We’ve all had that last-minute pressure after procrastinating on work or school assignments; you’re hardly breathing, trying to meet the deadline. Then, boom, the laptop screen goes dark without warning. If you don’t know your way around computers, you’ll feel like the world is crashing because you probably don’t even know where to start.
Your laptop is dying while plugged in because of a faulty power adapter, malfunctioning power outlets, or defective batteries. More severe internal problems can also trigger this response, including malfunctioning motherboards, HDD, SSD, or RAM. Check that your outlet and charging cables are functional.
I’ve had this very thing happen to me and have had people come to me asking me to help them. After seeing various causes and how to resolve them, I decided to write this article to help others burdened with this prevalent issue.
The solution might be as simple as connecting the adapter to a working socket. However, if the problem is related to a malfunctioning internal computer component, you might need to find a different computer to meet your deadline. So let’s quickly go through some of the possible causes and ways to fix them.
Why does my laptop die when I unplug it?
Many things could make your laptop die suddenly, even when it’s still plugged in. It can be frustrating if you don’t know why it keeps happening. It’s safe to say the majority of issues stem from the power source (most likely the battery, charging cable, or socket on the laptop), insufficient cooling, and malware.
Here are some of the most common causes:
Non-working power sockets/outlets
Problems with the power supply are a common reason this happens. Although laptops can run for a while with battery power, they need a reliable power source to charge the battery back up once the power drains completely.
The laptop will shut down once the charge drains and there’s no power supplied to charge the battery. It might be that the power outlet is faulty, and no power is going through the power adapter and into the laptop battery.
The power outlet could be malfunctioning due to a tripped circuit breaker or a bad power connection caused by general wear and tear. Sometimes, a single faulty power outlet can make all the nearby outlets lose power or even trip the whole breaker panel. If this is the case, the problem will persist, even if you try a different socket.
Faulty Power Adapter
The adapter (also known as the laptop charger) delivers power from the outlet to the computer battery. If this mode of power transport is compromised, it’ll hinder the power delivery, and the laptop battery won’t charge.
Once the battery completely drains, the laptop will shut down. AC adapter can fail due to burnt/worn-out AC adapter, broken/damaged power cable, damaged DC-in connector, etc.
Just like non-working power outlets, a faulty power adapter means that the laptop isn’t charging. Some laptops give an error message (“AC adapter type cannot be determined”), making it easier for you to recognize the problem. However, you can also check the charging LED light to see if the laptop is charging if you don’t get this warning.
Faulty power adapters are often caused by choosing the incorrect model, overheating charging blocks, and aging. HP states most power adapters last up to 1,000 or more charges.
If your adapter is old or overused, it won’t supply a powerful enough current to keep your laptop charged. When you unplug it, the trickle effect won’t work anymore and your laptop will die every time.
Worn-Out or Defective Batteries
It’s natural for laptop batteries to degrade over time, and once they wear out, they can cause severe problems to the laptop. It can make the computer unable to charge and maintain power, overheat, and even lead to a sudden computer shutdown. This response is typical, especially if the battery is a few years old.
Laptop batteries, e.g., Ni-Cad, are affected by a defect commonly known as the memory effect. The continuous damage caused to the battery is due to continuously charging the battery without allowing it time to discharge fully. Over time, the battery memory distorts, and it starts draining power too fast or shutting down unexpectedly.
You may also experience charging problems if you leave the laptop unused for an extended period, in which time the battery discharges completely. If you don’t intend to use the computer for an extended period, remove the battery and ensure that it doesn’t entirely discharge while outside. Battery overheating is also a sign that you need a new battery.
This would be a very common and likely cause as to why your laptop turns off when you unplug it from power.
I have written another article about keeping your laptop battery healthier for longer, in case you are interested.
Most computers have in-built thermal protection that protects the machine from the dangers of overheating. This mechanism automatically shuts down the laptop once it starts to overheat. If the laptop overheats and the system shuts down, it won’t power back on until it cools down.
