Tech & Work

How to troubleshoot a computer problem

What steps do you go through in order to diagnose a computer problem? There's more than one correct answer, of course, but here's one way to work through the troubleshooting thought-process.

What steps do you go through in order to diagnose a computer problem? There's more than one correct answer, of course, but here's one way to work through the troubleshooting thought process.

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We all have our methods to identify and correct computer problems. Most of us probably have certain things we go through, or steps we follow, and so on. I'm not suggesting that there's only one right way to diagnose and fix a problem, but they probably all have some commonalities. Moreover, different environments, applications, and countless other circumstances will influence any troubleshooting methods, so your particular circumstances might dictate something otherwise. Nonetheless, here's an outline of my own thought process when approaching a computer problem.

User support problems usually fall into one of the following categories: Hardware failure: This could actually be a failed component -- a bad motherboard or hard drive, for example - or it could be a matter of an unplugged cable, a router or modem that needs to be recycled, or some other such thing. Software issue: This would include the operating system, something affected by a Windows update, an application update, or an actual software bug. User-created problem: These are usually of the unintentional variety where a user might inadvertently disable something, change something, delete something, and so on. Training or documentation: Often times there is no real problem, per se, except for a lack of knowledge or understanding about something. In these cases, it might be that training is needed or documentation needs to be updated. Outside vendor issue: As much as I hate hearing the buck being passed around from one support group to another, it's sometimes real and justified. A custom software application or a supported piece of hardware might be experiencing some issues. High-end and high-output printing devices often fall into these categories. In my case, the support obligation usually ends at the printing or plotting device itself (except for low-end desktop printers), and short of restarting the unit, there isn't much I can do to troubleshoot and fix the problem. Such units are seldom sold alone, and they almost always come with a use-and-support agreement.

One thing I always do, however, when calling on such outside support help is to make myself available to assist in whatever way necessary. I would never say (or seldom say), for example, this is your problem that you need to fix. But rather I'd approach it as a joint problem that we, together, need to address until the issue is resolved.

I try to identify into which category the problem falls as quickly as I can. It is possible, I suppose, for a problem to actually have two (or more) underlying reasons, which can make finding the solution even more of a challenge; and in such cases, the fixes would probably have to be addressed in that order -- hardware first, then software (drivers, etc.), then user issues (configuration, etc.), followed by training or documentation. Nonetheless, I try to isolate the problem into one of those categories as quickly as possible.

Possible steps to seek a solution: Reboot: Try this preferably before support is called. I actually had a user who posted a message to himself that he taped along the edge of his monitor: Reboot first, call Joe second. Of course, on one hand, there's the situation where a reboot actually fixes a problem. On the other hand, however, requiring a reboot might really be a symptom of a deeper underlying problem. Rebooting once and being done with it is one thing, but if it becomes necessary to reboot too frequently to fix the same problem, then digging a little deeper to find the underlying problem would be required. Replicate the problem or issue: Make the problem happen again, see the error message, etc. Experience the problem yourself to get a better feel. Retrace user steps that led up to the problem: What did the user do immediately leading up to the problem? What was changed? What was installed (or uninstalled)? The answer is usually, “I did nothing different,” or something along those lines. But it's amazing how often we actually can identify that something really was changed by simply asking questions of the user. Device Manager: This is such a quick and easy way to get an overview of the hardware status. A quick look for the yellow or red warning tags might quickly identify the source of a problem. Error logs: Like the Device Manager, the error logs might reveal the source and frequency of a problem. Isolate the problem: Is it unique to this one computer, or are more people experiencing the same issue? For example, is it only one computer that can't print versus all of them that can't print? Seek obvious solutions: Unplugged cords and cables are often the cause of a problem or failure. Sometimes the most simple and obvious solution is the hardest to see. I recall having received a support call telling me that a computer hard drive had failed, but upon further investigation I discovered that a prankster had put a floppy disk into another user's floppy disk drive, and since the BIOS boot order was set as such, it was looking for a bootable floppy disk. Since floppy disks are used so seldom any more (in fact, many computers don't even have floppy disk drives), it was an easy thing for the user to overlook.

There's no one right way to troubleshoot all computer problems, and none of my outlined steps are necessarily in any correct order. But this is pretty much my own mind-set when I approach problems in my environments. Please share your own thoughts and comments.

64 comments
lisawayne
lisawayne

After looking the error logs, I could not be able to sought out the issue. Then I called AskPCTechies (http://www.askpctechies.com/) and they finally has resolved the issue in minutes. Actually the problem is related to driver and software. They handled my PC remotely and solved all the issues perfectly. At last I checked the report which was free from the errors.

johnsondell
johnsondell

I was also facing same issue, I tried a lot to fix this however I was not able to do that. At last I just visited http://computervirusremoval.us.com/ and made a call on their toll free. I got instant help for my computer by a certified technician.

raywardme
raywardme

Whenever I have a problem with My PC specially in hardware, I always check the power supply first! and if I dont see any problem of it then I will go to Computer repair technician. Its so important to invest in a devices that can help you trace a problem with your PC.

