Troubleshooting Computer Problems

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Overview

A good quality PC these days will be pretty reliable but it’s inevitable that at some time you are probably going to experience some problems with it.

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One day you’ll push the power on button and be rewarded with a deafening silence!

This can’t be you think to yourself, what could possibly be wrong?!

You try again and still nothing happens!

Almost immediately that initial thought is accompanied by a sinking feeling - Oh *!*!*! I’ve lost ALL my files!!

Of course you haven’t, you do a regular databackup don’t you? – Well you do don’t you!!

Okay don’t panic, help is at hand with this definitive guide to troubleshooting your trusty PC.

Help logo

Let’s get started shall we? Before we do a few words about the fault finding process before we examine the possible faults themselves.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – In a Mental State

OK, before we start a few words about your state of mind. Hey what’s that got to do with fixing my PC you say!

Well, actually quite a lot. You see your state of mind when attempting to ‘fault find’ your PC can mean the difference between minutes and hours.

A clear mind could help you decide upon the right path of action, quickly allowing a fix to be determined in mere minutes maybe, whereas a panicky confused state of mind could lead you into all sorts of troubles and incorrect – possibly very expensive – diagnoses!

So, lesson one, don’t jump to conclusions! And lesson two, don’t panic!!

Yes that’s right, take it slowly and gather the facts first. Don’t rush or panic, you can always go to a library, use a friends PC or perhaps borrow a PC if you are in desperate need of one. There are lots of options, give yourself time.

OK, let’s get on.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Strategy

Approach the problem from various angles and don’t jump to those conclusions we mentioned!

Do not decide upon any course of action and stick rigidly to it, be open to other possibilities and clues that may arise which you might otherwise ignore.

Start by asking yourself the following:

  • Have I made any changes recently? - Hardware or software?
  • What was I doing during my last PC session?
  • Is the PC getting a power supply?
  • Has your PC been cleaned recently and perhaps you accidentally knocked a connection loose?
  • Have you downloaded anything recently that may have upset it?
  • Have you been inside your case and accidentally nudged a cable or header maybe?
  • Did you move your PC and cause a cable to strain or pull at a card and dislodge it?

Keep these thoughts simple at first; don’t assume the worst just yet!

Before you go ripping your PC apart think over the above suggestions – take some time – mull it over a little first.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – A Friendly Ear

A good suggestion is to talk the problem through with a friend or colleague.

They may not have the answer but quite often just the act of talking it through with someone will help you to unravel the thoughts running through your mind and allow you to subconsciously diagnose the problems simply through the process of talking it over.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Keep Your Cool

Yes, keep your cool! The author has embarrassed himself on more than one occasion, believe me, it doesn’t help. Hmm - or maybe it does!

Ok, well, try and keep calm and if you do feel yourself getting really frustrated, go take it out on something worthwhile – now where’s that axe? Ha ha ha!!

Ok, psychology lesson over now, let’s get to it. Don’t dismiss all this advice, believe me it pays dividends.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Software Updates / New Installs

Have you installed some new software or updated some drivers or a software patch perhaps?

Maybe you have had an update to a piece of software that installed itself without you really noticing?

Have you recently upgraded your PC and if so did you do multiple upgrades at the same time?

If so redo these one by one and check each one after installing by powering up and down and checking it operates correctly before installing the next one.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Power Management

Have you set this to power down your hard disk drive for instance and this has caused an application to crash maybe?

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Nobody at home!

Is your PC completely dead?

Check that power is getting through to your PC, is the power cable OK – check out another piece of equipment with the power cable or change the power cord.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Power Supply

Is the power supply working? A quick check can be made to see if the power supply fan is running? If not it could just be a power supply fan failure but that would in turn cause the power supply to overheat! - replace your power supply.

Is the case power LED on? If not this again could indicate a power supply failure.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Is the problem intermittent?

Does this problem coincide with another operation or timed event giving you a clue to what may be causing your problem?

Try swapping memory or try one stick at a time if you have more than one, to identify a possible defective stick – quite a common occurrence.

Is the intermittent problem time related? This could possibly also be related to a thermal problem, perhaps insufficient cooling maybe due to build up of dust etc on the processor fan/heatsink or graphics card fan.

