Author Topic: Top 10 Tips For Troubleshooting Pc Problems  (Read 1455 times)

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Offline Perozai R!nd

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Top 10 Tips For Troubleshooting Pc Problems
« on: September 23, 2006, 01:11:03 PM »
Tip #1: The Problem Is Often the User Himself!

Many of the in-home service calls I go on end up being training
sessions rather than repair jobs. That's because beginners often
have problems because of their inexperience and immediately jump to
the conclusion that the computer is "broken." Here are a few of the
most common ones, which I generally handle over the phone during the
initial consultation rather than making a trip out to the site:
"The taskbar is gone." The user has accidentally resized the taskbar
so small that it's just a thin bar across the bottom of the screen.
I explain how to resize it.
"My program is gone." The user has deleted a shortcut from the
desktop, and doesn't realize that he can start the program using the
Start menu. Alternatively, the user has accidentally deleted the
program's shortcut from the Start menu. I walk the user through
recreating the shortcut.

"My documents are gone." The user is in an application program, such
as Word, and has always stored his files in the My Documents folder.
Someone has changed the file location that appears in the Open
dialog box, and the user doesn't know how to change folders. I give
the user a quick tutorial on file and folder locations.

"I can't find the files I unzipped." The user has used WinZip or
some other unzip utility to extract files from an archive, but
didn't pay attention to the folder name where the files would be
extracted. I either have them unzip again, and this type note the
location, or use the Search (or Find) command to locate the files if
their names are known.
Tip #2: If a Device Doesn't Work, Try Updating Its Driver

When installing a new device, and it doesn't work, don't
automatically assume that the device is defective. The problem is
more likely to be a driver issue, especially if you are running a
different Windows version than the driver was specifically written
for.
Visit the device manufacturer's Web site and download any updated
drivers or patches and install them. Only after you have installed
the most recent driver and software versions should you seriously
suspect a physical problem with the hardware.

If you can't make a new device work, don't be shy about calling the
toll-free support line for the hardware manufacturer. Their
telephone support technicians will be aware of any late-breaking
issues with the device, and if they can't help you make it work they
can direct you to the Returns department.

Tip #3: Try Safe Mode and Step-by-Step Confirmation to Troubleshoot
Windows Startup Issues

Suppose you get video, and can get into the BIOS, but Windows won't
start. If it doesn't even attempt to start -- for example, if a hard
disk error crops up before you see the Windows splash screen -- then
you're probably looking at a hard disk problem. But if the Windows
startup process begins and then aborts, a faulty or conflicting
device driver is probably the cause. This can occur because of a FAT
error, or after upgrading to a new Windows version, after installing
a new driver for an existing device, or after installing an entirely
new device.

If Windows locks up during startup, the next time you start it, a
Windows Startup menu appears offering to allow you to start in Safe
Mode. (You can also call up this Windows Startup menu by pressing F8
when you see the message "Starting Windows.") Safe Mode loads only a
minimal set of drivers, so it will probably exclude the driver that
is causing you problems and allow Windows to load. If you can get
into Windows through Safe Mode but not through a normal boot, it
means that the problem is software-related -- more specifically,
that it's related to a driver or program that is loading at startup.

The most common driver to cause problems is the video driver. If
Windows locks up at the point where the chosen video mode kicks in
(that is, after the splash screen but before you see the mouse
pointer), an invalid video mode has probably been chosen. Start in
Safe Mode and change the video to a relatively conservative setting,
such as 256-color 800x600 with Adapter Default for the refresh rate.

In a situation like the one described above -- where Windows boots
in Safe Mode but not in normal mode -- the obvious solution is to
find the item that's causing the problem and eliminate it. This is
often easier said than done, however.

One effective way of doing it is to use the Step-by-step
Confirmation option on the Windows Startup menu. Press F8 as the PC
is booting to display it; if you see the splash screen, you've
missed the F8 opportunity; reboot and try again. From that Startup
menu, choose Step-by-step Conformation. Then press the Y key to step
through each line of the startup. When the line executes that is
causing the problem, the PC will lock up, and all you have to do is
look at the last text that appeared on the screen to see which
driver or program did it.
This doesn't always work because sometimes an item that's causing a
problem will not have its own separate step in Step-by-step
Confirmation. However, it can catch many driver-related errors.

