Learn Computers Series Part 3: Troubleshooting Your PC

In this third installment of Learn Computers Series we will cover broad troubleshooting techniques.  From errors messages to hardware issues we will cover what you need to know to be better able to tackle any issue that comes your way.

Everyone should be able to learn basic troubleshooting techniques for their PC which will enable you to better fix your own issues and prevent costly runs to the your local geek or computer store for help. So how hard is it to troubleshoot your own PC?  It’s easier than you would think.

There are two main kind of issues your PC can have: hardware and software.  Hardware issues are where a physical component of the machine stops functioning properly or at all.  Software issues are everything else, from OS error messages to applications crashing. So how can you tell the difference?  That can be difficult depending on how the issue presents itself and what the symptoms are. However generally I troubleshoot the software first, unless its obvious its hardware.

Software Troubleshooting Procedures:

Watch for Changes/Updates

The rule of thumb for software issues is look out for updates and always note when issues occur and what changes were last made to the PC.  Did the sound stop working after the last Windows update?  The sound card may have had a driver update and you want to check it’s settings and your output settings.  If you most recently installed a program, try uninstalling it to see if it returns things to normal.

Read The Error Message/Search Online/Reinstall

If a piece of software starts to act up and crash pay attention to the error messages and look for solutions online.  Although many messages can be cryptic, many messages can contain vital clues to whats really going on. Use these as keywords and phrases in online searches for quick answers! If that doesn’t return anything useful, try searching for a description of what causes the error.

If your issue seems to not have a straight forward answer, try uninstalling and reinstalling the affected software to clear out it’s configuration.  If it gives the option be sure to remove all settings during the removal.  This will better ensure any rogue settings do not stay installed on your machine.

System Restore

Last resort, use your OS’s system restore to change its settings back to the way it was before the issue started happening.  This should fix all non-OS issues for you if you can’t find a specific setting causing the problem.

So what if you try all the above and the problem still persists and is severe such as no video output, no sound, does not boot and cannot find the operating system etc? Then you may have a hardware issue.

Hardware Troubleshooting Procedures:

Swap Parts

Generally if you think you are having hardware issues the easiest answer is to replace the hardware.  However what about when things are a bit more challenging and unknown?  Then the best way to proceed is to search online for similar symptoms and see what parts may need replaced.  If you have another PC around the best bet is to swap parts until you find what ‘breaks’ the other PC.  Unfortunately without space parts or another test PC you are more likely to have to buy parts you don’t need to go visit your local geek or PC shop.

Replace Parts

If you must replace parts, only replace what you think may be broken.  If RAM disappears, either the RAM stick died or the motherboard slot may have gone bad.  No need to replace the power supply or hard drive.

Update Firmware/Driver/BIOS/EFI

Though rare, it could be an issue with the hardware firmware.  Generally I don’t check this myself, but for completeness I want to mention it. Although technically software, firmware/driver/BIOS/EFI is low level code that makes the device function.  This means updating your BIOS/EFI and searching your device manufactures websites for firmware updates and install procedures.  Your SSD may be acting up but did you know you can update or reflash it’s firmware? Also your motherboard may also have chipset drivers to be updated. Remember that more than just your applications need updates sometimes!

Use Diagnostic Software

If all else fails and you can’t pinpoint the issue software may help.  Random crashes or system shut down due to overheating or blank screens could be monitored via software.  Your graphics card manufacture may give you tools to view temps of your graphics card so you can watch it’s temps while in use.  The same with CPU’s although I have only looked for third party software.

HWMonitor by CPUID helped me identify a faulty motherboard when a PC build would crash randomly.  It allowed me to watch voltages and temps of the items installed(CPU/GPU/Chipsets).  From the software I noticed that the northbridge was running hot and after it hit a certain temp it crashed.  Knowing this I was able to rule out the CPU.

You can also use your OS’s system event logs to view things that happened right before the error.  This may help pinpoint what failed by looking at the errors right before the log ends or stops showing problems at the time of the experienced issue.

Final Tip: Use Logic, Common Sense and Don’t Be Afraid To Try

When searching for answers you may feel dumb for asking certain questions or looking in the wrong place.  However you shouldn’t let this get in the way.  Just use logic and common sense to help guide you through the questions you want to ask and search for to find the most useful answer.  If it sounds possible and your PC is exhibiting similar symptoms to what you find online, there is a good chance it could be caused by the same thing.  In the very least it never hurts to try. Along these lines almost every problem you will experience has probably been experienced by someone else before and should have some sort of information available online about how to fix it. Many answers may ask you do to things you are uncomfortable doing or are afraid to do.  As long as you have back ups and the drive to solve issues yourself, don’t let the fear get in your way of learning.

You can do this!

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