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 Post subject: Basic Troubleshooting
PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2008 1:35 pm 
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Basic Computer Troubleshooting

Your computer is never going to crash at 4:29 p.m. on a Friday before a long weekend when you couldn't care less if it stopped working. It will crash twenty minutes before a critical deadline when you are trying to get something done. Needless to say, this will be extremely frustrating.
While solving computer problems can often be complex, more often than not, some basic troubleshooting will help you quickly fix the more common problems, which are often the simplest ones. Here are the ten steps you should go through to systematically troubleshoot basic computer problems:
1. Take a deep breath and don't panic. Stand up and step back from your computer. You want to approach things in a systematic, calm, and controlled manner. Panicking likely won't help solve your problem, and it could make it much worse, including causing you to lose valuable data.
2. Save your current work. Before doing anything, make sure you save your current work so that you don't lose it. Save it on the hard drive or on a floppy disk. It doesn't matter where, just make sure you save it.
3. Backup your critical data. If it looks like your hard drive may crash or the computer may not start up again, take steps to backup your critical data while it is still working and before you turn it off. Hopefully you have a recent full backup and will only have to backup your most recent documents. Consider copying the data to a network drive or burning it onto a CD-ROM.
4. Reboot your computer. Turn your computer off, let it sit for two minutes, and reboot it. Sometimes one command of the hundreds a computer executes every second can cause corrupted memory or other temporary unexplainable problems. Rebooting will clear out all the gremlins and gives everything a fresh-start.
5. Is everything plugged in properly? Asking this a question may seem very basic, but you will be surprised how often it can often be the fix you are looking for. Cables get bumped or work themselves loose over time. Make sure they are all snug and tight. If you want to look under the hood, and are comfortable doing so, ideally you should check the cables and connections within your computer case as well. You should also make sure all cards and memory are firmly seated by gently but firmly pushing them into their respective slots.
6. Ask yourself what you did last. Did your problems start just after you installed new software programs or updated hardware drivers? This can be a great clue as to the source of a problem.
7. Is your hardware happy? Unhappy hardware is often the source of problems. To check your hardware, right-click on My Computer, select Properties, click on the Hardware tab, and then the Device Manager button. This will open the Device Manager dialog box. It lists all the hardware devices on your computer. Devices that aren't working properly will have a yellow exclamation mark next to them. Double-click on the problem devices to open a dialog box that may have details on the problem, and a listing of suggestions on how to fix it.
8. Check you computer for nasties. Run a complete system scan with your anti-virus software (make sure you update your virus definitions before you run the scan). You can do a free online scan at TrendMicro's Web site ( You should also scan your computer for adware, spyware, or other malware with a product like Ad-aware ( or SpyBot ( Scanning your machine with two of these products can be helpful as sometimes you will find something that one product missed.
9. Install software or driver updates. If it seems one program or hardware device is acting up, check the manufacturer's Web site for updates. The code in most software is thousands if not millions of lines long and it is impossible for software companies to find all the bugs in their programs. As users discover problems, software and hardware manufacturers often release revised software or updated drivers that include new code to address newly discovered problems.
10. Check online support. If you get as far as this step, your problem is probably more complex. Most hardware and software manufacturers now have extensive support information online in searchable databases. These are often called Knowledge Bases. Microsoft's support page is at Odds are someone else has already experienced the same problem you have, and you can often a solution online. Good luck with your troubleshooting.

Links/troubleshooting tips

This page contains answers to common questions along with some tips and tricks that may be useful.
the computer locks up and/or is acting weird?
1. If the computer is frozen and will not respond to any commands, it may be necessary to press Ctrl + Alt + Del (all three keys at the same time) to bring up the Task List. Select any program that says "Not responding" and click the End Task button. Repeat until all tasks are ended. If this does not work, turn the computer off, wait several seconds, turn the computer back on, and let the computer run the Scandisk.
2. Reboot it. A majority of problems that occur while you are using your computer can be fixed by rebooting. Applications sometimes don’t release memory like they should when they are finished. The end result is your computer locks up or acts really weird. When you reboot, memory registers are cleared and most everything is reset. This fixes a lot of problems.
Special Note
It doesn't hurt a computer to leave it running all the time. However, using the computer for long periods of time causes small problems that can build into larger ones. When Windows reboots, it fixes most of these small problems. Therefore, restarting the computer periodically while working can help reduce the risk of glitches.
the computer is completely dead?
Check all the connections, the cables between the CPU and the monitor and all the electrical cables. Check the wall socket or surge strip to see if they are bad (sometimes a surge strip will have good and bad outlets). If you have a green light on your monitor but not on your CPU, then there is a problem with your CPU. If there is a green light on your CPU and not your monitor, then you have a problem with your monitor and your CPU may be fine. If you have another monitor that you know is good, the quickest way to test is to put another monitor on the machine and see if you get an image on the screen. If you have a light on both the monitor and the CPU, check the pins of the data cable between the monitor and the CPU. A single bent pin can cause an image problem.
the keyboard doesn't work?
1. Press Ctrl + Alt + Del (all three keys at the same time) to bring up the Task List. Select any program that says "Not responding" and click the End Task button. Repeat until all tasks are ended. Check periodically to see if the keyboard will work.
2. Check to make sure the keyboard is still properly connected to the computer. If the keyboard has been disconnected, you may have to reboot your computer.
3. If all else fails, then turn the power off. Wait a couple of minutes before turning the computer back on.
Special Note
One of the dirtiest parts of your computer is the keyboard. Regular cleaning will help keep the keyboard working properly. First, blow compressed air through the spaces in between the keys to remove dust and lint. If you shake your keyboard upside-down this will also remove some of the particles.
Another keyboard problem that could occur is when you turn your computer on and you get a message that no keyboard was detected or you get into Windows but are not able to type. Remove the keyboard connector for the CPU, examine the pins in the connector to ensure they are straight, then reinsert the connector. Also, check and make sure the mouse and keyboard connectors have not been switched. If the keyboard still doesn’t work try connecting, another keyboard that you know is working. This will determine if you need a new keyboard or if you have a CPU problem.

