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Sparks, Smoke, and No Boot... Advice Requested

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May 13, 2010 2:36:41 AM

So... I'll try to be both thorough and as quick as possible, I would really appreciate some advice on this before my impulsiveness kicks in and I do anything rash. This is actually quite an old computer I had lying around (thank god)... a Pentium 4 2.53 ghz, FIC VI3L Mobo, Radeon 9700 Pro AGP, 1GB DDR PC2700 RAM (512x2), Thermaltake TR2-430W power supply, two hard drives, both connected by IDE

Thing is, I decided to give it to my nephew who could use a computer. About 2 weeks ago I verified that it still worked, cleared all of my old stuff off of it, etc.

It needed a new case because the old one was missing a side and I didn't want to give it to my nephew in crap condition. So I ordered a $25 or so Rosewill case off of Newegg.

I transferred everything over, and tried to boot several times. Each time, it would stay on for the same amount of time and then power off... about 3-5 seconds.

I used the troubleshooting sticky at top of this page. Realized I forgot to hook up the mobo speaker. So I did that, and I realized that it was actually getting to POST, and then shutting off IMMEDIATELY after (one short beep). However I never got any video on screen.

Upon closer examination, it turns out I did forget to hook up the Molex power connector to the Radeon 9700 Pro. I forgot that such an old card needed to draw power from the power supply. So thinking I may have fouidn the problem, I hook that up, and I boot the computer.

This time, it doesn't even stay on for mroe than a slpit second. I also hear a SPARK sound, and THINK i smell a slight burn. I examine everything, don't see anything, and my girlfriend convinces me it was in my head because she's cooking and that could be what I'm smelling. Oh well.

Either way, now the computer isn't really turning on at all. No fans. Just a faint light coming from the power button when I have it in the "on" position.

Now I think it's probably time to troubleshoot the power supply. I have an old crappy pwoer supply that came with a case I bought that I never used sitting in the closet. So I take out the Thermaltake, and put in this crappy looking 500W Raidmax power supply. And then all hell breaks loose.

The computer isn't on for more than an instant when I see some smoke that SEEMS to be coming from the video card. I can't remember if I shut the computer off right away out of panic or if it shut off itself; either way, it wasn't on for long. I've never seen anything like that happen.

I examine the video card, I examine the AGP slot and the mobo around that, everything looks fine, no burns or anything. I take the video card out and leave it out, I then intended to test the motherboard as advised on this forum, by removing the RAM and booting to see if I get the expected beep codes. Since the video card was (presumably) just smoking, I take that out as well.

So I boot up with only the hard drives, CD drives, motherboard, and CPU/HSF plugged in. No RAM and no video card. This time, smoke starts coming from what looked to me like the back of the hard drive!!! Hard to say, because once again, I turned off the computer quickly.

I don't really uinderstand electrical science or components, so I don't really know what to make of all this. These are the main questions I have:

1) Is it more likel that the smoke was coming from my motherboard, or the components themselves? If it can be the components, what could cause both my video card and hard drive to start smoking???

2) Is it dangerous to investigate further? My next idea is to take EVERYHTING out except the heatsink/cpu to see if the motherboard/power supply/cpu work on their own, but thsi definitely isn't worth starting any fires over. The smoke had me a ltitle surprised

3) If the motherboard or power supply was the problem and the cause of the smoke, could it have damaged the other components? If they're damaged, is there any risk in trying to reuse them in another computer that I care about? There were some expansion cards in this system at the time that I wouldn't mind salvaging

4) any ideas as to what caused all of this? Unfortunately, I didn't test the computer immediately before I transferred it to the new case, but like I said, everything was working a few weeks ago.

Kinda sucks. My ltitle nephew was really looking forward to this computer, but unfortunately I can't afford to get him a new one, and from looking online it seems like buying new components for the pentium 4, ddr1, IDE generation isn't very cost efficent at all. Plus, I don't even know what components still work and what not so I'm very wary to begin replacing anything

Any advice, insight, or comments will be appreciated!

P.S. When it wasn't booting, I checked for possible sources of shorts to the motherboard like those brass things that go in the back, but I didn't find anything out of order. It's possible I got a couple of the events above mixed up in order, but that's the best I could remember

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a b B Homebuilt system
May 13, 2010 3:48:10 AM

Moral of the story is: don't mess with a working system.

Seeing as how I just changed cases for 3 computers this week and had not a problem I guess that means I'm a liar.

Moving on...

1. The smoke could be coming from anything.

2. Not really, just be in a non-exploding environment and you'll be fine. (preferably outside so that the smoke smell won't stay) Turn it on and if you do see some with everything disconnected literally just look for where it's coming from. At this point diagnostics are more important than further damage to the broken component so besides spilling water all over everything it can't get worse.

