Printers

10 ways to diagnose ailing PCs: Step by step

Taking a systematic approach to troubleshooting PC issues will save you time and frustration and get your clients back to work more quickly.

It's a given: PCs go south and do so often. Whether it's hardware, software, or user error, there will always be something in the way of that PC running smoothly. Problem is, there are so many things that can go wrong, it's often difficult to know where to start to simply discover the problem.

I do a lot of remote support, so I've had to learn many ways to troubleshoot a sick PC without the luxury of being in front of the patient. Of course, there are countless routes to take with this process, but I thought I'd share the steps I like to follow. These are not your standard "Run your antivirus" or "Defrag the drive" approaches, either. This is the method I follow from the beginning of the phone call to the client.

1: Describe the problem

The first thing I have the client do is describe the problem. Before jumping onto the PC, I gather as much information as possible. This means having the client describe what is happening, when it started happening, and whether there was any particular incident that coincided with the problem starting. Many times, this information gathering will lead you directly to the solution. Sometimes, the information gathering will lead you to realize a reboot is all that is necessary to solve the problem.

2: Define the affected subsystem

There are instances when a problem is isolated to a specific subsystem of a machine -- such as printing. Although you might think this a no-brainer, many end users will call saying, "My computer isn't working," when in reality what they mean is, "My printer isn't printing." In some cases, multiple subsystems might be affected, such as printing and mapped network drives... you can see where this is leading. If multiple subsystems are having issues, the combination of those will often lead you directly to a solution.

3: Is it hardware or software?

If a client describes an issue such as a slow PC, one of the first things I do is check out the hardware. Is there enough RAM? Is there enough free space on the C drive? And if the problem is network related, are the lights on the network card blinking, on, or dark? If these don't highlight an issue, don't immediately assume the issue is software related --there could be hard drive issues. But before you dig deeper into hardware issues, this would be a good jumping point for software. If nothing becomes apparent after you've investigated software issues, come back to hardware and do a drive test or defrag.

4: Diagnose printing woes

Printers can be tricky. But there are ways to make this troubleshooting job a bit easier. First, find out what type of printer you are dealing with. If the printer is a networked printer, make sure the network is actually up. If it is, ask whether other machines can print to the printer in question. If they can, check to see whether any jobs are stuck in the machine's printer queue. If you open up the Printers And Devices window and the printer is not listed, find out if it just recently disappeared. If it did, the driver most likely is corrupt and will need to removed from within Regedit. If the printer is still listed and no jobs are in the queue, have the client restart the machine and then try to print. A good restart will cure a host of woes in Windows.

5: Deal with networking trauma

Can the client see the internal servers? If not, can they open their browser and see google.com? If not, this becomes a challenge, as you can't do remote troubleshooting. But never fear, help is near. I start by walking the client through rebooting the machine and starting in safe mode. Usually, if there isn't an actual hardware issue, safe mode will circumvent the nasties that are keeping the machine from getting online. Once in safe mode, let the fun begin!

Of course, if no one can get online, the first thing to be done is power cycling the router/modem/switch hardware. If that fails, there is always DNS to troubleshoot. But that gets beyond standard triage (as it will often lead you away from the client machine and to a DNS server issue).

6: Resolve login issues

How often do you get this one: "Where's my password?" A client calls in to say they can't log into their computer. Have they forgotten their password? Is the machine on a domain? If it's on a domain, is the machine online? There are so many problems with this one, it's hard to know where to start. But here's the first thing you should do: If the client is on a domain and you have access to their Active Directory server, try to log onto that server with their credentials. If you can do that, the issue has been narrowed down to either their network connection or the manner in which they are logging in. If they are to be logging in to a domain, make sure they are doing so at their computer and not logging in to the local machine.

