Basic Computer Troubleshooting

by Lou Horton on March 29, 2012

Having patience is very important when troubleshooting computer problems. Becoming frustrated or not taking notes can extend the troubleshooting process significantly. Always take careful note of things that may have changed. Did you install a new piece of hardware or software? Was there a bad thunderstorm or a power outage? All of these things may be part of the underlying problem so take careful notes. Before you click "OK" or restart your computer, be sure to write down any error messages. Take careful note of what programs you were running at the time. If the message is in a windows box, sometimes clicking Details can provide additional information.

One of the most basic troubleshooting techniques is to perform a cold restart of the system. Shut down windows completely until the PC is completely turned off. Wait for 10 seconds or so and then power the PC back on. If there is a printer, external hard drive or other peripherals attached to your computer, it is recommended that you power these devices down at the same time that you shut down the computer. In most cases you will want to power up these devices again before you turn your computer back on.

Is there a specific action that you perform such as starting a program, accessing a specific function or using a peripheral that causes the issue to repeat itself? Taking careful note of this can be invaluable in troubleshooting issues. As you use the process of elimination to track down the issue, check to see that the issue still exists each step of the way. If the problem is predictable and repeatable it will make troubleshooting much easier. Random problems are very difficult to troubleshoot. Pay close attention to user actions and usage patterns in troubleshooting issues. The most important question is what changed prior to the problem manifesting itself.

If your computer does not turn on you probably have an issue with your power supply. Check the outlet that your computer is plugged into by plugging a different device into the same outlet. If it is on a power strip, make sure any errors have been reset. There is typically a switch or button to reset a power strip from a power condition. If the outlet tests out ok and you don't hear anything spinning inside your computer when you turn it on, your power supply has probably gone bad. This component can be replaced by a qualified technician.

When you start your computer it will perform a power on self test (POST). If there are any obvious hardware issues, an error code will be displayed and a beeping sound may come from the system speaker. The error codes and number/length of beeps will vary depending on the specific issue. For instance a memory related issue will often display a 201: Memory Error. Any issues related to memory will start with a 2 in the error code. When you computer emits a series of beeps when starting up, that indicates a hardware issue. The system BIOS is capable of identifying hardware problems and issuing the error sound. The pattern and length of beeps will vary by BIOS manufacturer and hardware component. For instance an Award BIOS code for a video card issue would be one long beep followed immediately by two short beeps.

Always be sure to have a backup solution in place to protect your important documents and file. The best solution is to have a backup in place that is completely automatic and one in which the data is stored in a separate secure location in case of fire or natural disaster.

If your computer goes to a "blue screen" (often referred to as a BSOD or blue screen of death) be sure to write down the specific error code message such as prog.exe has caused an invalid page fault in module xw32.dll at 0147:ffccddee. Having this information will be helpful to your technician. If your computer restarts itself or displays a blue screen when playing a game, doing video processing or other CPU intensive tasks, you might have an issue with heat. Make sure that the computer is located in a cool room, there is not a build up of dust on the heat sink of the processor and all of the fans are working properly. Use compressed air to remove dust from fans and heat sinks to eliminate heat problems. Make sure that the dust is removed and not simply blown deeper into the heat sink. A layer of dust can cause great havoc to the cooling systems of a modern computer.

When troubleshooting hardware it is important to swap out one piece of hardware at a time. For instance changing out one memory module. Check to see if the error condition still exists. If it still occurs put the original component back in place and swap out another. If the problem is resolved, chances are you have identified the faulty component. Troubleshooting is a careful process of elimination. Swapping out hardware components, ruling out an infrastructure component or piece of software one at a time. Make sure that each time you are making a hardware or software change you are only making a single change. If something does not fix the problem always reverse the change.

When troubleshooting a network connectivity issue, it is important to try connecting to different types of resources when identifying the problem. For instance, if you are not able to connect to the Internet, try pinging a local computer or printer. Make sure that pings are not being blocked by a software firewall. If you are able to access local resources, you know the network interface, cable and switch is good. The problem exists in the router, modem or on the Internet.

We hope that this article has provided some basic guidance when it comes to basic computer troubleshooting and repair.

Computer Repair

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