TBBrick
TBBrick

For the most part, my users give me enough info to figure out if it's a network, hardware, or software issue. Even so, there's nothing like being able to put the ole eye-ball on the situation and fix it toot-sweet. Esp. for those at one of the eight sites. They love not having to wait on a tech to come out if I can solve it then and there.

bazza20
bazza20

I'd like to add an additional step - having fixed the original problem, check again for any malfunction. In my experience, multiple faults occur more often than you would expect. Often the faults seem completely unrelated. And yes, malware is a significant factor, especially when the problem is "My computer is sooo slow nowadays".

g3po2
g3po2

In my 33 plus years of experience troubleshooting computer problems, I have found that the Number One cause of hardware failures is the power supply. So invest in a $10 to $20 Pc power supply tester, and check it 1st. While you have the top popped, make sure that all the fans are working and that there isn't a large accumulation of dust that would prevent proper air circulation inside the unit. The 2nd most likely hardware item to fail is the hard drive(s). 3rd is memory chips, 4th the motherboard, and 5th--possibly some peripheral device. So detach all unnecessary items from the motherboard (CD-ROM drives, NIC cards, dial-up modems, etc.) If there is no online video on the motherboard, or it has been disabled, put in a cheapy PCI video card after removing any other video card and disabling the "on board" video in the CMOS. If all that doesn't show a problem, you can suspect malware is causing the problem. I've worked on computers that had as many as 3,000 unique malware programs!!! I have yet to find one single program that provides complete repair and/or future protection, so I use a combination of nearly 20 different products, mostly share-ware or free-ware, which seems to work very well if you can get your customer to do the updates. (Good luck on that last one!) Aloha from Hawaii, Glenn

Michael Jay
Michael Jay

the customer, if you know them well then you have a very large edge. If you do not know them it is time to get there. One of the things I love so much about fixing computers is there are few real repete problems, each issue is different. It could be a corrupt file, it could be a memory problem, it could be a user error. You must be on site to really tell just what is going on and no, there is no script. You look and analyze and find your starting point, from there you discover your first move. I just love this stuff. But I do not think there is any way to "troubleshoot a computer" each event has it's own troubleshooting plan which is laid out by what you find when you get there and see the problem first hand. Seeing the problem on a call ticket or talking on the phone just cannot give the info you will get by being there.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

This should be the first check you make for most "won't boot" problems. I once spent 2 hours troubleshooting a server boot issue that was corrected when level 2 asked if there was a disk in the normally unused floppy drive.

Ravnor
Ravnor

Although it may not actually be part of the Hippocratic oath, I try to follow the maxim "First, do no harm". Unless it's a total meltdown, I back up anything that I may change so that I can at least return the system to the state where I started if my repair attempt fails. I also try to break the problem into separate components and test each component separately.

nospam.online
nospam.online

From my experience, in military and civilian work, Eliminate the user as being the source of the problem first by questions. We've all read the jokes about user error's with computers but know the truth is a lot of error's go back to user's having done something they were not to do or not paying attention to what they are doing and making changes that effected the problem if not outright caused it. Example, recently a teacher came to me complaining that some of the headset?s in the computer lab didn?t work, she had her aid remove all the ??failed ones?? (untested by me) and put them in a pile for me to replace. I tested them all on one computer and all worked. Had her aid reinstall them and list out the computers that didn?t work. Went in and personally tested each one and all of them had the same problem, when installing the aid turned the volume control (in the cable between headset and pc) down to prevent harming the kids hearing. Example 2: Recently got a report from a teacher that some of her kids couldn?t take a on computers to do a network test with, they complaint that 2 set?s of computers would not come on but students insisted they didn?t mess with them. On inspection it was found that the power strip had been unplugged from wall outlet and then plugged into itself. When it was plugged back into wall outlet they all worked fine, it was noted that while powering up they reported failed shut down. Example 3: Recently we had a 100% shut down of the server rack over a weekend all due to a guy decided to re-wax the main hallway of the school but in the process he popped the breaker for the main circuit the server UPS?s are connected to. But didn?t bother to tell anyone that the outlet or breaker quit working so the power could be restored and yet claims he didn?t hear the squalk of the 4 UPS?s telling that the power had gone out. After dropping to 5% power the UPS?s shut down all 5 servers. Took about 5 hours to charge back up and bring servers back online. Equipment fails, fact of life and that?s job security for some of us but there?s also the amount of work some if us have to do because user?s do things they should not. After that, it;s a combination of diagnostics and test's to find the failure and fix it. Normally for a PC I use a PCI testing card (kind of like the old Kickstart ones) and some software.

SilverBullet
SilverBullet

This is my method: I like to separate these primary causes. 1) hardware failure 2) user issues a)knowledge of process b)abuse of equipment c)having a bad day, or wants to go home early 3) application or software failure 4) data 5) third party/vendor support After the cause is determined when dealing with an end-user I like to take the individual through the corrective process. I personally don't want the user around when buring the haystack to find the needle.

Joe_R
Joe_R

In regard to the original piece: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/helpdesk/?p=1023 There's no one right way to troubleshoot all computer problems, and none of my outlined steps are necessarily in any correct order. But this is pretty much my own mind-set when I approach problems in my environments. Please share your own thoughts and comments.

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