3. They can damage stuff, but in all likelyhood it's not like they'd be able to spread it like a virus. If they're busted they should simply not work.

4. Besides magic coincidence I'd suggest a short from something metal caused by the move. Otherwise it seems unlikely that it would just happen to happen right now only after moving it.

P.S. Why would you even consider buying new components for that stuff? Very likely the RAM you've still got will work fine. Just buy a mobo and CPU on ebay and away you go.
http://computers.shop.ebay.com/Athlon-XP-/131517/i.html...
These should be cheap and it sounds liek when you figure out what the problem is specifically you should be able to keep the rest and just build it that way.
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a b B Homebuilt system
May 13, 2010 5:05:08 AM

It really sounds like something is shorting since you put it in the new case.

Otherwise, smoke and sparking almost always comes from a bad power supply. And yes, if the power supply dies, it can damage just about any other component.
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a b B Homebuilt system
May 13, 2010 5:27:53 AM

I just noticed I didn't mention it: I had a 430 watt PSU in my computer a couple years back and I was playing a game. Suddenly the monitor goes black and it seems like the computer is off. Then I notice smoke literally billowing out of the back of the computer. Obviously I'm worried I now have varying different levels of a brick instead of a computer. I move it downstairs and turn it on again, notice that it's all coming out of the power supply. Then go out and buy a new cooler master 650-watt 80-plus PSU (which is still powering my system to this day) and was amazingly relieved when everything just booted right up. I had just changed CPU/mobo/RAM a few months before it happened.

All of the stuff that was in that at the time is still running now, albeit some of the stuff is now powering different computers.
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May 13, 2010 5:49:12 AM

Thanks guys. Main thing I needed was the assurance that I wasn't going to blow up my apartment so I could continue diagnostics. I tried turning it on with just the CPU and Mobo. I used the 430W Thermaltake, no smoking or anything. One long beep, then system shut off on its own.

Does that mean the mobo/CPU could still be good?
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May 13, 2010 6:30:00 AM

Okay, think I'm getting somewhere now. So as I mentioned above, the mobo+cpu barebones boot gave me the beep error for no memory, one long beep. So I add the RAM. Then I get error code for no video, one long beep and two short ones.

So I add video card, without the power connected. System boots to post one beep then shuts off.

I add the video card, WITH the power connected... and the system just won't turn on. Only a dim light on the power, fans look like theyre about to turn on and change their mind.

I disconnect the video card's power... and the computer turns on again.

And know what else I realized? When my hard drive was smoking, it was connected to the same power line (not sure what correct term is) as the video card was. Basically the molex cables were "linked"

It seems that with one power supply, the video card will stop the system from turning on when its connected. With the other, it will smoke.

So I'm thinking it may be time for a new video card? :(  Finding an AGP card seems hard these days. But if everything else in the system is fine, then I'll be happy. the smoking hard drive might not work either, but at least there were two of those...
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a b B Homebuilt system
May 13, 2010 7:47:30 AM

Best bet for one of those is ebay. I know I keep talking about ebay, but when you're looking at components like these you just have to get what you can dirt cheap. Since you aren't saying you're trying to run games on it pretty much any card will run. Seeing as how you'd most likely need one if you went for my athlon XP used idea it won't be a waste if it still does that on then off thing after.

Obviously don't hook up anything besides the core stuff after you get that. Which PSU fried everything again? You may be able to go to some computer store and get them to test your PSU right quick. (it's not an extensive test, but it has it's uses)
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May 13, 2010 8:32:37 AM

It could be the card or it could the AGP port. If you had the card in there slanted or not completely seated, the contacts could have shorted something.
If you don't need 3D, try a $10 PCI video card off ebay.
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May 13, 2010 9:40:51 AM

Hmmm, smoke from the harddrive seems a bit weird. I would say that It probably just came from the video card. I say this because if the card was smoking it was probably drawing a bit too much current for the first powersupply which would actually decrease the voltage to the harddrive (seeing as thay are connected), so no damage should result. but yes your video card seems to be the culprit. When you get a new one, pull the heatsink off the old one and inspect the GPU and memory chips, also see if capacitors (the round cyliners) have rounded sides like they have been blowen up like a bloon.
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May 13, 2010 3:44:21 PM

Have you removed the mobo and checked the back plate? Make sure there are no stray wires touching the bottom of the board, and remove any unused riser bolts that may be screwed in. Riser bolts not properly seated and grounded can wreak havoc on a system.

