Hi Fred, I’ve been a Plus subscriber for many years. Until now I’ve never had any reason to write to you. Recently, I was working on my daughters’ eMachines PC. She was complaining that the wireless networking wasn’t working well and that it was taken a very long time to boot. I decided to do two things, inspect the PC to be sure that the wireless network card is seated properly and add additional RAM. She had recently moved so it is possible that the network or other cards in the PC had become dislodged. I first inspected the PC and cards. Everything seemed to be in place properly. Since she was not using the wired network card, I removed it. I then removed and replaced the wireless network card to be sure it was in securely. The PC worked okay after booting but was still slow to boot.
The PC only had 256MB of PC 2100 RAM. I had an extra 256MB PC-2700 RAM from another PC. It was the same manufacturer. I contacted eMachines to be sure it would be compatible. They said it was. They also recommended that the PC-2700 RAM be placed in socket 0 and the original PC-2100 RAM be placed in socket 1. I didn’t ask why. I reopened the PC case, removed the original RAM then installed the two RAM chips as recommended. When I booted the PC, it cranked up for about 10 seconds then immediately shut down. When I opened the case, there was a faint but distinct smell of something burning. I allowed the PC to sit for awhile and tried again. All the fans whirled but nothing was displayed on the monitor not even the typical CMOS info. I then removed the RAM chips, replaced the original into slot 0 and tried to boot again. Nothing doing.
I don’t have the proper tools to diagnose a problem such as this. So I took the PC to a local shop. They told me that either the motherboard or CPU was fried. They didn’t know which one. They didn’t have another motherboard that would accept the AMD Athlon CPU from my PC and they didn’t have another Athlon CPU to test further. My questions are, "how can installing a RAM chip cause a motherboard or CPU to get fried?" How can I determine which is actually damaged? Lastly, the PC is a three year old Athlon XP 1600+ machine. Is it worth fixing and if so, is it still possible to get replacement parts? Sincerely, Frank Parker
If the new RAM bank was bad, or if it was inserted improperly, there can be trouble. I did it once: I thought I’d put a RAM bank in correctly— it went in and I closed the plastic levers that held it in place. But when I turned on the machine, I didn’t get the normal startup beep, and a strange hot-plastic smell immediately filled the room. I killed the power, and went to remove the RAM bank— and almost lost my fingerprints in the process. That sucker was *hot.* Apparently, I’d initially pushed the RAM bank down on one end instead of in the middle. Once it was started into the socket ever so slightly askew it then continued on that path; just enough to cause the socket’s contacts to bridge adjacent electrical traces on the RAM bank, creating dozens of short circuits.
Amazingly, when things cooled off, I tried it again— being careful to seat the RAM bank squarely this time (doh!), and everything then worked fine! But clearly, that was just luck: the PC might just as easily have been toasted.
So yes, it’s possible that something fried from the new RAM you tried to install, and no, it may not be repairable. There are hardware diagnostic tools you can buy to check the health of a motherboard or power supply; but they’re meant for professional techs. Plus, the good ones cost more than a replacement motherboard: You’d need to use the tool many times before it would pay for itself.
If a new PC is out of the question, you might look at just replacing the motherboard (maybe as little as $30 or so); or at replacing the motherboard and CPU (this would let you upgrade to a higher speed); or look at a "bare bones" system that includes case, power supply, motherboard and CPU ($100 or so, and up). You’d add new RAM, and transfer your existing drives, monitor, keyboard, etc to the new system.