5. Not Recognizing Hardware

How to Tell if Your Motherboard is Dead

If the computer starts refusing to recognize hardware and peripherals like mouse, keyboard or flash drives, it can be either a driver issue or the start of something rough. Such problems don’t seem significant in the starting but it takes no time for your PC to turn into a useless block of metal.

6. The Blue Screen of Death

Blue Screen of Death in Motherboard

The notorious Blue Screen of Death doesn’t always mean it’s a motherboard failure, as it can occur in cases where there is driver error, faulty memory and other hardware malfunctioning. Each BSOD comes with an error code, which you can Google to find out the root of the problem and possible fixes. These error codes will look something like 0x0000012B, 0x000000FC, 0x000000C5 etc. and you can quickly check if it shows any signs of a dead motherboard.

7. Physical Damage

Needless to say, if the motherboard shows any signs of physical damage such as broken or cracked circuit, burnt transistors, bents or bulges, it’s clear that your motherboard needs a visit to the repair shop. Apart from that, even a slight burning smell or material defect is a huge warning sign.

These damages should be addressed as soon as you notice them otherwise it can cause a horrible outcome while the computer is running. Sometimes these defects can happen due to aging or overheating of components and might seem superficial in the beginning, but can quickly turn into major problems if not tackled properly.

Why does Motherboard fail?

It’s often hard to determine the exact cause of a dead motherboard. Apart from superficial grounds like overheating or being out of specification, there are various other possibilities as well. It’s important to what might have caused the problem so that you can avoid the same in the future. Let’s take a look at some of the common reasons for motherboard failure.

1. Dust

Dust on Motherboard

Dust can accumulate inside computers pretty fast, clogging the ventilation and sometimes conducting electricity from your motherboard creating a surge. It also acts as an insulator trapping heat inside the computer and causing fans to overwork. This is the reason why you should clean the fans and other parts every once in a while, especially if the PC space is more exposed to dust.

2. Overheating

Heat is the worst enemy of any modern electronic gadget. Overheating is a major reason why some hardware components won’t last as long. Laptops and smaller tower cases with poor ventilation or cooling and cramped hardware are the most susceptible to this damage.

3. Power Fluctuations

Computers are sophisticated machines after all, and they don’t appreciate power surges and electrical spikes. In case of significant power fluctuations, your computer can have a dead motherboard in an instant. Not only that, if your motherboard fails due to power surges, there is a good chance other parts like the CPU are gone too.

4. Accidental drop

Dropping a computer, especially a laptop, can cause serious damage to the internal component assembly and hardware. It might not be your fault, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you think the computer is placed in an active or walking area, simply shift it to a more safe and isolated location.

5. Old system

Your motherboard will last you a few good years, but it won’t last forever. Over time, a few common failures might occur such as RAM or PCIe slots dying, capacitors starting to leak and fan motors causing excessive heating. Continually using these will eventually cause the motherboard to fail.

What to do after knowing that your motherboard is dead

So, you now know you have a fried motherboard on your PC. You also know what the possible causes might be. What do you do now?

It may sound hard if you are a first-time builder, but it’s possible to do the basic troubleshooting or even replace the motherboard without the help of a technician. You can check the latest Intel 10th Gen i3, i5, i7 and i9 motherboards or choose from the vast options of AMD AM4 motherboards. Although if you’re having trouble in understanding some of the technical know-how, it’s suggested to get professional help.

Before coming to the conclusion that your motherboard is dead, you need to check if your system can POST. POST is a diagnostic test used by the BIOS to check different hardware components before booting up. While troubleshooting a bad motherboard, you will encounter one of the two cases – When the system does POST and loads the operating system, and when the computer doesn’t POST and doesn’t boot at all.

When POST is successful and the computer boots up:

If the computer loads up the operating system after a successful POST, it might be a good sign that the problem is not with your motherboard. However, you need to check other hardware units first and rule them out by process of elimination, before inspecting the motherboard.

1. Check the storage drive

If you have a damaged or corrupted hard drive, it might cause some of the errors mentioned above like the blue screen of death and system glitches. You also want to watch out for any unusual noise coming from it as it’s the easiest to detect. A bad hard drive can also lead to extended load times and frequent crashes.

2. Check the CPU, RAM and GPU

The CPU is the most important piece of hardware in your computer, and fortunately is the easiest to detect when it’s the suspect. A bad CPU leads to the entire system being unstable or not working at all. You can use any of the CPU diagnostic tools to monitor the health and status of your CPU.

Sometimes defective RAM sticks or GPUs can cause a range of errors such as random freezing and crashes, boot failure or visual glitches. You can either remove them and try rebooting, or substitute with a reliable one.

3. Check the Power Supply Unit (PSU)

PSU is as important as the motherboard and other components you need to look for. Sometimes an old or overloaded PSU can lead to catastrophic system damage. You need to ensure that you’re using the correct voltage and a reliable power supply. This can be found under the BIOS menu or the software provided by your motherboard manufacturer.

4. Check BIOS firmware

Old BIOS firmware might be the reason your motherboard is having compatibility issues and trouble booting up. Different manufacturers have their own ways and constraints when it comes to upgrading BIOS firmware. You’ll find the update instructions in your motherboard documentation or on the manufacturer’s website.

When POST is not successful and the computer doesn’t boot:

What should you do when the system doesn’t even POST? It’s likely that at this point of time, the hardware needs a serious inspection and you could try the following in order to determine the problem.

1. Do a visual inspection of the motherboard

If you have a lot of peripherals and extra components, it’s easy to mess up the connections and sometimes a simple visual check goes a long way. Not only do you want to check all the connections, but things like MOSFETs, capacitors, transistors and other parts as well. Your motherboard might also have a Debug LED that indicates whether the components are working properly.

2. Check CMOS

CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) is a type of MOSFET fabricating chip that stores information like date/time and other system settings. The BIOS uses these settings when loading up the system. CMOS uses a Lithium-ion battery which might die after some time and cause your system settings to change or even cause booting error. All you need to do is replace the CMOS battery on your motherboard.

3. Nothing works? Seek a Technician

All the methods and steps we discussed can be performed by any PC-builder, but sometimes the bigger problem asks for professional help. If you discover that the motherboard needs a repair, we suggest you consult a technician or visit a repair shop, but avoid doing it yourself.

Motherboard repair requires a thorough knowledge of electronics and a certain expertise level and there’s the possibility of catastrophic damage if you mess something up. If it’s under warranty, you might be able to get it diagnosed and repaired for free. Even if it’s not under warranty, you can get it fixed in most cases by paying a fee.

Conclusion

As you just saw, diagnosing a motherboard can be frustrating if it’s your first-time doing so. However, it’s not that complicated once you know what you’re doing. Of course, there’s always the option of professional consultancy, but we know a lot of you might be enthusiastic enough to try something like this.

It’s a long process of elimination and testing every single part on your PC, which might not always be worth your time and energy. Sometimes it’s a wise decision to simply scrap the old system and get a new motherboard. That said, now you know exactly what to look for and when to seek professional help when you’re not sure what to do.

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