7: Troubleshoot specific software

Sometimes, it will boil down to a single piece of software that's giving the user fits. This, in turn, can give the support technician fits (especially if it's a niche piece of software). The first thing I would do is double-check to make sure the issue is, in fact, isolated to one particular piece of software. If the problem is network related and all other applications can get online, the issue is most likely isolated to that one piece of software. If so, and the software depends upon a network connection, make sure neither the firewall or the antivirus software has started blocking the software from getting packets in or out. When I discover the problem is isolated to a single piece of software, often a repair install will solve the issue.

8: Look for virus issues

I find that 50 percent of support calls wind up being viruses. Since viruses cause all sorts of differing behavior, how can you quickly determine whether the issue is a virus? I know support techs who have spent hours trying to track down a virus on a machine that wasn't actually infected. There are a few questions I like to ask. The first is "What behavior is your computer displaying that makes you believe it has a virus?" The answer to that question will dictate where you go from there. Other questions to ask are:

  • Did your computer recently show signs of drastic slowdown?
  • Are strange or unwanted popup windows appearing at random times?
  • Were you recently on a Web site you don't normally visit?
  • Did someone else use your machine?
  • Did you recently open an email attachment?
  • Has a strange security window recently started popping up?

The above questions will help guide you in the right direction to help cure a possibly infected PC.

9: Ask for a demonstration

If a discussion about the issue brings up nothing and you can remote into the user's PC, it will do you a world of good to see the problem in action. This is especially true when the issue is unique to a client's PC, network, or software. Although the majority of issues can be figured out from description, some issues simply need to be viewed in action. Have the client reproduce the error for you. Make sure the error happens in the same way every time. With this visual reproduction, you will have confirmation that there is an issue, and you'll have a definitive place with which to start your troubleshooting.

10: Use your tools

When all else fails, you have that outstanding collection of tools you can use to throw at a machine. When this is the case, I tend to start with the most innocuous software, such as Malwarebytes, and then go up from there. This is a good time to run those hard drive diagnostic tools (should the issue possibly point toward a faulty or degraded drive). This is the kitchen sink approach and can sometimes lead to more issues. But when you've gone down every rabbit hole you can think of, it might be your best shot.

Other steps?

As I said, there are many ways to approach troubleshooting a problem. I have found the procedure described above to work well for me, as a remote support engineer. What about you? What methods do you typically employ for troubleshooting, either remote or local?

More on troubleshooting

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

46 comments
wesnugent
wesnugent

Many times, if I have a user that complains, and I can access their system remotely, or my preferred method, do a remote management and look at the event viewer logs. Generally speaking, most problems didn't really "just start" Event viewer will give you a better road map of errors to see where the real culprit lies. I thought that should have been in this article.

