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My Computers Keep Dying — Is It Me?

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Being absolutely serious here, do you know if certain people have something (possibly just static) in or around them that can cause computers to crash? I used to joke that I was so “electromagnetic” that I caused computers to crash. Not so funny actually, because I have had several new computers each crash in turn. This happened as early as two days new to six months new. I’ve had a motherboard die, a monitor die, a notebook that had a fatal crash and never turned on again and another notebook that had critical errors causing running problems 36 days into use. Most recently, my beloved HP Pavilion’s hard drive went bad after only four months!

As I wait for a new hard drive to be shipped, I am very discouraged. I do not believe it’s computer error causing these problems. I keep everything up to date. Have you ever heard of anyone else with such bad luck? All of this happened within the last 1-2 years. I can’t afford to have another one die.

Wow. You certainly have had a string of bad luck, to be sure.

I know there are days I feel cursed — days when it feels like everything I touch turns to garbage. Thankfully, those tend to pass.

While I’m not aware of anything that would be specifically related to you, there are some things I would look into.

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Electricity ups and downs

My initial reaction when reading your tale of woe is to wonder about the condition of the electricity and the electrical wiring in your home.

We all tend to take electricity for granted, assuming that it’s either on or off. It’s often not that simple.

The two most common issues with electricity are:

  • Low or high voltage. Either can cause your computer’s power supply to work overtime attempting to regulate the power it needs. Eventually the power supply itself may fail, but that can be a slow decline rather than a sudden failure. Along the way, other components within your computer can be damaged.
  • Power spikes or dips. Ever notice the lights dim when your air conditioner or refrigerator turns on? That’s a power dip, and your computer might notice that. More dangerous is a power spike or surge, which can send spikes of suddenly high voltage through the wires. Depending on the quality of your power supply, your computer’s circuitry, or the power supply itself, can be damaged.

Computer FrustrationIn most cases, people recommend a surge protector, which protects against spikes. You may already have one, as many power strips that turn a single outlet into five or more double as surge protectors. (Many do not, so be sure to check.)

If your power regularly suffers from spikes and dips and other anomalies — often called “dirty power” — a surge protector isn’t going to help. You’ll want to install an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS. It produces clean power, regardless of what comes in — including no power coming in at all, for as long as the batteries last.

Getting grounded

Another common issue, particularly in older homes, is a lack of a good ground. That third prong in North American electrical plugs is intended to be connected to ground — quite literally, an electrical connection to the ground.

It wasn’t always required, and many older homes don’t have the wiring for it, so it’s often connected to nothing — either at the plug, by an adapter, or by people literally chopping off that third prong. That can lead to or amplify the power problems we’ve discussed already.

If you live in a lightning-prone area, fuses on your phone line and power conditioners or UPSs become even more important. Nearby lightning strikes can cause power spikes and temporary outages.

Problems clustered around a single location sound like they might be a power-related issue, but I could easily be wrong. The only way to be sure, of course, is to have a qualified electrician check it out. Sadly, not inexpensive.

Other possibilities

The fact that you’ve had problems with your laptops could be taken as a counter example. By their very nature, laptops are always running on a type of UPS: their internal battery. However, depending on what else your laptop is physically connected to, issues with power — particularly grounding — can manifest through those other connections as well.

As I look at other things that could be common to all your computers — besides you — the environment comes to mind.

If you’re in a particularly dusty, dirty, or smoky environment, your computer’s components could suffer premature problems. If you suspect this is an issue, you might open one of the desktop machines and see how dirty it is inside. Excessive or quickly accumulating dirt (or in my case, pet hair Smile), could mean you simply need to clean your machines periodically or move them to a cleaner environment.

If your machines are in a consistently warm environment — say over 90 degrees Fahrenheit — they could be overheating. Air conditioning, or at least more air movement through the machine, could be called for.

If you live in a particularly dry climate, static can be a problem. If you “spark” when you touch metal objects in your home, that’s a sign. If that happens with your computer, it’s like a mini power-spike, depending on when, where, and how strong it is.

Again, this is where household ground is important: your computer should be well grounded, and you should discharge any built-up static by touching something grounded before touching your computer.

It could be you … sort of

It probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway — physical abuse could also cause all these problems. I’ve known people with a short fuse who regularly slap, hit or otherwise physically abuse their computers when something’s not working perfectly. Needless to say, those computers didn’t last long.1

The bottom line, though, is that while I’m certain that there are “electric” personalities out there, I’m confident that the real issue is probably much more mundane.

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Footnotes

1: And often die suddenly in spectacular fashion.

21 comments on “My Computers Keep Dying — Is It Me?”

  1. Hello,

    I have the same problem…well, my girlfriend does
    everytime she is on my computer the machine keeps crashing sometimes even refuse to switch on on a cold start, then if i’m sitting at it, the machine reacts normally.
    My pc is working with me very well, is a dual core machine with all the update but with my girfriend is acting strange….

    Ciao.

