The DIY Guide to PC Troubleshooting And Repair

The next time you are having trouble with your computer, use this checklist to troubleshoot the problem before you pick up your phone to call for help.

Whether your processor slows down, starts behaving strangely of totally crashes, you may be able to get your PC back to peak performance with just a few basic troubleshooting tricks.

Try this before calling the repair shop.

Don’t ignore the problem; it’s not going to go away. But try these troubleshooting tricks before you call the expensive computer technician. Chances are that if you call the repair shop or the tech support hot-line, the person who answers your call will have less experience than you.

Save yourself the time, inconvenience and expense by utilizing these 12 suggestions and procedures to dig out system misworkings, process shutdowns, and strange Windows actions independently.

Never overlook what would seem to be the obvious. The first thing to always do when experiencing any problem with equipment not starting or working as it should is to check for the usual disruptions: unplugged or loose cords or cables, a power outage that has occurred, or a monitor that should have been on but somehow got powered down. If none of the above seems to be the cause, try restarting your computer or modem. This easy step helps to fix several randomly occurring errors.

You know better than anyone what the personality of your computer is, so ask yourself, “What has changed?” If you have installed a new hardware or software in the recent past, shut it down. Check for icons in the system tray to make sure that there is not a program running in the background. If the icon is present, just right-click the icon and select Exit or Close from the menu.

Then try and look for a program listing under the Processes button in your Task Manager, then press the Ctrl,Alt and Delete buttons at the same time to open up the utility. You could also just uninstall the application entirely. If you have recently modified any of your device drivers, go back to the previous one by using the rollback function for Windows’ device drivers. You can find full instructions in Microsoft Knowledge Base 283657.

Part One: Divide and Conquer.

You can check if an auto-start application is causing the problem by opening the System Configuration utility (a.k.a. “Msconfig”) To turn off all startup programs, press the windows key and “R” key then type msconfig and press enter. Click on Selective Startup under the General tab, then uncheck Load Startup Items. Inside the General tab, click on Selective Startup option and uncheck the box next to Load Startup Items.

If the problem goes away, come back to Msconfig, click on Normal Startup inside the General tab, choose the Startup tab, and activate your autostart programs one by one until the problem occurs again, at which point of time you’ve located the source of the trouble.

Software Explorer, which is part of Windows Defender, is designed to manage startup programs and it’s built right into Vista. Microsoft offers a free AutoRuns utility, which also runs in XP; this is much easier to use and less clumsy than Software Explorer.

Strategies and techniques for troubling times:  Always try System Restore once.

If you don’t know what is causing your problem, and it just appeared recently, System Restore might be of use in restoring your PC’s function. Click on the Start button, then All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore, in that sequence. From the options provided, select “Restore my computer to an earlier time” then click “Next” and simply follow the prompts that you will be given. See Woody Leonhard’s expert tips for even more information on System Restore in the February 16, 2006 paid version.

A different profile may work. Log off of your account and log on again under an alternate one. If you can’t do that because you don’t have another account, then make a new one. A secondary account can be useful if you have a problem with your main account. Create a new user account by first opening Windows’ User Accounts Control Panel applet. Then click on Create a new account and follow the steps that are displayed.

In Microsoft Vista, you will have to click the add or remove user accounts, or manage another account, before you start to create a new account, hence if the problem doesn’t present itself in the other accounts, there is an error in your profile, in the HKEY_CURRENT_USER section of the Registry.

You can use the second profile as your main user account, but you will still be required to reinstall some software and replace the custom settings from your original profile. Despite that fact, it is a better alternative to reinstalling Windows.

Be sure to select the “Last Known Good” setting. After booting your computer, try pressing F8 before Windows starts if you cannot log into Windows. Select “Last Known Good Configuration” option using arrow keys on the “Windows Advanced Options” screen.

Selecting this will undo the latest changes made to your computer’s configuration. If using this option lets you restart Windows properly, you may have fixed the problem. It is not that Last Known Good Configuration can resolve every issue, but like many of these troubleshooting strategies, it’s worth attempting.

Try Safe Mode resolution. If in any case Last Known Good Configuration fails to restart Windows normally, press the function key F8 on startup again to go back to the Windows Advanced Options Menu, but this time you need to choose Safe Mode (or Safe Mode with Networking if you need to access the Internet or a network resource).

