Ways to fix computers before you call an expert
IF you know what a USB port looks like, chances are you are regularly called upon as the ‘IT expert by friends and family members whenever a computer goes bust or a window mysteriously disappears.
Below are some of the most useful tips gathered over many years of troubleshooting the PCS, according to www.cnet.com
• Be Google smart
Google can be a huge help when it comes to specific error codes and very detailed problems. It’s less useful for “my PC is running slowly” queries. Include as much detail as you can, putting “+” before keywords that must be matched and “-” before keywords to exclude.
• System restore
Windows’ built-in roll-back feature will undo recent changes to the registry and hardware and software setup of your computer, without affecting your personal files and holiday photos. It’s a good place to start if something has very recently gone wrong. You’ll find System Restore via Control Panel.
Tap F8 during boot-up to access the boot menu. Choose Safe Mode to launch a special stripped-down version of Windows that keeps drivers and background utilities to a minimum and looks like it’s straight out of 1995. Safe Mode can be used to uninstall programs or devices, or run fixes, if you can’t get into Windows normally.
If your PC crashes at seemingly random times - in other words, there’s no particular software program or hardware device that prompts it - it’s possible that your computer or laptop is overheating. Invest in another fan or a laptop cooler if you think this may be the cause.
• On-demand scans
A whole bundle of problems are caused by viruses and spyware, from slow performance to unexplained reboots. It goes without saying that you should keep your anti-virus and antispyware tools right up to date, but you might want to run an on-demand scanner as well to get another opinion - Spybot Search & Destroy and Microsoft’s own Safety Scanner are two good choices that won’t interfere with your existing security tools.
• Background noise
Sluggish performance that degrades over time can be due to more and more programs deciding they’d like to run in the background. Open Task Manager (right-click on the taskbar) to see what’s actually using up the RAM and CPU time on your PC -- if any of the entries under Processes and Services don’t make much sense, run a quick Google search for details of what they are.
• Selective start-up
If you find any superfluous entries in Task Manager, chances are they’re being launched with Windows. Scour the Start-up folder on the Start menu to find and remove anything you don’t really need all of the time. For more control over the Windows startup process, type “msconfig” into the Start menu search box and hit Enter - the subsequent dialog lets you make detailed changes to which services and tools can launch automatically at the same time as the operating system.
• Restoring files
When Windows deletes a file, it doesn’t move the 1s and 0s, it simply removes the references to them and marks the disk space as free. Unless you’ve overwritten the file with something else, you might be able to get it back -- Recuva is one of the best and most straightforward free tools for the task.
• Windows won’t start
Windows comes with various system recovery options (besides Safe Mode) that you can use if the operating system won’t boot. Tap F8 when booting and choose ‘Last Known Good Configuration’ to revert to the settings in place when Windows last launched. Another trick you can try is to unplug all non-essential peripherals -- sometimes a badly configured device will cause the startup process to hang.
• Motherboard beeps
If your PC gets so far and no further, and you find it beeps at you and shuts down before Windows even starts loading, the problem is at a lower level. Motherboards will alert you to what’s gone wrong by the number of beeps -- check the user manual to find out what they mean, or look for a digital copy on the manufacturer’s website.
• No power
If the PC or laptop doesn’t get going at all, either you’re in the middle of a power cut, your power cable is faulty, or the power supply unit/ battery is bust. See if you can source a cheap spare cable or battery first, as a PSU replacement will cost significantly more.
If you do have to turn to the web, locate the developer or manufacturer’s official support forums before you turn to Google. You may find there’s a particular fix available or advice from other users. For smaller freeware programs, you may even find posts from the developer.
It turns out Microsoft does know a thing or two about their own systems -- it offers an automated Fixit tool, which will try and detect what’s going wrong and then do something about it.
• Registry cleaning
The labyrinthine settings file that is the Windows registry can cause errors, program crashes and system restarts if something has gone wrong deep within it. There are plenty of third-party tools that will scan it for problems for you, though not all of them are trustworthy -- Glary Registry Repair is one of the ones you can depend on (though as with any advanced tweaking tool, use at your own risk -- you do back up, right?).
This is the scorched earth policy -- but it’s not as drastic as you might think. Many PCS and laptops come with recovery discs or a recovery partition on the hard drive that you can use to return your computer to the state it was in when it arrived from the factory. Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll need to install your software again and you’ll lose all your personal data, so you’ll need copies of your important files (photos, university essays etc). This process is set to be made even easier in Windows 8. Hardware problems
• Test on another computer
Use another computer to test your malfunctioning mouse/camera/printer, or just another USB port, to help you work out where the fault lies. If the problem vanishes, it’s not the device itself that’s to blame.
• New drivers
Head to the manufacturer’s website and hunt down the latest drivers and/or firmware for your device -- installing these updates will replace damaged files, add the latest bug fixes and improve compatibility with other hardware and software.
• Old drivers
Windows and devices themselves sometimes install new drivers without asking and these occasionally cause problems. To roll back to a previous version, find the hardware in question in Device Manager, right-click and choose Properties and open the Driver tab.
• Uninstall drivers
Staying in Device Manager - there’s an Uninstall option that will remove all traces of the hardware in question from your system. Reboot and reattach the device to launch the installation process from scratch, which may resolve your issue.
• Test the memory
It’s not easy to tell when your memory is failing you and it doesn’t happen often intermittent system instability and software crashes are the usual signs. A decent memory diagnostics tester like Memtest86+ can help by scanning the installed modules and alerting you to any potential issues.
• • www.surefixtech.com