This problem is more likely with older laptops that have a lower quality cooling system. However, even if you’re using a slightly new model, always ensure that the cooling vents aren’t blocked. This is especially true if you’re using your laptop on the bed, pillow, or anything fluffy.
However, if the PC is overheating without any apparent reason, it might be because some internal components aren’t functioning correctly. It could be the video card fans, processor fans, or even case fans.
I have written another article about how to keep your laptop cool and I encourage you to go and read it.
Hardware or software conflict
The hardware issue can also be another culprit. Hardware conflict can happen when you add in new hardware, especially if the laptop was fine before the addition. It could also result from a faulty update of the pilot that has automatic update settings.
It’s common to see computers crush due to faulty pilot updates that conflicted with the rest of the hardware. You might receive a hardware error code notification before the shutdown, but sometimes, the laptop will shut down before you have a chance to do anything.
A system infected by malware is vulnerable and likely to shut down or crash anytime. There are various types of malware. Some work in the background and take a long time before realizing the damage it might have caused. Malware often comes from corrupted USB drives, unsecured websites, and public WiFi connections.
But some will lead to apparent symptoms such as your laptop powering down at a specific time of the day or when you open a particular application. This will happen if your computer isn’t well protected by powerful antivirus software. Weekly scans will show signs of malware, letting you remove them to keep your laptop running smoothly.
Operating system downtime
If you’ve ruled out all the above, then the issue might be with your operating system. If your operating system is down, your computer might suddenly power down. The best way to check for operating system failure is to reboot and enter a CMOS Setup while the computer is still rebooting. Although, it’s best to leave all the internal computer problems to the experts.
What to do if your laptop dies while plugged in
Although you might not fully understand the source of the problem yet, it still doesn’t hurt to try a few tricks and see if the computer will power back up again. Here’s what you should do if your laptop dies while plugged in:
Check the physical charger connections
The first step is to check and ensure that you inserted your AC adapter correctly into the power source and that you turned the switch on. Ensure that the laptop is inserted correctly into both the laptop charging port and the power socket/outlet. Double-check just to be sure. Try charging a different device from the same power outlet to see if it works.
Check if there’s power from the power outlets
Check if the power outlets are working correctly. You can do this by using the charger on a different outlet (preferably on a different wall or in a different room) or charging a different device from the same power outlet.
If the circuit breaker tripped, you could solve the problem with a quick reset. The same logic applies to a tripped main breaker panel.
Are you using the correct charger and the right port?
Check how much power your computer is receiving. Ensure that you’re using the correct charger for the laptop and that it’s connected to the correct computer port. Most laptops have one charging port. But if you’re using the newer models that use USB-C, try all the USB-C ports on the computer to see which one works.
For best results, ensure that you use the original charger that came with the computer. Fake chargers can cause lasting severe harm to your laptop. Each charger is designed to deliver a specific wattage to the laptop. Using a different charger might not deliver the correct wattage, which might be the source of the problem. This is a problem mainly with laptops that charge using USB-C cables.
Check both the charger cable and port for damage
After checking for cable connection issues, thoroughly check for any damage to the cable and the charging port. Check the entire cord and adapter for minor fraying and damage. Run your hand down to check for any unevenness on the whole length of the cord.
Smell the connection part and the adapter for any burning smell. If you smell that burning aroma, something might have gone wrong, and the charger needs immediate replacement.
If nothing is unusual with the charger, take a look at the port where the charger connects to the laptop. Usually, the connection will fit snugly. If it feels a bit loose or jiggly, there might be a problem. Try moving it around to see if you can get a good connection.
If the laptop starts to charge when you hold the charger at a certain angle, it means the port might have a problem; take it in for repair.
To avoid future damage to the charging port, always keep some slack in the cable and avoid letting the adapter dangle from a table, which puts pressure on the port and can easily damage it.
