Troubleshooting Computer Problems

For a guide on resetting the BIOS to the default settings, please see the clearing the CMOS guide.

In a perfect world, a computer would never randomly shutdown or freeze up. Unfortunately, we live in an inperfect world and computers do fail and encounter problems. This guide will help narrow your focus and provide a checklist of what to do when you encounter an abnormality.

The bottom line when it comes to troubleshooting is to narrow down the problem step by step and eliminate the unknown variables. Once the issue has been narrowed down to a specific device or component, replace the malfunctioning part with a known working part. This is the final check to be sure that the certain component is the cause of the problem because if it is removed and everything works fine, that device had to be responsible for the issue.

First Steps to Take

1. This may sound strange, but the first step I try in troubleshooting is to type the problem into Google and see if others have experienced the same issue. This can yield great information in a short amount of time. For example, if you are experiencing a certain Windows Stop Error (also called the Blue Screen of Death), search for the error name and number in Google and see what turns up.

2. If you have just started encountering the error, ask yourself if you have installed any new programs or devices in the computer. If a new program was installed recently, try using the System Restore option and restore the computer to an earlier time (before the program was installed) and see if that fixes the problem.

3. If you don't know if the issue is hardware or software related, the next step is to consult Windows Device Manager. This is accomplished by right-clicking on the “My Computer” icon in Windows XP and choosing Properties from the presented menu. Then select “Device Manager” from the menu at the top. For Windows Vista or Windows 7 users search for “Device Manager” after clicking on the Windows orb. Device Manager is an excellent tool that can give critical information to the user indicating if a device has a bad driver, has stopped working, or even is turned off. Also, you can roll back to a previous driver using the Device Manager. For example, if images and text become blurry and are not readable, you can use the previous, known working driver for your video card and see if that fixes the problem.

4. The next step is to try to see if the problem is software or hardware related. This will help narrow down the possibilities to see if the Operating System or a hardware component is at fault. A excellent example is a floppy drive that has the front activity light steady on. This is an example of a hardware issue and is not software related whatsoever. Note that this issue can lead to a software problem in that if you tried inserting a floppy disc, it would not function properly. The biggest clue is to recognize that the drive constantly has the error.

5. If the Device Manager doesn't provide any clues to the problem, the next step is to swap out the component having the issue for a known working part. If you don't have a known-working part to swap in, try turning the device off in Device Manager and see if the problem persists. For example, if your computer has problems with the sound, try turning off the sound card driver and use the default Windows audio driver. If the sound is fixed, look for an update to the sound card driver.

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