the mouse doesn't work?
Check to make sure the mouse is still properly connected to the computer. If the mouse has been disconnected, you may have to reboot your computer.
Like the keyboard, the mouse pad is sitting in the open most of the time getting dusty, wet, slimed, or anything else that happens on you desktop. The mouse then rolls over whatever has collected on the mouse pad and gets inside, gumming up the works. To clean the mouse pad, wipe it off occasionally with a damp cloth or get a new one.
You also need to clean your mouse regularly, as often as twice a week. If you turn your mouse over, you’ll notice a round ball with a cover over it. This cover can be twisted off and the ball will come out. Roll the ball on a clean, lint free cloth. Then take a look at the rollers inside the mouse. Take tweezers, a screwdriver, or even your fingernail to scratch the dirt and lint off the rods. Next, you should look inside the mouse and clean out any other dirt or lint that is hiding in there. Finally, replace the ball and twist back on the cover.

the computer displays a disk error or non-system disk message?
1. You may have left a disk in the A drive. Remove it and press any key on the keyboard to reboot the computer.
2. If you don’t have a disk in the A drive, and the message is accompanied by a "clunking" sound, turn the computer off and send for a technician.
the computer starts up in "safe mode"?
At times your computer could develop a problem which causes you machine to boot up in what is called "safe mode". The easiest way to try and solve this problem is to run a "scandisk".
1. Click on Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and Scandisk.
2. Place a check on "Automatically fix errors".
3. When Scandisk finishes, reboot your computer to see if this fixed the problem.
4. If the computer still boots up in the Safe Mode, click on Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and Disk Defragmenter. If you receive the message "You don't need to defragment this drive now", continue with the process anyway.
5. When Disk Defragmenter is finished, reboot your computer to see if this fixed the problem.
6. If the computer still starts up in safe mode, you need to contact a computer technician.
the printer doesn't work?
If the printer will not print at all, you need to determine if the printer itself will not work or if it is not receiving a print message from the computer.
1. Many models have a built-in self test option which allows you to print a test page by holding down the feed button for a few seconds. The power button will begin to flash and a test page will print. If the printer self test fails, your problem is with the printer itself rather than the printer cable or computer. Should this occur, you should contact a technician.
2. If the printer self test prints, the next step is to have Windows print a test page. Click on Start, Settings, Printers, and right click on the icon of the printer with the problem. Select properties and press the Print Test Page button. If the test page fails to print, make sure the printer cable is firmly seated in both the computer and the printer. You should also check the ends of the printer cable to make sure that none of the prongs are bent. If the test print fails, or if the print consists of nonsense characters or a few characters printed over many pages, you need to uninstall then reinstall the drivers for your printer.

Paper feed problems and jams can often be resolved by using paper which conforms with the specifications provided by the printer manufacturer. On ink jet printers, the rubber rolls which pick up each sheet can sometimes become coated with paper residue which decreases the friction. Cleaning off the residue can sometimes solve paper feed problems.
Special Note
If your ink jet printer is making a banging or grating noise, you need to clean two areas of the printer.
1. Some models of ink jet printers have a gray colored narrow plastic film which extends almost the whole width of the printer just behind the rod on which the print head travels. If this film gets dirty, the print heads can have problems determining where it is and can crash against the end of the printer. Use tissue or soft cloth to clean this strip.
2. The printer head moves across a rod that can also become dirty. With the printer power on, raise the front of the printer and clean the rod with a paper towel. Put the front of the printer back down and turn off the printer. This time when you lift the front of the printer, the printer heads will move across the rod. This will allow you to clean the part of the rod that was covered when you cleaned it the first time. If you spray the paper towel with WD-40, this will do a better job of cleaning the rod.
As the printer gets older, it may become necessary to perform these two cleaning jobs at least once a week.

If you are experiencing difficulty with a site, check their support/FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) site. You will find a bulletin board for the Greeneville City Schools at

URL – Uniform Resource Locater
UNC – Universal Naming Convention
DOS – Disk Operating System
OS – Operating System
GUI – Graphical User Interface
WYSIWYG – What You See Is What You Get
BIOS – Basic Input/Output System
RAM – Random Access Memory (there are many types with even more abbreviations). Check your system documentation to determine the type of memory your system needs.
ROM – Read Only Memory
I/O – Input/Output
BSOD – Blue (or black) screen of death. Obviously, this is not good.
HTTP – Hyper Text Transfer Protocol
HTTPS – Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure
CPU – Central Processing Unit
Ethernet – not an abbreviation, but a technology for linking computers over a network.
Modem – Modulator/De-modulator – a device that uses telephone lines to communicate with other computers.
Broadband – any high-speed Internet connection
DSL – Digital Subscriber Line – a broadband technology for accessing the Internet/
MB – megabyte (meg), not to be confused with mb (or megabit)
GB – gigabyte (gig), not to be confused with gb (or gigabit). However, when used to refer to the capacity of a hard drive (HDD), regardless of the case of the letters, it means “megabyte,” or “gigabyte.”

This material was adapted from various sources. No claim of originality is asserted.

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Larry Jones
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