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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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Basic computer troubleshooting guide
Basic Computer Troubleshooting Guide

  • Presented by Lee Maxwell to the

  • Brookdale Computer User Group

  • General Meeting on Friday, Oct. 15, 2010

Prepare yourself emotionally
Prepare yourself emotionally

  • Don’t panic! If you panic, you are lost and probably won’t be effective.

  • Negative emotions and pessimism will prevent you from effectively analyzing your problem and finding a solution.

  • If you do panic, or you feel overwhelmed, get help. Don’t try to fix it yourself.

First step detecting the cause of the problem
First Step: Detecting the cause of the problem

  • The first step in solving your problem is detecting its cause.

  • If you are lucky, the cause of the problem is easy to figure out.

  • However, since computers are complex machines, it’s often difficult to find the cause, because there are many possible causes, and you must eliminate all other candidates to find the cause.

Remember the words of the immortal sherlock holmes
Remember the words of the immortal Sherlock Holmes!

  • “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

Other useful holmesian quotes
Other useful Holmesian quotes

  • “It has long been an axiom of mine that the little things are infinitely the most important.”

  • “There is nothing as deceptive as an obvious fact.”

  • “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”

What s the problem
What’s the problem?

  • Is it a power issue? Is some piece of equipment not functioning because it has no energy?

  • Is a part of the hardware no longer functioning? Hard drive disk no longer spins? Optical drive no longer reads a CD/DVD? Monitor no longer shows an image?

  • Is it a connection issue? Is some cable not plugged in correctly, or broken or otherwise defective?

  • Is it a software rather than a hardware issue? Is the operating system misbehaving? What part? Or is it another program/application misbehaving?

The new thing is suspect
The new thing is suspect

  • What is the last change you made on your computer? This could indicate the cause of the problem.

  • If it’s a new piece of hardware connected to the computer, then disconnect or turn off the device and, if need be, restart the computer. If the problem is gone, then that is most likely the cause.

  • A new piece of software, especially if it’s installed a driver or some software that affects the OS, also could be the cause of your problems.

  • If you use Windows, it could be a virus....

Power problems
Power problems

  • Does the computer start up? Do you see lights indicating it’s getting power? Do you hear fans inside? Do you hear the hard drive spinning?

  • If not, check to make sure the power cable is plugged in correctly at both ends. Remove the cable from the outlet and the power port in the computer, and plug it back in again.

  • Swap the power cable for another you know works, and see if that makes a difference.

  • If none of this works, the power supply in the computer or device may be defective. Also, the power harness inside the computer may have a loose connection or some kind of damage.

Malfunctioning hardware
Malfunctioning hardware

  • 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.

Water based liquids are bad for computers peripherals
Water-based liquids are bad for computers & peripherals

  • Liquid contacting a computer or peripheral, especially if the device is powered up and functioning, can cause permanent damage due to their electrical conductivity.

  • Avoid placing open containers of liquids on or near a computer or peripheral.

  • It is true that some peripherals, like keyboards, can be restored after exposure to liquids, if allowed to dry for a couple of weeks. But there is no guarantee this will work.

Ram a k a memory problems
RAM a.k.a. Memory problems

  • Random Access Memory [RAM] is where information needed by the processor and copied from the hard drive is stored temporarily.

  • Most computers bought “off the shelf” only come with enough RAM for carrying out simple tasks, and do not come with enough RAM for high-intensity uses.

  • RAM is relatively inexpensive and easy to buy and install, and computer owners should consider upgrading RAM to get better speed and performance.

Buying ram
Buying RAM

  • RAM can be bought from computer and stationary stores, or from web-based vendors, who usually have the best prices.

  • Most vendors offer a lifetime warrantee, so keep your original receipt.

  • Before buying RAM, make sure you know which RAM to buy. There is a wide variety of types of RAM; do a web search to find which type to get. The manufacturer’s website should have that information.

  • On some computers, RAM must be bought and installed in matching pairs.

Installing ram
Installing RAM

  • 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.

Ram failure
RAM failure

  • RAM can be damaged through a power surge, or it can simply fail on its own.

  • Bad RAM can lead to crashes, freezes and other misbehaviors.

  • Sometimes removing and reseating RAM can stop computer misbehavior. If that works, you’re lucky.

  • You can download and use a free Linux-based tool called Memtest, which works on any computer with an Intel or AMD processor, to verify RAM in a computer.

Dust dirt insects found inside a computer
Dust, dirt & insects found inside a computer

  • Computers are electronic devices that attract dust and hair, which is pulled in by cooling fans and collects on circuit boards and other interior parts.

  • Insects and spiders are also known to find homes inside computers.

  • All these things can cause hardware failures, and computers, especially minitowers, should be opened up and kept clean.

The importance of surge suppressors protectors
The importance of surge suppressors/protectors

  • Surge protectors/suppressors are devices designed from preventing a power surge from damaging computers and peripherals.

  • Your computer and all peripherals should be plugged into surge suppressors/protectors.

  • If possible, data cables like Ethernet or telephone cables which connect to wall outlets or devices like modems connect to coax cables should be routed thru surge protectors/suppressors.

Replacing surge devices after a surge
Replacing surge devices after a surge

  • If you experience a surge, which can occur during a thunderstorm or when power is restored after a blackout, your current surge protector/suppressors may be damaged by the surge.

