Do you suspect your PC isn’t functioning properly due to a faulty motherboard? One of the things you’ll need to check is whether the motherboard is receiving power.
- 1. Check That Your Power Supply Unit Is Operational
- 2. See if Your PC Can Output a Display
- 3. See if Your PC Can Make It to the BIOS Menu
- 4. Look for a Glowing LED on Your Motherboard
- 5. Check the Fans Attached to Your Motherboard
- 6. Inspect the Condition of Your Motherboard
- 7. Check the front panel power switch
To check if your motherboard is receiving power, make sure your power supply unit is working in the first place. Then, see whether your motherboard outputs a display or generates beeps when you turn your PC on. A glowing LED light and spinning CPU fan indicate that your motherboard is active.
In the rest of this article, I’ll expand on the above topics and give you a step-by-step process for checking your motherboard’s power status. Let’s get started.
1. Check That Your Power Supply Unit Is Operational
Before anything else, you should check that your power supply unit (PSU) is working as expected. This cube-like unit sits at one of the four corners of your PC.
It has a conspicuous air intake fan and several cable runnings to and from it, so you’ll be able to recognize it easily.
The power supply unit is the heart of any computer system. Its job is to provide reliable and efficient power to all components inside a computer.
This ensures that everything has enough energy to do its job, from the smallest component, like a RAM chip, all the way up to larger components, like your motherboard.
Without a good power supply unit, your system won’t function properly.
Why You Should Check the Power Supply Unit First
Checking the PSU before troubleshooting your motherboard is highly recommended because many issues that appear to be motherboard-related are unrelated to the motherboard.
Quite often, it is the power supply unit that’s at fault.
The motherboard is a very resilient piece of hardware. It’s built to be durable since it connects to just about every other component inside your PC.
They can easily last upwards of a decade in fair conditions, so they rarely go bad before the other parts.
On the other hand, the PSU fulfills a far more demanding role and tends to give out much sooner. On average, you can expect it to last 3-5 years.
If your PC won’t turn on, it’s more likely to be a power supply fault than the motherboard. If you find a fault in the power supply, you may not have a faulty motherboard.
When checking the PSU, ensure the following:
- The PSU’s built-in power switch must be in the On position.
- The power connector (24-pin or 20+4-pin) must be inserted snuggly into your motherboard’s power port.
- The power supply unit itself must be healthy and functioning properly.
If your initial tests reveal that your power supply works just fine, the odds that you have a faulty motherboard are now, unfortunately, considerably higher.
Detecting Issues With Your Power Supply Unit
The PSU’s fan spins during operation. However, it’s important to note that it should only spin when temperatures cross a certain threshold and ambient cooling falls short.
A PSU fan that doesn’t spin when you attempt to boot your computer is not an indicator of a dead PSU.
Checking your PSU for functionality involves some technical expertise, and I recommend you only fiddle around with the PSU if you have PC-building experience. Leave things to a professional if you aren’t confident in your skills.
To test a power supply, you can use a multimeter to test all of the outputs while shorting out the green wire (PS_ON pin) with any ground (black pin) using a paperclip. Sometimes referred to as the paperclip test.
Tip: Don’t stick the paperclip in the contact side of the plug, but rather behind it, where the wires feed into the connector. This way, you avoid damaging the contacts inside the 24-pin (20+4 pin) ATX connector.
Another way that is a little easier is to purchase a power supply tester from a store like Amazon. They are cheap and will give you a read-out on an LCD display.
You can see one example here (affiliate link to Amazon): Fuhengli Computer Power Supply Tester.
Just note that these testers measure the resting output voltages to see if they are present and provide the correct voltage.
A better tester would be a load tester, which will set you back many more dollars to obtain a decent one. Once the power supply is under load, it will reveal much more about its condition.
The simplest way to determine whether your motherboard or PSU needs attention is by bringing a second PSU into the mix.
Test your PC with a second PSU to see which of the two components is faulty.
