Lightning Strike!

November 27th, 2005

My computer's been hit by lightning.  What should I do?

Lightning is a danger to a PC.  The power in a bolt of lightning is immense and can instantly destroy a computer. Although total damage is common, some PCs can survive a lightning strike but not work properly afterwards - crashes, lockups and other erratic behaviour might show up after the hit.

Take lightning strikes seriously. Even if your PC appears to be working you should still give it a check over in case the hit has left it in a dangerous state that might result in electric shock or fire.

If you think that your PC has been hit by lightning the first thing you need to do is see if anything else is damaged.  The energy from a bolt of lightning can take one of a number of different paths to your PC. 

  • Along the power lines (surprisingly, lightning only seems to enter a PC this way about 30% of the time)
  • Along a network cable
  • Through the telephone line
  • You can spend a lot of time and money trying to get a lightning struck PC to work again and if you are not not comfortable handling PC parts or you are short of time then a replacement PC might be better for you.

Check the phone and other electricals for signs of damage.  If a phone is damaged then assume that the lightning entered the PC through the modem (or network card if you are connected to a router).  If other electrical appliances are damaged, assume the strike entered the PC through the power supply unit (PSU).

Let me be realistic at this stage and say that if your PC has taken a lightning strike then the chances of getting it back into working order without spending money (maybe a lot of money) are low.  The components inside the PC are delicate and susceptible to damage from over-voltage - lightning causes extreme over-voltage conditions.  However, until you know for sure what the damage is you shouldn't give up. Who knows, you might be lucky!

  • Unplug the PC (Very Important!) and check the exterior of the case for signs of damage - smoke and burn marks (especially around the [tag]PSU[/tag] inlet, around the modem connector or network cable connector). 
  • Check the fuse - the lightning surge might have been caught there and have gotten no further! If this is the case then you've had a very lucky escape indeed!
  • Check the cables for signs of burning (this is why it's important to unplug it before checking - you don't want to be electrocuted by a damaged power cable). Discard any cables that show signs of damage.
  • Pop the case open and take a look inside.  Look for any obvious signs of blackening or burning (the signs might be really obvious or quite subtle).  If the motherboard shows any signs of damage then consider both it and the CPU dead.
  • If the damage is confined to just the PSU then you might be lucky and a replacement PSU might be what you need to get your PC going again (you might have been lucky and the PSU could have burned out before the voltage had a chance to damage anything else).
  • If that doesn't help then much of the PC is likely to be scrap.  There might be some salvageable parts that you can move on to another PC for testing.  These include:
    - RAM
    - Hard drives (if you are lucky you might be able to recover the data from them)
    - CD/DVD drives

When it comes to lightning damage, prevention is better than cure.  If you are reading this now on a PC that is working fine but doesn't have lightning and [tag]surge protection[/tag], then you really do need to consider getting some - the prices nowadays are quite low and it's money well spent as it can save you from huge bills later! Remember to protect the power, telephone line and network!

Don't take chances when it comes to [tag]lightning[/tag]!

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 27th, 2005 at 16:12 and is filed under PC Doctor Tips, Questions from Visitors. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

One Response to “Lightning Strike!”

  1. Things Adults Get Wrong Says:

    [...] turns out that lightning has more than one way into your computer. According to the PC Doctor, lightning can enter your [...]