Things that go Beep in the Night

We have all heard those little beeps our computers make: like when we start the computer, turn off the computer and of course the times that we did something wrong. For example, when the computer is running we sometimes mistakenly put our elbow on the space-bar while talking to someone. With the advent of technology filtering into our lives, more so today than even 10 years ago, we seem to have grown accustomed to hearing those once annoying little beeps to the point of ignoring them, and this is a bad thing.

Those beeps are a language that computers and other electronic devices use in order to communicate with us. They tell us when they are sick and when they are well. They tell us when we have done something wrong or requested an action that is not possible.

So where do those little beeps come from? They emit from a small piezoelectric (piezo) speaker mounted to the motherboard in your computer. When you power on your computer it runs a POST (Power On Self Test) that checks the internal hardware for compatibility and connection before starting the remainder of the boot process. Generally, if the computer hardware passes the POST test, you will hear one beep (some computers may have two quick beeps) as it continues the boot process. If the computer fails the POST test, then it will either not beep at all or generate a beep code that tells the user the source of the problem.

If you have a situation where the computer beeps more than once, it would be safe to say “Houston, we have a problem.” The next step is to listen to the beeps, even if you need to turn off your computer and restart it several times. Don’t worry about damaging your computer at this point, it’s already broken. In this situation, listen to the amount of beeps and the length of each beep. Think in terms of Morse code. Your computer may produce three quick beeps, which would be a different error than two short ones and long one. Take note of the amount of beeps and their length before you start looking up the codes to determine your computer’s ailment.

Below is a list of common beep error codes with their meanings and possible solutions. Because of the wide variety of different computer manufacturers and the optional BIOS’s (Basic Input / Output Signal) they may use, the beep codes will vary. It’s best to check with the manufacturer of your computer for specific beep codes.

1 beep: BIOS ROM corruption or failure; this is an indication that your BIOS chip (an integrated chip (IC chip)) on the motherboard is corrupt. You may need to replace it or simply flash it. (Flashing a BIOS is just a way of saying programming it’)

2 beeps: Memory (RAM) not detected; don’t confuse this one with the four beep error. Two beeps means the RAM or memory sticks are not detected. Most often you can simply unplug them, blow out the inside of your computer with some canned air and re-install the memory.

3 beeps: Motherboard failure; sorry, but this one is going to cost you. Most often this means that your motherboard is bad and needs to be replaced. Desktop computers aren’t too costly, but laptop computers can be really expensive to replace. Here is where you may want to look at cost vs. reward.

4 beeps: Memory (RAM) failure; similar to two beeps but an all together different problem. This means that one or more of your memory sticks are bad. (It happens.) The best option here is to pull the memory sticks one at a time to isolate the faulty one. Remember to turn off and unplug your computer each time you work on the inside.

5 beeps: CMOS Battery failure; the CMOS has a battery backup built onto the motherboard and often is the same type of battery used in older watches or garage door openers. The CMOS is where your computer’s internal clock function resides. This lets your operating system boot with the correct date and time as displayed in the bottom right corner of your desktop. Of course, the CMOS does more than just maintain a clock, but you get the idea.

6 beeps: Video card failure; this is not a major issue, but it will prevent any signal or image from going to your monitor. Usually the system will still boot, but you just can’t see anything happening. Replacing a video card in a desktop is quiet easy, but in a laptop it can be expensive and difficult.

7 beeps: Bad processor CPU; this issue is going to set you back about $100 for a new processor plus labor. It’s not the worst thing that could happen, but it’s something you don’t look forward to either. Again, replacing one in a desktop is much easier and cheaper than a laptop.

In the event that you encounter such beeps, a simple listen of the amount of beeps and their duration may give you a quick clue as to what is wrong. Granted, this is just a generalized reference and should not be taken as gospel for all computers. As mentioned earlier, check the website for your specific computer as the codes may vary.

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