Computer Troubleshooting Tips

Computer problems are frustrating.  Becoming frustrated during the troubleshooting process will only lead to more problems.  So the important thing to do first is take a deep breath, think happy thoughts, and plan out your course of action.  Have tools ready, restore disks and drivers.  This will save you time and patience.

Before you begin, jot down notes about any recent activity you have taken:  Have there been any software changes?  Did you recently add any new hardware?  Did you unplug the PC and move it across the room?

If there have been no changes to the PC or its environment, then its time to pay attention to precisely what happens, if anything, when the PC boots.

Your first clues will be given during the POWER ON SELF TEST (POST).  A successful test results in a short, single beep.  This means that the BIOS received no errors from the hardware initializing during the boot process.  If there was a problem, the BIOS would issue a beep code specific to the BIOS manufacturer that describes the nature of the problem.  It is important to know what BIOS is on your motherboard.  You can determine this by watching the name that flashes in the upper left corner during boot, or by opening the case open and looking for the BIOS chip.  Common BIOS manufacturers are AMI BIOS, AWARD and PHOENIX.  An example of an Award BIOS beep code for a video card problem would be one long beep followed by two short beeps.

If you get no beep code, and everything seems to be spinning inside the case, then the main culprit is probably the processor.

Memory – Memory errors could generate a “201: Memory Error” message on the screen. Any error codes beginning with 2 indicate a memory error.

Keyboard – a problem with the keyboard will result in a “301: Keyboard Failure” error message followed by a short beep. System may halt or may ignore the error.

Floppy – any problems will result in a “601: Floppy Disk” error code appearing on the screen.

The Power Supply, or PSU, is another main culprit in hardware failures.  The Power Supply is the first connection to the outside world and can be damaged by unclean power, brown-outs, spikes and blackouts.  The PSU will appear to function normally, but may actually be damaged.  If you’re lucky nothing will happen when you press the power button.  Nothing at all.  But usually the lights will flash, the hard drives will spin, and you will immediately eliminate the PSU because it appears to be functioning correctly.  Thus, you are taken down a frustrating road of trial and error while attempting to find the source of the hardware problem.

Since power supplies are relatively inexpensive and by far the easiest piece of hardware to swap out.  We recommend replacing this first if there are no POST codes or hints to any other device being bad.

Software Troubleshooting

If the PC passes the POST, the hard drive begins to load the operating system into memory.  Software no w takes over and will sometimes generate errors at this point.  If you cannot boot properly at this point in the game, then you should first see if you can get into SAFE MODE.  Safe Mode is accomplished by repeatedly pressing the F8 key during this critical moment .  A new menu will appear with boot options.  You can choose Safe Mode here or a Step by Step Confirmation that will ask you to confirm when loading devices and drivers.  Keep your note pad handy because if you choose this option, you will need to know exactly what failed.

If, by luck, you are able to get into Windows, you can then run Scandisk (or CHKDSK) to determine if something is wrong with the file structure.  Or you can navigate to the Device Manager in the Control Panel (under SYSTEM) to get a visual on any devices that have errors or or conflicts.  You can disable hardware here or update drivers.

In Conclusion

Whatever the problem is, it’s important to take a step back and look at the situation.  Is it hardware or software?  Did I change anything?  Do I have a backup?  Maybe I should simply reformat and reinstall?  Or perhaps I have a virus or Trojan?

Routinely backup your important documents, do basic preventive maintenance on the fans and keyboard with compress air, use an Uninterruptible Power Source for your power supply, routinely update your virus definitions, and defrag monthly.  These are a few of the basic techniques that will keep things running smooth.