2. See if Your PC Can Output a Display
If you’re confident your power supply is functional and have ensured the 24-pin connector is firmly attached to the motherboard, you can proceed to this next step.
Checking for display output allows you to rule out any no-power problems caused by the PSU. Doing so will help you focus on finding faults within the motherboard instead.
Any output to the monitor indicates that the motherboard is receiving power. If your motherboard can receive power, you will likely see a display on your monitor when you turn on your PC. You wouldn’t get a display if your motherboard wasn’t receiving power.
If you experience problems or abnormal behavior during startup, likely, they aren’t caused by a power problem. I’ll discuss common startup problems in further detail as we go.
But for now, if you see a display during startup, know that your motherboard is receiving some power.
3. See if Your PC Can Make It to the BIOS Menu
If your PC can make it to the BIOS menu or you hear beeps from your motherboard, there is no doubt that it is receiving power.
To perform this check, reconnect your PC and attempt to turn it on as you normally do.
- If your motherboard is now receiving power, your PC will boot successfully.
- If your motherboard is receiving power but faults prevent a successful boot, your motherboard will either take you to the BIOS menu or beep loudly.
- If your motherboard isn’t receiving any power, you won’t get a display or hear any beeps.
The errors preventing your PC from booting are likely failures in another component. However, there remains a slim chance that they lie within the motherboard itself.
When a motherboard dies, it usually happens instantly, and the entire board stops functioning. It’s rare for a motherboard to lose systematic functionality gradually, but not entirely unheard of.
Luckily, your motherboard has a way of telling you exactly where the problem lies, so you won’t have to fall back on testing each component separately.
Listen for the Motherboard’s Beeps
When your instruct your motherboard to turn on, it conducts a POST (Power-On-Self-Test).
This test confirms that each component connected to the motherboard is in working order before initiating the booting process.
If your motherboard finds a critical error while conducting the POST test, it will terminate the booting process and make beeping sounds to alert you. The frequency or number of beeps produced indicates where the error lies.
The beeps your motherboard makes will mean different things depending on who manufactured the board’s BIOS chip.
You’ll have to find out your motherboard’s BIOS chip manufacturer, then refer to the complete list of various chip manufacturers and what the beeps mean for each motherboard.
Follow these steps when checking for your motherboard chip manufacturer:
- Consult your motherboard’s user manual to pin down the location of the BIOS chip. It’s a rather small chip, so finding it otherwise can be difficult.
- Look for the manufacturer’s name next to or printed on the chip.
- Tally your motherboard’s beeps against the list linked above to determine where the error lies.
If the beeps indicate a problem with the RAM, follow these steps:
- Check that your RAM sticks are firmly inserted into their memory slots. They should produce a clicking sound when put in place correctly.
- If the sticks are firmly inserted, remove dust and dirt from the slots and the stick’s connector.
- Insert your RAM sticks into a different RAM slot.
- Try using RAM sticks you know work.
If the replacement RAM sticks don’t work, your motherboard could have a faulty RAM slot. A computer won’t boot without RAM, so you must get the motherboard serviced.
Once you have fixed the problem indicated by the POST test, your motherboard should be able to boot normally.
4. Look for a Glowing LED on Your Motherboard
One of the simpler ways to check that your motherboard is receiving power is to look for a glowing LED on the board.
Most motherboards have a tiny LED built into their frame that will glow bright red when powered.
When a motherboard’s LED doesn’t glow, it’s almost certain it isn’t receiving power. However, it’s also possible that only the LED is faulty and the rest of the motherboard is receiving power, but the odds of that being the case are absurdly low, as you can imagine.
Some modern motherboards are equipped with several LEDs.
Usually, only a single LED indicates proper power access, whereas others indicate common errors, making them visual indicators much more practical than beeps.
Nowadays, some motherboards might not have an LED built onto them, and some only have lights that glow to indicate a particular problem.
If your motherboard falls into either of these categories, you may not be able to rely on this step to help you judge whether or not your board is receiving power.
