How to Check for Electrical Shorts in a PC

Electrical shorts inside a computer are usually caused by stray pieces of metal that form an electrical connection that shouldn't exist. Electrical shorts can cause the PC to power off without warning and without an error message. They can also cause the PC to not power on at all, and potentially cause damage.

Warning: Always power off and unplug the PC before troubleshooting causes of electrical shorts. You should always unplug the computer when working inside the case. Also, before touching or handling sensitive electrical components inside your computer, touch the case or other nearby metal surface to discharge any built up static charge.

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Check for loose screws

Picture of a teenager fixing a computer
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Electrical shorts inside the computer are often caused by stray screws in the case that have come in contact with the motherboard or other internal component. Screws are used to secure nearly every component to the inside of the case including video cards, sound cards, hard drives, optical drives, and other components or hardware expansions.

Turn off and unplug your computer. Also, disconnect all cables and peripherals from it, such as a monitor cable, printer cable, ethernet connection, keyboard and mouse cords, and any other USB connected devices such as external hard drives. Pick up the computer carefully and gently rock it side to side. If you hear a rattling sound, a screw may have come loose and is rolling around inside your case.

A few light shakes will usually knock it loose and into the bottom of the case where you can find it. If the screw is lodged somewhere that you can't reach with your fingers, try using a long pair of tweezers or needlenose pliers to reach it.

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Inspect cables and wires for exposed metal

Photo of a frayed wire
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Electrical shorts inside a computer are sometimes caused by wires that have lost their protective plastic coating and are coming into contact with internal components.

While the computer is off and unplugged, open the case and inspect all of the cables inside the computer. Look for stripped, naked, or frayed wires. If any are found, replace them immediately, even if they don't appear to touching any components; they may not be causing a problem now, but they can present an issue in the future.

Also, check wire twist ties and and any other wrapped metal bindings that might currently be used for cable organization. While most of these are now all plastic, some are metal and will wear over time, exposing metal.