Check the health of your battery
Once you’ve ruled out a faulty power connection, check the integrity of the battery. Some removable batteries wear out pretty quickly and need frequent replacement.
To check the battery, follow the steps below:
- Take the battery out and drain out the residual power from the laptop (you can do this by holding down the power button for 15 seconds).
- Then, without the battery, plug in the computer and turn it on. If it powers up, it means that the machine and the adapter are working correctly, and the battery is the problem.
- To be sure, re-install the battery and try again. Maybe you installed the battery improperly, and the power didn’t deliver correctly. If it still doesn’t work, you need to replace your battery.
Some laptops like Macs don’t have a direct battery compartment, and you might need an expert to take a look. Don’t forget to care for your battery properly to avoid any future problems.
Reduce resource usage
Other than the hardware, overloading your computer can also cause charging problems. A computer that’s working too hard discharges faster than usual and could lead to power problems. If the charger isn’t delivering enough charge to replenish the battery as quickly as it’s discharging, inevitably, the laptop will soon die.
This is especially true if you have several programs running simultaneously, overloading the laptop. In this case, the laptop will get hot due to overloading making the fan work harder. The fan will work harder to cool the laptop down, therefore, using more power.
To solve this problem, wait until it cools down before powering it up again. After it powers up, allow it some time to charge and avoid running several power-hungry programs simultaneously.
Let it cool down
Turn the laptop off if you notice that it’s starting to heat up and wait until it cools down. Keep in mind that if the laptop suddenly doesn’t turn on but turns on once it has cooled down, it means that the problem is with the cooling system.
Ensure that the vents are clean and free of dirt and debris. If the laptop still has heat problems, the fans have a problem and need a replacement.
Reboot your computer
Rebooting a computer helps clear a lot of problems. Hence, it’s a good idea to reboot your laptop. Entering the CMOS setup while the laptop is rebooting will help reinstall the operating system. If the laptop successfully powers back on, then the problem could have been the operating system downtime.
But if it powers up for a while and shuts down again, the problem might not be with the operating system. It could be due to a failing hard disk, motherboard, CPU, or other internal components. Get the laptop checked by a professional if you don’t know your way around computers.
Hardware conflict solution
If you recently added new hardware like a CI/PCIe card, the solution is to remove the hardware altogether. However, if not, you may need to have a professional diagnose the problem. It might be that an automatic update to internal hardware is causing the problem.
New plug-in extensions for your internet browser can also cause these issues. Applications and plug-ins in a beta phase are known to consume too much power, causing your laptop to overheat or drain quicker than it can charge.
Check the laptop’s power options
There are also some software issues/conflicts that might cause your laptop to die unexpectedly. For example, some computers have a system setting to make the laptop shut down when they reach a certain battery level (usually when it’s almost fully discharged).
This is common with Windows operating systems. If you suspect this is your problem, follow the steps below:
- Connect your laptop to charge until it powers back up.
- Once it’s back on, go to the power settings page and reset this option. You can do this by going to settings and clicking on systems, then power and sleep.
- Press power settings and then click on the change plan.
- Next, click on restore default settings and click ok.
If you’re using a MAC, here’s a guide on resetting the power options for your computer.
Get professional help
If none of the above has worked, then your laptop might have other severe problems, and it’s best to let a professional carry out the diagnosis. If your laptop still has a valid warranty, bring it to the manufacturer for diagnosis and repairs. Otherwise, book an appointment with a reliable computer repair shop.
Note: If you have an Apple laptop, always visit a MacBook specialist. They have a unique OS (operating system), making them much more challenging for people accustomed to Windows products.
A sudden shutdown could signify a problem with an internal component requiring immediate attention other than the general power system problems.
If you know your way around computers, this might be an easy problem to solve. But if you have any doubts, leave these issues with the experts. Otherwise, you might end up creating a mountain from a molehill.