g3po2
g3po2

Anytime that I visit a client with a computer problem, I perform one VERY essential test. I would guess that the results from this test define upwards of 50% of the problems that a client is reporting. Surprisingly, I have found a key issue to come in the form of a defective power supply. Sadly, many power supply testing units fail to monitor the -5 V.D.C. output from the power supply. This particular voltage requirement, based upon my research, is used primarily as an input voltage to the motherboard, and not to any cable-attached peripheral. Of course, if the client has various cards, be they video, cable T.V., NIC, or even audio, it is very likely that the problem being reported can be traced directly to a defective power supply. I has been my finding, and therefor conclusion, that many problems that present themselves as a failure of a peripheral device (i.e.--CD or DVD drive, video, or even audio problems) are quickly cured by replacing a defective power supply. By no means do I want to convey the concept that a bad power supply is the sole cause of a problem. Frequently, the reason that a power supply has failed is the result of some peripheral that could be causing the the death of the power supply. For those of us who have been in the business of computer hardware/software repair for many years, as in at least ten and preferably 20 years... we know that many computers that were highly marketed and sold to the general public contained grossly undersized power supplies. Without naming names, if you have had the experience I previously referred to, it was not uncommon to find power supplies that put out a mere 65 to 85 watts. I have observed also that certain brands of computers have grossly under-rated (as in inappropriate) power supplies in relation to the number of peripherals installed on a computer. In many cases, the issue is that the computer owner has added an additional peripheral (such as a DVD-RW drive) which, based on power supply failure, would indicate that the capabilities of said power supply were, at least some of the time, exceeded the capacity of a given power supply--resulting in that power supply dying, but only partially, on the spot. The secret seems to lie in testing that -5 V.D.C. connection. For any technician worth her or his salt, testing a power supply should be THE VERY FIRST THING on their checklist when actually having a hands-on experience with said client's computer. I must admit that over my many years in this business, I used to get at least one call each week where the client was adamant about the fact their computer had failed, and needed repair. Of course, my first question was: "Oh, do you see that light on your computer screen?" "No???" Well, perhaps you should first hitting the "ON" button on your monitor. "O.K. Now has that fixed your problem?" My point??? Look first for the obvious. Don't presume that some brand-new piece of malware has raped a client's computer. Hopefully, you will have, during the course of your initial conversation with said client, made sure that what some might consider as obvious facts to be taken into consideration. Example: Me: "Oh, I noticed that you are calling me from your cell phone..." Client: "Yes, I couldn't get through to you on the office phone." Me: "How's the weather there?" Client: "Oh, it is a perfectly sunny day." Me: "Do me a favor, try turning on the lights in your office." Client: "Um, nothing happens!" Me: "Check with your neighbors and call me back. Ask them if their lights are working." Customer (after a ten minute time-frame while we weren't connected) "Oh, yes, it appears that we have suffered from a power black-out in our office complex." Me: "While, if you need to, please call me back about your computer problem after the power outage is resolved..." It is, therefore, my opinion that MANY of the common problems that face us as computer guru's can be resolved by the application of a little common sense. Common sense? I think that it should rule the waves, especially in our profession!!!

griff.computerservices@ve
griff.computerservices@ve

After almost three decades of dealing with with people's computer tech issues, I've discovered that a good many (otherwise honest) folks will oftentimes tell me a bold-faced lie as to exactly how their computers arrived at its current faulty or non-working condition. A good example being their embarrassment of having poked around at some porn site that ultimately infected the system with some nasty virus or malware. Trust me, most people will never readily admit to this kind of activity. How many times have I heard someone say, "my son, grandson, nephew, etc. must have been using my computer without my permission, blah, blah, blah..." If I had a dime for every time someone told me that, I would be retired and living on my own island! Don't misunderstand me, *most* of my customers are honest, but there is that hard-core cadre who (for a variety of reasons) will never provide you with a straight explanation explaining their part in hosing their computers. Blame it on the cat...

SensibleSupport
SensibleSupport

I've found asking this often saves a lot of time, an honest end user might tell you they've installed some new software of hardware. I always ask early in my diagnosis. You might say it's part of question 8. But I like to ask earlier on in the procedure.

Tord55
Tord55

First step was changing to Linux from Windows, step 2 was changing to Mac OS X, then problems were even smaller! Grew up with Risc-OS, an OS nowadays mostly found in ARM-equipped phones :-(! Seriously, keeping away from Microsoft Windows was a giant step forward!

msalsbury
msalsbury

This is a good start for diagnosing "generic problems". I have one that will help you when you run into stubborn or unusual problems that you're having trouble fixing. It's designed as a list of questions to ask yourself about the issue you've encountered, to help get you out of the troubleshooting "rut" you're in and make you think outside it. It's helped me quickly solve problems that have perplexed me. It may help you also. (Looking over it, I see that it could use some reorganization and maybe some editing.) See it at: http://wdasite.com/2011/04/troubleshooting-software-problems/

reisen55
reisen55

Never trust what the end user tells you. It is probably wrong anyway. Secondly, never trust what Microsoft tells you as it is usually deceptive and leads you astray. Trust your instincts and also account knowledge!!! (Is this a good office, or a bad office?) Event viewer is your friend as are log files. System restore is your friend too but it can be an enemy for malware. Check for user installed software, they do it anyway except in a good office.

