My Computer Won't Start

Category: Windows

It's pretty scary when your computer won't start. The cause may be easy to find and fix, or it may take a trained technician and hundreds of dollars. Here are some troubleshooting tips you can try when your computer won't start...

Solving Startup Problems

There's an old joke about a TV repairman who makes a house call, and after a few seconds he gives the lady of the house a bill for $75 and says it's all fixed. When she asks what the problem was he says "Your unit was isolated from the primary power supply." The woman asks what that means and he says "Your TV was unplugged."

So if nothing at all happens when you turn on the power, check the electrical supply before embarrassing yourself. Begin at the wall outlet. Plug a lamp or other small appliance into the outlet and verify that power is flowing. Check the circuit breaker switch on your surge protector. Check both ends of the computer's power cord. On some computers, it plugs into both the wall and the back of the system unit. If you still see no lights and hear no fan, the system's internal power supply may need to be replaced. See my related article Replace Your Power Supply for help with that.
Computer Won't Start

You may get power but see only a cryptic text message on a dark screen. That's usually an error message from your computer's BIOS telling you it cannot find the boot drive. This could mean the BIOS has lost its stored settings for your hard drive. Worst case, your hard drive controller has died and must be replaced. But don't worry; your data is probably still safely stored on the drive. If the BIOS error occurs right after you install a new piece of hardware, try removing that hardware and re-installing it firmly. In fact, you should check all cable connections inside of the computer to make sure none is loose.

If the computer stops while loading Windows, try rebooting in Safe mode. If Safe mode works, the problem may be a corrupted file that is trying to load during startup. Run the disk error check and clean-up utility by following this procedure:

  • Right-click on the boot drive in Computer
  • Click on Properties and the Tools tab
  • Click the "Check now" button under "error-checking" and check "automatically fix errors"
  • Reboot

System Recovery Options

If Windows won't load in Safe mode, try the Recovery Console option on the startup options menu that appears right before Windows loads. You may be able to restore an earlier Restore Point when things were working. See my article on Windows 7 Hard Drive Recovery for help with the recovery options.

A virus may be preventing your computer from starting. If you have a bootable removable drive (sometimes called an Emergency Disk) with an antivirus program on it, start up your computer with that disk in the CD/DVD drive and let it scan and remove any viruses. Alternatively, you can remove the drive from your computer, attach it as an external drive to a working computer, and scan it for viruses.

A computer that won't start can be a maddening experience. Even a hands-on soldering iron type of geek can easily spend hours troubleshooting startup problems. Non-technical users may make things worse while trying to fix them.

If none of these suggestions get you up and running, you may need to reformat and re-install everything from backup copies. But if you're not comfortable with doing that yourself, the best solution for a computer that won't start may be taking it to a qualified repair shop.

Do you have any tips for reviving a computer that won't boot up? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "My Computer Won't Start"

Posted by:

02 May 2011

My computer refused to restart over Easter weekend. I was in a panic thinking all was lost. Until I discovered my daughter's cell phone plugged in to the usb port. Once I unplugged it, it restarted with no problem.

Posted by:

Ian Webb
02 May 2011

I'm running Windows 7 SP1. If my wireless router has not been running for about 3 to 4 minutes before I boot my pc Windows will stall at the "Starting Windows" screen. It will start up ok if the router is not switched on until the Windows desktop appears. Maybe it's a router problem but I didn't get this behavior under XP Pro.

Posted by:

03 May 2011


Posted by:

03 May 2011

My laptop starts with a black screen after Windows updates. Very scary and not a little frustrating.

If you have recently run in an update, just be brave for 5-10 minutes before pressing the panic button.

Posted by:

gary pennington
03 May 2011

I have a Toshiba satellite a135-s4467 laptop, power cord was lost during move, now battery is dead, blue light comes on for a second when power button is pressed.
went to wal-mart and had salrs person hook up an adaptor but it did the same thing, would not come on at all.
is something shortd out? Thanks Gary

Posted by:

Desta Elliott
03 May 2011

My daughter's notebook won't boot. The "DELL" logo shows, then the screen goes black and that is all she wrote. Any ideas?

Posted by:

Tom S.
03 May 2011

But then comes a time when you have to weigh the price of a new pc against the cost of repairing the old one. With computer as cheap as they are today, as well as external hard drives, I'd rather spend any money over $100-150 on a new pc instead of trying to fix the old one. And if your looking then consider a refurbished model, which I have never had any problems with. Either they don't work right off the bat, or they'll last at least 4-5 years with no problems.

Posted by:

03 May 2011

One thing to not overlook on a desktop PC is the (frequently present) small power switch near the AC socket. It's real easy to bump that little devil and turn the power supply off there.

Posted by:

P D Sterling
04 May 2011

FWIW - I added a new program to convert video types - after choosing a couple of clips to convert, the computer just went to sleep!

long story short, my innards were terribly dirty, and perhaps the CPU was overheating! any time the computer quits for no particular reason, that's a sign of overheating.

Posted by:

Serious Noize
05 May 2011

Something worth mentioning is that if your PC has not had power for a long while, sometimes the internal battery on some pc's that stores the bios information could need recharging or possibly need to be replaced depending on the pc. I ran into this working on a relatives pc that had not been plugged in for a while. I noticed after turning the power on that the pc would only show a black screen and nothing was happening. So I decided to give it a few minutes while plugged in and powered on and sure enough the internal battery took a charge and loaded up the PC, after a few hours updating the PC and allowing the internal battery to charge, it seemed to work with no problems afterwards. Although I have ran into older PC's where the battery needed to be replaced. I just thought this might be something worth mentioning. Although I wouldn't recommend leaving a pc that is doing nothing plugged in without monitoring it the entire time, or in other words if you don't know what your doing have an expert check it out. I was familiar with the history of this PC since it was a relatives and I figured the battery was the entire problem, only reason I allowed the pc to remain on when it was doing nothing. In other words, I knew it had not been used for quite some time and figured the battery was weak or needed a charge. Hope this helps.

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