Tech Savvy- Sparks and Smoke

by Aaron Harper

    Computers work tirelessly at a job, doing exactly what they are told to do. 80% of all computer “failures” are failures in the software, the driver (the program that makes the computer work with another component like a printer), or the operating system.  These can usually be resolved fairly quickly. The other 20% are hardware failures and that′s what we′ll be covering in this week′s Tech Savvy.

    Hardware failures come in two flavors.  A “soft failure” is where the computer will continue to operate but at a reduced capacity.  A “hard failure” is where the computer′s operation comes to a crashing halt.  A soft failure can be the harbinger of a future hard failure, so take note of the problem, make arrangements to get the unit repaired, and back up your data!

    Modern computers have several moving parts, and predictably most common failures relate directly to them.  The primary culprit is the power supply. Most rely on a fan for cooling.  Should this fan fail, or if a lot of dust coats parts that need to get rid of heat, the power supply will fail.  It usually does so with a bit of smoke and an electric smell.  While fixing the problem can be as easy as replacing the component, sometimes it′s not so simple.  The power supply connects to all components in the computer and sometimes when one fails it sends a power surge through all the components.

    Another component that fails is the CPU fan. Once a CPU fan fails, the CPU (the brains of the outfit) is on borrowed time. Some will attempt to run slow, turning a hard failure into a soft one, but that only works for a little while. If you hear a groaning sound coming from your computer that changes when you move the computer or goes away as it warms up, your CPU fan is wobbling around on worn out bearings.  Eventually it will stop spinning altogether.

    Your hard disk contains all your information.  It′s a stack of circular platters whizzing around at 5400, 7200, or even 10,000 rpm. When the hard disk bearings begin to fail, the noise sounds like an old sawmill. A more common failure in the hard disk is where an area of the platter loses the ability to retain data. This happens to all of them eventually. You can keep from losing data for a while by purchasing a quality unit and running Scandisk to determine the health of your hard disk.

    The way to keep your system running for a long time is to keep the fans clean and the dust out. To prevent loss of data you will need to back up your files.  Here at the office, I back up files weekly and make two copies of the disk. One copy stays at the office, while the other goes to another location just in case.

    That′s it for this edition of Tech Savvy. Next time, we′ll discuss Jargon. Technical people seem to have their own language, and we′ll help you make sense of it all.