Mel Blitzer
Mel Blitzer

1. Carefully pick up PC 2. Drop in waste basket 3. Head for Apple store

KNOWLEDGE464
KNOWLEDGE464

For one 50% of your machines are infected with Viruses is a sham if it is a network they should not have viruses and if its a home it should not be a vrus either. You should note that viruses are no longer the trend people are not into takeing destructive measure thats so Windows 2000 LOL the theft of data and user information is where the money has been and so went the trend away from viruses. The trend is malware, spyware, adware and other things that work like worms and trojans that spawn your infections which are at least 90% of all issues with a system. You remember the big scareware issue people clicking on stuff they shouldn't. All these issues can be fxed with your tools. testing hardware should be the last thing on the list because there are melwares out there that redirect or even block web/network browsing by a simple reg edit hack. This whole article is like I said so Windows 2000 late. These skills are basic and should be updated towards the trend of repairig a system. Go to drakreading.com they have everything you need including the tools that have been tested and verified that they work. Personaly I have been working on home systems and network systems for the past 15 years and watched this trend and change you need to keep up with the Jonses and the trend. The past 5 years I have seen this change and noticed that 90% of all my home repairs were not hardware related but people not informed about the trends changing and they invest in Norton and Mcafee which buck people for out of date software that is not with the trend. Inform your client and tech them about how to be safe is the tool non of my clients have the same problems again because not only do i fix their issue on their PC's I inform them and teach them. That my friend is the ethics of IT why don't you do an article about teach a user about whats out there and that their antivirus is behind the curve and what tools to use and how to use them so we can actually get the real calls about real problems like hardware.

dan.wildcat
dan.wildcat

Those methods work well both remotely and onsite. You described much of my approach to a T. If you love solving problems, IT is the place for you. I love getting problems I've never seen before. I have a general approach to all the problems that really starts with gathering all the information I can, both from the user and from what I can see happening as soon as I am onsite. Once I get information I can often pinpoint where the problem likely is and begin to attack it from there. A lot of experience and knowledge of how things work goes a long ways to quicker problem solving. But for those new to the field - they typically have the mindset and basic skills to solve the issue with a little more time. A good approach is essential to attacking any problem, whether you think you know the answer right away or not. The extra step that needs to be taken is to ask the question: "What caused this problem to develop?" I want to empower the user to avoid the trouble again if it was something they caused. If the problem was hardware related, I want to know what failed and why. Often you'll find software problems being caused by hardware problems. If you don't look close enough, you'll be back in a few days or weeks tackling the same issue and, generally, looking like a fool for not having caught it before. So a little extra probing always helps.

sboverie
sboverie

These are good troubleshooting steps to cover the majority of the types of problems. I was taught to gather symptoms and use those symptoms to point to the different subsystems. A common error is to begin diagnosis before gathering enough information. If the problem is intermittent, then you will need more information like how often, does it happen during a particular application and is there something else not working that seems insignificant. If you get a call after someone else worked on it, get their notes but don't rely solely on that information. Another pair of eyes can sometimes find problems you did not catch, this is a great help for those hard problems when you focus on one part and not able to pull back. Item 3, is it hardware or software; sometimes a problem has a hardware solution and a software solution; example would be adding RAM or increasing virtual memory. It is best to understand how the hardware works as well as knowing how software works with the hardware. If you only know software then you will tend to blame the hardware when you run out of ideas, and vice versa for hardware experts. Run a memory test first before defragging. Corrupted memory will corrupt data as the defrag runs. It is probably better to run a disk check or disk test before running defrag. Experience leads to good judgement, good experience comes from bad judgement. It is important to learn from mistakes. Remember that the majority of tech problems are solvable. Some solutions may be too time consuming and another solution could work quicker; example is to reinstall or reimage the OS or application vs making small changes. If you are stuck on a problem it sometimes helps to eliminate what isn't causing the problem to focus on the parts that are involved.