  2. Try an experiment – buy a cheap copper bracelet, wear it when you use the laptop on battery only, make sure you leave mains lead to laptop unplugged. If after six months you have no repetition of failures, switch to leaving it off. If copper bracelet makes no difference, my bet would be on environment as per Leo. If it does make a difference AND the problems recur when you stop using the bracelet, decide whether it is cheaper to keep wearing it or pay out for more investigations. But you will have something to talk about either way!
    Good luck

  3. UPS’s aren’t really that pricey anymore. A decent one sufficient to protect a typical desktop PC (sans monitor, especially if it’s a CRT) run under $100 USD.

    No matter how reliable or unreliable your power is, it just doesn’t make sense to not use a UPS on all your computer equipment.

  4. I once had a friend who had similar problems, with tv’s however. She ended up buying 4 or 5 tv’s just because some days she couldnt turn them on, when her daughter tried they worked fine. kind of makes you think, eh?

  5. >Are you wearing any jewlery as it could be magnetic?

    Extremely unlikely to be the problem. Magnetism falls off with the inverse cube of distance; a small piece of magnetic jewelery isn’t going to do anything unless you take apart the hard drive and rub it all over the platters.

    Think about it: the degauss coil in a CRT monitor is way more powerful than any magnetic jewelery (mostly cos it’s alternating rather than static), and it doesn’t have any significant effect on a computer either. (Although it could cause problems with floppy disks left on top of it; floppies have a much lower coercivity than hard discs).

  6. I’d hate to see anyone spend money on an electrician just to check their power when you can do it yourself.

    Go to the hardware store and buy one of those little yellow plug devices with three lights on the end. Plug it into any outlet and it will show you if the outlet is properly grounded and properly wired.

    If you have the old ungrounded two-hole outlets, get some “ground-lifters” — those little grey plugs that adapt a two-pronged outlet so a three-pronged plug can connect to it. Then take the little wire attached to the ground-lifter, back off one of the receptacle’s screws and attach the wire so it makes a good connection with the screw. The screw attaches directly to the metal casing of the receptacle, which in turn is grounded to your electrical system. Finally, test your power coming out of the ground-lifter with your yellow plug-tester and make sure you have a good ground.

    It’s not rocket science.

  7. That’s all good advice. What *is* (sort of) rocket science is making sure your power is “clean” (right voltage, steady, etc.) – and what to do if the box you just connected the green wire to is, itself, not grounded.

  8. My thanks to Leo and everyone who posted a comment in reference to my computers crashing dilema. I am getting a UPS for all of my computers ASAP!

    On a final note, after writing to Leo, one of my computer monitors just stopped displaying! It is new, and the higher end video/graphics card I installed is approx. 6 months new! Hopefully the UPS will prevent further issues…unless I throw the computers out the window first. 🙂 Thanks again Leo, I appreciate the advice very much.

    Beth

  9. I had a similar problem with my business computers. I thought I was the ‘kiss of death’ to electronic equipment. However, we were to learn that because the buildings in which we worked were close to roads which had intermittent but frequent very heavy trucks passing by, the building often had some vibration. The vibration was subtle to us and we had gotten used to it. But apparently our computers did not. The vibration had caused hard drive skips as well as electrical connections in the building to become loose which made the electricity inconsistent. Both caused electronic component damages. That was prior to my using UPS. We also moved the location of the electronics that seemed to be having premature failure to a different part of the office/room.

    Despite finally figuring out that the vibration had caused some of the damage, I also learned that another reason for the premature and always inconvenient death of other computer parts, can be inherent in the device.

    If you do a search for complaints or reviews for the particular item that has failed, such as a specific hard drive or other device, you may find that the particular device or part has a history of similar reported premature failures. Then I have gone back to the company that made or sold the item and asked for a replacement part. If they refuse to replace the part, you have some choices. The first is to post the specific item and its known failures and the company’s unwillingness to replace it or you can report it to a consumer protection government agency. Another option is to contact a newspaper or TV station that has a consumer help section. The power of the press can be very helpful.

    • Plus 1 for the vibration theory. My wife likes to use a muscle-relaxant device which shakes her body. Not good for her computer….

      • SSD to the rescue. It won’t prevent all vibration damage but it will protect your data from vibration because it has no moving parts. Vibration might cause some connections to get loose but the most important thing on most people’s computers is the data.

  10. I have had the problems listed above since i was a child, i would go as far to say 80% of electrical items i purchase fail, whether the are purchased new or second hand, in the last 2 months alone i have had a pc that had to go back 3 times for exchange, a dvr that failed and also has to be returned, a broken iphone, and only tonight a brand new projector that was working fine, turned it off, went back an hour later to turn it back on and now it wont turn on, it has happened to tv’s video’s dvd’s anything electrical really, also cannot be due to some of the above explenations as it has happened in many different homes i have lived in since a child, all my family and wife are aware of my bad luck around these items?

    I can tell you it drives me absolutely mad.

    Regards

    Peter

  11. If you have problems with almost every electrical item you have, you need to ground yourself before you touch any of them or, yes, you can blow an electrical appliance or phone or computer or anything. Just touch something metal (excluding aluminum or titanium) to de-electrify yourself before you touch your computer. If it is just the computer you have trouble with, try plugging it into a different location. The outlet you may be using may have a short in it which in turn frys your electrical appliance. Even with a surge protector, if the outlet is faulty it will compromise whatever is plugged into it.

