Solving the mystery of Mum’s unstartable PC

Belkin surge protection socket

Yesterday my brother Eddie and I drove down to Selkirk for a four hour, military-precise exercise to build a new bed for Mum and return her now up-to-date and working PC. At least that was the plan.

The bed was built in under an hour, a spot of lunch was taken before Eddie set to work clearing out some junk from the shed while I plugged in the PC and made sure it was working and connecting to the internet okay. Only it didn’t boot up, which was exactly the problem that it was experiencing before I whisked it away to the Saunders PC clinic just after Christmas.

The problem

I couldn’t understand it. Her PC had been playing up for about six months before I finally took it away to examine it. It was initially quite unpredictable: booting up fine some days, not others. On the days that it did boot up okay it would suddenly reboot in the middle of tasks, or would simply hang and have to be restarted, with a quiet prayer that it would even restart at all. Latterly it wouldn’t even boot into Windows, preferring instead to hang anywhere between the Power On Start-up Test (POST) screen and the Windows loading screen.

I suspected either a dodgy power supply or a dying CPU, and on Boxing Day 2006 loaded it into the back of our car and drove it back home with me. Only to have it sitting in our hallway for six weeks while I tried to find the space and energy to examine it. If there might be a lot of faffing about replacing components then I wanted the space and clarity of mind to do it.

The diagnosis

Last weekend I set it up on the dining room table, plugged it in, switched it on and … it booted straight away. So I took that opportunity to back-up all Mum’s data to DVD-R before risking another reboot. It rebooted fine. I updated Windows XP, and rebooted. In fact, I had it reboot about 20+ times during the weekend and each time it started fine. I couldn’t detect a single problem with it. Whew!

Actually, what I suspected was that it was simply allergic to being at Mum’s. Maybe it had a pet allergy, or something.

The good news

I phoned Mum and gave her the good news and said that I’d find an opportunity to nip down to Selkirk to deliver it. And that opportunity presented itself yesterday as Eddie was going down to Selkirk anyway and Jane had volunteered to help her sister paint a bedroom in Edinburgh. So we picked up Eddie in South Queensferry, dropped off Jane in south Edinburgh en route for the Scottish Borders.

The return

So with it safely returned to Selkirk, I unpacked it, plugged it in and switched it on. And waited. And waited. And waited. Hmmm… maybe it is allergic to being at Mum’s after all, because it would not boot up, preferring instead to hang on the Windows XP loading screen. Very odd.

I couldn’t understand it, I’d purposefully only plugged in the bits that I’d had in Anstruther: the PC box, the monitor, the keyboard, mouse and speakers. I knew that that worked, and had actually suspected a dodgy USB connector as having been the non-boot culprit.

The solution

And then I realised that the only component that I’d not had with me when I tested it at home was Mum’s surge-protection 4-gang power socket. I replaced it with the 4-way that I had with me and it booted. And rebooted. And rebooted yet again.

It turns out that it was the power-socket that was the problem all along. I went and told Mum.

Gareth: Mum, I’ve found out what the problem was with your PC.

Mum: Oh, that’s good. What was it?

Gareth: It was your surge-protector socket that the PC was plugged into.

Mum: Oh, well done. Do you think that had anything to do with the massive thunder and lightning storm we had last year? It blew a lot of my friends’ modems.

Gareth: Yes. [Thinks: And you only thought to tell me that now, why?]

The replacement

I’ve now ordered Mum a replacement Belkin 6-Socket SurgeMaster Tel/Fax/Modem/Cable or DSL Modem Protection cable (with built-in insurance up to £25,000 for any equipment damaged as a result of the surgemaster not doing its job properly).

In other news…

That Mum’s Orange dial-up account was no longer working — not having been dialed-into for over 90 days — is another matter, but to get her back online we used uk2.net’s account-free service. A useful number of keep in mind if you’re ever in the same situation, or your broadband goes down for a time. (Thanks to Mike for looking that up online while on the end of a mobile phone conversation with me.)

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