So why a Dell Computer Survival Guide? It’s simple, Dell makes great computers, but it’s not always easy for normal folks to find solutions or fix their computer when it no longer works. In the distant past, manufacturers once supplied a real Windows installation disk that users could put in and reinstall their Operating System. Those days are long gone. Users are now expected to create their own disks, become IT professionals, or fend for themselves if their PC fails.
This guide is created with the intent of helping people diagnose, update and fix their Dell computers without having to resort to costly repairs from Dell or a local computer repair shop.
Firsts Things First
One of the first things you should do as a new Dell computer owner is to make your recovery disks. This can be done using the Dell DataSafe Local Backup. To make your disks, do the following:
1. Navigate to Start>Programs>StartDell Datasafe>Dell DataSafe Local Backup.
2. Launch Dell DataSafe Local Backup.
3. Click Backup>Create Recovery Media.
4. Follow the onscreen instructions.
5. Store the disks in a safe place.
Running Dell Diagnostics
Of course, not everything can be repaired through software, so it is important to first identify the problem. Is it hardware-related? Is it a driver, virus or file system failure? One of the first things you can try is running Dell diagnostics to check your memory and hard drive for physical errors that can be causing your system to fail. Newer Dell computers will have hardware diagnostics built-in. It’s always a good idea to run these diagnostics to rule out hardware problems with your PC that a reformat and reinstall will not correct. To perform hardware diagnostics on your Dell computer, do the following:
1. Power-on or restart your computer.
2. When the Dell logo appears, tap the <F12> to access the Boot menu.
3. Select Diagnostics from the menu and press <Enter>.
4. During the assessment, answer any questions that appear on the screen. If a component fails the test, the computer stops and beeps.
To stop the assessment and restart the computer, press <n> to continue to the next test, press <y> to retest the component that failed, press <r>. If you receive error code(s) during PSA, write down the error code(s) and contact Dell. If the PSA completes successfully, the following message appears on your screen: “Do you want to run the remaining memory tests? This will take about 30 minutes or more. Do you want to continue? (Recommended).” Press <y> to continue if you are experiencing memory issue, otherwise press <n> to finish PSA testing. When you press <n>, the following message appears on the screen: “Booting Dell Diagnostic Utility Partition. Press any key to continue.”
5. Select Exit to reboot your computer.
Download Newer Dell Drivers
In regards to drivers, the safe bet is to install new drivers only if you’re having problems with your computer. If your graphics are flaky, an updated video driver from Dell might fix the problem. If you have no sound, reinstall the driver and see if that fixes the issue. The latest drivers can be downloaded and installed from the Dell website. All you need to know is your computer’s service tag number.
Select the option to choose by service tag.
Enter your service tag. The service tag is usually located on the rear of desktop computers or the bottom of laptop computers. If you can’t find your service tag, it is also listed on the main BIOS screen. To view this, reboot your computer and immediately begin tapping the F2 key. This will bring you into the BIOS. The service tag for your machine is usually on the first screen. Write it down and save it for future reference.
Once you enter your service tag, you will be taken to the portion of the Dell website that has driver downloads available for your specific model.
Download the driver you’re looking for (Audio, Network, etc) and download it to your computer. For convenience, consider downloading it directly to your Desktop.
Click the file to unzip it and follow the screen prompts to install the driver.
Dell Recovery From Disaster
File corruption, viruses or other software issues will prompt you to perform one of three things: A System Restore, use of the Dell System Recovery Media you created, or perform a complete wipe using the Dell System Recovery Media.
System Restore is a Microsoft Windows tool that helps you undo software changes to your computer without affecting your personal files, like documents, photos, e-mails, and so on. Every time you install a software or device driver, your computer updates Windows system files to support the new software or device. This can sometimes cause errors. System Restore helps you restore these system files to the state prior to the installation of the software or device driver. System Restore creates and saves restore points at regular intervals. You use these restore points (or create your own) to restore your computer’s system files to an earlier known good state. Use system restore if changes to hardware, software, or other system settings have left your computer in an unstable operating state.
Use Your Dell System Recovery Media
The system recovery media, created using Dell DataSafe Local Backup, allows you to return your hard drive to the operating state it was in when you purchased the computer while preserving the data files on your computer. Use the system recovery media in case of an Operating System failure that prevents the use of recovery options that are installed on your computer or a hard drive failure that prevents data from being recovered.
To use this recovery media, insert the DVD or USB stick where you have placed the media and restart the computer. When the Dell logo appears, tap the F12 key. If done correctly, a boot device list will be shown. Highlight the DVD or USB drive where the recovery files are located and hit any key to proceed. Follow the onscreen instructions to restore your Operating System.
Dell Factory Image Restore
The Dell Factory Restore Image does exactly what it says–it restores your hard drive to the operating state it was in when you purchased the computer. Any programs or files added since you received your computer (including your personal data) are permanently deleted from the hard drive. Be sure you have backed up your photos, music and other important data. You can easily grab all of this information by connecting a large thumbdrive (or preferably an external hard drive) and navigating to the C drive in Computer. In the C drive, locate the Users folder (or in Windows XP the Documents and Settings folder) and open it. Under the folder with your username, copy the Documents folder, your Favorites folder and your Dekstop folder.
Once you have backed up your important data, do the following to perform a Dell Factory Image Restore:
1.Turn on the computer.
2. When the DELL logo appears, press <F8> few times to access the Advanced Boot Options window.
3. Select Repair Your Computer. The System Recovery Options window appears.
4. Select a keyboard layout and click Next.
5. To access the recovery options, log on as a local user.
6. Select Dell Factory Image Restore or Dell Factory Tools→ Dell Factory Image Restore (depending on the configuration of your computer).
7. Click Next. The Confirm Data Deletion screen appears. If you want to change your mind, hit cancel.
8. Select the check box to confirm that you want to continue reformatting the hard drive and restoring the system software to the factory condition, then click Next. The restore process begins and may take five or more minutes to complete.
9. When the restore operation is complete, click Finish to restart the computer.
Insider Tips To Help You and Your Dell Computer
If you read our forums or comments on some of our other Dell articles, you will realize the process for recovering your Dell to a working state doesn’t always work. For instance, people using the recovery media or recovery partition will get to a certain point in the precess where the system just hangs and never finishes. This is essentially the end of the line for most people since they have no other means to reinstall their Operating System. To avoid this, it’s not a bad idea to try the following:
1. Make sure you remove any peripherals or hardware that did not originally come with the computer. At a certain point in the recovery process, Windows will find all of the hardware in your computer and install drivers provided on your Dell disk. Naturally, the Dell disk will not contain drivers for hardware you have install after the fact, so to avoid any conflicts, unplug any cameras, scanners, printers, etc.
2. If your system hasn’t already crashed, consider cloning your drive using a program like Macrium Reflect Free –a program that performs full-image backups and restores your entire system. You can use an external drive like the Western Digital My Passport 1 to store your image.