Or maybe it occurs whilst doing intensive processor / memory hungry tasks such as video editing or DVD burning? This may cause things to overheat or maybe your memory is getting errors due to a faulty stick or aggressive BIOS settings.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Boot up Problems

BIOS beep codes - The BIOS performs a POST (Power On Self Test) during power up to ensure that your hardware system is operating correctly prior to the operating system being loaded onto memory.

If the BIOS detects a problem it will produce a series of beeps which can tell you what the problem is.

Depending upon which version of BIOS you have (Award, AMI or Phoenix being the main ones) you will have a set of beep codes to help you identify what the problem is.

A single short beep at the completion of POST denotes a normal power up and correct operation. Just do a search on Google for a list of BIOS beep codes for your manufacturer.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems - Connections

Next check your internal cable connections and try removing and refitting them for a possible poor connection.

Also look to see if your memory and graphics card card connections are good - remove and refit them in case one of the connectors isn’t mating properly or has worked itself loose.

If this doesn’t work you can then try the processor, but be very careful as the pins are easy to damage and bend!

Only do this when your PC is powered down and as always make sure you take precautions against build up of static electricity – always earth yourself when working on your PC with an anti-static wrist strap or at the very least by grounding your self to the case.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Monitor /Graphics Card

Is your monitor working correctly? Is the power light on?

If your Power Supply fan is going, the ‘Power ON’ LED is lit, your hard disk drive light flashes during activity but your the monitor light is amber/yellow then the likely cause is the graphics card not working or connections from the graphics card to the monitor are not making.

Check the cable first and try replacing with another one if you can. Re-seat your graphics card card and see if this cures the problem.

If not you will have to try replacing the card or your monitor. Check the monitor on a friends PC first perhaps then if okay you will need to try replacing your card.

Usually you will get a BIOS beep highlighting your failed graphics card but this is not always the case.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Other Hardware

Try removing any other cards that may be plugged into your motherboard with the exception of your graphics card which you can check out as above.

Now check to see if your machine will boot up.

If it does, replace each of your other cards one at a time and try rebooting each time you add a card. When your PC fails to boot up, then this is the bad card.

Try removing your hard drive - does this cure your boot up problem?

Memory / Ram sticks – try one at a time?

Have you installed an additional new memory module which is not compatible with your other stick perhaps?

If you still can’t get the BIOS screen to come up then it will most likely be your PSU, motherboard or processor.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – It’s a common enough mistake!

PC completely dead - is the power on in the house? Check the light switch to confirm!

Check your power supply on/off switch at rear of PC

Check the PSU voltage selector switch on your Power Supply if it has one

Hard drive data cable and power cable - check before discarding your drive.

CMOS battery – this is responsible for keeping your PCs internal clock and BIOS system settings when your PC is turned off - it won’t stop your PC starting but you will receive error messages due to your PC not being able to store settings when turned off.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – PC continually reboots

Groundhog Day!

Even by trying safe mode or last known good configuration your PC just reboots again and again.

Doesn’t recognise the C: drive?

On one occasion, the author found this to be simply down to a BIOS setting which set the hard disk drive as AHCI instead of IDE.

This was a SATA disk drive but originally the BIOS had been set to recognise the drive as an IDE type.

SATA drives running as AHCI or in a RAID configuration with Windows XP will need a third party driver disk to be installed during set up to recognize.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Dust

Have you examined your processor and / or graphics card fan to see if they are rotating correctly or are blocked with dust / debris?

Is the processor heatsink full of dust?

Over time these can become coated with a heavy layer of dust and cause overheating to occur.

You can purchase ‘canned air’ which is compressed gas and very useful at getting rid of clogged up dust in heat-sinks and difficult or sensitive areas.

Make sure you use a type suitable for sensitive electronic equipment as some of the variants may generate static electricity possibly causing irreparable damage to your PCs components!

Use a small brush to help loosen/dislodge stubborn lumps of matter and use a vacuum cleaner nozzle - at a safe distance! - to catch and remove the dislodged debris.

Only do this when your PC is powered down and as always make sure you take precautions against build up of static electricity – always earth yourself when working on your PC with an anti-static wrist strap or at the very least by grounding your self to the case.

Make sure there is no power applied to your PC when you are working on it!!

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – BIOS

BIOS problems are not uncommon.

