Basic Computer Troubleshooting Guide. Presented by Lee Maxwell to the Brookdale Computer User Group General Meeting on Friday, Oct. 15, 2010. Prepare yourself emotionally. Don’t panic! If you panic, you are lost and probably won’t be effective.
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A part of a computer or peripheral device may have failed, causing a failure of the entire device.
Listen for sounds you would expect to hear from a computer: the whirr of fans, the clicking of a hard drive reading and writing data, the hum of an optical drive with a disk spinning. The absence of such sounds can indicate a part failure.
Smell the computer, and try to detect any burning smells. A sure tipoff of a serious hardware problem.
These signs can prompt a visual inspection of a part in search of evidence of failure. However, visual signs of a part failure can be difficult to detect.
RAM is easy to install, but care should be taken when installing RAM.
First, know where RAM is located inside your computer, and how to get to it. You may need a screwdriver to open up your computer.
RAM is very sensitive to static electricity, and can be irreparably damaged by mishandling. Only touch RAM on its sides. Never touch the gold teeth. Using an anti-static wrist strap is a good idea but not necessary.
When seating RAM, be sure to press hard on the top edge until it snaps into place.
Due to the wide variety of versions of operating systems, let alone the thousands of software programs available, it’s difficult to deal only with general principles.
However, software does generally work in the same way, in that it is copied from a computer’s hard drive into RAM before it can be used, and then is flushed out of RAM when the user quits or exits the program.
Software, including operating systems, work better and faster if you have more RAM in your computer. Since RAM is cheap and easy to install, it’s an optimal upgrade.
The hard drive is where all data is stored when not in use. Data being used is copied into RAM, then saved back to the hard drive after being altered or used.
The hard drive also is used by operating systems for virtual memory, temporary storage to supplement RAM.
If you fill up your hard drive with data – programs, files, etc. – it doesn’t leave enough space for virtual memory, and your computer’s performance will suffer, to the point it programs will not work and data will be lost.
Keep 10 - 20% of your hard drive free of saved files.
First rule of smart computing: Save, Save, Save! Every paragraph typed, every new stroke drawn, every picture edit, save your work.
Second rule of smart computing: Backup, backup, backup! An external hard drive is the easiest and most cost-effective way to make copies of all data files that can’t be restored by reinstallation. The chance of losing precious files decreases significantly with good backups.
Make multiple backups of critical data. Store at least one backup off-site to protect your data from catastrophic property loss. On-line backups are slow but generally trustworthy. Remember to test your backups!
The reason for frequent backups is that hard drives can fail at any time, with no advanced warning and for no particular reason.
SMART [Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology] is built into hard drives and attempts to warn of impending failure, but is not a reliable warning method due to lack of industry standardization.
The best method to prevent data loss is frequent, periodic backups to at least one other backup drive. This can be an external hard drive, a USB flash memory drive, a tape backup or a set of CDs or DVDs.
Turn off the computer and leave it off until you know what you want to do next. Leaving the drive running just makes the situation worse.
You can try a data recovery software that would scavenge the failing drive for data and copy it to another drive. However, the software may not be able to recover data if the surfaces of the hard drive platters are damaged. And the recovery process itself could damage the hard drive even more.
All software developers, including operating system developers, release updates to their products to fix bugs and flaws, especially newly discovered security flaws.
All OSs come with software update programs that periodically perform checks for newly released updates, and can download and install those updates once permission is given.
Sometimes a software update can cause unanticipated problems, but, in general, software updates usually work flawlessly. You may want to wait a day or a week after an update is released to see if problems are reported.