  12. Caution: Not all UPSs are equal. Standard UPS will prevent against full loss of power, and against power surges. But it may not protect against brownouts (low voltage). Make sure the UPS also lists “AVR” – automatic voltage regulation.

  13. Leo’s article is spot on. Here are my specific recommendations (I’m a homeowner and a former aviation electronic technician).
    — Make sure, sure, sure the grounds for your house (or apartment) are good. I’m particularly pleased with the writeup that Rex Cauldwell gives grounding in his book “Wiring a House 4th edition: Completely Revised and Updated (For Pros By Pros).” Don’t let the “pro” in the title put you off if you are not a pro. This book gets into specific issues with wonderfully clear graphics. A little reading up will help you assess the technical skills of any electrician you hire.
    https://www.amazon.com/Wiring-House-Completely-Revised-Updated/dp/162710674X/ref=zg_bs_5363_14?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=TW4497BCDGYG5DHX1T4D

    — Install a whole-house surge suppressor at the service panel. This will “take the heat” and protect all electrical devices in your home in case of a power surge (lightning strike or even the surge that occurs when the power comes back on after an outage).

    — By all means, buy and install a UPS to clean up the power. “Dirty power” is bad for electronics. I am no expert on these. I bought a middle-of-the-road unit with battery backup. I want a few minutes to save work and shut down the computer(s) when the power goes out.

    An electrician came to the house and pointed to the house’s main ground wire, which crossed the basement to get to to water meter (out of sight behind the washing machine). This ground wire was aluminum. At the very end, you could see that the connection had broken off. Aluminum and copper react and the corrosion not only ruins conductivity but eventually can break the connection.

  14. It could also be your power company. Sometimes brownouts and surges are slight and undetectable by eye or ear but strong enough to cause damage to electronics. My APC UPS unit detects and reports these undetectable surges via the APC Powerchute software on my PC. I have called my power company to report these brownouts and surges often arguing my way to the highest level of support before being taken seriously.
    Also, you may think that all static is discharged from your body by touching metal before touching electronics, but it may not be. When I work on electronics and PCs I am grounded directly to an outlet screw via a long wire clamped to an anti-static wrist strap that I wear. The long wire allows me to move about a large room. This is a better way than merely grounding to the chassis, just don’t touch any “hot” wires while wearing as there may be the possibility of electrocution. Also, if you must use a laptop as a desktop replacement, it is best to attach it to a high quality UPS with battery removed. Here is an article I wrote in 2013 that may help you to understand ESD better: https://geek-me-up.blogspot.com/2013/02/what-is-esd-electrostatic-discharge-and.html

  15. If you really think it might be you, try putting the computer further away and using a remote *wired* keyboard.
    I say wired because wire*less* keyboards can be hacked so others might see when you’re typing passwords.
    You can also try a wire*less* mouse, wireless because whilst others might be able to see what you’re clicking they can’t see what you’re typing, not unless they’re really really trying anyway, in which case use a wired mouse.
    Distance may solve the problem and only costs a few quid (in the UK, or bucks in the US) to find out.

  16. As well as the well founded comments on electricity supply, I offer the following scenario. I once had to help two sisters who had bought identical desktop computers for their respective families. One worked well, the other was prone mainly to disk corruption, but other miscellaneous faults occurred from time to time too. So much so that after a few rounds of replacing components, the supplier refused any further warranty claims. I was asked if I had any ideas.
    I asked to see how they were using it, from start to go. It turned out that ‘switching the computer off’ meant different things to this unlucky family. One child would turn it off at the wall when they were finished. You can imagine what happened when windows was busy writing a file and suddenly! no power. The other child would turn off the screen only, believing that if there was nothing on the screen, the computer was off. This would have been fine, except that when not in actual use, the box was prone to being moved, bumped, jostled etc. to make room on the desk to spread out homework, etc.
    This was a few years ago, when hardware was less robust

  17. I can testify to the dirty power problem. I had installed a digital copier at a location on a major university campus and it seemed to generate random error codes, sometimes even when the copier wasn’t in use. The technician installed a power monitor, it showed that there were random spikes and drops in the power. Had to buy a power filter (part of what a UPS does) to fix the problem.
    One question that hasn’t be asked – do you have a lot of power outages at your location? the sudden loss of power or the spike when it comes back on can cause problems. I’ve had printers that the LCD screen lost the black elements of the screen. It’s fun (not) to have to use a magnifying glass to read the screen. Again a UPS will be helpful, allow you to shut down the computer normally and (what I do) shut off the UPS until the power comes back on.
    Also, what is the electrical system like in your house? If it is older, it could be an issue. Houses built before the use of all the current electrical appliances may not have enough circuits to handle everything or the circuits may have too many lights and outlets on them. For instance, multiple bedrooms may be on the same circuit and someone turning on a TV in another room could slowly be damaging your computer.

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