Cicuta2011
Cicuta2011

The article sucks realy, PCs are no brainer and the most important things to do are not mentioned in the article. A waste of time reading the article.

mariah_holt
mariah_holt

If you're going to have to spend more than 30 min fixing a user's desktop, forget it, just reimage the workstation. Users should have a network location where they store their files/documents. The base image should have all the basic items a user will need. Beyond that any extra software should be somewhere on the network that a Tech can easily access and be able to reinstall. (Technologies such as Kace, SCCM, Alitirs can make this process a snap.) Before reimaging a workstation determine if the end user has local administrative rights? If so that's the main cause for about 80% of end users desktop issues. 1. Remove end users from having local admin rights. 2. Have all users web traffic filtered threw a web content filter. 3. Run with an enterprise level email/anti-spam filtering solution. 4. Implement proper GPO's to remove items from the machine that a users could mess with to negatively impact the workstation. 5. Have some type of enterprise level antivirus software that also protects against malware/spyware. 6. On the workstation give your users exactly what they need to do their job, no more no less. Do these 6 things across your enterprise and your issues with desktops will be reduced dramatically.

pgit
pgit

and the crap forum didn't post it, it just wiped the edit window clean. Screw it, I don't have time to reproduce it. I explained why I never "conclude" anything over the phone, even if we do fix it over the phone I develop expectations and get a lot of opportunities by making sure I always go on site and lay hands on the problem. Most often it's a good will and 'let's discuss future plans' opportunity.

leo8888
leo8888

This is a good article for a novice tech. Another for more advanced techs would be great. Something that covers troubleshooting hardware/software issues that cause random reboots for example. I have been working on a difficult one at the moment and the title of this article caught my attention but once I read it I realized there was nothing new here for advanced techs. Still I have to thank the author for taking the time to put the list together.

Angel Figueredo
Angel Figueredo

Without Students, no teachers. That was a good information. Thank you. A.Figueredo. 10/03/2011

Leonardo_C
Leonardo_C

Everyone here SHOULD know this, but defragging a machine you're trying to troubleshoot is a VERY bad idea and, under the right circumstances, can create further problems by corrupting the filesystem.

JeffWainright
JeffWainright

I support medical records software, and usually the biggest hurdle on a support call is getting a straight answer from the end user on what is actually going on. Since the program requires a constant connection to the database, even a momentary glitch in network communications can shut it down. Most often, it's easiest for me to get connected and see what is going on first hand rather than relying on inaccurate/incomplete information from the user. Users tend to focus on the last error displayed when the program crashes - the memory dump, which is pretty much useless information. Most often, the actual error I need to see was written to the error logs, which the end users often can't find. The key questions we ask when a new issue is reported are is it reproducible, is it isolated to one workstation/user or is it a system-wide issue. While there are certain issues that I have seen so often over the years that the solution is more or less automatic, every new release brings a new set of problems. When working with new techs, I often introduce them to some of my favorite troubleshooting tools - Process Monitor, Wireshark, etc - to isolate the problem. If the user (or their IT person) tried to install the program or an add-on without admin rights on the machine, it will be missing files, or a key DLL or OCX won't be registered, and ProcMon will show exactly what is going on with a minimum of fuss.

tommy
tommy

Is it plugged in? It would be difficult to quantify this accurately, but I would say that a large minority of problems I've encountered over the years are simply down to loose connections, or the cleaner has pulled the plug out to plug in a hoover. The most common problems seem to arise from 'my PC's slow' scenarios, which are almost always cured by simply rebooting the PC. We've got a shut-down your PC policy in place, but I can see from the logs of some 'slow' machines that they've been up for weeks. If rebooting doesn't fix the problem, then I'll try and go and chat to the user and get them to show me the problem. My non-technical users don't, in the main, have enough understanding of the PC to offer an opinion of what's actually wrong, or even the ability to accurately describe the symptoms. Giving the users, as well as the PC's, some TLC will often cure the problem, so one-to-one contact is the way forward for me. I'd hate to have to support non-technical users over the phone without the opportunity for personal contact.

