Strange smell...

September 27, 2006 at 07:37:58
Specs: Windows XP Home Edition +, 512MB DDR DIMM RAM, 3.2GH

Please help me - I've never had this problem before and it is worrying the hell out of me.

About 5 minutes ago, I was using my PC as I would normally. It's only just over a year old. Then, all of a sudden, one of my two 10cm cold cathode lights goes out and a burning plastic smell radiates from the side vent on my case.

I've turned the PC off, opened it up, got my bro to look at it as well asinvestigating myself. To me, it smells like it's coming from the PSU. Bro thinks I'm right but says there's a possibility it's coming from my nearly brand new DVD-RW, which wasn't in use at the time except for a disc which has sat insideit for a while not being used.

So any help please?

My PSU is a generic 350W which came with the Thermaltake Tsunami Dream case. Temperature readings were about 40 C (104 F) at CPU core.

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September 27, 2006 at 08:05:58

If you've got the PC in front of you and you can't pinpoint the source of the odor, what makes you think we'll be able to do that over the web?

From what you wrote, it was narrowed down to the DVD burner and the PSU. Dis-assemble the system and further isolate the culprit - easy as that.

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September 27, 2006 at 08:08:10

Well I think it's coming more from the PSU.

Should I replacethe PSU? Is it safe to turn on?

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September 27, 2006 at 08:33:23

If only one light went out then I would suspect it's the connection to the light or possibly the FL invertor that drives it and not the PSU.

I had this happen in my car, for about a month I would smell something burning but I took it to the shop numorus times and they couldn't find it. Then one day the dashboard light went out. When they took the dashboard apart, they found the circuit board that connected the light had a nasty burn mark on the trace.

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September 27, 2006 at 08:34:57

PSUs burning up is not rare and inferior ones tend to do it almost always.

If what you have now is indeed unreliable and obviously cheaply sourced, you better replace it with something more appropriate and recognizable.

BTW, what brand and model is the 350W that came stock with your Thermaltake Tsunami Dream case?

What specific type of other components are being powered in the system and how far are you willing to go (less or more than $50.00) in order to replace it.

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September 27, 2006 at 08:50:20

Very likely your PS has failed - that is a common problem. CD or DVD drives rarely produce smoke or a smell when they fail, and as you said it wasn't being used at the time.

Don't turn it on.
See response 4 in this, check out the things that don't require the PS to be on.

If the PS itself stinks, it's dead or dying.
If you don't have a good sense of smell (e.g. if you smoke), have someone who has a better one sniff it

You could turn it on and try the other suggestions in that, but if the PS is failing, you take the risk it will fail completely which can do random damage to any of the other components connected to the computer, especially if it shorts or the voltages are way too high.

The cold cathode light burning out could very well be a symptom of the PS putting out too much voltage to it. Other things that tend to fail first in that situation that I've seen - your floppy drive, your CD drive(s), your video card or onboard video, other cards in slots.

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September 27, 2006 at 09:10:43

In response to post 4:

Well I guess it's possible that I am overstraining the PSU. I don't know what the limitation are, but it's been running fine for the past year or so.

I have:
- 1 x "Eagle" 350W PSU
- 1 x 120mm case fan at rear
- 1 x 120mm case fan at front
- 1 x 90mm case fan on side
- Coolermaster Jet 4 heatsink and fan:
- 2 x 10cm cold cathodes
- 2 x hard drives
- 1 x CD RW
- 1 x DVD RW
- 1 x floppy drive
- 1 x AGP graphics card
- 1 x IEE1394 firewire card
- 1 x Hercules Gamesurround Muse soundcard
- 1 x USR 5416 PCI wireless network card
- 1 x 7-port USB hub, rarely used, only powering my pen driveat the time
- 1 x Epson Stylus C46 Series printer, switched off at the time
- USB keyboard
- USB mouse
- 2.1 Speakers powered by main supply

I'll probably pay up to £60 for a power supply, but personally I think that's a bit expensive.

Any more info or thoughts please?

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September 27, 2006 at 09:37:26

A 350 watt one is fine for your system if it's a good PS.
Stay away from the cheapest one like the plague - they are a lot more likely to fail in the future.
Buy one that is made by a manufacturer that has a good reputation and a decent web site. Don't rely on a vendor's description - look up the model on the manufacturer's web site. It should have a warranty of at least a year, or better still 3 years, anti-short and overvoltage protection, and proper certification for your country - e.g. CSA approval for Canada, UL whatever for the US.

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September 27, 2006 at 10:01:55

After unplugging it and having a sniff around, thesmell has pretty much gonenow, but that doesn't mean the problem has gone. I connected it to the mains and flicked theswitch on the back of the PSU.

Now, normally when I flick the switch, the computer comes on for about a second or so, then goes off atuomatically. Then I would press the button on the front as normal to turn it on.

This time, the computer did not come on for the second after flicking the switch, however the green light on the motherboard came on and stayed on as normal. Then, when I press the button on the front of the case, the computer starts as normal, but the smell comes back almost instantly and I'm positive it's from the PSU now.

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September 27, 2006 at 12:05:09

Problem solved.

The smell was coming from both of my cold cathodes, which explains why is smelt like the PSU had a problem: one was positioned on the bottom of the case, the other was on the bottom of the PSU, the only other place it would fit, or reach.

Thanks a lot for all of the help guys.

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September 27, 2006 at 13:26:34

Check the voltages put out by the PS in the bios! It may be the PS that burned them out!

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September 28, 2006 at 08:24:39

I dont think your problem is solved yet...
So ok, the CCFL's burned out, but why?
CCFL's can last up to 20 years so why did both of yours fail at the same time?

I would still get a new PSU if i were you, or atleast test it with an analog volt meter...

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September 30, 2006 at 13:06:21

Yes, that's a point actually. I didn't know how long a CCFL is supposed to last, but I know that these ones lasted less than a year, and it does seem very odd that they should both go. That's what made me think it was the inverter.

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October 4, 2006 at 14:17:47

i had 2 cathodes ages ago and i had this burning smell too. it was the inverter that had burnt out inside. the cathodes were fine. just the unit that frizzled. guess it was just a dodgy unit. had to buy a new set.

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