How to bring your computer back from the dead

A woman sits at a table with her dog in her lap having brought her computer back from the dead.

If your computer won’t turn on, this guide offers tips to help troubleshoot why your computer may be dead and how to help resolve what is causing it. 

It’s frustrating: You’re writing a report on your laptop, hunting monsters in your favorite PC game, or reading celebrity gossip on your desktop. Suddenly, your computer shuts down, its screen going black. You try to restart, and nothing happens. 

Is your computer dead? Maybe. It might be time to shop for a new device

But not always. Sometimes computers fall into a type of zombie state. With a few tricks, you might be able to raise your device from the dead. 

How to do it? Try these strategies. 

Dead vs. “dead”

There are different types of dead when it comes to computers. 

If your computer won’t turn on when you press the power switch, it might be dead-dead, as in you need to buy a replacement laptop or desktop. Or it might be not-quite dead. Instead, it could be in a deep zombified state and might be salvageable.

With a little luck, and by following the steps below, you might be able to wake up a device that is playing dead. 

Waking up your laptop or desktop

If you press your laptop’s power button and nothing happens? Try these steps: 

  1. Check the outlet: Maybe the problem isn’t with your computer. It might be your power supply. 

    Test the wall outlet into which your computer is plugged. Plug another appliance into it, such as a lamp or fan. If the appliance doesn’t turn on? Your wall outlet is probably the problem. If it works? Then you know that the problem lies elsewhere. 

  2. Check your power cable: Next, check the power cord connecting your computer to the outlet. If you have a spare cable, plug that one into your computer and outlet. If your computer turns on? You know that the problem rested with your power cable. If it doesn’t? It’s time for more work.
  3. Is your laptop’s battery charged? If you use a laptop and let your battery drain to nothing, that could account for your device’s problems. Sometimes, a laptop won’t turn on if its battery is drained, even if it’s plugged into a power source. 

    Leave your laptop connected and wait for your battery to recharge at least partly. If your laptop still won’t turn on–or if you are using a desktop not powered by a battery–move onto the next step. 

  4. Check your computer’s display: What if your computer makes noise after you turn it on? What if it appears to be running, but nothing is showing on your screen? The problem might be with your device’s display. 

    If you are working on a desktop computer, make sure the monitor is connected to your computer. If it is and you still don’t see anything, you can connect it to a new monitor to see if your PC’s home screen pops up. 

    If you are using a laptop and you think your computer is working, but nothing is showing up on the screen, consider connecting your device to an external monitor or to your TV with an HDMI cable. If your laptop’s home screen shows up on your TV, you know that the problem is with your display, not the rest of your computer. 

    With both a desktop and laptop, check to make sure your screen’s brightness level hasn’t been accidentally turned down to zero. If it is, turn it up and see if anything shows up on your display. If it does, then your worries are over. If your screen is set properly and nothing shows up? It might be time to move to the next step. 

  5. Disconnect as much as you can: When troubleshooting a computer that won’t turn on, you want to remove as many variables as you can. This means disconnecting your desktop or laptop from as many external devices as possible. 

    If your computer is connected to a printer, disconnect it. If you’re connected to a scanner, unplug it from your laptop or desktop. Anything that isn’t essential, remove it. 

    Now try turning on your computer. If it still doesn’t work? Time for more troubleshooting. 

  6. Check the surge protector: Do you connect your computer to a surge protector? Check the switch on the protector. If it’s not lit, your computer might not be getting any power. Turn the switch on and do the same with your computer. If your computer turns on? Problem solved. If not? It might be time to call in a professional. 

Time for the professional? 

If none of the above steps bring your computer back to life? You might need to call in a professional. 

You’ll need to determine, though, whether spending the money on reviving your computer is worth it. It might make more sense to purchase a new device. 

Get a written estimate from any computer repair service you hire. You can then compare that estimate to how much you’d need to spend to replace your dead computer with a new one. Price isn’t the only factor, of course. If you truly love your dead computer, you might be willing to spend more to have it repaired. If you were ready for a computer upgrade before your current device fizzled? You might take your unresponsive laptop or desktop as a sign that it’s time to invest in a new computer. 

But what about the documents, images, videos, bookmarks, contacts, and other information saved in your dead computer? Fortunately, you should be able to retrieve most of it.

Retrieving key data from your dead computer

Haven’t backed up your most important files? You’re far from alone. Many computer users never back up the information saved on their devices. 

Maybe you use a cloud storage service, though, such as Norton Cloud Backup. With these services, you don’t save your files on your computer’s hard drive. Instead, you save them in the cloud. If your computer goes kaput, you can still access these files from any other device as long as you know how to get into your cloud service. 

But if you haven’t backed up your files or saved them to the cloud? You can still recover them if your hard drive isn’t damaged. This does require a bit of DIY skill, though. You’ll need to remove the hard drive from your desktop or laptop and then plug it into another computer. From there, you can access and save your most important files. 

The specifics of how to do this vary depending on your computer and will require you to open your laptop or desktop. Search for instructions on how to remove your device’s hard drive online. And if you don’t feel confident enough in your tech DIY skill, it might make sense to pay a professional to remove our hard drive and retrieve your files.

Lower the risk of computer crashes with driver updater software

You can lower the risk of your computer crashing or shutting down unexpectedly—and perhaps never turning back on again—by installing a driver updater on your laptop or desktop. 

Computer drivers are files that help your computer’s operating system communicate with the hardware connected to it, such as a printer, scanner or graphics card. If your computer’s drivers are out of date, your computer might not be able to communicate with this hardware. You might try to print a document only for nothing to happen. 

And in some cases, outdated drivers could cause your computer to crash. 

Driver updaters are software that you can install that will automatically scan your drivers to make sure they are updated. A good example is the Norton Driver Updater

This Norton program provides Windows users with driver updates downloaded from a database of millions of malware-free drivers. Once you install this software, it will regularly scan your Windows desktop or laptop and recommend drivers from a database of more than 50 million verified drivers. 

The program also automatically detects vulnerable drivers, giving you the opportunity to update and close possible security holes in your devices.

Norton technology blocked 142 million threats a day.

Norton™ 360 brings real-time protection for your PCs, Macs, smartphones or tablets against ransomware, viruses, spyware, malware and other online threats.

Try Norton 360. Post, bank and shop from your device. We’ll keep it secure.

Dan Rafter
  • Dan Rafter
  • Freelance writer
Dan Rafter is a freelance writer who covers tech, finance, and real estate. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and Fox Business.

Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. Our offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about Cyber Safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses. The Norton and LifeLock brands are part of Gen Digital Inc. 


    Want more?

    Follow us for all the latest news, tips and updates.