Tip #4: Use MSCONFIG To Turn Off Drivers and Applications that Load
at Startup

If you are able to identify the driver or application that's causing
a startup problem, the obvious solution is to remove it or turn it
off. Unfortunately, it is not always obvious how to do that.
Programs that load at startup can be called from Win.ini, from the
Startup program group, or directly from the Registry itself; drivers
that load are called from the device's properties in the Registry,
and it's not easy or safe for a beginning technician to edit the
Registry directly.

For example, suppose a user had a scanner with a driver that loaded
at startup, but then he removed the scanner and its software.
However, for some reason the Registry never got the message and
still tries to load the scanner driver at startup.

You could look in the Startup folder on the Start menu, and if a
utility for the scanner appears there, remove it. You could also
look in Add/Remove Programs to see whether the driver can be
uninstalled that way. But failing those two, the only thing left to
do is edit the Registry to get rid of it.
Most versions of Windows come with a utility called the System
Configuration Utility, also known by the name of the executable that
starts it: MSCONFIG. This is a handy, safer way of editing the
startup options in the Registry; you can turn individual items on or
off freely, trying various combinations until you narrow down the
problem

To run it use Start/Run and type MSCONFIG. You can access this
utility from Safe Mode, so you can use it to troubleshoot problems
that prevent Windows from starting normally as well.

Each of the tabs enables you to deselect individual lines in the
startup routine. For example, the Startup tab lists all the programs
and utilities that are set to automatically load at startup. You can
deselect a line and then try restarting Windows again to see whether
that line was the root of the problem. If it wasn't, come back to
MSCONFIG, re-select it, and try deselecting something else.

Tip #5: Random Lockups Are Often Caused by FAT Problems or
Overheating
One of the most frustrating problems to troubleshoot is a random
one, one that doesn't seem to have one specific cause. The key to
troubleshooting such problems is to remember that the symptom is not
always directly indicative of the cause. The program or utility that
it locks up on is not necessarily the issue

Suppose Windows starts normally, but then starts crashing, freezing
or giving serious error messages shortly afterward. Many times
running Scandisk (or Check Disk in Windows 2000/XP) will solve the
problem. That's because such problems are often caused by errors in
the FAT or NTFS file system, and this utility will fix them. In
Windows 9x/Me, choose Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools,
Scandisk. In Windows 2000/XP open My Computer, right-click the drive
and choose Properties, and click the Check Now button on the Tools
tab.
If checking the disk for errors turns up nothing, overheating may be
the culprit. Check the following:

Make sure the CPU fan is installed correctly and functioning.
Check for missing backplates behind expansion slots. You would think
that having more air in the case would not be an overheating cause,
but it often is. That's because the case is designed to pull air in
from the power supply fan and force it through the case in a certain
path. If the case is open, or there are extra air holes like missing
backplates, the air doesn't flow as designed.

After the PC locks up, turn it off and then touch the larger chips
on the motherboard and the video card to find any that are
especially hot. If you find one, try blowing compressed air on it to
cool it off; if this causes the system to work again, that chip is
probably the problem.


Offline Perozai R!nd

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Re: Top 10 Tips For Troubleshooting Pc Problems
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2006, 01:11:48 PM »
Tip #6: Memory Problems Usually Aren't Really Memory Problems

If you get a blue-screen error reporting a problem with a specific
memory address, and it's the same every time, use a diagnostic
program to check the RAM for errors. Bad memory could cause Windows
problems. However, actual physical memory programs are fairly rare.
In the majority of cases, an error that references a particular
memory address does not mean that there is anything wrong with the
memory itself, but rather with the program or driver that happens to
be loaded in that memory address at the moment. So don't go on a
wild goose chase to find a physical problem with the memory that
doesn't exist; treat the situation as a problem with Windows itself.

Tip #7: Viruses Can Cause All Sorts of Screwy Errors
A PC that was previously healthy that starts suddenly exhibiting all
kinds of serious problems such as lockups, out-of-memory errors, and
refusal to install new programs has probably been infected by a
virus. Some of the most recent ones, such as W32.klez.gen@mm and its
variants, can actually prevent an antivirus program from being
installed or run; they require a special removal tool.

