Advanced Troubleshooting Steps

In a continuation of our previous efforts to troubleshoot first-time boot errors upon system build completion, this guide takes more in-depth steps of situation analysis. The prior guide discussed CMOS resets, memory and VGA reseating and re-installation, and power contact checkpoints. For most users, that guide should act as a catch-all for most first-time boot issues – but it won’t resolve all problems.

The next steps require some “un-building” of the system, but will validate that no user error was made during the process of system assembly.

As previously, here’s a bulleted outline prior to more in-depth guidelines:

  • Go barebones and strip the system down to only the required components.
  • Check for short-circuits between the board and the case.
  • Swap parts (where possible) to locate potential defective or DOA components.

Let’s start with the barebones approach, as that’s most likely to root-out easy issues.

Going Barebones on the Build

When system builders use the word “barebones,” they’re referring to the stripping-down of a system to only its essential components. If one component is blocking the system’s ability to boot, these steps should find that component.

First, determine if your CPU is capable of supporting on-board graphics (and that the motherboard has it to offer – almost all will). If so, the VGA is the first component that can be disconnected from power and removed. Connect any display cables (DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, etc.) to the motherboard directly. If not, the VGA is required.

The next step has to do with RAM – often the culprit – and the removal thereof. Remove all but one stick of memory (if you only have one stick, check the last section on part swapping). You will need to keep track of which memory sticks have been tested through this process. We will rotate the sticks through to determine if any particular stick is throwing failures.

Disconnect all non-essential cooling (case fans).

Finally, disconnect all storage devices from both their interface (data connection) and power. We should now be running:

  • Motherboard + CPU
  • CPU Fan
  • One stick of RAM
  • Internal graphics (if present)

Attempt a boot. Consider resetting CMOS between (see previous guide).

Rotate through RAM until all sticks have been tested. If a particular stick prevents boot, you’ll have to go through the RMA process or return process with the manufacturer or retailer (respectively).

Check for Short-Circuit Connections

If, during motherboard installation, the standoff hex screws were improperly installed or left out entirely, the motherboard could very likely be forming a direct short with the case. The motherboard should never contact any other piece of metal directly unless that piece is part of a power or data pin. The board and case should not touch as this would form a bridge and directly short the motherboard.

The bad news first: checking for shorts is a pain, as it requires a complete system uninstall to inspect the standoffs. Check that every relevant mount point (for the board’s form factor) is outfitted with a standoff. Remove any standoffs which do not directly align with screw holes in the motherboard. Note that component weight can cause the motherboard to sag and make contact with the case, even if it’s elevated – that’s why every screw matters. Do not skip screws.

If the VGA is still installed (no IGP), check any aftermarket heatsink brackets or fan mounts / tower fins to ensure that there is no collision between the rear of the VGA and the mount points.

As an aside, it’s also worth replacing (if available as an option) modular power cables with the spares or extras that some PSUs will include.

Swap Parts

This step will require a functional, known-good system to use cooperatively as a troubleshooting agent. If neither you nor a friend have spare parts that can be temporarily borrowed from functional systems, check with local PC repair shops. This will save time in the event of individual component failure and avoid unnecessary shipping.

  • Start with the PSU. Remain barebones, but swap the PSU (and any connected cables) with a known-good power supply.
  • Move to memory: If that’s still no good, swap memory to a different configuration.
  • If the VGA is installed (no IGP), do the same for the video card.

That should more-or-less cover it. This particular step will find the defect if all other routes are exhausted. NZXT’s own support can further assist if you’re still having trouble. – Steve Burke, GamersNexus