Computer monitors are fairly simple, in use if not in actual construction: plug ’em in, turn ’em on, look at your computer stuff on the brighter part. But misleadingly easy as they might seem, there’s a lot of stuff going on inside that blank plastic case…and a lot of stuff that can go wrong.
Unfortunately, most of that stuff requires either a certified repair or a complete replacement to fix. Unless you’re especially handy with electronics and you just happen to have access to cheap replacement parts, it’s usually better to either return a monitor to the manufacturer (if it’s under warranty) or simply buy a new one. Even so, here are the most common ailments for modern LCD monitors, and what can be done to fix them…or not.
Stuttering or Flickering
If your monitor’s screen is often flashing or stuttering, there are a few different problems that you could be facing. It might be something as simple as a loose or faulty video cable. So first, tighten down the cable on both the monitor and the computer end (making sure to completely tighten any retention screws, if your cable has them) or simply replace the cable. The same thing goes for the power cable: make sure it’s secure at both ends, and if the problem persists, replace it if possible.
An incorrect refresh rate setting can also cause flickering. The refresh rate is the number of times the computer sends an image to the monitor per second, expressed in hertz. Most LCD monitors use either 59 or 60 hertz, though 75Hz, 120Hz, and 144Hz are also found on premium monitors. Go into your operating system’s display settings (right-click desktop and head to Display settings > Display adapter properties > Monitor in Windows 10) to make sure the right hertz setting is applied—you may need to update your video drivers as well.
Unfortunately, most other flickering symptoms are caused by a power deficiency somewhere in the monitor itself. It’s possible you could be drawing too much power from one of your home’s electrical circuits or overloading your surge protector—just move the power adapter to another plug to test this. But it’s more likely that there’s a loose or malfunctioning component in the screen assembly itself. If that’s the case, repair or replacement are the answers.
Black or single-colored lines on LCD screens are caused by a lot of different issues, but if the standard fixes outlined in the flickering section above don’t fix them (check your video and power cables for problems, install new drivers), it’s probably a physical defect in the screen itself. Try your monitor on another computer or laptop to see if the problem persists; if it does, you’re probably looking at a replacement, since the error is almost certainly in the LCD panel (the most expensive component of the monitor).
Dead or Stuck Pixels
A “dead” pixel is a single dot on your LCD screen that doesn’t illuminate, showing up as one or more black squares. “Stuck” pixels are similar, but instead of showing black they’re stuck on a single color that doesn’t match the computer screen’s image, typically either red, green, or blue.
There isn’t much you can do for a dead pixel—it’s a physical malfunction of the screen panel. Luckily one or two dead pixels usually doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole monitor away; it’s certainly possible to work around it or ignore it. You can also look into a warranty replacement, though many monitor manufacturers won’t replace a screen until multiple pixels have gone out.
RELATED: How to Fix a Stuck Pixel on an LCD Monitor
A stuck pixel may be a different matter. Depending on exactly how the problem is manifesting, it might be possible to get the pixel back into working order. There are various techniques for this, ranging from physically “massaging” the screen panel itself to running programs that rapidly cycle a portion of the screen through the color spectrum. You can try out some of these solutions as outlined in our guide to stuck pixels, but be warned, in my personal experience, it’s exceedingly rare to find a lasting solution to a stuck pixel.
Cracks, Spots, and Blotches
If your monitor has a visible crack, a large discolored area, or a black/multicolored spot that doesn’t align with the pixel grid, it’s been subjected to physical trauma and the LCD panel is damaged. There’s nothing you can do here: even if your monitor is within its warranty period, it almost certainly won’t cover physical damage. You could try to replace the LCD panel itself, but since the replacement part will be almost as expensive as a new monitor anyway, you might as well start shopping.
The most common problem that can cause a buzz or whine noise in a monitor is an issue with the backlight, usually with the compact florescent tubes used for lighting in older models. (This design has been largely superseded by LED backlighting, but there are still plenty of CFL-equipped monitors in use.) Buzzing can occur due to problems in power regulation to one or more bulbs. Try adjusting the brightness of your screen up or down to see if the noise dissipates; of course, this can be a less than optimal solution if you need your screen brightness at a specific setting.
Fortunately, a faulty CFL bulb is a fairly standard issue, as is a malfunctioning power regulator in various other components that can cause similar problems. If your monitor is out of its warranty period, take it to a local electronics shop—they can probably swap out the part for considerably less than the cost of a new screen.
RELATED: Why You Should Use Your Monitor's Native Resolution
If your screen is suddenly showing the wrong resolution for your desktop—which is indeed a pretty big deal for any PC user—the most likely culprit is your graphics card. It’s probable that either the software component (the graphics driver) or the graphics card itself is where the problem is located. Updating the driver usually fixes this problem, though a new graphics card might be in order.
If the problem persists even when you’re testing the monitor on another machine, there might be something wrong with the internal electronics. Try an alternative input (HDMI/DisplayPort/DVI) if possible.
A monitor that periodically turns itself off might not be getting sufficient power from the outlet or surge protector—again, check your home’s circuit breaker and make sure the power cable is correctly plugged in. It’s also possible that the internal or external power converter (the latter will be a box or “wall wart” on the power cable) is overheating. Carefully check the casing of the monitor itself or the power adapter; if either is too hot to touch for more than a few seconds, they need to be replaced.
A Note on Laptops
Most of the above problems can happen to the LCD screens used in laptop PCs and tablets, too…but because of the compact build, they’re much harder to repair. That being said, the extra expense of a laptop versus a monitor might make it a much better candidate for a repair rather than a replacement. At the very least (assuming you’re out of the warranty period), it’s probably worth a diagnosis and quote at a repair shop, if you’re not comfortable replacing the screen assembly yourself.
Image credit: Douglas Whitfield/Flickr, Iwan Gabovitch/Flickr, Creativity103/Flickr, Amazon
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