It does sound like the video card is to blame, though. Warranty replacement if you're lucky.
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May 13, 2010 9:54:13 PM

False_Dmitry_II said:
Best bet for one of those is ebay. I know I keep talking about ebay, but when you're looking at components like these you just have to get what you can dirt cheap. Since you aren't saying you're trying to run games on it pretty much any card will run. Seeing as how you'd most likely need one if you went for my athlon XP used idea it won't be a waste if it still does that on then off thing after.

Obviously don't hook up anything besides the core stuff after you get that. Which PSU fried everything again? You may be able to go to some computer store and get them to test your PSU right quick. (it's not an extensive test, but it has it's uses)


Thanks, I've been checking craigslist and ebay so hopefully I'll find something efficent. I'd like to get something so my nephew can do light gaming from say the 2001-2004 period, as there are games installed on the hard drive (or were, not sure about now).

It was the second power supply that made I tested with that made everything start smoking.

hundredislandsboy said:
It could be the card or it could the AGP port. If you had the card in there slanted or not completely seated, the contacts could have shorted something.
If you don't need 3D, try a $10 PCI video card off ebay.


Wise suggestion, maybe I should test first with a cheap-as-possible PCI VGA card just to make sure everything works while i search for a good deal on a capable AGP card. I hope its not the port.

Actually you reminded me of something, I belive there used to be a small lever on the AGP slot that helped keep the video card more firmly in place, that lever was broken a long time ago. Everything was fine for years, so I had forgotten about it. I was pretty careful to make sure the video card (and everything else) was all the way down, but speculatively it is possible that the video card was too loose or not as snug as it would have liked to be

hamiac said:
Hmmm, smoke from the harddrive seems a bit weird. I would say that It probably just came from the video card. I say this because if the card was smoking it was probably drawing a bit too much current for the first powersupply which would actually decrease the voltage to the harddrive (seeing as thay are connected), so no damage should result. but yes your video card seems to be the culprit. When you get a new one, pull the heatsink off the old one and inspect the GPU and memory chips, also see if capacitors (the round cyliners) have rounded sides like they have been blowen up like a bloon.


Smoke definitely came from the general direction of the hard drive, but to be more specific, it looked like it was coming from the connector in the back, not the drive itself

Dirtman73 said:
Have you removed the mobo and checked the back plate? Make sure there are no stray wires touching the bottom of the board, and remove any unused riser bolts that may be screwed in. Riser bolts not properly seated and grounded can wreak havoc on a system.

It does sound like the video card is to blame, though. Warranty replacement if you're lucky.


Thanks for the suggestion, but yeah I triple checked for anything under the motherboard because I did read about the risers causing problems if not placed correctly. Unfortunately I didn't find anything out of order, so its still not 100% clear what I did wrong :( 
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May 23, 2010 7:51:05 PM

False_Dmitry_II said:
For 2001 type gaming pretty much anything will do, even old Raedon 9600's. Look at this:
http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/geforce-310-5970,24...

And look for anything between that and an HD 2600 Pro on the list should do the task.


Thanks, I ended up going for a Radeon 9800 Pro on eBay for $20. Small upgrade from the card that died(?)

Wanted to give an update and a "thank you" for everyone who took the time to respond. Looks like my problem was twofold. I got a working system now using the breadboard technique in the no boot sticky.

My educated guess on what happened now is: I had a short in the new case, I don't know where, because I quadruple checked everything... especially the standoffs... so in the beginning, my only problem was a short.

But then when I troubleshooted with the second power supply (the cheapo one) it destroyed my video card

Replacing the video card and reinstalling the motherboard ended up fixing everything. So $20 fix, wahoo!
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a b B Homebuilt system
May 23, 2010 9:25:45 PM

Give somebody a best answer since it's resolved now.

And I take it that means that the hard drive works fine too.
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May 23, 2010 11:11:11 PM

Hate to choose a best answer, but ok :) 

P.S. I got excited from POSTing and spoke a bit early, and now that i have everything hooked up, it turns out that I lost a hard drive too :( . The one that had the smoking connector. If its plugged in to the IDE cable, neither hard drive is recognized. When I only plug in the secondary hard drive, it works. The smoking one does not work on its own either.

I guess the moral of the story is, smoking computer components are not likely to work afterwards. Luckily, the system had two hard drives, and the one that smoked and died happened to be the smaller of the two. It was also the one with Windows installed so a reinstall is now in order, but oh well, could have been much much worse...
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May 23, 2010 11:12:56 PM

Best answer selected by Centimetro.
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February 23, 2012 1:29:10 AM

This topic has been closed by Mousemonkey
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