Your CMOS memory can get corrupted during a system crash or the CMOS battery can fail causing you to lose the settings that enabled your PC to run correctly.

This can show itself as an inability to find the hard disk drive as in the author’s example elsewhere in this guide. It is easily remedied by replacing the battery if required and re-entering the BIOS during initial boot-up by pressing the relevant key during the initial ‘on-screen’ text (usually F1, DELETE or the ESC key).

If you are unsure of what to do to set this up just load the ‘Default settings’ option and adjust the ‘Date and time’, then hit ‘Save Settings’.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Boot order

It is also a good idea to check the boot drive order so that the hard disk drive is first on the boot priority list and ensure that you don’t have a CD or DVD in the optical drive that the system might try to boot up from – if so you’ll just get a message saying there’s no operating system found.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – On-Board Graphics

Is the motherboard on-board graphics capable?

If you have a separate PCI / AGP graphics card fitted to your motherboard and have previously instructed the BIOS to ‘disable on-board graphics’ then check if this is this still set correctly. Stranger things can happen!

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – USB

Have you perhaps connected an external drive via your USB. The BIOS could perhaps have somehow become altered and is trying to incorrectly boot from here instead of your main hard drive?

Have you got a faulty USB device loading one of your USB ports or a USB 2.0 device in an older USB 1.1 port which your system doesn’t like?

Try removing everything you can, i.e. printer USB connections and other ports, until all you have connected to your PC is the keyboard, mouse and monitor.

If the fault is still present then it’s definitely internal to your PC.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Operating System

Finally, is your operating system corrupt?

An incorrect power down when someone removes the power to get the PC off quickly perhaps or during a power supply outage is a common way for your operating system to become corrupted.

This can cause your data to be written incorrectly if the PC was in the middle of an operation perhaps, thereby corrupting the data on your hard drive.

If this is the problem then your hard disk drive MBR (Master Boot Record) or FAT (File Allocation Table) may be corrupt and then there is no alternative but to re-install your operating system together with a format of your drive.

One option would be to get another hard drive and then once everything is backed up and running, to install the old drive in slave mode and see if you can read any important data that you may have lost due to not backing up!

Hey, did I say! - Always, always back up your data, one day you can be save you’ll be glad you did!

Check out our Databackup guide

To find out how to re-install your version of Windows visit one of the following pages for detailed 'step by step' instructions complete with screenshots.

How to Install Windows XP

How to Install Windows Vista

How to Install Windows 7

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Vista Service Pack 1

Upgrades are another thing that can cause system failure. Apparently, there are reports of Service Pack 1 for Vista causing problems with some PCs.

Troubleshooting Computer Problems – Virus

Have you got a virus perhaps? These can be very difficult to get rid of despite having anti-virus software installed.

If your PC boots up and gets through its BIOS POST section then we are looking at operating system problems and maybe, just maybe, it’s a virus :(

Scan your system and check to make sure it’s a full system scan and not simply a quick scan option.

Now, you may get alerted to a virus by your anti-virus software. You tell your anti-virus software to remove the virus which it does. But oh dear, back it comes! Why is this?

Well, this is a pretty common scenario too, especially if your browser has been set to allow Active X components or JavaScript applications.

These can allow software to be downloaded which then downloads other programs from the Internet that install spyware, adware and malicious programs on to your PC.

The file which repeatedly downloads these programs needs to be isolated and got rid of to prevent this continually re-occurring.

The file may be hidden on a memory stick or maybe you have it on a CD or DVD which you have borrowed?

It could also be residing in the 'System Restore' area of your hard drive. This area is protected so that accidental changes to your system are not made and your anti-virus software is unable to change these files.

The people who have written the virus make a change to the operating system file which is then written into the ‘System Restore’ area. Your anti-virus sees the operating system file but not the System Restore replicated file.

So, it deletes the file that it alerts you to but then System Recovery tries to put back the deleted operating system file (actually a virus file!). This repeats over and over.

How do you stop this? By stopping ‘System Restore’ temporarily!

Click ‘Start’ and right click ‘My Computer’ and click ‘Properties’ - select the ‘System Restore’ tab then click ‘Turn off System Restore on all drives’ in the ‘Turn off System Restore’ check box.
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Windows XP System Restore


Now you can delete the virus file and then once again turn ‘System Restore’ back on.

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