In-store Clinics

Troubleshooting Guidelines

Troubleshooting a computer or its peripherals doesn’t require the user to know how their system works in detail or to be a certified computer technician. While a specific problem may take more steps to solve, six basic steps will permit a user to troubleshoot most computer or peripheral faults effectively:

1. Observe Symptoms
2. Isolate Problems
3. Research Information
4. Identify Solutions
5. Apply Fixes
6. Confirm Function

In the computer industry, around 80% of the time spent in troubleshooting is involved in accurately defining what’s wrong. Even if you choose to check a computer in for repair, a clear definition of the problem saves the technician’s time, which puts the computer back in your hands that much faster.

Observe Symptoms
When troubleshooting a computer, how it behaves is an important part of the evaluation. The following questions will often help to narrow the troubleshooting “focus”:

• If the system is new or newly-built, did it ever work?
• If it did work, what changed?
• Can the problem be reproduced? For example, does it appear when a program is started?
• What other programs are running?
• If the system has been in use for some time, has a new program or upgrade been added?

Answer these questions as clearly as possible. Remember, an approximate problem description will only yield an approximate solution. And, of course, If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It!

Isolate Problems
As a computer starts up, it usually produces a single short beep, telling us that the first internal checks have passed. However, other sounds are an indication of an internal problem, most often in the computer’s hardware. A series of short or long tones or “beep codes” can indicate the nature of a self-test fault. These can be interpreted with information from the computer’s motherboard manual or from the manufacturer’s Web site.

Once the operating system is up and running, it performs a series of “housekeeping” tasks, guided by “system information” and other files which direct the computer. In Windows systems (98, ME, & XP), you can use MSCONFIG to view and control what the system runs at startup (Click Start, Run, type msconfig and click OK). Testing programs, such as Norton System Works, can also create log files (reports of what a computer did while being tested), which can be read or printed to help find the problem.

As mentioned previously, the behavior of a system holds important clues in troubleshooting a system successfully. For example, if documents printed from a word-processing program are not formatted correctly, does the same thing happen when printing a spreadsheet, or a Web page? If documents from many different programs print incorrectly, the fault may be in the printer’s drivers or supporting software. If only one particular program fails to print, that program is the likely culprit.

Research Information
Beyond a computer product’s printed manuals, there are many other sources of information available to a computer user. Check the CD-ROM media that came with your software or hardware. Many manufacturers include additional troubleshooting documentation or "ReadMe" files on the disk. Use the troubleshooting "Wizards" included with Windows. Most wizards can be found or accessed from the Windows Help and Support menus or by searching on "Troubleshooting" in the Help and Support search box. Check out the Internet web sites of the hardware and software manufacturers, as well as user forums, where the people who use various products “meet online” to share helpful hints and solutions to problems.

Internet search engines, such as www.google.com, have recently become the electronic “clearing houses” for a great deal of troubleshooting information. For example, we can type an error message from a program just as it appears “in quotation marks” in a search engine, and be taken directly to an online resource just for that problem.

Many manufacturers also offer toll-free telephone-based support. These resources can be very helpful, if the user accurately describes the problem to the support representative.

Identify Solutions
There is, unfortunately, no one-step procedure which will always pin down a computer problem to a specific fault. This is because a computer cannot “re-think” a software command: it only performs whatever commands are possible, be they for good or for ill. We can, however, divide the problem into smaller pieces, making it easier to solve.

For example, pressing the [F8] key on a Windows system just before the Windows logo screen appears will call up the Windows Startup menu. Selecting Safe Mode from this menu will load just enough of Windows to “get things going”. If a system starts up fine in Safe Mode, but not in a normal log-in, there is probably a software fault outside of the Windows “core”, such as a background program or driver, rather than a hardware error.

Windows Safe Mode provides an environment where most startup programs are not running, but still allows you to run some programs that can clean up or test for problems. If a virus or spyware program is running in normal mode, and it is blocking the very tools that could be used to remove it, Safe Mode may allow you to run your Anti-Virus or Anti-Spyware program successfully. Windows Defrag utility may run fine in safe mode where it won't be interrupted by screen savers, anti-virus or other background programs. Accessing Windows Device Manager in Safe Mode allows you to see all devices that have drivers installed, even if that hardware is no longer present.