Safe Mode can’t fix anything, but it will attempt to open Windows with some very basic drivers. The problem in your computer is likely to be a device driver if you can start Windows in Safe Mode. Once you know what the problem is, you can also use Safe Mode to fix it. There’s more about this in the next tip.

Activate boot logging feature. If you think the problem might involve a specific driver or is related to your hardware, look through your Windows boot logs for detailed information. Pressing F8 during startup will open the Windows Advanced Options Menu, which is where you will find the option of enabling boot logging. In order to start Windows with boot logging activated, arrow down to select Enable Boot Logging and press the Enter key.

Pressing Win+R and then typing c:\windows\ntbklog.text and hitting enter will open up the log file. The boot log will add new information at the bottom of the file, so you will have to scroll down to see if it has added any helpful information. Keep an eye out for entries that might show a problem with loading a driver.

When you log into Windows using the Safe Mode, it will show you a log of all drivers Safe Mode doesn’t use; thus this boot log is not really going to be of any use in determining which drivers may be causing the problem.

Part Two: Divide and Conquer.

Msconfig is a great tool to help isolate the problem if you think it is a driver or other system file. But first, a warning: Using Msconfig utility to temporarily deactivate Windows services will erase restore points made by System Restore. This method should only be used if you are absolutely sure that you won’t need any of the restore points that currently exist and the problem was not corrected by using System Restore.

On the keyboard press Win+R, type the command msconfig, and hit the Enter key. Then find the tab that says “General”, choose “Diagnostic startup” and then click “OK”. Follow each of the steps in order to successfully restart your computer. If the problem goes away, you can add other system files back in with the Selective Startup option on the General tab to narrow down the possibilities and check whether the problem lies in System.ini, wini.ini, services, and so on. When you have gotten your search nailed down to a particular area, get more refined by turning on specific items using the check boxes under the other Msconfig tabs.

Get additional details from Windows. In some cases your system will automatically reboot when a crash occurs. You will be unable to check for possible reasons why you are auto rebooting because of this Windows feature. To stop auto restarts after your computer crashes, reboot and press F8 right before Windows load to bring you to the Windows Advanced Options Menu. By using the arrow keys, you will then be able to select Disable automatic restart on system failure.

Choosing Properties, Advanced from the menu you get in XP when you right-click on My Computer will allow you to either turn the feature back on or off, depending on its current setting, without restarting your computer. Find the tab that says “Startup and Recovery” and then click “Settings”. Under Automatic Restart, there is a checkbox that you can use to enable or disable the feature.

In Windows Vista, press Start, type the command SystemPropertiesAdvanced, and hit Enter. Click on the Continue button when prompted to by User Account Control. After clicking the Advanced tab, choose Settings in Startup and Recovery. You can manage the Automatic Restart option by checking or unchecking the box below it.

The next time you have an unexpected reboot, an error message should display on your screen with possibly the name of the file that may have caused this error. It might be helpful to do a Web search for the specific file name to find out more details.

The possible components of the video driver you are using that might have caused your system to fail will be displayed by Windows. If the answer is yes, inquiring about recent driver modifications on the Website of your video card maker could be the answer.

Check your system files. Windows has a tool that allows you to check the integrity of the files it requires to function properly which you can use to examine, and replace files if required. System File Checker will examine your files and offer to replace with the original if any problem with an original file is found. Open a Command Prompt window with Administrator rights, type sfc /scannow, and hit the Enter key on the keyboard. You might need to insert your Windows installation CD for retrieval of the original file.

There are two published articles available from Microsoft regarding the proper use of this tool: one covers its use in Windows XP and Server 2003, the other is a guide to using it in Vista.

Consult a troubleshooter. It’ll be difficult if you’re a man - it’s like asking for directions. In certain cases, the troubleshooting guides in Windows Help can be helpful, although they can often miss the mark. The guides can be accessed by choosing Start, then Help and Support. Look for some form of the word “troubleshoot”. Perform a distinct search for each of these terms since there is a high likelihood of getting differing results depending on the search term.

Be tenacious, but have a get away plan.

A long time acquaintance and exceptional troubleshooter told me, “When nothing has worked, fiddle with it.” Unrelenting pursuit has served me well in determining several computer issues. Try every solution you can think of, one right after the other, but keep in mind to go slowly and methodically so you can undo every attempted “fix” if it doesn’t work to solve the issue.

For instance, when working with the Registry, take due care to use the File, Export command to backup the Registry branch you’re about to tweak. Obviously, anything that is subsequently added to the Registry such as keys or branches will not be included in your backup.

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