  • These devices are designed to absorb one large surge.

  • After absorbing a large surge, especially if one or more computers or peripherals are damaged, these devices are no longer reliable and should be replaced.

Battery problems
Battery problems

  • Batteries are important parts of most computers.

  • Desktop computers use small batteries on their motherboards/logic boards to preserve critical settings.

  • These batteries eventually lose their ability to hold a charge – on average, they last 4-6 years.

  • Replacing these batteries is relatively easy to do in most computers, but not all [especially Macintoshes].

  • You can try removing and reseating a relatively new battery, which will cause those basic settings to be reset. This may fix the problem.

Laptop battery problems
Laptop battery problems

  • The most famous laptop battery problem was the Sony batteries used by many computer makers [including Dell and Apple] which could spontaneously catch fire.

  • However, laptop batteries, which are rechargeable, can fail if they are not regularly “churned”, or drained down and recharged.

  • Churning a laptop battery is easy: Just run the laptop from its battery until it is nearly completely drained, then plug in the laptop power cord and allow the battery to recharge.

  • Recent articles suggest the above is not truek but the preponderance of opinion suggests this is true.

Data connection problems
Data connection problems

  • Most older computers rely on several cords of various types to provide data connections with various peripherals and computer networks.

  • Thankfully, the number of different types of data cables had decreased as manufacturers have standardized on a couple of different types.

  • For example, USB has replaced parallel, SCSI, serial and ADB [Apple Desktop Bus] and Ethernet has replaced other types of networking cables.

Data cable failures
Data cable failures

  • Though rare, data cables are known to fail on occasion.

  • Plugs, especially on Ethernet cables, are known to become defective, especially if they are stepped on.

  • Cables themselves can fail if they are twisted or crimped. Look for that kind of damage.

  • Try unplugging and reseating data cables, while the computer and peripherals are unpowered, to see if that fixes the problem.

  • Also try replacing the cable with a similar one to determine if the cable caused the problem.

Computer network problems
Computer network problems

  • Most home/SOHO network problems are caused by settings on the modem connecting the network to the internet, or the router that creates a local area network.

  • Power surges and other events can cause the stored settings to go bad. Replacing an old router with a new one also can cause problems.

  • An easy solution is to power down the modem and router, and any computers on the network, then power up the modem, then the router, then the computers.

  • You may also need to reset the router’s setting to factory conditions. Most routers have a small reset button set inside a small hole to do this. Use an unbent paper clip to do this.

Wireless data connections
Wireless data connections

  • In this past decade, wireless data connections have often replaced wired connections.

  • Wifi has replaced Ethernet for networking computers, networkable printers and scanners, and other devices.

  • Bluetooth has replaced USB and other, older methods of connecting peripherals like mice, keyboards, cameras, PDAs and other devices.

  • Wireless connection problems can be caused either by hardware or software problems.

Diagnosing causes of wireless connection problems
Diagnosing causes of wireless connection problems

  • First, try to detect if your wireless network is available.

  • If not, the wireless router may have failed. Try restarting it and, if necessary, reset its wireless settings.

  • If that doesn’t work, verify that other devices can’t connect. If they can, then the problem is in that one device. Try either checking the wifi settings for that device, or resetting that device.

  • If that fails, then it’s time to think about replacing anything other than the computer itself.

Secure wifi networking
Secure Wifi networking

  • Password-protecting your WiFi network protects your networked computers from eavesdropping and malicious access.

  • Internet service providers have taken action against owners of Wifi networks who leave them unprotected.

  • Setting up password protection can be complicated and depends on the router manufacturer. Read the instruction that came with the router, or download them from the manufacturer’s website.

  • Choose a password with many characters, that is easy to remember but difficult to guess.

Software problems
Software problems

  • 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.

Basic software maintenance
Basic software maintenance

  • Doing basic software maintenance is critical to your computer running correctly.

  • The computer manufacturer SHOULD specify how to do routine maintenance, but some do not – including Apple!

  • The type of maintenance depends [mostly] on the operating system.

  • Often, utilities from third-party developers are the best options for effective software maintenance.

  • However, there are some common problems....

Lack of free space on hard drive
Lack of free space on hard drive

  • 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.

Saving and backing up
Saving and backing up

  • 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!

Hard drive failure
Hard drive failure

  • 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.

What if my hard drive fails or is about to fail
What if my hard drive fails [or is about to fail]?

  • 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.

  • Last resort: Data recovery company. Expensive!

Perform software updates
Perform software updates!

  • 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.

Error messages
Error messages

  • Write them down, if you don’t understand them. They will be useful to you or whoever you call in to troubleshoot.

  • Try to take a screenshot of the error message. How to do this depends on your operating system.

  • You can do an internet search for the error message and find reports on this error message, and tips on what is the problem and how to solve it.

  • If you know how, checking any logs the OS may keep may give you hints about what is wrong.

That s all for now
That’s all for now!

  • 34 slides is not enough, but time has run out.

  • There is always more to talk about and learn.

  • Thanks for viewing this presentation!

  • Comments and corrections are always welcome. To contact the author, Lee Maxwell: [732] 775-3670 or [732-766-6279] or