|MICRO CENTER: COMPUTERS AND ELECTRONICS|
|In The Lab
PC Troubleshooting Part 1: 5 Steps to Solve Common Problems
We have covered multiple topics in Random Access, including wired and wireless networking, Build-Your-Own-PC, and even Doom 3. While we try to include some precautionary notes and a bit of what-if scenarios, we really have not covered much in the way of troubleshooting. To be really effective at troubleshooting means not only being knowledgeable about products and technology, but understanding their interaction or relationship with the system as a whole. Things go much faster if you are able to apply common sense when approaching the task. I have found that some of the best Technical Support representatives are those who can solve problems by asking questions, even when they may have little or no personal experience with a product. While I can cover the general process of troubleshooting problems here, without some level of product knowledge and a bit of logic in your approach, arriving at a solution may take a while... or in some cases be more frustrating than the problem itself.
A big part of troubleshooting is asking the right questions; doing it well involves knowing which questions to ask and being able to interpret the answers you get. For example, suppose you are trying to determine why a system will not connect to the Internet at home. The first thing you need to do is define the real problem. The symptom is that you cannot connect to the Internet, but the problem could be that your network is hooked up wrong, that the system is still configured for connecting at work, the Internet connection might be off-line, or maybe that you have a loose or bad network cable. This is where common sense comes in. Did you consider obvious things like configuring the router on your wireless network?
1: Define the problem
Another basic question useful in troubleshooting is "Is this the only computer displaying the problem?" If the answer is no, then the problem source may be something that could affect multiple systems, not just yours. Try to identify what is common between the systems having the problem. If you have one system that works and another that doesn't, start to compare settings or configurations between the two, looking for obvious differences.
Can the problem be reproduced? If your answer is yes, this is actually a good thing since you now have a way to determine when the problem is corrected. If the answer is "no," or "not every time," then you have an intermittent problem. Intermittent problems can be nasty for several reasons, besides the obvious one that you can't be sure that the problem is truly fixed. On computers, intermittent problems can be caused by a software conflict, but are more often triggered by hardware problems such as bad memory. However if the cause is hardware related, it is also probable that other intermittent problems will occur. It is unlikely that bad memory is only going to cause just one program to fail.
Are there any error messages? Error messages can be a great help in identifying the problem. Even when the message does not tell you what went wrong or how to fix it, the error message itself may be a way to research the problem. When troubleshooting Windows or other Microsoft products, you can search their on-line support knowledgebase by specific products, and then enter the error message or the error code to narrow the results to a few specific articles. The same holds true for many manufacturer web sites, including Apple, Symantec, Corel, and others.
2: Identify possible cause
Troubleshooting problems in the operating system can also be handled in a similar fashion by disabling drivers and programs that could be running in the background. On Windows systems, you can do this through the MSCONFIG utility, on older Macintosh OS versions, there is the Extensions Manager. Both tools allow you to selectively stop programs from loading at startup, and then restore them one at a time without having to uninstall and reinstall software.
3: Research the problem
Don't forget to check the help files that may be installed with your operating system or on the CD that came with the product. Most recent versions of Windows, including Windows 98, ME, 2000 and XP, all have troubleshooting wizards. These wizards walk you through a series of steps, most with suggestions or methods to correct a particular cause. To find a list of troubleshooters in Windows XP, open Windows Help and Support Center, search for "troubleshooter" and look in the full text results for a list of troubleshooting wizards.
4: Select and Test Solutions
What if one of the solutions you find is to apply a BIOS flash to your drive or your system? If a flash update you use is for the wrong component, your computer can easily be transformed into a high-tech paperweight. In the case of a manufacturer's system (like our PowerSpec or WinBook systems), applying a flash from anywhere other than the specific manufacturer's site is a bad idea, since both Windows and your Recover CD depend on a model-specific BIOS image. The original motherboard BIOS lacks this information, and may actually create new issues that were addressed in the production BIOS. In this case I would consider trying all other solutions first. If nothing else works, and you found mention of a BIOS fix that addresses your specific issue, contact the manufacturer with the details; they should be able to duplicate your problem and test a BIOS fix for you, or point you in a direction to resolve the issue. BIOS flash programs often have compatibility checks involved to prevent flashing the wrong system or loading an incompatible image, but there are no guarantees. System flash utilities may have a way to make a backup copy of the old BIOS before overwriting with the new, if so, use it.
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