Ways to fix com­put­ers be­fore you call an ex­pert

The Punch - - GADGET SMART - • Safe Mode • Ask Mi­crosoft • Re-in­stall Win­dows

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

Gen­eral prob­lems

• 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.

• Over­heat­ing

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.

• Fo­rums

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

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