If you can install and run a full antivirus program such as Norton
Antivirus, do so, and keep the virus definitions updated. If an
antivirus program won't install, go to a Web site for an antivirus
program (such as www.symantec.com for Norton Antivirus) and download
a Klez removal program. Place its icon on the desktop, and then boot
into Safe Mode and run it. By the time you read this, some new
virulent virus may be circulating and causing other problems; for
the latest virus reports keep the Web sites for Norton Antivirus
and/or McAfee Virus Scan bookmarked in your browser.

Tip #8: Reinstalling Windows Can Save Time in the Long Run
If you're running into a brick wall troubleshooting a Windows
installation, often it is more time-effective to completely
reinstall Windows than to fuss for hours trying this-and-that.
The quickest way is to reinstall over the top of the existing copy;
that way you don't have to reinstall any applications. However, this
also keeps some of the problems, so it might not solve the problem.
You can try it first if you like, but keep in mind that you will
have wasted half an hour on it if it doesn't work.

A more satisfactory solution is to install Windows into a different
folder, but this requires you to reinstall all applications
afterwards, so it turns into a multi-hour project. For a Windows
9x*NEO system, I usually boot from a startup floppy and rename the
old Windows folder to something like Winback, so I can continue to
use the name Windows for the folder containing the OS files. I also
try to delete everything in the root folder before installing to a
new folder. (This is easier in some OS versions than others; you'll
probably need to boot from a startup disk and use the ATTRIB command
to remove the read-only and hidden attributes from some of the files
there.)

With Windows 2000 and XP, you can't boot from a startup floppy, but
you can boot from the Windows CD-ROM, and then use the Repair
Windows Installation option or reinstall completely.

Tip #9: A Problem with an Application Is Not Always that
Application's Fault
If a problem occurs only when starting or using a specific program,
it's easy to assume that the program is to blame. But the real
problem might be that the application is conflicting with another
application, or with a device driver. Here are some things to try,
in roughly the order that I would try them:
Verify that the shortcut you're using to start the program points to
the correct file to start the program. If you have upgraded to a new
version of the program this is particularly an issue. The shortcut
might still point to the previous version.
Run Scandisk (or Check Disk, in Windows XP).
Run the Disk Defragmenter.

Turn off any programs running in the background, particularly
antivirus programs.
Before launching the program with which you are experiencing
problems, use the Task Manager (or the End Program dialog box, in
Windows 9x/Me) to see whether there are any programs or processes
that are not responding. I have run into situations before where a
program that loaded at startup would stop responding shortly after
startup but not show any evidence of it until it caused a seemingly
unrelated program to crash when launched.

Disable as many of the programs that load at startup as possible,
and then restart the computer. Then try running the application
again. If that doesn't help, try running the application in Safe
Mode. If it works, you at least know that the program itself is okay
and that a conflict with something loading at startup is causing the
problem.
If the program doesn't work in Safe Mode, try uninstalling and
reinstalling it. Before you do, however, make sure you have a full
set of installation disks for it, and that if you have an upgrade
version you also have a full previous version.

Tip #10: "Lost" Word Files Usually Aren't Really Lost
One of the most common application problems my end-users experience
is the loss of data when Microsoft Word crashes. Word does have an
AutoRecover feature, but it isn't perfect (although Office XP's
version is the best to date in this regard).

When AutoRecover is enabled in Word, the recovered documents are
supposed to load automatically the next time you start Word after a
crash. Sometimes this doesn't happen, however. Many people assume
that it's because no AutoRecovered version exists, but that's not
always the case. I have often been able to find "lost" documents by
using Search (or Find). To do so, search for files with ~ as the
first character or .tmp as the extension that were modified within
the last day. Sort them by size, and start opening them in Word,
starting with the largest ones. If you find one that contains any
part of the lost document, save it as a regular Word document with
Save As.

The other problem with Word occurs less frequently, but is just as
frustrating. The user tries to open a document, only to be told that
it is not a valid Word document or the file is not found. The file
does exist, of course -- you can see it in Windows Explorer. But
Word won't open it. When this happens, try opening the file in
WordPad, and then using Copy and Paste to copy the content into a
brand-new Word file.