My Computer Was Beeping

dell_inspironSome days ago, a member of my household decided to move some furniture, which including moving our family computer.  She said she was careful and handled it gently.  But when we turned it on, all it did was make a beeping noise: beep-beep … beep-beep … beep-beep … beep-beep.  Like the Looney Tunes Road Runner.  The screen stayed blank.

Of course, I immediately searched the internet (using another computer).  In no time at all, I learned that computers communicate with “beep codes” to indicate a start-up error occurring before the computer starts to communicate via the monitor screen.  In other words, when something is wrong, you might hear a beep-beep before you see a blue screen.  Different manufacturers have different codes.  For my computer, repeated sets of two beeps evidently meant there was a problem with the computer’s main memory, the RAM.  Removing the RAM boards and re-installing them seemed like a possible cheap and easy fix, so I tried that.

A few years earlier, when I initially purchased the computer, I had installed an additional RAM board, so I knew the procedure.  I unplugged the computer, unscrewed a few screws, and removed the computer’s side panel.  It was a little dusty inside, so I removed the fan and cleaned everything with a Shop-Vac.

My computer has two RAM slots, let’s call them 1 and 2, and each has a RAM board, let’s call them A and B.  I removed both boards.  Just as an experiment, I plugged in the computer and turned it on.  With no RAM at all, it was an immediate beep-beep.  I installed board A in slot 1 and turned it on.  It started normally.  I removed board A and installed board B in slot 1.  I turned it on and it started normally.  I installed board A in slot 2.  Beep-beep.  I put board B in slot 2.  Beep-beep.  No matter how I arranged things, I got the beep-beep error code whenever there was a RAM board in slot 2.

I was wondering whether I wanted to use the computer with only one RAM board (which would be half as much RAM as I had before the computer was moved, and more RAM is the best way to make your computer run smoother and faster) … or if I wanted to spend hundreds of dollars to buy a new computer.  Then I decided to try one more thing.  I removed both RAM boards and set them aside.  I got a clean paper towel and some rubbing alcohol.  I poured a little rubbing alcohol onto the paper towel and gently cleaned the RAM slots and the connectors on the RAM boards.

(Note: For cleaning electronics, use rubbing alcohol that is 90% or more pure isopropyl alcohol.  The higher the percentage of alcohol, the lower the water content — and you definitely shouldn’t be cleaning electronic equipment with water.  Most rubbing alcohol sold for household use is 50% or 70%.  You may have to shop around to find isopropyl alcohol in a purer form.  And be careful: at higher concentrations it’s even more flammable.  When using isopropyl alcohol, ensure that equipment is unplugged and you’re not near any flame.)

When I looked at the paper towel I saw a small bit of debris (maybe a tiny piece of a dried leaf?).  Had it gotten into the computer and fallen down into the RAM slot and interrupted the electrical connection?  I don’t know if it was actually causing the problem, but …

I waited for the rubbing alcohol to dry, plugged the computer in, and turned it on.  It worked perfectly and has been working fine ever since.  Hundreds of dollars saved for 15 minutes of work.


Super Magnets from Old Computer Hard-Drive

Inside computer hard-drives are one or two super powerful magnets.  Probably worth a couple dollars, potentially useful, or just fun to have.  Inside the hard-drive, the magnets are usually glued to metal brackets that have holes in them.  You can put screws through these holes to attach the brackets to a wall, and then you’ve got a wall mount for any metal object, such as a tool, that you want to keep handy.

You can find instructions online that tell you how to take apart a hard-drive.  It’s easiest if you have a set of Torx screwdrivers.  Helpful hint: hard-drive manufacturers often hide some of the screws under labels or in other hard-to-find locations.  Getting the magnets out of a computer hard-drive is a fun project to do with a kid.

I Like Plugable Keyboards

wired_keyboardI don’t believe the “disadvantages” of plugging a keyboard into the back of the computer and seeing the cord on the desktop (the real desktop, not the computer screen) are so bad that it’s worth paying $20 more to get a wireless keyboard.

The wireless keyboard is an even worse deal when you consider that it has the disadvantages of

  • needing batteries that will have to be replaced and disposed of and could die in the middle of the night when getting replacement batteries is inconvenient,
  • being sometimes slow to respond, having a slight delay between pushing a key on the keyboard and seeing a letter appear on the screen, especially for very fast typists (this is something I’ve read in online reviews),
  • using radio signals that might be susceptible to interception by a wireless keylogger. (see “Hackers Can Spy on Wireless Keyboards From Hundreds of Feet Away“)

I use my computer while I sit at a desk.  How far away do I need to be?  It’s a keyboard, not a phone!


Many months after writing this, I obtained a new in-the-box wireless keyboard for free.  I installed the software, connected the receiver to my computer’s USB port, turned on the keyboard … and the software declared it “paired”.  Then, nothing.  I typed, but never got anything to appear on the screen.  I re-did everything.  Tried a different USB slot.  Restarted the computer.  Tried another set of batteries.  Then I did all of the above again on another computer.  I was never able to type a single character on the wireless keyboard.  There’s two hours of my life I’ll never get back.  Never again.