beck.joycem
beck.joycem

An article like this may not say anything revolutionary, but its main virtue is that it starts discussion. By which I mean: contributions from other experienced troubleshooters who've found good ways of thinking and approaching reported problems, not sweeping rejections of the article. My contribution would be to always ask the user if anything else remotely out of the ordinary has been happening on the computer, even if it doesn't seem (to them) to be connected to the problem. You might get an answer like 'It seems to want to do Windows Updates every day' indicating that maybe an update is failing (I wish Windows 7 would noticeably complain that an update was failing instead of just trying again until there are no System Restore Points left before the first attempt). Or 'It does a disk check every time I restart'.

tpirog
tpirog

I don't see the point of this article. From a technician's point of view this is useless. It's not even informative. All I see is someone showing off their so-called "prowess" to a non tech audience. What a waste of time.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

I thought this was an article that would tell us how to diagnose an "ailing" PC, meaning a PC that's about to crash or become irreparable. That's what the word "ailing" means. The list is good for day to day PC problems. Not "ailing" PCs

rgmwilliams
rgmwilliams

As often as not, the "problem" is "just" a symptom of the issue, and sometimes, the description isn't even close to what the symptom is. The other day, a user told me her machine was taking forever to print a spreadsheet. It turns out that she meant it was taking forever to open the spreadsheet. Once she hit the print button, printing took only a few seconds. Turns out the issue was due to an automatic update - the Office File Validation update on a WinXP PC w/Office 2003 and trying to open a file on a network drive.

Charles Bundy
Charles Bundy

"Has it ever worked?" followed closely by "When did it stop working?" topped off with "What was going on around the time it failed?" Thankfully I haven't gotten the "it no work" from folks in many years. Guess Jason Hiner has a point about proliferation of technology resulting in more savvy users.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

First, get the specifics. When does this occur? How does the problem manifest? Where are you when this happens (Critical in mobile issues)? Second, get the client to show you. Their description probably doesn't say as much as what you can see if the problem is right in front of you. Third, identify the fault. Something broke... was it hardware, software, or user error? If hardware, what subsystem. If software, what module? If user error, what did the user not understand? Finally, figure out how to fix it for the least time and money possible. Solve the problem, next please.

pgit
pgit

It can be uncomfortable when you ask and the user immediately begins to dodge and rationalize. I usually cut them off and tell them I have enough info to get started. I always try to find a way to get them off the hook. You also have to careful giving advice. If they denied going to a porn site, but it's obvious that's what the problem is, you can't say "you know, visiting porn on the web is a surefire way to get your computer compromised..." Rather a more generic answer will work as well. "There are web sites out there that you merely have to land on them and they've already pushed malware onto your system..." They'll get the drift.

reisen55
reisen55

What about migrating client applications from a Windows environment to a Mac environment?

mpgme
mpgme

Head for Apple store

rottw1711
rottw1711

An interesting article, although maybe a little simplistic for some, it's good to see how different people approach solutions to problems. @ KNOWLEDGE464 You state that the 'trend' is away from viruses and toward malware. They are the same thing! Malware is a catch all term that includes viruses, worms, trojan horses, and spyware. Something that any tech worth his salary will know. A little research before posting perhaps :)

dan.wildcat
dan.wildcat

Either you're Super Geek and unable to understand the basic user, or you're young and haven't experienced difficult problems or difficult users. What's it like in you world?

pgit
pgit

Those options are available for anyone, even the single-person business with one computer... but are overkill and possibly cost prohibitive for a lot of the operations I service. Totally agree on setting restrictions on users, though that can be tough when users have bought the 'deal of the day' from Dell, which usually come with a "home premium" set of restrictions.