Another common indicator on modern motherboards is a dual eight segment display, whereby numbers and letters can be displayed in order show error codes.
These error codes will be referenced in the troubleshooting section of your motherboard’s manual as to what each code means.
5. Check the Fans Attached to Your Motherboard
Another way to check that your motherboard is receiving power is by looking at any and all attached fans.
The case fans and additional internal cooling fans can be attached to either the motherboard or the PSU.
When the fans are attached to the PSU, they draw power directly from it. However, when they’re attached to the motherboard, they act as an intermediary between the fans and the PSU.
Any fans connected to your PC’s motherboard will spin when the motherboard receives power and is turned on.
You may wonder why it’s even a common practice to have fans connected to the motherboard when it’s possible to connect them to the PSU directly.
There are several reasons for this:
- Connecting fans to the motherboard will allow you to adjust their rotational speed manually via software. This facility is lost by connecting the same fans directly to the power supply.
- Connecting them to the motherboard can make for cleaner cable management, depending on the positioning of the fans.
- Fans are connected to the motherboard when the PSU doesn’t have a suitable power connector.
If you have no internal fans, examine your CPU’s stock cooler.
The stock cooler is not quite powered through your motherboard the same way the internal fans are, as it receives power from 4 of the 24 pins of the power connector.
However, since the CPU stock cooler and the motherboard receive power through the same cable, it makes sense that if the CPU stock cooler isn’t receiving any power, the motherboard isn’t either.
6. Inspect the Condition of Your Motherboard
If you’re still unsure whether your motherboard is receiving power, a thorough physical examination may be due.
It’s time to disconnect all components connected to the motherboard and pull it out of your PC’s case.
Inspect your motherboard closely for signs of physical damage. Here’s what you’re looking out for:
- Visible decoloration. This indicates burns and damage due to extreme overheating. It can also be caused due to rusting and water damage.
- Melted connectors. Extreme localized overheating can cause thin metal connectors to melt. This is usually the result of a short circuit.
- Cracks and other signs of physical damage. Check if anything on the board appears damaged, broken, or in far worse condition than the rest of the board.
- Broken capacitors. The capacitors are the numerous tiny cylinders on your motherboard. They store energy, creating a buffer. This buffer ensures the whole board receives a smooth, uninterrupted flow of electricity.
If you see any of the above, your motherboard is damaged and hence cannot receive power. It needs to be repaired or replaced.
7. Check the front panel power switch
It may seem rather insignificant at first, but if your front panel switch isn’t working or isn’t connected to the motherboard correctly, the motherboard won’t power up.
You can bypass the switch to eliminate it as a potential cause of the motherboard not powering up by removing it from the motherboard’s pin header and using the tip of a screwdriver to short the two pins where the power switch connects.
Caution: Make sure you short out the correct pins by looking at your manual. Otherwise, you could end up permanently damaging your motherboard.
And don’t short out the two pins if you don’t have easy access to them where you feel like you are in control of touching the two pins simultaneously.
Some motherboards have markings to indicate which of the two pins are the power switch pins, but double-checking in the manual is a wise choice.
If you don’t have a physical motherboard booklet, type in your motherboard’s model into Google and view the manufacturer’s support page for that motherboard.
They will have a regularly updated version of the manual to see exactly where the pins are for the front panel power switch.
Note: Don’t get mixed up with the power LED pins. You don’t want to short those out.
If the motherboard powers up with this manual method instead of relying on the front power switch, you’ll have to put the connector for the switch in the correct place or replace it, depending on the cause.
Having a functioning motherboard is essential for your computer to run properly. To sum up, follow these steps to check if your motherboard is receiving power:
- Check that your power supply is operational.
- See if your PC can output a display or make it to the BIOS menu.
- Listen for your motherboard’s beeps. They help you identify errors.
- Look for a glowing LED on the board.
- See whether the fans attached to your motherboard spin when you turn your PC on.
- Inspect the health and condition of your motherboard to identify physical damage.
- Check that the front panel power switch is connected correctly and works as it should.