In Windows 95, 98, and even in Windows Millennium Edition (ME), it is possible that multiple copies of hardware drivers can get installed, causing conflicts or intermittent problems when Windows is running in normal mode. Start Windows in Safe Mode, open Device Manager and expand each of the hardware device categories listed. If you find multiple listings for the same device, delete ALL duplicated copies you find and then restart Windows. Windows should re-detect the missing hardware at the next startup and reinstall a single copy of the driver. Remember, in some cases, you will need the driver CD or diskette to complete this step.

Before pursuing a repair strategy yourself, we suggest you consider your answers to a few more questions to make the most of both the troubleshooting and any potential repair:
• Is the system still under warranty?
• Is the system or information in the computer critical to my business?
• Is this a laptop computer, or a system which uses proprietary parts?
• If the system is damaged during a repair or cannot be repaired, how will it be replaced?
• Is this a repair with which I have had prior experience?
• Am I too frustrated or tired to complete this repair safely and effectively?

Apply Fixes
Quite a number of potential computer problems are simple enough that they can be addressed by a “quick fix”. One example of a quick fix would be to troubleshoot a newly-installed “dead” system by checking for loose connections between the computer and its monitor, keyboard, mouse, printer and so forth. In applying any repair, however, remember the advice Dr. Hippocrates gave his first class of med-school students: First: Do No Harm. Think your repair strategy over, including any potential loss of data, and take the time to work safely.

Confirm Function
After any repair is performed, take one more look at the system overall. Ensure that not only was the observed problem solved, but that the rest of the system is still working well. Then, make a fresh, full backup of the repaired system to protect the integrity of your data.

Troubleshooting Resources

Free Tools
• Google Toolbar (Pop-up blocker, etc.)
• Lavasoft AdAware - www.lavasoft.com
• Memory (RAM) testing - www.memtest86.com
• Microsoft Anti-Spyware - www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software
• Microsoft Malware Removal Tool - www.microsoft.com/security/malwareremove
• Mozilla FireFox (Internet browser) - www.mozilla.org
• Spybot Search and Destroy (Anti-Spyware) - spybot.safer-networking.de/en/
• Yahoo Toolbar (Pop-up blocker, Anti-Spyware, etc.)
• Zone Labs Zone Alarm (Firewall) - www.zonelabs.com

Commercial Tools
• Black Ice (Firewall)
• Computer Associates (Firewall, Anti-Virus, etc.)
• Extendia (Anti-Virus, etc.)
• McAfee (Virus Scan, Personal Firewall, Anti-Spyware, Spam Killer, etc.)
• Norton / Symantec (AntiVirus, Internet Security, System Works, etc.)
• PandaSoft (Anti-Virus, etc.)
• Trend Micro (Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, etc.)
• WebRoot (Anti-Spyware, Anti-Spam, etc.)
• Windows Update (Critical updates and security)
• Zone Labs Zone Alarm Pro (Firewall, etc.)

Troubleshooting Wizards found in Windows XP:

System setup Installing and setting up Windows.
Starting and shutting down your computer.
Display Video cards and adapters, including your computer screen, outdated or incompatible video drivers, and incorrect settings for your video hardware.
Home Networking Setup, Internet connections, sharing files and printers.
Hardware Disk drives (including CD-ROM and DVD drives), game controllers, input devices (such as keyboards, mice, cameras, scanners, and infrared devices), network adapters, USB devices, modems, and sound cards.
Multimedia and games Games and other multimedia programs, DirectX drivers, USB devices, digital video discs (DVDs), sound, joysticks, and related issues.
DVDs (Digital Video Discs) drives and decoders.
Input Devices Keyboards, mouse and trackball devices, cameras, scanners, and infrared devices.

Drives & NICs

Hard discs, floppy discs, CD-ROM and DVD drives, network cards, tape drives, backup programs.
USB USB connectors and peripherals.
Sound Sound and sound cards.
Modem Modem connections, setup, configuration, and detection.
ICS (Internet Connection Sharing) Connecting and logging on to your Internet service provider (ISP).
Internet Explorer Browsing the Web, downloading files, saving your favorites, using IE toolbars, or printing Web pages.
Outlook Express Outlook Express and Windows Messenger Service.
File and Print Sharing Sharing files and printers between computers, connecting to other computers in a network, installing network adapters, logging on.
Printing Printer installation and connection, printer drivers, print quality, printer speed, and fonts.

Understanding Tech

Get In-store Clinic Update

Print this article

Shop Online


Your Name:

Your E-mail:

Your Friend's Name:

Your Friend's E-mail:

© Micro Electronics, Inc.