dsiefers
dsiefers

I've been situations where a user had unusual software installed that was a pain to set up again, requiring battles with special licensing applications or coordination with another office for a fresh copy of a remote database. In a case like that, we might spend a couple of hours resolving a problem on the user's computer, and it would still be better than re-imaging and subsequently having to deal with reinstalling that particular software package! Hey, I didn't say these were great applications, but specialty apps aimed at specific industries are sometimes uncooperative and cumbersome. You have to determine where the line is in those cases.

juntunen
juntunen

Only if the problem is entirely software. If the issue is actually flaky hardware, then you have also wasted time and effort thinking that you have nuked the problem only to have your end user call you the next day and say, "Hey I thought you said you fixed this..."

leo8888
leo8888

@gchurch & dan.wildcat: It's nice to hear from techs who obviously have troubleshooting experience. I had just written a detailed reply about all the steps I had tried while troubleshooting this system but when I submitted the post it did not show up. I'm going to try once more. It started as a call from a client with and infected workstation. I did some scans with Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool and MalwareBytes and found It was a nasty rootkit and a couple other malware/virus infections. The users files were on a server so I went with a clean reload. After reloading I changed the advanced system properties like I normally do so it would not automatically reboot on errors and it would save the minidump file. Everything was looking good after installing all the Windows updates and loading their business software and then the random reboots started. I checked the ram with Windows Memory Diagnostics and the hard drive with Spinrite and both passed. I also updated the bios and all hardware drivers and the reboots persisted with no discernible pattern and nothing showing in event viewer. I had already opened the case to dust it out and check the fans and cables. To make a long story short I finally removed the hard drive bay and sure enough I found a couple caps on the motherboard that were bulging at the top, one even had some residue from where it had leaked. Now I just have to check on the cost of a replacement board if it's available and decide if it's even worth replacing. It's one of those Dell Optiplex systems that in my opinion have a horrible case design that makes then prone to overheating.

dan.wildcat
dan.wildcat

Random Reboots can be tough. Most are caused by driver or hardware issues with the remaining few being conflicting software of some sort. (How's that for general!) I'd start with checking the power supply for weakness and making sure the cpu isn't overheating. If you're getting a blue screen, I find corrupt or faulty video drivers are very common. Starting in Safe Mode should help weed out video driver issues. Disabling extra startup items will help you rule out most software issues or set you on the path to discovering which one is the culprit. Both RAM and HDD issues will often cause the behavior you're describing. Though HDD is more common for me. Don't forget to see how much space is left on the HDD. I see bouncing the end of the hard drive often.

gechurch
gechurch

Reboots are often caused by a Blue Screen. Go into System Properties and tell the PC not to restart on a Stop Error. Next time it happens, you will see the error on screen. Also make sure the PC is set to save a dump file when a crash occurs. If it is a blue screen, there are some really easy to use tools to debug them. I don't use it personally, but one called BlueScreenView (I think) by Nirsoft is nice. It reads all the dump files on your PC and tries to pinpoint a root cause. If you see multiple stop errors all with the same cause you have probably found your problem. This will likely be a driver. If it's a legit Windows component you are probably not seeing the root cause. Go Start - Run and type verifier. Turn on all options except for low memory condition and restart. This will tell your machine to watch drivers for common faults (like writing over memory they don't own), and will trigger a blue screen immediately, netting you the culprit. If the stop errors are truly random then it is probably a hardware fault. Memory is a good candidate - run Memtest overnight. Weedy PSUs are also a common cause of random problems, as components tend to behave badly when they don't get enough power. Replace the PSU and test for a while. Also run a thorough chkdsk. If there are any bad sectors replace the hard drive. Run a chkdsk on the replacement drive once you've cloned over to it. Also run sfc /scannow to replace the core Windows files with original ones from the CD. You might also try a repair install (XP) or in-place upgrade (Vista/7) if you still suspect Windows files aren't legit. Viruses can also be a cause. I generally pull the HDD out of the machine and scan it from a known-good machine in case there is a rootkit present. Run a few tools over it - I like Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware for spyware, and NOD32 and Kaspersky for AV. MSE is a good tool if you want to stick to free software though. Oh, I almost forgot some of the quickest things to try; run Autoruns to check out the startup entries. This will often show you virus activity very quickly. It is also a good diagnosis step - turn off everything and reboot and see if the problem still happens. Also open the case and check for bulging or blown capacitors (these are cylinders on the motherboard - they should have flat tops). Also, replace cables (like SATA cables) early on, just in case. If you've gotten this far and are still having trouble it's something uncommon. It might be a bad motherboard or CPU (Prime95 might draw these out). It could be a double-fault (stop errors whilst handling a stop error) - good luck with that if it's the case! I'd probably would have installed all the latest drivers by this point anyway as a troubleshooting step. Something I've also done very occassionally is to install a fresh copy of Windows on a spare HDD to see if the problem happens on that. If so it's likely hardware, if not it's a software issue. You have to be keen to get this far though. If the more basic early steps don't net a result you're probably better off doing a format and reload.

