Lessons from Computer No POST

A learning experience.

At the beginning of the year, I built my first computer. This post is about my first hardware issue with that computer.

Hardware Failure

I should title this section, ‘User Failure’ or ‘Idiot’. My computer has been fantastic and worked flawlessly until I decided to upgrade, adding a second m.2 drive for expanded storage. While adding the new drive, I turned my back, and the computer fell from my desk onto the floor. Ugh. Then it would not boot.

No POST

The computer appeared to turn on, I could see lights and fans were spinning, but nothing appeared on the display. I’ve since learned this behaviour is called a “no post”. A POST is a Power On Self-Test, a process that runs on each boot and tests the system hardware before loading the operating system. On a successful POST, you will likely see the motherboard logo and option to enter the BIOS.

Successful POST

Resolving No Post

There is a wealth of information online to help resolve a no POST. It boils down to understanding the minimum hardware you need for a successful POST and eliminating each as causing the problem. Basically, with just the CPU, Power and RAM you should get a successful POST.

MSI, the makers of my motherboard, provide a help page “How to fix a PC with powers up but no display?

My Steps

I removed the parts not required to have a successful POST, the m.2 storage, Wifi card, and GPU. I disconnected all power cables and connectors except the motherboard power, CPU power and power switch connector. I verified the CPU and RAM were seated properly. The only external connections were to the power and display (via HDMI port). On power-up, the fans spun up, but no POST.

Just the minimal parts.

RAM
I tried each memory sticks alone and verified they were in the right location. Power-up, no POST. It was unlikely both sticks of RAM were faulty. Move onto BIOS.

BIOS
I used a jumper to reset the BIOS, removed the battery, and pushed the CMOS reset. Power-up, no POST. I have three parts left, Power Supply, Motherboard, and CPU.

Power Supply
Since the fans are spinning and lights are on, I assumed the power supply was working fine. My research explained that the power supply could be faulty and still provide some power, like a battery that powers the radio but will not start the car. I purchased a power supply. Again, power-up, no POST.

Motherboard
Unlike the power supply, which I could purchase at Best Buy fifteen miles away, I had to order a motherboard online. Again, power-up, no POST.

RAM Part 2
Since I had to wait a few days for the motherboard, why not replace the RAM. Back to Bestbuy. Power-up, no POST.

CPU
My research indicated the CPU was the most unlikely problem, but I had nothing else to replace. I ordered a new CPU and waited another two days. Ugh, power-up, no POST.

The Solution

Less the case, I built a new computer and had the same problem. This reminded me of my father’s old joke, “The lumberjack said, I used the same axe for 25 years, I’ve replaced the handle ten times and head five times”. Something was going on here I did not understand. Clearly, the issue was between my ears.

There is a set of lights on the motherboard called Check EZ Debug LED indicator, used for debugging the POST process. The VGA indicator was lit during each test, which made sense because that is the problem I was trying to solve. If I removed the RAM, the RAM indicator would light up.

EZ Debug LED Documentation

I put the GPU back into the system, and the VGA indicator remained on. This is when MY light went on. While there is an HDMI port on the motherboard, there is no onboard graphics. The CPU (or motherboard) would need to have graphics support, which my CPU does not. The fine print regarding Onboard Graphics for the MSI X470 Gaming Plus reads:

  1. Only support when using Radeon™ Vega Graphics and 2nd Gen AMD Ryzen™ with Radeon™ Graphics/ Athlon™ with Radeon™ Vega Graphics Processors

The issue, all along, was the GPU. One more trip to Best Buy and I was up and running.

All new parts, up and running.

Conclusion

The issue was very straight forward, but my lack of experience turned a one-day minor problem into a ten-day, painful, costly issue. If there was graphics support on the motherboard or CPU, I would have discovered the issue quickly. Because there wasn’t and I didn’t understand that, I saw the same No POST issue with the GPU and without it.

My take away: The presence of an HDMI port does not mean it’s usable, onboard graphics must be supported.

I did enjoy the learning process, and I’m more comfortable inside the computer.

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