gechurch
gechurch

I, too, was expecting software and hardware troubleshooting tips based on the article title. It's not what I got, but it's far from a useless article. It's explaining some ways to cut to the heart of a problem quickly. I've worked with many techs that need to read an article like this. A lot of them are really smart people that know lots of different tools, but don't know where to start on a problem and end up doing random troubleshooting steps (like defragging the HDD). So much time can be saved by asking simple questions like these.

baternajmbb
baternajmbb

I got your back mate... If i were a non tech, i will go like this "?????".

joanne.e.m
joanne.e.m

I didn't see the problem with the article myself; all sensible questions to ask whether the user of the PC is complaining they can't access the Internet or a puff of green smoke just started pouring from the air vents.

pete
pete

I agree: I was expecting deeper hardware diagnosis (RAM, fialed network hardware, failed hard disks etc.), not just cutting through the "my internets are borked" whinging!

toasterburn
toasterburn

Ah, that File Validation update drove me crazy, took me hours to figure out why half of the computers in our company couldn't open an excel file. Of course, we were in the middle of changing permissions on the network at the time so I naturally thought that was the culprit at first.

griff.computerservices@ve
griff.computerservices@ve

Trust me pgit, a blunt accusal is not my style when dealing with clients who have obviously visited a malignant "porn" website. People *not* technically savvy falsely believe that if they delete the provocative videos, pictures or whatever from their PCs just prior to them bringing their computers to my shop (I very rarely make home visits anymore) then the coast is clear for denial. They're often unaware that even if they've cleaned their Internet cache (IE, Firefox, etc.) the un-forgiving Windows Registry will always reveal the footprints. The last thing any computer tech wants to do is get into a needless dog & cat 'confrontation' with clients. My advice is always of the general "beware of where you roam on the Internet" nature. Usually they will get the point without the accusatory finger-pointing. I've mellowed significantly over the years...

KNOWLEDGE464
KNOWLEDGE464

Yes, there is a difference chief. But, you didn't prove anything in your statement. Malware is an abbreviation of Malicious Software in which it combines viruses, worms, trojans, spyware, greyware, and scareware. The idea is to avoid your Antivirus by using what is not noticed by your Antivirus like vulnerabilities found in software and in windows. The intent of the software is to gather data and send it to the creator. A virus reproduces itself hence the word virus but a piece of that code could be used to create a software that you can not remove easily due to the fact it will re-install itself. See, you may not understand the semantics or the difference of each attack, hey maybe you still are running Norton 360 and think your safe as a matter of fact your probably think your safe online because you have internet security. LOL the thing is your not safe but see your thinking still in the early 90's man no one cares if you can crash a network or system all they care about is how much money they can make from the data stolen so you can run your Virus scans and come up with nothing but run a Malware scan and find plenty now you explain what is different. The frame of thought

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